This is another fantastic 3 CD set from Grapefruit Records. It consists of a mixture of groups from the very well known (Incredible String Band) to the willfully obscure (Vulcan’s Hammer). The music focusses on the point when traditional folksong and the burgeoning late Sixties counterculture collided. “The result is a secret glade in a darkly pagan woodland that’s peppered with invocations of corn gods, wicker men, bright Phoebus and other non-Christian deities; magickal tales of daemons, sorcerers, false knights and faerie queens; the medieval England myths, legends and traditions of the May Queen, John Barleycorn and the Green Man; paeans to the natural world and the rhythm of the passing seasons; fables of sanctuary stones, scarecrows and buried villages alongside dread stories of purgatory, sacrifice, rape, bestiality and murder.” (This description is from the amazing sleevenotes by the compiler, David Wells).
Disc 1 Track 1 Lark Rise by Third Ear Band. The first gig I ever went to had The Edgar Broughton Band headlining. The opening act were Jody Grind, followed by Third Ear Band. At the time it was magical. This instrumental is taken from their first album, “Alchemy” and is typical of their “folk / raga / experimental / medieval” style.
Disc 1 Track 2 Corn Rigs by Magnet. This song appeared at the start of “The Wicker Man” which I saw as the B film when I went to see “Pat Garrett And Billy The Kid” in Windsor. The song was composed by Paul Giovanni, an American actor and singer, who adapted the words from a Robert Burns song.
Disc 1 Track 3 John Barleycorn by Traffic. John Barleycorn is a personification of barley and this traditional song describes how barley is reaped and malted. Robert Burns, again, published a version in 1782 although previous incarnations exist at least 200 years earlier. The song has been covered by practically every major folk artist of the last 50 years.
Disc 1 Track 4 Sanctuary Stone by Midwinter. The lovely harmonies in this song were made by musicians from East Anglia who met at a folk club in Great Yarmouth.
Disc 1 Track 5 The Keys Of Canterbury by Vulcan’s Hammer. This group came from Chatham in Kent and this strong song was included on their only album which had just one pressing of 250 copies.
Disc 1 Track 6 The Wood Gathering Man by The Celebrated Ratliff Stout Band. The band were named after an ale which was local to the Northampton based duo who would later add more members and release 4 albums.
Disc 1 Track 7 Twa Corbies by Steeleye Span. Ashley Hutchings left Fairport Convention because he wanted to continue to explore traditional material. He formed Steeleye Span with two couples, Tim Hart / Maddie Prior and Terry Woods / Gay Woods. They got it together in the country (Wiltshire) and when Ashley Hutchings wasn’t pacifying the warring couples, they produced some beautiful (if lyrically gruesome) music.
Disc 1 Track 8 Lovely Joan by Folkal Point. 500 copies of Folkal Point’s first album were pressed and are much sought after, mainly because of the haunting quality of their lead singer Cheryl Musialik.
Disc 1 Track 9 Canon Dale by Strawbs. One of the most inventive groups of this genre, Strawbs included Rick Wakeman (who went on to play in Yes). This previously unreleased version is a prime example of acid-folk.
Disc 1 Track 10 White Horse by Kevin Coyne. Not every song by the “anti-star” was as relaxed and easy to listen to as this lovely song which was possibly inspired by the white horse inscribed into the chalk hills in Uffington.
Disc 1 Track 11 Yorric by Meic Stevens. Ian Samwell signed this Welsh speaker to Warner Brothers in 1970 and this long, lovely song formed the centrepiece of the resulting album, “Outlander”. The incredible sitar playing is by Keshav Sathe who also played with John Renbourn, Danny Thompson and Julie Felix. He was briefly a member of The Asian Music Circle, a collective who supported George Harrison when he learned to play the sitar.
Disc 1 Track 12 Luke-Wage Dirge by The Young Tradition. This song is probably over 600 years old. Although the song mentions Christianity, scholars consider the origins of the song to be pre-Christian. It concerns an imminent journey through purgatory. The Young Tradition consisted of Peter Bellamy, Royston Wood and Heather Wood who shared a house in London with John Renbourn, Bert Jansch and Anne Briggs.
Disc 1 Track 13 Swan In The Evening by Amber.
Disc 1 Track 14 Minerva by Synanthesia.
Disc 1 Track 15 The Parting Glass by The Minor Birds. Sue Waywell was a teenager when she performed this beautiful version of what used to be the most popular parting song in Scotland before Robert Burns wrote “Auld Lang Syne”.
Disc 1 Track 16 Virgin Childe by Parameter. Only 500 copies were released of Parameter’s only album, recorded in a living room on a two track tape recorder. The lo-fi ramshackle feel of this song is charming.
Disc 1 Track 17 The Sapphire by Carolanne Pegg. Bob and Carole Pegg formed Mr. Fox in 1970 but when their marriage ended in 1973, Carole Pegg modified her name and recorded an album called Carolanne. Her voice is more spooky than anyone else’s and the instrumentation is more far out than anything on “The Marble Index”. Remarkable.
Disc 1 Track 18 Cabin On The Clifftop by Dry Heart. Martin Palmer and Les Greenacre are still performing together as “The A13 All Stars”. In 1970, they were joined by Anne Rance and Peter Llewellyn to record an album which only had 12 pressings. There are similarities to The Incredible String Band.
Disc 1 Track 19 Winter Passes by Mighty Baby. Martin Stone played in many bands during the course of his life (he died in 2016). These include Chilli Willi & The Red Hot Peppers, Savoy Brown, The Action and Mighty Baby. During 1970, several members of Mighty Baby converted to the Sufi religion and they converted Richard & Linda Thompson when they met at a gig they were all playing at. “Winter Passes” is from an unreleased album.
Disc 1 Track 20 On Horseback by Mike Oldfield. Sadly, I’ve not heard one of my favourite Christmas songs this year: “In Dulce Jubilo”. There’s a stunning guitar solo in the middle of the song which I never tire of. I didn’t realise until just now that it was released as a Double A side single with “On Horseback” which is an uncredited song from “Ommadawn”, an album recorded when Mike Oldfield was living in Kington, Herefordshire, a town that Roo and I visited last year when meeting up with her friends Ruth and Howard.
Disc 2 Track 1 Tam Lin by Fairport Convention. There are two long songs on “Liege And Lief” and the story on “Matty Groves” was easy to follow. However, “Tam Lin” is a cocktail of knights, spells, love, betrayal and mystery which refuses to yield an easily understood narrative. This is one of the ingredients that makes repeated listening an unbridled joy, the others being one of Sandy Denny’s best vocal performances (and that’s a high bar) along with Richard Thompson’s spectacular guitar playing.
Disc 2 Track 2 Let No Man Steal Your Thyme by Gallery. A song from the 17th century performed by an obscure group from Yorkshire. Barbara Seabourne has the sort of voice that is pure and unadorned although not really my cuppa.
Disc 2 Track 3 False Knight On The Road by Tim Hart and Maddy Prior. Recorded while they were still members of Steeleye Span, this song also appeared on “Please To See The King”. Quite lovely.
Disc 2 Track 4 The Scarecrow by Lal Waterson. Legal difficulties have meant that an album called “Bright Phoebus”, by Lal and Mike Waterson, has only ever had a limited release but is regarded as the folk equivalent of “Sgt. Pepper”. This is a home demo of one of the songs from the album. Norma, Mike and Norma Waterson were siblings and their niece is Eliza Carthy since Norma Waterson married Martin Carthy. This is a spooky song about the slaughter of children.
Disc 2 Track 5 Silver Man by Chimera. After recording a song for the Apple label in 1968, recorded by Tony Meehan (the man who rejected The Beatles for Decca – not Dick Rowe), George Harrison vetoed any further involvement and so cousins Lisa Bankoff and Francesca Posney formed Chimera with Mal Luker. Despite interest from Nick Mason, David Bowie and Tony Visconti, neither of the two albums they recorded ever got released.
Disc 2 Track 6 The White Hare by Shirley Collins And The Albion Country Band. Shirley Collins released an album this year, aged 85 which I grew to love. Her recording connections are a catalogue of the most influential folk acts of the era. She sung with The Copper Family, Ewan MacColl and Davey Graham. The Incredible String Band appeared on one of her albums. She married Ashley Hutchings and Richard Thompson plays guitar on this track along with Royston Wood (of The Young Tradition – see Disc 1), Lal Waterson and Mike Waterson on backing vocals.
Disc 2 Track 7 Mad Tom Of Bedlam by Horden Raikes. Ron Flanagan and Brian Dewhurst formed this group in 1970 and were inspired to cover this song by hearing Steeleye Span’s version.
Disc 2 Track 8 The Song Of The Healer by The Sallyangie. Sally Oldfield has released fifteen solo albums and her brother, Mike, was a member of Kevin Ayers’ band, The Whole World. He also released a few solo albums that sold a few copies. The siblings formed Sallyangie in 1967.
Disc 2 Track 9 Lizard-Long Tongue-Boy by Bridget St. John. John Peel signed Bridget St. John to his Dandelion label on the basis of some home demos, of which this is one. She later re-recorded it for inclusion on her debut album “Ask Me No Questions”.
Disc 2 Track 10 Strings In The Earth And Air by Dr. Strangely Strange. I have a soft spot for this Irish group because their song “Strangely Strange But Oddly Normal” was the last track on Side Two of “Nice Enough To Eat”, the classic Island sampler. Robin Williamson recommended them to Joe Boyd who produced “Kip Of The Serenes”, from which this adaptation of a James Joyce poem is taken.
Disc 2 Track 11 Sorcerers by Jan Dukes De Grey. This is the title track from an album that was largely ignored by the press apart from an enthusiastic review in the Yorkshire Evening Post by Mark Knopfler. All guitar solos on the album were recorded inside a tent that was brought into the studio by Derek Noy to enhance the sound.
Disc 2 Track 12 Green Grass by Dave & Toni Arthur. After releasing several albums with husband Dave, Toni Arthur subsequently co-presented “Play School” and “Play Away”
Disc 2 Track 13 Where’s Your Master Gone by Simon Finn. The Devil makes an appearance in this song but seems a bit distracted.
Disc 2 Track 14 Nottamun Town by Oberon. Seven public schoolchildren recorded an album of which only 99 copies were pressed. The “Galactic Ramble” guidebook described it as “amateur male and female voices sung incomprehensible lyrics in a strangely detached liturgical manner, like an apocalyptic splinter church lamenting man’s sin and decrepitude while lawlessness and plague rage outside the castle walls”.
Disc 2 Track 15 The House Carpenter by Fresh Maggots.
Disc 2 Track 16 Hand To Hand by J.P. Sunshine.
Disc 2 Track 17 The Bite by Comus. Roger Wooton and Glen Goring progressed from playing Velvet Underground songs at folk clubs to making an album dealing with issues such as rape, murder and, on this track, the lynching of a Christian.
Disc 2 Track 18 Death by The Sun Also Rises. On its release, the only album released by the duo of Graham and Anne Hemingway was described as “a very soothing sound” by Melody Maker.
Disc 2 Track 19 Winter by Tea And Symphony. Jonathan ‘Cockroach’ Benyon performed as a mime artist with Tea And Symphony.
Disc 2 Track 20 Autumn Lady Dancing Song by Principal Edwards’ Magic Theatre. John Peel signed PEMT to his Dandelion label despite the views of his business partner (Clive Selwood) who called them “the most pretentious act I have ever come across”. Since when was ‘pretentious’ an insult? John Walters (John Peel’s producer) described them as “incorporating all kinds of arty-farty nonsense”. They consisted of musicians, poets, dancers and light engineers. Principal Thomas Charles Edwards was the first principal of The University of Wales and an ancestor of drummer Lyn Edwards.
Disc 2 Track 21 Summer’s In by Anne Briggs. This song was recorded for an unreleased album in 1973. Anne Briggs is one of the most influential of British folk singers having provided inspiration for Bert Jansch, Jimmy Page, The Watersons, June Tabor, Sandy Denny, Richard Thompson and Maddy Prior. There are plenty of stories about her wild behaviour including one in which she jumped into the sea off Malin Head, Donegal to chase seals. Richard Thompson is quoted as saying that he only met her twice and both times she was drunk and unconscious.
Disc 3 Track 1 The Bells Of Dunwich by Stone Angel. The bells of Dunwich can still be heard from the churches that sunk beneath the sea, along with the rest of the village.
Disc 3 Track 2 Cruel Sister by Pentangle. Jacqui McShee’s vocals and John Renbourn’s sitar provide an appropriate setting for this murder ballad which was the title track of Rachel Unthank and The Winterset’s first album.
Disc 3 Track 3 Witches Hat by The Incredible String Band. The shortest track from “The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter” which reached Number 5 in the U.K. Album chart. The success of this album opened the doors of opportunity for many of the acts on this box set.
Disc 3 Track 4 Reynardine by Archie Fisher. More evidence of the use of a sitar in contemporary British music. How different everything could have been if Ringo’s fan, who sent him a ring, had come from China and not India.
Disc 3 Track 5 The Poet And The Witch by Mellow Candle. Mike Oldfield occasionally drifts into the stories here. In this case, William Murray who was a member of Mellow Candle, wrote the lyrics to “On Horseback” and played on “Ommadawn”.
Disc 3 Track 6 Elfin Boy by Curved Air. Not often associated with folk music, Curved Air’s lead singer, Sonja Kristina used to run the Troubadour Folk Club in Earls Court. This is from their fourth album, “Air Cut”. The lyrics are by Sonja Kristina and the music is by Eddie Jobson who also played in Roxy Music, Jethro Tull and Yes.
Disc 3 Track 7 Pretty Polly by Sweeney’s Men. Singer Terry Woods later joined Steeleye Span and The Pogues. Bob Dylan played this song regularly at The Gaslight Club in New York in 1961. He later adapted it and named it “The Ballad Of Hollis Brown”.
Disc 3 Track 8 Three Ravens by Parke. John and Julie Jenkin released an album called “Joy, Health, Love And Peace”. Despite that, this song, taken from the album, centres on the belief that if spilt blood ever touched the earth, the soul would never reach heaven.
Disc 3 Track 9 Salisbury Plain by Green Man. Folk song collectors tried to notate this song in 1904 but the (male) singer refused to sing it as it was not a proper song for a lady to hear.
Disc 3 Track 10 Flodden Field by Spriguns Of Tolgus. A sprigun is a Cornish evil spirit and Tolgus is a tin mine in Redruth. They were yet another husband and wife team and this song is a Child Ballad about the death of James IV, King of Scotland in 1513.
Disc 3 Track 11 Geordie by The MacDonald Folk Group. Another Child Ballad, the song dates from the late 17th Century. There are 129 different versions of the song listed in The Roud Folk Song Index including 52 from the United States. Joan Baez and Anais Mitchell are amongst the many artists who have also covered this song.
Disc 3 Track 12 The Queen Of The Night by Michael Raven & Joan Mills.
Disc 3 Track 13 Holsworthy Peter’s Fair by George Deacon & Marion Ross. A song about the rape of a woman who had received money from a Church charity for being a beautiful Christian.
Disc 3 Track 14 Captain Wedderburn’s Courtship by Staverton Bridge. An 18th century Scottish song in which a lady only agrees to a soldier’s proposition if he can answer the riddles she sets him.
Disc 3 Track 15 Butterfly On The Shore by Shirley Kent.
Disc 3 Track 16 Eastern Spell by Marc Bolan. After helping to paint the interior of the Indica bookshop/gallery in 1965 (two years before John Lennon met Yoko Ono there), Marc Bolan was discovered by Simon Napier Bell (whose excellent book (“Black Vinyl, White Powder”) is full of scurrilous gossip as well as providing a condensed history of British pop music). His recordings unleashed his quavering warble which would be used more extensively in John’s Children and Tyrannosaurus Rex.
Disc 3 Track 17 The Lark In The Morning by Heather, Adrian and John. This is another cover of a song recorded by Steeleye Span and is the only known recording by these three artists.
Disc 3 Track 18 Scarborough Fair by The Coterie.
Disc 3 Track 19 Mendle by Mr. Fox. Another performance by Bob and Carol Pegg and another song about witches.
It’s been very enjoyable to listen to this seriously weird music over the last four hours. It has been a real insight into the search for hidden meanings in the culture of the past that permeate all these songs.