Hield (it’s her real name, her parents were clearly wags) is as traditional folk as they come: she is a teaching associate in ethnomusicology at the University of Sheffield, wrote a PhD on “English folk singing and the construction of community”, guest lectures at places like Leeds College of Music and runs two folk clubs, Royal Traditions in Dungworth and Bright Phoebus in Sheffield. Her partner is Jon Boden, of Bellowhead fame.
So perhaps you should be expecting what this album delivers: traditional English folk with song titles like Raggle Taggle Gypsy and The Hag In The Beck, while managing to sound modern.
Hield has approached the album in an academic way and unearthed songs old and new galore — The Hag in the Beck is from the 1600s while The Briar and the Rose is a version of a Tom Waits song. The album is an “exploration of how we use stories and music to understand what it means to be human”.
Green Gravel is from Alice Gomme’s Traditional Games Of England, Scotland And Ireland and an interpretation of a playground song, while the previously mentioned gypsy with raggle taggle tendencies is a “glimpse of a world we could inhabit, if only we would follow our hearts”. Many of the lyrics are adapted and several tunes written by Hield, with a couple from Boden. Boden also plays, as does Martin Simpson.
People who like the kind of folk that The Fast Show might mock — men in woolly jumpers standing on one leg and humming — will love this to the point of worship but it’s a good collection of tunes for anyone who likes traditional music, and she’s looking to the future as much as the past, so it doesn’t sound dated. She’s also not precious about it: “If it needs some tweaking … change it. If it only exists as a lyric, write a tune; if it could do with a chorus, add one,” she writes in the sleeve notes. It goes without saying that all the lyrics tell stories.
Oh: and the cover photo is great. Well done Sally and James Lockey.