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All Along The Wall

Fellside  FECD236

Working faster than God created earth; the artists on this 77-minute piece inspired by Hadrian’s Wall wrote it in five days at Saughyrigg Farmhouse and performed it on the sixth at The Wave in Maryport, where it was recorded by those splendid Fellside folk.  The songwriters include some of our best: Boo Hewerdine, Jez Lowe, Julie Matthews, Rory McLeod and Ruth Notman. The poets, Kate Fox and Elvis McGonagall, add punchy, funny verse. There is close collaboration throughout. Boo says in the notes that he had never been in such an ego-less creative environment.

Jez’s title track sets the east to west direction, from North Sea to Solway.  Kate’s Wallsend is the first reminder that the legions came from all parts of the Roman Empire: she makes the link with the multiculturalism of modern Newcastle. Boo’s End Of The World sees the Wall through the eyes of a North African legionary who falls for a local woman. In Rory’s Galloway Girl a legionary stays behind for love when the garrison pulls out. The theme of walls dividing communities is thoroughly explored. Elvis speaks up for the Picts. Some songs are more tangential – for instance, Julie’s Shepherd Who’s Lost His Sheep looks at the impact of foot and mouth disease, and Ruth’s Lizzie Batey is about a good witch from Brampton. There’s a determination to make the Wall relevant, not just an ancient object for archaeological study. The closing tracks, Kate’s and Elvis’s Walk On The Wild Side and Boo’s Shore To Shore, note that the line of the Wall is now peopled by walkers.

I’m one such walker. Living in Carlisle now, I get out to the Wall on day trips. Partly for that reason, and partly because this is a skilled ensemble writing and performing to their full potential, I enjoyed this album very much despite some drift in the middle. Projects like this are happening more often (The Darwin Song Project comes to mind) and are well suited to folk music’s communitarian spirit. They often need funding – in this case from Arts Council England, Northumberland National Park, Hadrian’s Wall Heritage and PRS for Music Foundation. They could use some luck too. All Along The Wall had some bad luck because it was commissioned by the people behind Brampton Live, which was cancelled for 2010. But performances are planned for Celtic Connections, Carlisle, The Sage and rural villages.

Tony Hendry

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This album was reviewed in Issue 87 of The Living Tradition magazine.