The Good Red Earth

by Freshly Ground

Making up and arranging songs and tunes has been a huge pleasure since I first came to folk music some 15 years ago. More recently, I’ve been dabbling in the dangerous waters of arranging traditional songs for choirs since being invited to lead a wonderful community choir in my home village of Cheddar some four years ago. This has opened my eyes to the joys of choral singing, and has also inspired the writing of some new songs specifically for choirs.

Comment from Bonny Sartin - "I'm assuming this copy of The Good Red Earth is a gift from Freshly Ground. Put it this way, they're not getting it back, it's gone straight into the Sartin family top ten".



Then I had this idea…One thing leads to another, you know how it is, and here we are, a diverse mix of eleven folk singing chums, with voicesin all shapes and sizes, who’ve come together to sing a mix of traditional and original English folk songs in glorious harmony.Aside from the simple pleasure of singing some wonderful folk songstogether, the general aim was for a fresh, natural sound that allowed the individual singer to retain their ‘voice’ within the group. We’ve had fun with arrangements, a touch of theatre creeps in here and there, and ideas abound. However, the song comes first and I hope our love and respect for the material is evident and indeed, shines forth as aletheia, which‘as any fool know’ is ancient Greek for truth!

Sincere and grateful thanks to Doug at the wonderful Wild Goose studios for taking on this far from simple recording project and sticking with the sticky bits. It was recorded ‘live’ in studio over three days, using just a crossed pair of Earthworksmics, making the opportunity for overdubs pretty much impossible! 1. John Ball : S. Carter Written in 1981 by Sydney Carter to commemorate 600 years since the Peasant’s Revolt.

 

1 John Ball 
S. Carter 

Written in 1981 by Sydney Carter to commemorate 600 years since the Peasant’s Revolt. John Ball was a priest and leader in the rebellion, and suffered the standard fate - he was hanged, drawn and quartered. 

2 The Quaker’s Wife 
Trad 

Country dance musicians will know the popular tune of the same name to which this 19th century nursery rhyme is set. 

3 The Reddleman 
I. Emeney 

Inspired by the fascinating character of Diggory Venn in Thomas Hardy’s novel The Return of the Native. Reddlemen dug the red ochre from the redding pits of which there are many in the South West, and sold it to the farmers for marking their sheep. A down side of the job was that reddlemen become permanently stained red all over, making them striking figures, who were sometimes known as ‘the devil on the moor’. 

4 Widecombe Fair 
Trad 

A musical mug from Issy’s childhood was the inspiration for this arrangement of one of Englands best known songs! “We spent part of every summer holiday in the house in Devon built by my great grandfather. Over the fireplace stood a musical tankard that played the tune of Widecombe Fair. We all loved the tankard, even though I cried for the old horse, and had nightmares about the skirling and groans. And there was something faintly chilling about that tinkling tune…” 

5 Martinmas Time 
Trad 

Martinmas falls on November 11th and is a Church Festival for St. Martin, a Roman Soldier of the fourth century who, legend has it, cut his cloak in half to share with a needy beggar one freezing winter’s day. That night, Jesus appeared to him wearing the piece of cloak he’d given away, and Martin converted to Christianity and eventually became a monk. If nothing else, it’s handy to bear in mind that ‘if ducks do slide at Martinmas, at Christmas they will swim’. 

6 The Last Tommy 
I. Emeney 

A mixture of thoughts and reflections inspired this song, written shortly after the death of Harry Patch, Britain’s last fighting Tommy. Mostly it was a feeling of appreciation and joy in freedom, something not to be taken for granted by those of us lucky enough to have it. 

7 The Keys of Canterbury 
Trad 

A fairly standard courtship song of which there are many versions, but this one has an interesting tune which made for a bit of fun in writing the harmonies, which as any Bean will tell you, are a pig to sing! 

8 Watercress O 
Words Roger Watson, music I.Emeney 

Roger wrote this cracking song in 1965. “The child was my mother, my grandmother told me the story. Gathering and selling watercress kept many people in a small extra income around our North Nottinghamshire mining community. Children listened out for the watercress seller on Sunday afternoon as keenly as kids today do for the ice cream van. The strike referred to was c. 1920 when my mother was 6”. 

9 Johnny I Hardly Knew Ya 
PD 

The origin of this song is the subject of huge debate, so we won’t even go there! The 4th verse in this version “where are those arms...” was made up by Freshly Ground member David Emeney. 

10 The Would-be Lover 
I. Emeney 

A song for both realists and romantics. 

11 Hey John Barleycorn 
Trad 

A folk club classic with a chorus that defies even the most reluctant joiner-inner not to sing along to. 

12 Princess Caraboo 
I. Emeney 

A young woman wearing exotic dress and speaking a strange language, turned up in Almondsbury in Gloucestershire around 1817. It was eventually discovered that she was a Princess from a far away land who’d been stolen by pirates, but had managed to escape. For several months she was enthusiastically embraced by the gentry of Bristol and beyond – until one day a local woman recognized her and blew the gaff on ‘Princess Caraboo’, who was really Mary Baker, a cobbler’s daughter from Witheridge in Devon. She’d fooled ’em all! As a teenager she was wild and romantic, and had many an argument with her dad for the way she dressed in “fal-lals and fantisheeny clothes”. Nothing changes does it! 

13 The Cold Dark Days of Winter 
I. Emeney 

Inspired, one cold winter’s afternoon, by a radio programme on Sacred Harp singing. A joy to sing. 
John Ball
Written in 1981 by Sydney Carter to commemorate 600 years since the Peasant’s Revolt. John Ball was a priest and leader in the rebellion
The Quaker’s Wife
Country dance musicians will know the popular tune of the same name to which this 19th century nursery rhyme is set.
Sample not available
The Reddleman
Inspired by the fascinating character of Diggory Venn in Thomas Hardy’s novel The Return of the Native. Reddlemen dug the red ochre from the redding pits of which there are many in the South West
Widecombe Fair
A musical mug from Issy’s childhood was the inspiration for this arrangement of one of Englands best known songs! “We spent part of every summer holiday in the house in Devon built by my great grandfather. Over the fireplace stood a musical tankard that played the tune of Widecombe Fair. We all loved the tankard
Sample not available
Martinmas Time
Martinmas falls on November 11th and is a Church Festival for St. Martin
Sample not available
The Last Tommy
A mixture of thoughts and reflections inspired this song
The Keys of Canterbury
A fairly standard courtship song of which there are many versions
Sample not available
Watercress O
music I.Emeney
Sample not available
Johnny I Hardly Knew Ya
The origin of this song is the subject of huge debate
Sample not available
The Would-be Lover
A song for both realists and romantics.
Sample not available
Hey John Barleycorn
A folk club classic with a chorus that defies even the most reluctant joiner-inner not to sing along to.
Princess Caraboo
A young woman wearing exotic dress and speaking a strange language
Sample not available
The Cold Dark Days of Winter
Inspired
Sample not available

Folk Northwest

Derek Gifford

Freshly Ground are a community choir from Cheddar, Somerset. They are led by the well known Suffolk folk singer, instrumentalist, composer and arranger Issy Emeny.

From the first track, Sydney Carter's familiar John Ball, it is obvious that Doug Bailey at Wild Goose studios has succeeded in capturing a 'natural' choir sound on  this album with the use of (quote) 'just a crossed pair of Earthworks mics'. It took just three days to record!

And what a fine recording it is. Issy somewhat modestly states on the sleeve notes that 'We've had fun with the arrangements...' and it is exactly these that makes this a very memorable album. The singing has a remarkable clarity and is tonally rich with some delightful harmony arrangements.

Most of the songs are traditional but Issy has written five new ones which also have a very traditional feel to them. Among the traditional ones there are a number of very well known songs such as Widecombe Fair, The Keys of Canterbury, Johnny I Hardly Knew Ya and John Barleycorn. The latter has a very imaginative arrangement which makes it very different from the 'usual' performances. Their version of the song Martinmas Time is probably the least well known of the traditional songs. It's an unusual and intricate tale of a woman's escape from soldier domination that includes cross-dressing and trickery. In other words, a typical traditional folk song!

Of the songs that Issy has written The Reddleman and the anti-war song The Last Tommy I thought were particularly notable. I enjoyed the light-hearted The Would-be Lover too. The album concludes with Issy's lovely if somewhat short winter song appropriately titled The Cold Dark Days of Winter which has a catchy tune and a very singable chorus.

In fact there's nothing not to like on this recording and I highly recommend it.

As is normal with Wild Goose recordings the album is distributed by Proper Music Distribution and is also available via the Wild Goose web site.

Fatea

Neil King

It's been a while since we've reviewed a choral album on these pages, certainly they are rarer than the instrumental albums that come through the office. In many ways vocal only albums are viewed as being a poor cousin, whilst some mainstream awards have a section for instrumentals and most have male and female singer sections, I can't think of any that specifically recognise a collection of voices.

Firstly it's a real treat to hear a choir taking that community approach to folk songs, too many choirs get diverted down the praise route or drawn towards diversity and it's really liberating to hear English song celebrated for what it is, great songs both in tales and delivery. Songs like, "John Barleycorn" and "The Keys Of Canterbury" don't survive hundreds of years without being good songs.

What really entertained me about this were the songs that I personally have been less aware of, "The Reddleman", a phrase from which gives the album it's title, for example and takes on songs like their particularly well arranged take on "Johnny I Hardly Knew You", including some really poignant solos on the verses, that give the song the impact that it always should have, it is not a happy song.

Freshly ground are not a large choir, but they do have a really good balance of voice and tone. On a number of songs they could almost dispense with the words and get across the meaning contained in the songs.

I really don't understand why there aren't more folk choirs releasing material, many of the songs in folk found their way through history on voices and the oral tradition and hearing top choirs such as Freshly Ground delivering those songs shows what we're in danger of losing, not so much the songs, but a delivery channel. Like all good choirs they add their own touches their gift to the songs and future generations and that's why "The Good Red Earth" sounds as fresh as the proverbial daisy.

Folk Monthly

Frank Chester

Now, this one may be too late for the Christmas stocking, but fans of traditional folk are definitely going to want a copy.

Freshly Ground are a choir who specialise in acapella, and by a mysterious stroke of good fortune they are based in the village of Cheddar � the home of their leader, folk icon Issy Emeney. The choir consists of Issy, husband David, Graham and Sandy Ball, Tim Brine, Sue Cook, Bernard Coulter, Sue Franklin, Gaynor Hughes, Linda Van Eyken and Vicky Wiggins.

Their style is unusual, with little apparent attempt made to discipline the singers into a blanket sound, more a collection of eleven powerful and distinctive voices, each being allowed full freedom of expression. The effect is outstanding, allowing them to fully capture the essence of traditional music in a highly entertaining manner.

The album contains several traditional songs, including The Quaker's Wife, Hey John Barleycorn, Widdecombe Fair and The Keys Of Canterbury, lately given new life by Show Of Hands.

Another mainstay of the album is the songs of Issy Emeney. They cover almost half the tracks, and are truly indistinguishable in style from the much older offerings. There is one on the subject of an exotic �princess,� later uncovered as an ambitious chancer from a village just too far away to be caught out, one on the reddlemen who mined the dye used to mark sheep in the south of England back in the 18th century, and the music for Watercress O. The words are by Roger Watson, and the song is about life in his home village in north Nottinghamshire.

But at this time of year, the laurels must go to The Cold Dark Days Of Winter, whose title speaks for itself. Seriously, though, this album is a joy from beginning to end, with much to teach lovers of acapella singing.

EDS

David Warwick

Doug Bailey at WildGoose has an enviable reputation for seeking out fresh new talent, often quirky, rarely boring, eminently listenable-to. This CD ticks all the boxes. Freshly Ground is a community choir from Cheddar inspired by, and led for the past four years by, Issy Emeney (shades of  Gareth Malone and TV's The Choir here?).

Of the 13 tracks, six owe a good deal to her in either words and music, or just the tune. For instance, she finds an original way to bring us Roger Watson's standard: 'Watercress O': almost unrecognisable in this upbeat version. There is inspired and highly accomplished writing in 'The Last Tommy', a homage to Harry Patch, Britain's last surviving First World War soldier. 'The Would-be Lover' displays the choir's excellent harmonies. 'Princess Caraboo' is an intriguing tale of false identity, with a theatrical presentation.  Of the remaining tracks I loved Sydney Carter's 'John Ball' (always a favourite of mine), the inventive 'Hey John Barleycorn' (the enthusiasm of the singers just blasts out) and 'The Keys of Canterbury'. If I haveany nitpicking reservations, it's that theoverall presentation lacks the grit, theimmediacy, of a live performance. Witnesstheir version of 'Johnny I Hardly Knew Ya',which I first knew from the seminal ClancyBrothers with Tommy Makem disc Hearty and Hellish! They made it raw and edgy,you could feel the sweat in the bar room. Freshly Ground is pleasant listening but clean and pure. You pays your money...

With Doug Bailey at the controls, the choir produced this CD in WildGoose Studios over an intense three-day period, using only a crossed pair of Earthworks microphones. Hence, as the accompanying leaflet says, 'making the opportunity for overdubs pretty much impossible'. Issy Emeney has been around the folk scene for some 15 years, and is obviously a name to look out for. I look forward to hearing future productions of hers� where more mics are available!