The Bara Bara Band – The Seeds Inside (The Grapes Upon The Vine)
Singaround Records – 15 September 2017
Does packing people into potentially unseaworthy vessels for monetary profit and gain sound depressingly familiar? With Plimsoll, one of the standout tracks from the latest release by South London folk collective The Bara Bara Band, and a previous Folk Radio UK song of the day, their arrangement of a broadside ballad in praise of Samuel Plimsoll and his Nineteenth Century campaign for better safety on so-called ‘coffin ships’, the group lay waste to the claim that this is a modern phenomenon.
It also perfectly exemplifies the bold approach that the group takes to their music, not afraid to take the traditional and experiment with their own fresh, often innovative, instrumentation and vocal patterns.
Formed seven years ago by Ruth Jacob and Rupert Browne, the group combine folk influences with contemporary subjects, such as political and current issues, on their latest album The Seeds Inside (The Grapes Upon The Vine). The album is heavily influenced by British folk, including folk rock, nuances of old-time Appalachian and bluegrass, together with a modern twist on the traditional, with the addition of bass guitar and drums.
The self-penned Mist Of Time, from which the album title is derived, is a catchy opening track building from a chugging guitar to encompass fiddle and banjo in Appalachian style, but with Ruth’s unmistakably English voice being joined in joyous harmony by Rupert.
Of the other original songs, Before It’s Too Late, with its plaintive banjo, is a bluesy reflection on the various pressures on women both from themselves and those around them, whilst Telling Me I Should Know echoes of the bombardment of information and misinformation in an age where there are so many forms of communication that it comes at you from all directions.
Wandle, a paen to the South London river, reflects music of a more pastoral type, whilst On The M25, is a jaunty, sing-along with an infectious rhythm that certainly moves faster than the eponymous motorway.
Of the two final self-penned numbers, All Look The Same nods to the plight of refugees in the Calais camps with a plea for a more humanitarian approach to offset the indictment of “England’s dark shame”, whilst the track More and More initially reflects on the life of a capitalist fat cat before ending with Twin Sisters, a short tune featuring a banjo/fiddle duet with thumping percussion.
The remainder of the tracks on this CD are band arrangements of traditional songs/tunes, and mighty fine they are too.
The instrumental The Wind that Shakes the Barley is picked out on the banjo before morphing into Paddy On the Turnpike, played here more like a rousing Irish reel than the bluegrass versions commonplace over the Atlantic.
The Child Ballad What Put The Blood is set to a more modern sounding arrangement, and whilst other versions, known variously, for example, as Edward (Nic Jones, Demon Barbers), My Son David (Oysterband & June Tabor) or Henry (Fay Hield) will be better known, this chilling tale of mindless violence, fratricide and exile is given a memorable outing here; the staccato opening vocals developing, in front of a percussive backbeat and fiddle, into a full-blown explosion of epic folk-rock proportions.
The traditional The Barley and the Rye vividly sketches, in a few lines, the tale of a cuckold, a rampaging wife and a young rake, and here The Bara Bara Band deliver their version a capella, with the vocals fading to a whisper as this comedically cautionary tale is brought to an end.
All For Me Grog ends the album, delivered in a style which differs from that of recent versions by Jon Boden and O’Hooley & Tidow, being more in keeping with those of The Dubliners and The Clancy Brothers. In 1961 A.L.Lloyd commented ‘Here we have a sailor’s song from the last bitter days of sail; a hard-scrubbed, threadbare relic of “Yo-ho-ho” songs of old.’ With the offering presented here, it is not difficult to imagine, in a live situation, the song is presented as an ‘action’ song; the singer removing his clothes as the song progresses – as was, apparently, the custom in southern English pubs!
The Bara Bara Band are Ruth Jacob – banjo, guitar, vocals, harmonica, tin whistle; Rupert Browne – guitar, bass, vocals; Will Dobson – cajon, percussion; Boris Ming – fiddle, keyboards, vocals.
Folk music should encompass a broad church. With this album, The Bara Bara Band are a collective who do not fear tradition. Instead, they embrace it with open arms, whimsical humour and touching melodies. You could do worse than joining their congregation.
Out Now via Bandcamp: https://thebarabaraband.bandcamp.com/album/the-seeds-inside-the-grapes-upon-the-vine