Through Lonesome Woods

by The Askew Sisters

Emily and Hazel Askew are one of the exciting young duos playing traditional English music in a modern style.



1 Saturday night / Through Lonesome Woods 


This set begins with a morris dance tune called Saturday Night from the Longborough tradition, which we use to set the scene for the song. Through Lonesome Woods was very rare as only one version was ever found, so we are very lucky to have it! It was collected by George Gardiner from Henry Purkiss in Cadnam, NewForest in 1908, and mentions ‘Dibden town’ which is a small village in the New Forest. The song is in 5/4 time which was not as unusual as you would think, as it naturally fits the iambic nature of English speech. We love the beautiful imagery of the dark forests and the way that they change along with the mood of the narrative. 

2 The Blue Eyed Stranger/Godesses/Mrs Casey 


The Blue Eyed Stranger is a morris dance tune from the Headington tradition which we used to dance to many years ago– though we play it too fast for that now! We follow it with Goddesses from John Playford’s English Dancing Master, a collection of country dances and their tunes, first published in 1651. We end the set with another morris dance tune called Mrs Casey from the Fieldtown tradition. 

3 Henry Martin 


Our version is a mixture between one collected by Cecil Sharp from Jack Barnard in Bridgwater, Somerset in 1906 and Phil Tanner’s version which was recorded in 1936 with wonderful microtonal singing. It’s a version of Child Ballad no. 250 and is thought to be a retelling of the story of Sir Andrew Barton who was a High Admiral of Scotland in the 15th century, (who is also the subject of a separate Child Ballad no. 167). 

4 The Bonny Bows of London Town 


The words to this song are an amalgamation of various versions from the Child Ballad collection (no.10, The Two Sisters) and the last couplet was written by Pete Coe. The tune is based on one collected from ‘an old woman in Banffshire’ which can be found in Christie’s Traditional Ballads and Airs. There are versions of this tale from all over Europe (some of which are very grizzly!) and the story can even be found in tales from as far away as South Africa. The refrains we use are from Motherwell’s 1825 manuscript as we like the way it is set in London (but Hazel is hoping it hasn’t given Emily too many ideas!). We avoided this song for many years, but were won over when Jeff Warner suggested we should do a version whilst we watched someone sing it at Whitby Folk Week a couple of years ago... so here it is! 

5 The Dusty Miller/ The Presbyterian Hornpipe 


This set of 3/2 hornpipes can both be found in John Offord’s brilliant publication John of the Greeny Cheshire Way: The Famous Double Hornpipes of Lancashire and Cheshire. The Dusty Miller originates from Caledonian Country Dances, published by John Walsh in the 18th century, and the Presbyterian Hornpipe is from the Third Book of most Celebrated Jigs, Lancashire Hornpipes, Scotch and Highland Lilts, also published by Walsh. 

6 Lord Bateman 


Lord Bateman is perhaps one of the most beautiful and compelling ballads around with its vivid characters and gripping narrative. We originally heard this tune from a recording made in 1967 of John Reilly’s version - Lord Baker – but listening back it seems to have evolved quite a lot since then! The words come from various versions in the Child Ballad collection (no. 53, Young Beichan). The story is very similar to the legend of Gilbert Becket and Shusha Pye, parents of St Thomas à Becket, a tale which can be dated back to 1300. This narrative was also popular in Europe and versions have been found in Scandinavia, Spain and Italy. We like to think of Lord Bateman’s adventure as a bit of a gap year! 

7 Sweet Lemaney 


Our version of this beautiful song was first heard on a recording by Peter Bellamy, but we’ve also taken some words from broadside ballad versions. It originates from the south west and is also known as Lemonay, Lemady, Limmony, Limadee amongst others, and is thought to come from ‘Leman’,the archaic word for lover. The significance of the white robes in the last line is unclear, but sometimes appears as coloured robes in other versions. Emily has also let Hazel pluck a few notes on the fiddle for this arrangement! 

8 Mundesse/ Paddy Carey’s 


Mundesse is another tune from Playford’s 1651 English Dancing Master. We follow with one of our favourite jigs – Paddy Careys. Listen out for Hazel’s cheesy bassline! 

9 If I was a Blackbird 


This lovely waltzy version was collected by George Gardiner from Mrs Etheridge in Southampton in June 1906. However, the text was incomplete, so Gardiner placed an ad in the Hampshire Chronicle appealing for other verses. He received a reply from Mrs Lee of Whitchurch containing a full set of verses (which we sing here) and her letter can still be found in the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library at Cecil Sharp House. 

10 Jack the Jolly Tar 


We found this version in Roy Palmer’s Book of British Ballads and it was originally sung by William Nott of Meshaw, Devon and collected by Cecil Sharp in 1904, although we’ve taken some words from other sources. 

11 Valentine/ The Turtle Dove 


We begin this piece with a short rendition of Valentine from the Ascot-under-Wychwood morris tradition, although we used to dance to it in the Fieldtown style. Coincidently, the title of this tune fits very well with the song that follows it, a beautiful version of the Turtle Dove sung by Edith Sartin (a distant relative of well known folkie Paul Sartin) in Corscombe, Dorset in 1906 (although we have slightly altered the tune). It was collected by brothers Henry and Robert Hammond and can be found in the reissued Marrowbones book. 
Saturday night / Through Lonesome Woods
This set begins with a morris dance tune called Saturday Night from the Longborough tradition
The Blue Eyed Stranger/Godesses/Mrs Casey
The Blue Eyed Stranger is a morris dance tune from the Headington tradition which we used to dance to many years ago– though we play it too fast for that now! We follow it with Goddesses from John Playford’s English Dancing Master
Henry Martin
Our version is a mixture between one collected by Cecil Sharp from Jack Barnard in Bridgwater
The Bonny Bows of London Town
The words to this song are an amalgamation of various versions from the Child Ballad collection (no.10
Sample not available
The Dusty Miller/ The Presbyterian Hornpipe
This set of 3/2 hornpipes can both be found in John Offord’s brilliant publication John of the Greeny Cheshire Way: The Famous Double Hornpipes of Lancashire and Cheshire. The Dusty Miller originates from Caledonian Country Dances
Sample not available
Lord Bateman
Lord Bateman is perhaps one of the most beautiful and compelling ballads around with its vivid characters and gripping narrative. We originally heard this tune from a recording made in 1967 of John Reilly’s version - Lord Baker – but listening back it seems to have evolved quite a lot since then! The words come from various versions in the Child Ballad collection (no. 53
Sample not available
Sweet Lemaney
Our version of this beautiful song was first heard on a recording by Peter Bellamy
Sample not available
Mundesse/ Paddy Carey’s
Mundesse is another tune from Playford’s 1651 English Dancing Master. We follow with one of our favourite jigs – Paddy Careys. Listen out for Hazel’s cheesy bassline!
Sample not available
If I was a Blackbird
This lovely waltzy version was collected by George Gardiner from Mrs Etheridge in Southampton in June 1906. However
Sample not available
Jack the Jolly Tar
We found this version in Roy Palmer’s Book of British Ballads and it was originally sung by William Nott of Meshaw
Sample not available
Valentine/ The Turtle Dove
We begin this piece with a short rendition of Valentine from the Ascot-under-Wychwood morris tradition
Sample not available

Folk London

PCW

This is the third CD from this young London based duo and they are still getting better. This CD consists of eleven tracks, both songs and instrumentals. Don't be mislead by that low number, seven are over five minutes long and, curiously, Lord Bateman isn't the longest.

The title track is a beautiful song, known only from one source in Hampshire. That is followed by a classic Askew tune set starting with Blue Eyed Stranger, switching to the lovely 17th century dance tune Goddesses then back to the Cotswolds for Mrs Casey.

The sisters are both highly skilled musicians with Hazel on melodeon and Emily on violin giving sensitive but powerful accompaniments that drive the songs along. There is only one song unaccompanied, which is Jack the Jolly Tar which is a little more polite than most versions, as it doesn't end with "fifteen sailors pulling on the string".

Throughout the CD Hazel's voice is a joy to listen to. My favourites have to be the lilting If I Were a Blackbird, the swashbuckling Lord Bateman, and The Bonny Bows of London Town which is an amalgamation of several versions of The Two Sisters and includes the obligatory fiddle built from body parts.

fRoots

David Kidman

This second album from winning sibling act Hazel and Emily Askew, although again firmly traditionally-based, makes a virtue out of fresh and imaginative reinterpretation of its source material, in which respect it eclipses its predecessor. The opening track, which leads a spooky morris tune hesitantly by the hand into the lonesome woods of the title, is attention-grabbing for all the right reasons: an expert control of pacing and dynamics, glorious tone from both melodeon and fiddle, the instrumentation creatively and tellingly cascading back and forth beneath a captivating vocal rendition (by Hazel) of the beautifully dark imagery of the song text, and even some eerie vocal harmonies creeping in towards the close... magic. The sisters then bring us back to earth with a vibrant set combining morris and country dance tunes, taken at a not-quite-dancer-friendly lick!

This sets a kind of pattern that judiciously intersperses vocal and instrumental items through the disc, though with a balance weighted in favour of song. Aside from one sisterly a cappella item (the saucy Jack The Jolly Tar), all the songs make excellent use of the varying textures that can be achieved from combining sweeping reed and bow strokes in an impressive and intelligent versatility of switching of parts, combining and alternating melody and harmony lines for continued musical interest without distracting from the storytelling. The playing of both sisters uncannily shares the vital characteristics of being at the same time strikingly lyrical and full of atmospheric feeling, also packing an infectious rhythmic punch where desired - which on Paddy Carey's Jig even includes the adoption of what Hazel self-deprecatingly terms "a cheesy bassline"!

With Hazel's confident and mature singing, the responsiveness to the text works both ways and the inherent drama is invariably enhanced. A good example of this comes with The Bonny Bows Of London Town, a collation of various versions of the Two Sisters ballad, which draws much of its impact from ingenious use of instrumental effects and textures that avoids any sense of artificial contrivance. The sisters' fine version of the enigmatic Sweet Lemaney is a further illustration of their creative approach (and uniquely features duetting pizzicato fiddles), while their take on Lord Bateman is hardly less compelling. Hazel and Emily have clearly thought hard about how best to bring these songs alive, and their liner notes are just detailed enough to indicate they've done their research but without boring us with showy scholarship. Even on the more well-known song choices the sisters have something of their own to contribute to the folk process, and the disc is a triumph.

English Dance & Song magazine

Dave Eyre

This record shows that the development of the Askew Sisters, in both technique and artistry, continues apace. In it, there is a wide variety of material with complex arrangements, and familiar material is given a distinctive attention to detail and put together with well-chosen variants. There are three ballads which deserve highlighting:

'Henry Martin', 'The Bonny Bows of London Town' and 'Lord Bateman'. If singers add accompaniments to well-known ballads then they need to ensure that they do it for a reason. The Askews' accompaniments emphasise without intrusion, and yet they still manage to draw out underlying meaning and point the attention of the casual listener to that which might just be missed. They deserve very close listening.  As well as these three classic ballads, there are four instrumental tracks taken from sources such as Playford and Offord, and some morris tunes, not always played at dancing speed, but played for sheer enjoyment; the slow morris tune from the Longborough tradition which leads into, and sets the scene for, the title track is a perfect choice. The rhythmical playing, especially of the hornpipes, will set feet banging and the jig 'Paddy Carey's' does indeed have a cheesy bass line, as the liner notes suggest!

Sometimes the rhythm which accompanies the songs is simply steady rather than pushing the tune along, allowing the material to shine through even more clearly. Other songs include 'Sweet Lemany', 'Jack the Jolly Tar' (a lovely a capella track with clever harmonies), and 'If I was a Blackbird', all taken from a variety of sources and all put together with studious clarity.  The Askew Sisters have created an outstanding album, and they will again be gracing the folk club and festival stages this summer. You are urged to go, see and listen.

Bright Young Folk

Mary Stokes

the bright young folk review

Three years after their critically acclaimed d�but, 'Through Lonesome Woods' cements The Askew Sisters' reputation as shining stars on the British folk scene.

The title track is partnered with the traditional Morris tune 'Saturday Night' for the album's highly evocative opening track. Making the most of the melodeon's long sustained notes the pair set a mournful tone, which captures the essence of both the story 'Through Lonesome Woods' and of the bleak forest, which adorns the album, cover.

The pace changes instantly however, as the pair launch themselves into a set of tunes. A pair of Morris tunes separated by a country-dance, you'd have a tough time dancing to 'The Blue Eyed Stranger/ Goddesses/ Mrs Carey' at this speed! Known for their energy, the various tunes demonstrate their respective instrumental talents and impressive musicianship.

With 'The Bonny Bows of London Town', the pair delves into the dark underside of the capital, albeit not as gruesome as some versions would have it! Nonetheless, the result is one of the stand-out tracks from the album. The haunting tone is set from the very beginning, with Hazel's crystal clear vocals telling of a sister's plot to do away with her fairer sibling, while underneath Emily captures the tense atmosphere, making the most of the lower register of the violin. Simply breathtaking.

In their cover notes The Askew Sisters describe the story of 'Lord Bateman' as a �bit of a gap year�, and their version of the Child Ballad reflects the adventurous nature of the ill-fated Lord's travels. As well as being beautifully crisp and clear, Emily's vocals are also highly sympathetic to the emotions at play throughout the story and so you can hear the playful determination in her voice. Truly uplifting, this is a beautiful version of a well known story.

An entirely traditional collection, the album is a beautifully balanced mix of the mournful and the upbeat and with extensive cover notes, the Askew Sisters demonstrate their grounding in the traditional tunes they have chosen to appear on this, their second album.

A thoroughly enjoyable listen.


Taplas

Mike Greenwood

SISTERS Emily and Hazel Askew were brought up close to the Cotswold Morris community, whose music, with all its rhythms and modes, is central to everything they do. From the mysteriously modal opening of Saturday Night through to the more direct reading of The Valentine, these melodies weave in and out of the song arrangements and tune sets.

The blend of melodeon and fiddle recalls early Wood and Cutting, displaying that same symbiotic resonance between free reed and bowed string. But, whereas that earlier partnership played largely instrumental pieces, this album bristles with superbly arranged songs, including Child ballads such as Lord Bateman, and old country tales. The strength of Hazel's lead vocal is exemplified on Sweet Lemaney, set against gently plucked strings, while elsewhere Emily adds complementary backing vocals either in unison or harmony. Thoroughly polished and confident.

Mardles

Mary Humphreys

I remember the first CD the Askew sisters made while they were still at school. It had about 6 tracks - it was a present from their father, Bob Askew. I thought that they were pretty good then, showing considerable inventiveness and artistry. Not surprisingly they have gone on to develop phenomenal skills on their respective instruments (melodeon and fiddle) and Hazel's voice has acquired both flexibility and maturity. They both are highly trained and accomplished musicians in the classical genre, yet they are firmly grounded in folk traditions both through their own involvement in Morris, sessions and festival-going and also through their father's involvement in song research. This shows through in everything that they do.

This CD has a rich mixture of Morris, English Country Dance Music and Playford tunes along with Child Ballads and other songs collected from singers long ago by George Gardiner, Cecil Sharp et al. The manuscript sources of the songs and tunes are rigorously detailed in the sleeve notes something which is very rare these days when so many performers repeat songs they heard from other recording artists without bothering to go back to the original sources.

The CD starts with a very atmospheric version of Saturday Night, a morris tune from the Longborough tradition which you would find it impossible to dance to, but never mind that - it soon becomes a hauntingly beautiful and rare song - Through Lonesome Woods. The rhythmic accompaniment of the melodeon is amazing - it sounds as though there is a drum beating. I would love to know how Andy Bell, who did the recording, managed to get this effect.

Their Playford tunes are glorious. The tune arrangements are complex, yet never hide the essential melody line. There are times when it is hard to believe that there are only two instruments playing. I am pretty sure that Vaughan Williams would have approved of their treatment of the traditional tunes. The transitions between the tunes in the medleys is nothing short of brilliant. I loved their 3/2 set, Walsh's The Presbyterian being a tricky old thing to play. No problem for these two!

The sisters allow the melody line to shine through in every track, the voice never once being subservient to the accompaniment. I particularly liked The Bonny Bows of London Town - a version of The Two Sisters. The fiddle accompaniment is unsurpassed in any other recording I have heard, and the fact that the song is sung by two sisters adds a frisson of reality to the performance, particularly when they duet as the song progresses.

This album deserves to be a sell-out. It is definitely the best I have heard from the "new wave" of folk artists. If you get the chance to see the sisters locally - please go. I know that they are at the Milkmaid in Bury St Edmunds on October 1st. Book your ticket now!

Shire Folk

Barry Goodman

This is the third album by the Askew Sisters in their own right, and it marks a true coming-of-age

for Emily and Hazel. There are fine tunes, featuring Hazel's stylish, inventive melodeon playing and Emily's rhythmic, tuneful English-style fiddling, all arranged to show off the two instruments at their best - the way they blend at the end of The Blue-Eyed Stranger is an absolute joy, while the set of 3/2 hornpipes (The Dusty Miller/The Presbyterian Hornpipe) is wonderfully spirited, with some gutsy underpinning from Hazel's bass lines.

Two of the tunes featured on the CD are used to introduce songs - Saturday Night from The Longborough Morris tradition precedes the beautiful 5/4-time song Through Lonesome Woods, itself a rare set of words collected by George Gardiner, while Valentine complements a fine version of The Turtle Dove from Edith Sartin of Corscombe, Dorset.

The core of this album, for me at any rate, is the treatment of two big ballads - Lord Bateman, with an unusual tune and terrific narrative, and The Bonny Bows of London Town, where the Askews' talent for telling a story in song comes to the fore - dramatic use of instruments and harmony, clarity of diction and a sense of the shape of the story make this an emotional roller-coaster of a performance that bears re-listening over and again.

Hazel and Emily display their love of the tradition, not only in the music, but also in the detailed, informative notes that add so much to the whole package. The strong singing, beautifully-crafted arrangements and choice of tracks make this an outstanding album of traditional music. A coming-of-age indeed!

Whats Afoot

Bob and Jacqueline Patten

The talented Askew sisters, Hazel and Emily, have developed a style that suggests a maturity beyond their years, one that many performers fail to achieve however long their career. On their latest CD, Through Lonesome Woods, they give a remarkably uplifting performance. Hazel plays melodeon and sings lead vocals, while Emily plays violin and sings backing vocals. Throughout the delivery is flawless, from the first to the last track this album holds the listener's attention.

The instrumental tracks are played with a vigour and rhythm that makes it difficult to believe that anyone would not find themselves moving in time to the music wherever they are, whatever they are doing. To highlight particular tunes as favourites is inenviable, however, if pressed, the medley of The Blue-eyed Stranger/Goddesses/Mrs Casey, might be included in my Desert Island Discs!

In contrast to the upbeat instrumental tracks, the vocal tracks include three ballads: Henry Martin, Lord Bateman, and The Two Sisters. To include three ballads on one album and retain the listener's attention is ambitious, one which they achieve admirably. Both the stories and the tunes are captivating in these haunting renditions. Other songs include a delightful waltz setting of If I were a Blackbird taken from the Gardiner Collection; Jack the Jollv Tar collected by Sharp from William Nott of Meshaw, and The Turtle Dove collected in Dorset by the Hammond Brothers. From the sources mentioned for these three, it will be gathered that this is an album of southern English music.

By the time The Askew Sisters have reached an even wider audience with concert and festival appearances, as well as people who buy the CD as an introduction to this duo, people will be wanting another album. Not only is praise due to Hazel and Emily, congratulations must also go to Andy Bell for such a high-standard recording and production.

Shreds and Patches

Chris Yorkie Bartram

When given this CD to review I mentioned the fact to an acquaintance who said, "Hmm, they're young and pretty but ..." On this basis he denied their credentials as "folk musicians". I was surprised and decided to ask other people (none of them my close friends, by the way). With a little digging (I am a professional digger, after all), I discovered that this appallingly old-fashioned attitude was quite common! (Mind you, we're talking about "folkies" here so "old-fashioned" shouldn't be such a surprise, should it?). It reminded me of the sleeve-notes on an early Joan Baez LP where Bob Dylan admits to "distrusting" her beautiful voice. But that was back in the early 1960s! Surely, even the most "folky" amongst us should have moved on by now.

So let me say unequivocally that these two are, indeed, young and pretty but also among the most "authentic" folk musicians of their generation. They have danced the Morris, so know how the tunes work; they have learned songs from older generations and continue to present them in true traditional manner. They occasionally sing unaccompanied (with those fabulous harmonies that only siblings seem able to achieve) or they accompany themselves on melodeon and fiddle (played with great skill and imagination).

This collection is a nicely balanced mix of songs and tunes. The tunes are sometimes (as they themselves acknowledge) played "too fast" for the dancing they were intended for but, as entertaining material to listen to, they are just right. They make a great foil for the songs which range from strong ballads such as Henry Martin and Lord Bateman to lovely songs like If I was a Blackbird and Sweet Lemaney. There are samples to listen to on the Wildgoose website. Have a listen and, if you like them as much as I do, buy the CD. It is very highly recommended.