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Clare Button of EDS

reviews A Celebration of Old England by Anna Shannon

The title of Anna Shannon’s eleventh selfpenned release is well chosen. From the cover image of a blacksmith shoeing a horse, to the portraits of contemporary weavers, farriers and coopers, to songs like ‘Craftsmen of Old England’, Shannon warmly and unsentimentally celebrates England’s crafts, lore and traditions. A gallery of characters of Chaucerian richness is presented to us: the Cromwellian performer ‘Hereandgonagen’, the feisty traveller, the servant girl unfairly dismissed, the foxhunter (thwarted by a victorious Reynard), and the poacher, who paraphrases the incendiary lines from ‘Rufford Park Poachers’ –

‘a buck or a doe, believe it is so, a pheasant or be it a hare
Was put on this earth for everyone equal, everyone equal to share.’

This album’s musical world is distinctly pre-industrial, and suffused with wafts of the medieval and Renaissance; a psaltery adorns the Elizabethan lady-in-waiting’s story on ‘Lady of Grace’, a solo whistle gracefully intones the instrumental ‘The Gilded Cage’ and multi-tracked vocals add dark harmonics to her favourite song, ‘Gaudete’. Shannon embodies the rare combination of considerable poetic skill, a fine gift for melodic composition, and an ability to conjure up character, emotion and historical period with filmic vividness. There are touches of Hardy in the immediacy of her rural snapshots and ready grasp of vernacular storytelling.

I very rarely pay this compliment, but it is truly hard to tell the age of these songs without knowing they are from Shannon’s own pen. This is impressive enough, but combined with her charismatic voice (shades of the wonderful Carole Pegg, to my ears) and multi-instrumentalism (anyone who can wield a bowed psaltery has my heart), this album represents a masterful and timeless work of art. Anna Shannon sets out to celebrate England’s crafts, but also admirably showcases her own.