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Hallamshire Traditions HATRCD02

Sheffield has quietly become a bastion of folk music, and two of its foremost defenders are Paul and Liz Davenport, a Hull-bred singing couple with a deep love of traditional song.  They are confident singers solo and in harmony.  Their son Gavin lends his voice to this 53-minute CD, while Richard Arrowsmith plays melodeon on two songs.  Gavin and Richard are members of the Sheffield-based bands Crucible and Hekety.

I reviewed their previous album Under The Leaves for TLT.  This one also displays their pleasure in the grand old songs and ballads, their willingness to tweak them here and there, and their interest in unusual variants or tune settings. For instance, there’s a great version of The Unquiet Grave, which turns it into a perfect chorus song.  I was also delighted with Paul’s beautifully-phrased singing of Died For Love, a lesser known version of A Sailor’s Life, from the singing of Joseph Taylor via Mike Waterson.  Paul shows his ability to write within the tradition in The House That Jack Built and The Mermaid.

There are dark tales aplenty, with much evidence of humankind’s cruelties.  But there is light as well as shade, and many songs have a singaround feel to them. I’m sure they’ve been heard in many a Sheffield pub.  Two of the best are about country life: a Hampshire version of Stormy Winds; and The Guist Ploughman, a sowing song by Mike Barber.  There are also two pieces of Victorian melodrama – one about Grace Darling, the other from the Indian Mutiny by Captain Darling (evidently not just a character from Blackadder Goes Forth).

The photographs for Songbooks fit the title.  Maybe they were taken in the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library at Cecil Sharp House, or maybe they show a private library to die for.  I’d ask to have those books as a bumper Christmas present, but Paul and Liz are more deserving.  They are steeped in this stuff and are helping to keep the tradition fresh through their research, their respectful refashioning, and their community-based approach.

Tony Hendry
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This album was reviewed in Issue 82 of The Living Tradition magazine.