Belinda Kempster & Fran Foote: On Clay Hill – album review
BELINDA KEMPSTER & FRAN FOOTE: ON CLAY HILL
CD / DL
From Here Records
Released 19 July 2019
From Here release the debut album from Stick In The Wheel’s Fran Foote who combines in a duo with her mother, Belinda Kempster.
If it’s anything to do with Stick In The Wheel or From Here you can guarantee an earthy and uncompromising approach. Honest and with none of the kowtowing to the regular pizazz you get with album releases. This set reflects the passing down of songs that not only represent English Folk Music and culture but also the tradition of the family. “Singing these songs together feels like coming home,” says Belinda as the duo trawl material passed down from Fran’s Great Uncle Ernie Austin, a labourer who sang songs related to his work and leisure – “songs you’d sing down the pub.” With the performances recorded in the living room and on location at St Peter and St Paul Church in Horndon-on-the-Hill, the pair run through twelve traditional songs from Essex.
They include the more high profile traditional songs – John Barleycorn, Dark-Eyed Sailor and Tarry Trousers may be familiar to even those of us who aren’t quite as steeped in folk tradition and culture. Then there’s the more obscure – Little Bugger and Female Drummer both emerging from privately recorded family recordings (and thank goodness someone had the foresight to make these tapes). The former is precisely the sort of lively cameo that The Young’uns would enjoy making a fist of with its little bugger (actually referring to a crayfish) and piss pots.
The stark moan of the harmonium adds a dramatic quality to The Sheep Shearing Song – conjuring up visions of dark clouds brewing and a retort to the oft idyllic view of farming and rural life and makes for a melancholy air to Dearly Missed despite the happy ending to this version. In particular, the fade of the instrument to highlight just the solo voices at the close of the latter is a smart move.
The set fittingly finishes off with a vignette from Ernie himself (“we wanted to include his voice on this collection”) and makes for a fitting tribute to someone who’s not mentioned in the same breath as esteemed song collectors such as Cecil Sharp or Frank Kidson, but if not for the likes of Ernie Austin, our culture would be less rich and nowhere near as deep. On Clay Hill feels like Ian Carter has captured something special: that singular bond that families have from singing together (and we all know about the Waterson collective) whether in unison, in harmony or taking solo paths. Not only that, it’s a collection of songs that have significant personal and emotional relevance and come sung with empathy and resonance.
Watch the video for Dark-Eyed Sailor from the album here: