Folk Musicians Support Southend YMCA – A Place to Dwell
Self Released – 25 May 2018
This brilliant, eclectic and challenging new folk and experimental compilation has attracted a stellar cast of contributors while raising vital money for vulnerable young people in Southend.
For those (like me) still lamenting the loss of The Owl Service – the stunning alternative folk band that took listeners on an enthralling sonic journey for ten years, before their sad demise in 2016 – this compilation proves its constituent parts are still very much a musical and artistic force.
Owl Service singer Diana Collier is behind this release, and she has enlisted former band members Nancy Wallace – who contribute a charming acoustic song, Yellow Tail. Band founder Steven Collins donates the photographs that grace this compilation, which has pleasingly handmade packaging from Diane, making the release seem all the more personal.
Back in 2006, The Owl Service were trailblazers of modern experimental folk, forging a path for bands like Trembling Bells to follow. So it’s appropriate that Bells frontman Alex Neilson’s solo persona Alex Rex opens the collection, ably accompanied by bandmate Lavinia Blackwell. As with everything Alex turns his hand to, The Gift of Weeping is mystifying and magnificent. With song that explores salvation, human nature and maternal love with a chorus that runs: ‘One begat the other/ The baby devours her mother’ it couldn’t be any writer but Neilson.
Folk Radio favourites Cunning Folk donate the chilling song about ley lines, The Old Straight Track, taken from their 2017 album Ritual Land, Uncommon Ground. To give further synchronicity, the song was partly inspired by Owl Service (the book, not the band) writer Alan Garner’s novel The Moon Of Gomrath in which the ‘Old Straight Track’ appears at moonrise near Alderley Edge.
Alongside familiar artists like Sharron Kraus (accompanied on backing vocals by Fay Hield and Jon Boden) and Lost Harbours (whose lead singer sounds startlingly like Roy Harper on Nine Ladies here), there are plenty of new names (to me, anyway) that prompt further investigation. Circle/Temple are eerie and ambient, Crafting For Foes sound like a lost acid folk curiosity from the early 70s, and brazil banks offer a minimalist sonic landscape with darby. As with any compilation, some tracks will appeal to different listeners, but every track deserves a place here.
Despite relating a sorrowful song, it’s always warming to hear the unmistakable voice of Alasdair Roberts, here performing The Little Collier, a Scottish coal mining song with a devastating final verse about a child born into economic slavery:
My little collier, born to be a slave
To wear his master’s collar and be brave
To delve below the ground all alone
And listen every day for falling stone.
It’s a fitting song given the proceeds for this release will be given to Southend YMCA’s work with vulnerable and at risk young people. They provide supported housing for young people who would otherwise be on the streets. As you are probably aware, rough sleeping has increased significantly in the last seven years.
Alarmingly, the UK’s homelessness minister Heather Wheeler (MP for South Derbyshire), in March this year said, ‘In truth, I don’t know,’ when asked what she believed was the cause of the increase in rough sleeping. In response, Alan Fraser the chief executive of YMCA Birmingham, in the Guardian wrote: ‘I can tell her [why]: it’s because years of cuts to services for vulnerable people are adding up… They sleep rough because of the lack of necessary support services that enable them to access the accommodation that is available and to sustain a tenancy’.
So all credit to Diana Collier, who also works for Southend YMCA, for putting this brilliant compilation together. As she told Folk Radio UK, ‘Homelessness among children and young people in Southend is increasing in the same way as it has nationally, especially for vulnerable young people who are care leavers or who have experienced trauma. Southend YMCA provides supported accommodation for 16 – 25-year-olds and is working towards the provision of a new children’s home for younger children.’
So it’s a win-win: we get to enjoy some cutting-edge folk from familiar artists and some exciting new discoveries, all in a very worthwhile cause. Thank you, Diana!
Order A Place to Dwell via Bandcamp https://southendymca.bandcamp.com/album/a-place-to-dwell