Sharp Practice

by Mary Humphreys & Anahata

An assortment of previously unrecorded material from the English folk tradition, much of it previously unrecorded, in a dazzling variety of arrangements. There are neglected gems from Cecil Sharps collections, alternative versions of old favorites and a number of tunes, some written by friends and others much older, that simply havent had the exposure they deserve. The arrangements range from unaccompanied singing to complex multitracked extravaganzas with melodeons, concertinas, banjo, cello and piano played by Mary and Anahata, together with contributions on fiddle, flute and recorder from Dave and Gina Holland.



Singer Mary Humphreys, whose vocal style has been informed by listening to traditional singers, and multi-intrumentalist Anahata emerge from years of working in their local folk communities to present an assortment of previously unrecorded material from the English folk tradition.

Mermaid/Marmalade Polka
Sample not available
No my love
Sample not available
Jenny Bell/Carrion Crow
Sample not available
India War/Jack’s Health
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Barb’ry Ellen
Sample not available
Dunmow Galumph/Danbury Hill
Sample not available
Young Banker/Rosie
Sample not available
Sheath and Knife
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Marsden/London/Stoney Steps Hornpipe
Sample not available
Pride of the Season
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Windsor Terrace/Mississippi Mud
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Spotted Cow
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Waltz for the Veleta/Faithful Sailor Boy
Sample not available

Dia Woosnam

Dia Woosnam

This duo was a new act on my radar: I had never caught them at a festival.   My loss. This album is seriously impressive and gives off a certain

aura. Difficult to pin down exactly what that scent is: it's got that

pleasant whiff of the library of Cecil Sharp House. There is a kind of

�integrity of both purpose and execution� here: the kind that was quite common in the Bill Leader �Trailer� days, but is a bit rarer a commodity now.

First, let's get Anahata's name out of the way. When I first saw the name, I instantly assumed he might be some performer from the Indian sub-continent, and that the album's content be some sort of bizarre fusion of (say) ragas and ragtime. But HE ain't, and IT ain't.

Rather, the title of the CD gives the clue: 'Sharp Practice'. The �sharp�

is never Mary's fine pitch-perfect singing style: and �practice� is

something they have manifestly done their fair share of. But the �Sharp�

of course refers to Cecil, as there are four songs here from his collections.   It is an album of music from the English Tradition alright.

But what makes the pun a very clever one, is an additional explanatory title

of �Rarities and Renovations from the English Tradition�. That is to

say that some purists may consider that this duo have committed �sharp practice� by NOT going for the tried, tested and trusted version of a song,

but for a more obscure variant.   For instance, the opening track has their

unusual version of that well known ballad 'The Mermaid', but has the

customary ending reversed.  I'm certain that the song does not suffer: indeed, a curious sort of blood transfusion occurs, and it has new life for me.

But it is the other half of the �additional title� that I really focus on: the �Rarities�. �When Fishes Fly (No My Love, Not I)� is a song

completely new to me, with a tune collected by Sharp in 1904, and the text an amalgam of words collected by as recently as 1958. How come it has escaped me? God knows, for the truth is that it bowled me over. If I hear a better song in the next five years I will be one very happy man. And what added to the enjoyment were the erudite notes in the liner booklet. How refreshing not to have the all-too-easy cop-out of � often superfluous - printed lyrics: well they are �superfluous� when a

singer has good diction like Ms. Humphreys. Instead, we have really

well-written and thoughtful notes, designed to both heighten our

appreciation of a song and also give us a deeper insight into it. That is

how liner notes SHOULD work, but rarely do. But these notes are top drawer: and a comment regarding this track is

typically illuminating.   I vaguely knew that the word �rue� as a noun

referred to some sort of shrub or herb, but had no idea that it was used as

an abortifacient. Indeed, let me not try to con you: I had no idea of

the existence of the word �abortifacient� until I read these notes, despite falling head-over-heels in love with the English language when just a kid!) And this kind of information adds SO MUCH to an already fine song. Whoever wrote the notes (Mary? Anahata? Doug Bailey of WildGoose Studios?) has got a real light on in their upstairs library.     A pleasure to read these notes.

As I say the album is of a high quality.  Between ballads, we often segue into instrumentals that are a mixture of the traditional and the (sometimes relatively) contemporary.   Mainly concertina and melodeon driven.  But this couple are really both multi-instrumentalists, and I think it was

Mary's banjo, and Anahata's cello that spoke to me the most. Her banjo on

the aforementioned masterpiece of a track may be beautifully persuasive,

but, two minutes into the song Anahata's cello comes in at the start of the second verse. With remarkable results. There is a real FRISSON resulting.   Sorry, but it's �resort to clich� time for me here, folks. Two words spring to mind: �hairs�and �neck�.  And that CELLO! I promise you: Pablo Casals would not have played a more

stirring and-yet-subtle accompaniment.

And his cello does it again on the second best cut, a truly stirring version of 'Sheath and Knife': again, incidentally, with a twist�a clever conflation from Mary.

A very respectable album indeed.      

I have left till last the bizarre resemblance of the sound of Mary's voice to that of a major name on the UK folk scene.   I am sure that others will have driven her half nuts with this association down the years, so I won't dwell on it. Suffice it to say that I have gone twice to see that unnamed lady twice within the last 18 months only to find she has cried off at almost literally the last minute.   And apparently (whilst not quite a

George �No Show� Jones) this is by no means exceptional.  And I am sure it

is genuine illness, incidentally.

So Mary a suggestion: shadow that superstar, and when she cries off, you get up on stage and become as well known as her.    And to be honest, I think � on the strength of this CD anyway � that I would prefer to hear your good self� always providing that Anahata's sublime cello is always not far behind!

David Kidman

David Kidman

This CD is a treasure. Exquisite in every detail, right from the

slightly punning title (recognising Cecil Sharp's enormous contribution

to published English traditional folk song) down to the exemplary

clarity and expressiveness in both vocal and instrumental performance.

Strangely, Mary's is not a familiar name except among cognoscenti � even

though she's sung for many years in the folk clubs of Manchester and

Yorkshire. (This is the first of her recordings to be widely available,

indeed.) Mary is now based in East Anglia with her partner Anahata, a

talented instrumentalist who's as well versed in orchestral, chamber and

improvised music as in traditional folk dance. Both musicians play in

ceilidh band Fendragon with Dave and Gina Holland, whose fiddle and/or

flute crop up occasionally on this disc to augment Mary's English

concertina, banjo and keyboard and Anahata's cello, anglo concertina and

copious melodeons. Together they create a textural blend that's really

appealing, at once refined and cultured, sprightly and rumbustious;

there's nothing remotely stiff, wooden or leaden about their ensemble

work here. Their accompaniments to the songs are richly textured,

although deceptively sparse in impact and thus never obtrusive. Mary's

singing proves the attractive focal point of much of the disc � provided

you don't insist on �pretty� singing, that is, for her voice is earthy

and expressive, clearly in the mould of Chris Coe (whom she namechecks

in her notes) and also oddly reminiscent at times of Norma Waterson. And

she sings from the heart, with a true involvement, dedication and

passion and an evident relish in communicating the song's essence (only

once or twice did I feel that technique gets in the way of appreciation

� her uncharacteristic use of ornamentation on Spotted Cow, for

instance). So now to the repertoire. The disc's subtitle (Rarities and

Renovations from the English Tradition) sets out Mary's personal stall

in typically direct and truthful fashion, for she includes several songs

that have hitherto undeservedly languished in obscure corners and been

rarely collected (let alone heard in performance), alongside variants of

better-known songs which qualify as renovations, refreshing and often

innovative ventures that enable us to approach with renewed enthusiasm

songs that you might think have already been �done to death�. Into this

latter category come Mary's version of the old chestnut The Mermaid in

which the usual ending is reversed and everyone goes home happy ever

after (while, intriguingly, the setting's in the minor key!), Barb'ry

Ellen (where Mary sings a reconstructed text to the wonderful tune

collected by Sharp from Louie Hooper), and Sheath And Knife, where the

affectingly stately momentum of the accompaniment gives a different kind

of impetus to the ballad's development and the inevitability of its

outcome (note also that Mary's reconstruction gives Sir William the

final emotional comments on the tragedy). Back to the first-mentioned

category, and the disc's two principal rarities turn out to be its

greatest delights. The first, No My Love, Not I (When Fishes Fly), is a

song that captivated me at once when I first heard Mary sing it at the

Ryburn 3-Step folk club, where she was once resident (she graciously

allowed me to �collect� it from her straightway, and my own adaptation

has since become a kind of cornerstone of my repertoire). This song so

very powerfully marries a truly beautiful tune to a decidedly

unsentimental account of an all-too-familiar tale.  The second of the

rarities, Pride Of The Season, is also a real jewel, and Mary sings it

unaccompanied (interestingly, this song shares with No Me Love a common

source � Kenneth Peacock, who collected it in Newfoundland in 1958).

After all that, it shouldn't come as a surprise to learn that four of

the disc's 13 tracks are instrumental sets which feature superbly-judged

combinations of familiar and unfamiliar tunes. And a further four tracks

pair songs with tunes in an eminently enticing and imaginative way �

especially notable is the closing �East Anglian set� which morphs Waltz

For The Valeta into The Faithful Sailor Boy. And so what if Mary's

lively rendition of Young Banker (from the Frank Kidson collection)

closely mirrors that of Chris Coe � whose version Mary heard long before

the popular Watersons one, as it turns out � since it's given an extra

degree of lift by the infectious arrangement. I could enthuse further,

but I don't want to spoil the delicious element of surprise and

discovery you'll get on playing this lovely disc.

Andys Front Hall

JR

A sweet-voiced lady singing traditional English songs accompanying herself on the banjo? Well, comparison to Shirley Collins is inevitable, perhaps, and certainly there are similarities. Mary Humphreys has a sometimes plaintive, very fluid voice that lends itself well to her material, and her style of fingerpicked banjo is certainly similar to Collins, but you would not mistake the one for the other. Mary is a veteran of the English folk scene, and here, with her partner Anahata, she has produced a delightful album of folk music, subtitled Rarities and Renovations from the English Tradition.As well as banjo, Mary plays English concertina and keyboards. Anahata does not sing, but he adds anglo concertina, melodeon and cello into the mix. As the title suggests, many of the songs come from the collection of Cecil Sharp. There are well known songs in less familiar versions, such as The Mermaid, The Carrion Crow and Barbara Allen, this last beautifully accompanied with just the cello. These intermingle with tune medleys, and more unfamiliar songs. I had not heard When Fishes Fly (No My Love Not I) before, but it is a poignant ballad on the faithlessness of men. �When fishes fly and swallows die, young men will prove true; there's a herb in my father's garden, and some do call it rue.� Here, versions from Sharp's English collection are collated with a Newfoundland text for a more complete version. The result is quite lovely.Songs are segued into tunes, and there are a number of free-standing tune medleys, mostly led by concertina or melodeon. Like the overall feel of the album, these tunes are not played raucously, but in the gentler style of the older musicians from whom many of them were collected. Sometimes the instruments are double tracked for effect, and occasionally fiddle or flute is added, but the overall mood is quiet and reflective. To end the CD, an East Anglian waltz is segued into The Faithful Sailor Boy, a Victorian tear-jerker on which Mary double-tracks her vocal in the chorus. I have enjoyed this song since it was recorded by Oak many years ago, and here it brings a very thoughtfully and lovingly conceived recording to a satisfying conclusion.  

EDS

Barry Callaghan

So who needs another Barbry Ellen? I hear you ask... Well, you do, if its the one off Mary Humphries and Anahatas collection of English tunes and songs. Mary sings the Louie Hooper tune, collected by Sharp in 1903, with solo cello accompaniment, and its a performance that makes you glad youre alive. And the rest of the album isnt far behind.

The CD isnt exclusively Sharp?based ?indeed only four tracks are from that source; but the title indicates the deep involvement in the English tradition that both of these musicians have. Its an eclectic collection, and the notes to the album make clear the deep personal attachment they have to the pieces. Songs come from East Anglia, Child, and Newfoundland, while the tunes are from Playford to recently?composed. Marys voice is well?suited to big songs such as the ballad (Sheath and Knife) and When Fishes Fly: in the notes she acknowledges the influence of Chris Coe, and one can pay her no higher compliment than to say that it shows ? though thats not to say that she isnt her own singer. She has indeed a particular richness to her voice that is her own.

Anahata is a proper musician: got a full control of his instruments (melodeons, anglo concertina and cello) and deep understanding of the music, but manages not to lose the essential raunchiness and energy. The accompaniments to the songs (including contributions by Mary on banjo, keyboard and English concertina, and guest appearances by Dave and Gina Holland) are emotional and relevant; the tune sets are in fact pretty technically accomplished, though youd be forgiven for not noticing, as the attention is always on the music rather than the playing. Lovely to have the Stoney Steps set recorded: thrilling music.

Sure, there are unevennesses... Mary has a torchy sort of voice, and sometimes when she downscales to songs like Carrion Crow, with a jolly sort of accompaniment, the feel gets a bit close to `a folk song on childrens TV Im sure this works with audiences, but feels a bit lost on CD. Same applies to the Dunmow Gallumph tune, which even after several listenings I cant feel is up to the Danbury Hill which follows it. And the one?row melodeon playing doesnt quite catch the East Anglian crispness in the final track. But these really dont detract from the enjoyment of the whole.

Mary and Anahata are currently developing a presence on the club and festival scene, and this CD gives a pretty good ideas of the range of material and style that they are presenting. An album to treasure, and an act well worth catching.


Folk on Tap

Mick Ryan

I thoroughly enjoyed this. The material is unusual, carefully chosen and well balanced, while the arrangements, singing and playing are always highly skilled and sometimes very special.

Over and above her expert prowess on banjo and concertina, Mary is a fine singer. Her solo performance of `Pride of the Season, a powerful lyrical ballad, is perfectly paced and timed.

Anahata, meanwhile, is a very gifted musician. In amongst the various ensemble instrumental pieces, which are, in themselves, very fine, there are a couple tracks where we are treated (and I mean treated) to lengthy solos where he shows just how much can be achieved in what I would describe as a `pure English style of melodian playing. These interludes are little masterpieces, not to say master?classes, of musicianly understatement. Brilliant!

There are plenty of rare and beautiful songs and tunes here; but my personal favourites are those which combine Marys powers of musical storytelling with Anahatas highly expressive cello playing. `No My Love Not I features the unusual, but strangely compelling, accompanying combination of banjo and cello; and it works a treat.

But the absolute gem of this collection, for me, is a wonderful version of `Barbry Ellen with Marys singing set to perfection by Anahatas haunting solo cello.

All in all, this album exemplifies good taste and musicianship of a very high order indeed.


fRoots

Nick Beale

�Alternative versions� and �neglected gems�, they say. To which should be added �an unexpected pleasure�. Humphreys sings and plays banjo and squeezeboxes, Anahata plays boxes and cello. Their first track, Mermaid, is OK without being anything remarkable, but the second, No My Love, Not I, gets your attention in no uncertain terms. Being a total sucker for a sad song, I readily fell for that one and Bar-b'ry Ellen. Both are sung with beautiful control and conviction, the first (herbs in gardens that some do call �rue� and all that) to a cello/ banjo accompaniment and the second, very effectively, to just the cello. Sheath And Knife is a close runner-up, if not on the overwhelming level of Tony Rose's version (very little is...). Turning briefly away from tragedy, they do Spotted Cow to Joseph Taylor's tune but -a nice take on Young Banker apart -aren't that big on songs where it's gonna work out fine. Jollity comes instead via the tunes, picked up from books, friends and wherever, all played with verve, good arrangements and the slightly ramshackle rhythm that is one of the glories of English music.

Shire Fok

Tom Bell Richards

Two names new to me, presenting a selection of English music with a nod towards the Cecil Sharp centenary. Mary Humphreys is a fine traditional singer, and plays finger?style banjo and concertina. Her voice is low and quite dark, and telling the story clearly always comes first. Anahata is a first class melodeon and anglo player in a John Kirkpatrick?ish style. His melodeon playing includes a very effective melody/counter?melody on India War/Jacks Health, and a tune intended to be impossible to play! He also provides excellent cello accompaniments. Songs and tunes share the cd fairly evenly, and even where the material is very familiar, (e.g. Barbry Allen) these versions are worth hearing. As with much of the best English music these two do simple?seeming things with a subtlety that hides just how well they are being done!

Tykes News

Jim Lawton

From the first time I saw Mary sing at the Ripponden folk club I was

taken with her fiery delivery,  expressive vocals and instrumental skill.

It is our great good fortune that Anahata, coming from a classical

training and a lifetime with Morris and other bands, forms an ideal

companion for those skills.

The CD comes with copious sleeve notes, describing the couples aim

of  presenting a wide range of English music and song and of  

recording songs from Anahatas collection and from Marys repertoire

of often unique versions, together with detailed histories for each track.

This is a feast for any fan of traditional songs and music, and its

wonderful to hear English tunes given such a showcase.  In those

instrumentals where both artists play squeeze boxes I am reminded of

the intricacies of Martin Ellison and Roger Edwards playing.  The

ballad accompaniments provide a wealth of opportunities to display  

Marys skill on banjo and keyboards, and Anahatas on cello, the latter

with great emotional effect on a stunning version of Barbry Allen.

As I said, I have heard Mary sing live on several occasions, but I think that the attention to the traditional roots of this music, especially in the ballads, brings out a quality and solidity which I have not remarked before, and which often calls to mind the tone and delivery of Norma Waterson.

>From the jolly Dunmow Galumph to the heartrending Sheath and Knife,

this CD is a masterpiece. I really cant recommend it highly enough.

The couple have a website at www.treewind.co.uk/mha where you can

learn more.



Whats Afoot

Colin Andrews

Ever since I heard Mary & Anahata live at Bideford Folk Club and reviewed their first CD (Through The Groves) earlier this year, I have been looking forward to their new release on the WildGoose label.

There is nothing fancy or affected in Marys style of singing, but she manages to convey her love of these traditional songs with a warmth and passion all too rarely seen amongst guest artists in folk clubs today. She has a knack of finding interesting variants of familiar songs ? the opening track, The Mermaid, being one such; a delightful minor tune and a happy ending that contrasts to the lively chorus version in which everyone drowns ! The Carrion Crow, collected by Cecil Sharp, is also not the most common version. The accompaniments to the songs ? on banjo from Mary and with cello, anglo concertina or melodeon from Anahata ? are all well thought out ? sympathetic and appropriate, enhancing the song, rather than distracting ones attention. Listen to Barbry Ellen or When Fishes Fly (one of my favourites on this album) and the cello adds poignancy and incredible atmosphere.

Their first CD included a couple of instrumental tracks, but this album has an even split between songs and tunes, several tracks pairing the two ? Young Banker, for example, leads naturally into a Dave Wallace tune, Rosie. Mary joins Anahata in various instrumentals on English concertina or keyboard . The Marmalade and Jenny Bell Polkas are great foot?tapping tunes, and the technically more tricky tunes, Dumnow Galumph & Danbury Hill are inspiring (I dont think Ill get my fingers around them for quite a while !).

I could enthuse at length on practically every track, from Child ballad (Sheath & Knife) to musical hall style, double?tracked Faithful Sailor Boy , or the other instrumentals. This album, for me, presents songs as they should be sung, and tunes as they should be played. Ive only one criticism ? a standard length album is not enough to satisfy my desire for more of each ! Hopefully WildGoose will release another before too long.

Whats on in Kent

Rob Mitchell

Mary and Anahata, having long established their individual reputations in the English Folk tradition, brought together their considerable skills (Mary ? vocals, ?English Concertinas, keyboard, banjo; Anahata Melodeons, Angio Concertina and Cello) in 2001. This new album is a credit to those skills, demonstrating a robust, heartfelt expression of traditional songs and tunes, some previously neglected, some newly arranged, but all presented with clarity, respect and musical wit.

Cecil Sharp (whose vast contribution to the genre is acknowledged in the albums title) would, Im sure, have felt at home with these renditions. Anahatas simple, wistful cello and Marys soulful vocals in Barbry Ellen result in quite the finest version of this popular song that Ive ever heard. The eclectic range of dance tunes bursts with life, consistently avoiding the plodding dryness which can so easily characterise the playing of yet another English Dance tune.

Throughout, Marys voice has exactly the right feeling of the traditional English (and I believe shes Welsh!) song. Sensitive and useful contributions on fiddle, flute and recorder, from Dave and Gina Holland, complement the sheer musicality of this excellent work from two fine musicians. Enjoy!