SUMER IS ICUMEN IN: THE PAGAN SOUND OF BRITISH & IRISH FOLK 1966-1975 Various (3CD Set)
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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Graham Sherrington… personally I like Capercaillie