Galley Beggar – Silence & Tears (Rise Above)
A third in a series of albums from Galley Beggar – a band on a mission to “imagine the next phase of English folk rock”
Remarkably, it’s almost half a century since the likes of Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span took the traditions of folk music by the scruff of the neck and shifted the goalposts with their budding explorations into the brave new world of folk rock.
And now, from beginnings which, by their own admittance, were essentially folky, ‘Silence & Tears’ shows Galley Beggar progressing into some fascinating new areas. Yes, they may well benefit by being labelled with not only the big folk rock names but also some of the bands who followed – Pentangle and The Incredible String Band spring to mind – yet find themselves similarly namechecked alongside fellow disciples of the folk rock revolution, Led Zeppelin, which is always going to raise eyebrows. After all, they too followed the acoustic path in their light and shade dynamics and philosophy and while we’re on the subject of genre crossing, even Prog magazine have latched onto what they call their ‘acid folk’ sound and the album has even broken through and found itself reviewed in Metal Hammer.
To add weight to the argument, ‘Silence & Tears’ sees them working for the first time with an outside producer in the form of Liam Watson. His work with Tame Impala and White Stripes added to the fact that the album appears on the Rise Above label, home to, amongst others, arch death and doom metal merchants Electric Wizard, kind of sets up the expectation that their folk rock interpretations are about to get messy. Oh – and all recorded on good old analogue gear, too.
Having set the scene, how do the songs sound then? Sourced from the collections of Francis Child and Cecil Sharp through to more experimental psychedelic-based passages, they supplement the traditional folk instruments with electric guitars, bass and drums. Not strictly revolutionary yet, as they say, it’s how they use them that counts. From one end of the spectrum to the other, there are moments where at their most folky, they dip into the archive for ‘Jack Orion’ which is complete with a particularly jiggery folkery outro, all jigging and reeling in the traditional fashion.
Having given them a mention, it only feels fair that there’s a very Zep-like acoustic feel to the title in the chiming guitar which is at the core of the track – perhaps not so much Led Zep III, but more like the sort of interpretation that Page and Plant did when they unplugged and reworked the catalogue in the 90s.
They start to push the handle and the clock on the six minutes of the ancient ‘Geordie’, all softly picked acoustic guitar verging on medieval, before a trippy vibe develops into a nice electric guitar phrase.
At the other end of the spectrum, they stretch out on ‘Pay My Body Home’ – a lengthy adventure of misty swirling psychedelic imagining with the fiddle and guitar creating a hypnotic cascade of not quite epic proportions but certainly absorbing and before you know it, nine minutes has passed.
As good old Jimmy Page would say, it’s the same well established folk rock picture in a different frame which Galley Beggar offered up. They represent a new breed along with the likes of Wolf People, Jim Moray and Sam Carter’s False Lights with their play it loud and electric philosophy and show that there’s still life in a format which seems to be having a bit of a renaissance.
Watch Galley Beggar at the 2013 Folk On The Farm Festival
You can find Galley Beggar online here.