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VARIOUS ARTISTS - The Theme, The Song, The Joy: A Feast Of Village Carols From The Festival Of Village Carols 2002-2014

VARIOUS ARTISTS - The Theme, The Song, The Joy: A Feast Of Village Carols From The Festival Of Village Carols 2002-2014
Village Carols VCF103

It may be a cumbersome title, but no one could deny this double CD truly does ‘what it says on the tin’. Here are 42 carols, recorded this century at the biennial carol festival in Sheffield, performed by everything from small local groups to a dozen tracks “sung by all with the festival orchestra” – a joyful noise unto the Lord, indeed. Or perhaps not, because the point here is not the lyrical content of the songs but the obvious and life-affirming joy of singing.

Naturally, the carol traditions of Sheffield and North Derbyshire are well represented, but here too are parallel, if unrelated, traditions from Padstow, Powys and Pennsylvania. Anyone familiar with any of these carol traditions will need no further recommendation than the fact that this release exists, but I should remark on the excellence of both the recordings and the detailed accompanying booklet. If you are not familiar, a diversion of delightful discovery herein awaits you.

If any aspect of folk music deserves the description “Living Tradition”, it is this. The singing of carols was preserved among local communities in the face of dismission by the Church (hence the singing in the pub aspect), disregard from publications of official canons of carols that chose to overlook most of this repertoire, disregard by collectors whose remit did not embrace it and disapproval from the taste-shapers of the Revival.

This set is an obvious choice, if you’d like Christmas 2017 to avoid clichéd carols, maudlin MOR, snowy Slade or Christmas Cliff: instead lose yourself in the sound of people who love to sing and, moreover, love to sing together. Most of the core songs are here, together with some unexpected settings of more familiar carols (Angels From The Realms Of Glory, Hark The Herald Angels and, of course, While Shepherds): there are also some excellent solos – John Fowler, sounding like a prime Lou Killen, and the astounding Will Noble’s version of The Mistletoe Bough. Mighty, magnificent, uplifting and absolutely essential listening.

Nigel Schofield

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This album was reviewed in Issue 121 of The Living Tradition magazine.