EJ Moeran: Folksong Arrangements

review folksongs x1 cong

We’ve been enjoying this collection of folk tunes, which doesn’t sound as you might think, neither stuffy nor reminiscent of a bearded man in sandals with one finger in his ear.
A modern equivalent — CDs are like buses — is the Beans on Toast album (review next week); that band’s Jay McAllister being an everyman poet who writes stories that tell tales and entertain. McAllister might swear more and use an acoustic guitar but it’s the words that make him and this good.
According to the Press notes, Ernest John Moeran was born in London but grew up in Norfolk and had links with Ireland. While a student at the Royal College of Music, he was inspired by a performance of Vaughan Williams’s Norfolk Rhapsody that seemed “to breathe the very spirit of the English countryside”, and was soon collecting folksongs for himself.
Moeran’s transcriptions have kept alive old folk songs that would otherwise be lost, and this album — like Jay McAllister’s modern songs — makes sure the words are clearly enunciated, the words being the thing.
The album is divided up into Norfolk, Suffolk, County Kerry and a mixed bunch of songs, mainly about life at sea and in the pastures. They’re songs from an age before mass entertainment, when farmers or sailors would gather and be entertained by songs that told stories they could relate to (and probably knew well). The topics range from love to life at sea, and from tall tales to bawdy jokes.
The general tone is of music that would silence a pub while the singer told the tale, though the singers on this CD — Adrian Thompson, tenor, Marcus Farnsworth, baritone, and the Weybridge Male Voice Choir — are probably a touch above your average wandering minstrel or village singer, (Though you never know). Each song is distinctive and there’s a nice autumnal feeling to them — they’re for dark evenings and a pint of ale, after a cold day out working the land.
Some songs they might sing to (“As I walked up of London street / A press-gang there I did meet / They asked me if I’d join the fleet / And sail in a man-o’-war, boys”) others snigger, such as the fate of the milkmaid (“So down in green meadows they went / And the nightingale was singing and the primroses springing / You’ll know very well what it meant.”)
In fact, we found an old review for the British Music Society release of this that suggested finding the appropriate bottle of beer (Adnams’ Oyster Stout for the Suffolk songs, Woodforde’s Wherry for the Norfolk etc). That review suggested that binging on this was as bad as binging on the ale, but we’ve played this through many times with no sign of a hangover.
Sticking with the beer theme, this is a very palatable CD that goes down well after a hard day.
Out on Naxos (8571359), who kindly provide the lyrics (sorry, libretto: this being classical) on a download.

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