Fay Hield: Orfeo

Summary

Format: CD

Genre:  Folk (trad; vocal)

Tracks: 11

Playing time:  43 minutes

Availability (out of 3): ***

Related website(s):  www.fayhield.com

My rating:  9/10

I like:  Fay’s voice, the arrangements, 3 especially strong songs including one that blows me away each time

I’m less keen on:  a few of the less melodic songs – personal taste only, however!

_______________

“The Hurricane Party” isn’t what you would expect for the name of the band that backs a singer who performs traditional “folk” music. The way its members were selected also breaks the rules. Instead of deciding what instruments were required and inviting musicians to play, Fay Hield instead invited some of her favourite musicians to join her for the album and (in the most part) for her tour to promote it, even though there was some duplication or overlap on instruments that they played.

Who?

Fay Hield is a singer from Sheffield. To her repertoire of mainly traditional folk song Fay brings a voice that is at one and the same time natural yet adeptly used. On stage she establishes a strong rapport with her band and audience. Some singers who don’t also play an instrument can appear a little wooden on stage, or close their eyes for prolonged periods. Fay looks confident and relaxed, and uses her hands subtly as she sings.

She also lectures at Sheffield University, covering aspects of ethnomusicology and music management.

The album

I’m not a lover of card packaging, but at least some care has been taken with this one, with photographs of Fay and the band, and tucked inside the right hand inner cover (the CD sits in the centre) is a large folded sheet/small poster. This contains complete lyrics and comments on some of the songs, including their sources.

The songs

Orfeo

It’s a relatively modern development that elves have become benign creatures in British culture. Traditionally they – and fairies for that matter – were unpredictable, easily offended and potentially vengeful, or even downright malevolent!

This doesn’t bode well for the brave knight Orfeo of high birth, whose lady fair ends up being captured and imprisoned by an army of elves for their king to marry. During brave Sir Orfeo’s long search he becomes increasingly haggard and dishevelled beyond recognition until at last he finds and bargains for his lady-love in the elven hall. That’s not the end of his adventure, though!

At times Fay sings this tale almost unaccompanied, but it’s held together by fiddle, melodeon and concertina. The melody lilts a fair bit and has a slightly mysterious feel, and while not the easiest tune on the ear it fits the epic nature of the tale admirably.

I’m not an expert but I think that Sam Sweeney plays a Scandinavian nyckelharpa on this in places which adds to the other-worldly sense. The instrument is a type of multi-string fiddle, but with the strings held down with levers or pegs rather than pressed down with the fingers. It produces an echo-like, ethereal sound.

Despite the length – the song is over seven minutes long – Fay and the boys retain the listener’s interest throughout. Sound stuff!

It’s my third favourite on the album. My second favourite is…

In The Shade Of The Old ‘Arris Mill

Rob Harbron’s concertina features strongly in this song, too, accompanied (I think) by Andy Cutting’s melodeon. It’s an anthem of hard-working and underpaid female mill workers:

“We can’t see our ‘ands for the lint, and by Friday we’re all bl***y skint…”

To me, the concertina gives it a jolly feel, quite rightly, as the song is as much about their gritty determination and resignation to their lot as it is about their poor conditions of service.

“…each Friday night we’ll go out and get tight…

“and when we ’ave spent all us brass, and Monday, it comes round at last…”

Fay’s voice rises and falls beautifully with the melody and on the penultimate line of each verse she holds the last note gorgeously but without it sounding contrived.

The Weaver’s Daughter

frankly, blows me away. Take a wistful song of gentle love (aided and abetted by the promise of wealth), politely unrequited due to a lady’s devotion to her blind and ageing father. Add a lovely tune beautifully sung by someone who knows how to phrase and vocalise each note and syllable to the best. Mix in a subtle, rippling banjo accompaniment by the great Martin Simpson and a sweet fiddle or nyckelharpa break, and you have the magic that makes this track. I often play it twice in succession.

Here’s a fine live version, though without the rippling banjo of Martin Simpson:

 

The Lover’s Ghost has a tune as intense as its subject. Martin Simpson again helps this song along with his banjo playing.

Next up is the more upbeat (but no less tragic) Wicked serpent. I’ve never heard of two lovers being killed in this way by a snake, and the unlikeliness of the tale from America probably accounts for the jolly tune! Another perfect blend to my mind of instrumental break, accompaniment and vocal.

 

This is followed by a rather nonsensical The Parson’s Gate with the refrain “And all me fancy dwells on Nancy, I’ll sing Tally-ho, me boys, I’ll sing Tally-ho!”

The song even admits “And if you ask me of this song the reason for to show, I’ll say I don’t exactly know..!”

It’s hard not to hum or sing along to the exuberant singing and playing and well-nigh impossible not to tap your feet to it, though. Again Fay sings strongly and the Hurricane Band live up to their name!

The Cuckoo has a less than melodic tune, but I guess that it befits its bleak message. It has a haunting instrumental section at the end, though, banjo and fiddle playing against each other.

Henry is a haunting song about a man with a terrible secret, who lies to his mother about the nature of the blood on his shirt. The backing instruments gradually build up with the intensity of the unravelling tale. Fay sings it liltingly and with control but conviction. Trad folk at its darkest!

Pretty Nancy is a sea shanty sung without instrumental accompaniment with Fay’s sweet yet strong voice backed up with harmonies from some of the band: “…where the cannons loudly rattle and the stormy winds blow.” I find this a catchy tune with some changes of pace, and enhanced by great but subtle vocal embellishments.

Concluding comments

I find Fay’s voice a delight. She sings in an unexaggerated way, but uses her voice to great effect. I also love the instrumental arrangements and accompaniments. 

I’m not a dyed-in-the-wool “folkie”, and some of the less melodic songs I find less appealing; this is down to personal choice, though, and isn’t a reflection on the quality of the singing and playing.

I feel that as well as lovers of traditional folk music, others who enjoy female singing may well find this album appealing.

My rating: 9/10

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Photo credits – this is a non-moneymaking blog, but I am eager to credit sources of any illustrations used.

Section “Who?” : https://c2.staticflickr.com/6/5487/9447886351_366b9c5850_z.jpg

Nyckelharpa:  www.nyckelharpa.com/images/harpa_hh4.jpg

 

 

 

 

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Author: mostlyacousticsteve

My musical interests are mainly (but not exclusively) “folk” and acoustic blues music. I aim to publish a post about every two weeks. Although I'm in my 50s I'm new to blogging - please bear with me. My other interests are playing acoustic guitar, photography and wildlife.

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