Stick In The Wheel: Follow Them True – album review
Stick In The Wheel
Follow Them True
CD / DL / vinyl
From Here Records
Released 26 January 2018
What is folk music in 2018? Stick In The Wheel’s second album takes up the gauntlet on the themes of rituals and cycles, ghosts and death, land and place, thieves and beggars. What they’ve called “a statement of commitment, a threat and a promise,” Follow Them True takes up the challenge, striking a passionate blow.
It’s a set of songs that finds the Londoners doing their thing “in the way that gives it the most meaning for us,” once again presenting an alternative, darker side of folk, using both traditional and original music.
As is their wont, forthright and honest the watchwords, their message resonates: “the world is no different today to how it was before; we are collectively condemned to repeat the mistakes of the past.” A pretty bleak forecast. Their music, characterised more often than not by the immediately recognisable raw guitar twang, is what they call “the sound of us reluctant to accept our own fate.” The mission: to turn over the stone and look at the grit, the underside, what’s lurking beneath. It’s uncomfortable, forces us to confront ourselves,
It comes in a series of short, sharp shocks, the tumbling guitar of Ian Carter and the regular presence of heavy rhythms, often clapped out (…as in clapping your hands rather than old and worn…). However, Stick In The Wheel aren’t a one dimensional, one trick pony. The sonic range on Follow Them True shifts from the unaccompanied and minimal to psychedelic to dreamy electronics in a manner several (cobbled probably) streets from stereotypical folk music.
Underlying everything is a hunger; an acceptance of the desperate and real; a Clash for a new age. It’s folk music Jim but not as we know it, but executed to perfection. Following the folk tradition by going unaccompanied on Poor Old Horse and Unquiet Grave, the axis shifts with two typical yet astounding arrangements, Red Carnation and Witch Bottle, both built on mournful drones that similarly sooth and chill.
The music also turns the tables on the tradition. Abbotts Bromey Horn Dance is one you could see being developed into a big party mash up by the likes of Bellowhead, yet here, it’s taken back to the forests with the wooden whistle and percussion – a tune from old(e) England.
Most striking is the album closer – a sign of things to come maybe – in a startling reaction to the traditional folk song As I Roved Out. One that decisively deconstructs one of those predictable ‘May morning’ songs that prevail in the English tradition and beyond. Singer Nicola Kearey takes the tradition to task in terms of roving out and encountering pretty ladies: “Me and my ancestors don’t/didn’t rove. We got up in the dark and went directly to work, toiled all day then came home again, exhausted.” What she calls “nostalgia and fetishisation of the past in folk music which is mostly at odds with our approach.” The song is a revelation in a new form with samples and rhythms that brings the cobbled streets and May mornings into sharp focus for 2018.
Be sure that Follow Them True will prove another dose of sobering realism that may narrow the gap between those who may have felt polarised by From Here and those for whom it proved a challenge they were ready to embrace. Stick In The Wheel continue to go seemingly against the grain, yet to emphasise, it’s only what is in their musical nature. It might not suit the fainthearted and while Punk may have died along with Sid, Stick In The Wheel have preserve the attitude and have the nous to be progressing folk by taking it right back to the bone.
You can watch Over Again from the album here:
The Stick In The Wheel website is here