Harp and a Monkey: The Victorians

review harp and monkey x1 cong

This is a joy of an album, something a little different and with plenty of interest for the listener. The title seems to be from the fact that they’re from Manchester and sing of tales from the city’s industrial history; they’re a band that tells stories set to music.

The cover sleeve is a peppered moth, which famously changed colour during the Industrial Revolution; maybe symbolic of the band changing its tune (literally) for the lyrical content of each song. The words matter and the music just blends in.

Opening track A Naked Man In Paradise is gentle song with lapping water as accompaniment about the Emma, launched in 1828 and sinking shortly after, 47 of its 200 passengers drowning. Wikipedia reports that a fishmonger rescued survivors, had his clothes nicked and died from exposure: “There’s a naked man in paradise who’s a better man than I” sings the fishmonger sadly.

Calico Printer’s Clerk is a joy, a traditional ballad that tells how the narrator loses his girlfriend to a clerk. We found the lyrics in a collection of monologues on the internet, so the words have been honed to be spoken (“In Manchester, that city of cotton, twist and twills / Lived the subject of my ditty, and the cause of all my ills”. Harp and a Monkey do not let them down.

The acoustic Jolly Grinder is more mournful, a tale about a jolly grinder living by the River Don, jolly because of his ale, who tells a teetotaller preaching health that he’d do better to work for a living than “go sneaking around / Persuading beer drinkers to turn.”

Glossop Road on the other hand is a jaunty tune about a married Rifle Corps soldier who “little he cared how his own wife fared if another girl took his taste”, until his wife caught him, beat the girl and him and “… ran away the very next day, and the close of this little episode.”

You get the picture: traditional tales delivered in a way that respects their heritage but sounds modern.


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