Tag Archives: Hannah James

Maddy Prior, Hannah James & Giles Lewin at Clair Hall, Haywards Heath 6/4/14

Haywards Heath on a drizzly Sunday evening.  We are seated in a very functional-looking municipal building in the heart of suburban south-east England. But when the trio come on stage the songs are most definitely very, very northern with a run of songs from the north-east and Cumbria. Brisk Young Window is a good opener, sung in harmony by the trio. For those familiar only with Prior’s folk rock workouts with Steeleye Span, Maddy Prior, Hannah James and Giles Lewin performing as a trio are very much at the trad end of the folk continuum. We get unaccompanied singing, as well as songs accompanied by James, a rising star of modern folk, on accordion and Lewin, who has long collaborated with Prior on the Carnival Band Christmas tours, on fiddle and assorted wind instruments. We even get James donning her clogs for some energetic and brilliantly rhythmic clog dancing.

The second half of tonight’s show begins with a beautifully sung version of The Blackleg Miner, something Steeleye followers will be well familiar with. This is followed by a lovely song from Hannah James, Serving Girl’s Holiday, which outlines a seemingly never-ending succession of tasks the domestic worker has to undertake on her so called “holiday”. As James points out, there was probably a lot of wry ironic humour in many traditional lyrics which perhaps gets lost as the years pass by. We then hear a succession of traditional songs from different parts of the world including America and Austria. A long brooding version of The Fabled Hare follows, with Hannah James’ accordion providing the perfect moody accompaniment for this epic tale of man versus hare “he is running for my dinner, I am running for my life…”

Before they return for an encore the trio finish their main set with a stunning version of Nick Harper’s The Field of the Cloth of Gold which, Prior explains, reflects on both 16th century royal diplomacy and a 21st Century Levellers festival appearance.  Beautifully sung, this was one of the highlights of a very enjoyable evening for me.  Before tonight I had only ever witnessed Prior either with Steeleye Span or singing Christmas carols with the Carnival Band, but it was great to see her in a different setting altogether and this is a folk trio that definitely work well together.

http://maddypriorwithgileslewinandhannahjames.viinyl.com/

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The Elizabethan Session at Cecil Sharp House 22/3/14

It could almost be an idea for a trashy reality TV show. Get eight musicians confine them to a country house and set them the challenge of writing some songs that they would all perform live together a week later. Oh, and the musicians would all be folk musicians and the music would be inspired by the music and personalities of the Elizabethan era…. In some ways I was wondering what I was letting myself in for when I saw this advertised. But catching sight of the line-up of musicians involved I had little doubt that it was going to be something worth watching. And it was. An absolutely stunning evening.

I can’t pretend I know much at all about sixteenth century music. But anyone thinking an Elizabethan session was going to involve an evening of twee songs about Merrie England, perhaps performed in the style of the theme music from Blackadder, would soon be disabused by the first song.  Shores of Hispaniola, a haunting but beautiful song reflected on Elizabethan England’s gruesome and sordid involvement in the early transatlantic slave trade. Remarkably, we were told, Nancy Kerr had the thing written before breakfast on the very first morning, following a talk to the musicians from an esteemed Elizabethan historian the night before.

The Elizabethan Sessions project was initiated by those behind the Folk by the Oak folk festival working with the English Folk Dance and Song Society. They brought together an amazing line-up of established and up-and-coming artists: Martin Simpson, Nancy Kerr, Jim Moray, Bella Hardy, John Smith, Hannah James, Rachel Newton and Emily Askew.  A packed out main hall at Cecil Sharp House was there to see them.

As well a great collection of new songs, including ones evoking Shakespeare, a “feminist sea shanty” and Martin Simpson’s beautiful song about “brawling, murdering, gay, atheist playwright” Christopher Marlowe’s untimely death in a Deptford bar, we also got some amazing instrumentals, too. Early English music specialist, Emily Askew, brought out and played a weird and wonderful collection of Elizabethan-era instruments throughout the evening.

It was incredible to think that a week before the performance at Cecil Sharp House none of these songs or tunes even existed. But hearing them for the first time and ordering the soon-to-be-released live CD of the sessions immediately after the show, I do know that the music performed tonight was going to become just as familiar to me over the coming months as the songs from another recent stunning folk collaboration, the Full English, have become.

http://www.folkbytheoak.com/TES

Elizabethan