SMART SOUNDS by Colin Bell reviewing Sumer Is Icumen In: The Pagan Sound of British & Irish Folk 1966-1975 – Various Artists, 3CD


The latest excellent Grapefruit Records lovingly curated set is a long awaited follow up to their 2015 offering ‘Dust On The Nettles’, which was very warmly received and praised at the time. I have to say that although i enjoy a lot of the music contained here, it is not my area of expertise and i wouldn’t pretend to be knowledgeable about the genre, and therefore for once i will quote heavily from the better informed and of course offer my own opinion. All that said i think the title is self explanatory and you know what you’re in for. A voyage through an era in music history when traditional folk collided with the counter culture sounds of the late 60’s and early 70’s. The ‘Pagan’ aspect came about through a remark from legendary Folk stalwart Martin Carthy of Steeleye Span who said back then ‘the whole scene had a strong pagan feel, dark and elemental’. He was referring to other bands like Comus, Dr Strangely Strange and The Third Ear Band, the last band would perform with the ancient order of Druids, typically at dawn solstice ceremonies at places like Glastonbury Tor. Third Ear Band kick off Disc1 of the set with ‘Lark Rise’ a number i am familiar with however it’s the next track that conjures up a mixture of emotions in me and as soon as i hear it i am transported back to a cinema in 1973 and the terrifying image of The Wicker Man. ‘Corn Riggs’ by Magnet is one of the haunting songs from the film that has always stayed with me. Magnet weren’t actually a ‘real’ band like the others on this compilation they were a bunch of musicians assembled to provide the soundtrack to the film, however they capture the spirit of the ‘Pagan’ sound and vibe perfectly and anybody that’s seen the film that i have spoken to always refers to the music with a sort of hushed reverence. Moving on, other standout tracks on Disc1 number amongst them Traffic with ‘John Barleycorn’ Vulcan’s Hammer ‘The Keys Of Canterbury’, Kevin Coyne ‘White Horse’ & the unknown to me previously Amber with ‘ Swan In The Evening’. Disc2 starts with a ‘classic’ of the genre Fairport Conventions ‘Tam Lim’ a cornerstone of their live performances i have heard many times over the years. Bridget St John who i must confess i had forgotten about over the years joins the party with ‘Lizard Long Tongue Boy’, and again i am also familiar with Comus offering ‘The Bite’.  Dr Strangely Strange, a band much championed by John Peel give us ‘Strings In The Earth & Air’ and an old friend of mines favourite band  Principal Edward’s Magic Theatre weigh in with ‘Autumn Lady Dancing Song’. These are just a few of the highlights. Disc3  is probably the most accessible to those of you yet to be exposed to this genre with the more established Pentangle ‘Cruel Sister’, The Incredible String Band ‘Witches Hat’, Curver Air ‘Elfin Boy’ Mellow Candle ‘The Poet & The Witch’. Mellow Candle were a fabled Irish band who released one album on Deram ‘Swaddling Songs’ from which this track is taken. If you can find an original vinyl copy of that you could probably swop it for a Porche……..The disc concludes with a track from Mr Fox ‘Mendle’ a husband & wife team who along with another husband & wife duo Dave & Toni Arthur were devotees of self styled ‘King Of The Witches’ Alex Sanders, who many local people may know lived here in Hastings back in the day. A man who i once had a rather big falling out with when i rightly called him a charlatan in a local pub…(a whole other story). So in conclusion if you are into folklore, May Day, The Green Man legend, fairies, corn gods and magickal tales this 3CD set with 60 tracks (over 4 hours) and as ever a highly informative 40 page booklet is definitely for you. As i said at the start this may not be my area of expertise or knowledge but it’s been a thoroughly enjoyable experience getting acquainted with. Enjoy.

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Til next time…….stay safe……..Colin



Graham Sherrington… personally I like Capercaillie


What’s your favourite song by Van Morrison?

Lloyd Johnson… Here comes the Night!’ Although he never wrote it and it was when he was in ‘Them’…

Jan Deane… Moondance

Colin Fox… They’ve just played ‘Baby Please don’t Go’ here on Spanish radio. When Van Morrison was lead singer with ‘Them’, great old song.

Beki Milton… Brown eyed girl

Eileen Adams… Beki, love this too xxx

Mike Waghorne… When he was with “Them”

John Busbridge… Brown Eyed Girl

Eileen Adams…Into the mystic

Mick O’Dowd… So many to choose from but Hymn to The Silence & Have I told you Lately are stand outs.

Peter Fairless… Have to agree, ‘Brown Eyed Girl’

Steve Thorpe… Baby please don’t go

Alan Esdaile… Difficult but when he was with ‘Them’ their version of It’s All Over Now Baby Blue. On his own, the little known ‘Snow in San Anselmo’.

Rontenn2001… Whatever Happened To P.J.Proby

Mike Vawdrey… It would have to be Madame George – a lament for people and places beyond recall

Andy Davies… Listen to the Lion, the live ‘too late to stop now‘ version. Although, damn -maybe ‘Bulbs’ from Veedon Fleece which must be my favourite album…..

Colin Gibson… My old mans a dustman

Phil Gill… The last one In the show.

Colin Bell… Having seen him 3 times in concert (cos i was paid too), i heartily agree Phil.

Terry Pack… About 30 years ago, the Johnny Mars band was booked for two nights at a big hotel in Newport. After the sound check on the Friday, we were having dinner before the gig and Van appeared, asking if he could sit in. Johnny said yes, and Van asked if he join us to sing ‘Help Me’. He asked Kohn not to introduce him, but just to play a couple of choruses as an intro and he would come up. We played a couple of choruses. No sign of him, so John took a solo for a few choruses. Still no Van, so Ray took a few choruses. No sign of him. John thinks he must have misheard him, and wanted an introduction, so announced ‘Ladies and Gentlemen. Van Morrison!’ 1000 people go nuts. Still nothing. We play the rest of the set and come offstage. Johnny has to deal with half the crowd asking if they imagined the whole Van Morrison introduction. Later, in the hotel bar, Van appears looking very sheepish. ‘I lost my nerve.’ he says. ‘Could I sit in tomorrow night?’ The following night, the place is even busier. Word has got out that Van (either) is going to sit in or that he had sat in the previous night (people must have convinced themselves that he had done). We play Help Me. No Van. Of course. Years later, I renew a friendship via Facebook with a couple from South Wales. They have great memories of the two nights in Newport and Van Morrison sitting in on both nights. I don’t dare contradict them.

Jeannette Wild… Tough one that. I am an avid fan and have seen him 3 times. Awesome. His version of st James infirmary Is brilliant……..too many to mention!