Mike Greenwood of Taplas article
reviews Fenlandia by Mary Humphreys & AnahataREAPING REWARDS Mike Greenwood chats to Mary Humphreys & Anahata
It must he extremely rewarding to unearth long forgotten folksong material from one's own locality. Mick Tems, when Swansea based, followed up all the leads on Gower's Phil Tanner and, later, at Roy Harris' instigation, dissected the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library at Cecil Sharp House, seeking songs of the old south Wales shantymen.
North Wales born singer and instrumentalist Mary Humphreys, once resident in the mid Pennines and playing a significant part in the Coe/Adams Ryburn 3-Step co-operative, has now settled with partner Anahata in rural Cambridgeshire and, after identifying a local source for the ballad Lucy Wan, she was off to the same EFDSS folk music library.
Lucy Wan was collected, back in the days of Sharp and Broadwood's unstinting fieldwork, by Ella Bull of Cottenham, a village just down the road from Mary and Anahata's fenland home. The six year old Ella had picked up the song, and various others, from hearing the singing of the family maid, Charlotte Few. The rewards of Mary's research can be found on the cleverly titled CD Fenlandia, recently released by Anahata and Mary on Doug Bailey's Wild Goose label. Mind you, tucked in amongst all these Cambridgeshire songs, you might well find a brace of Welsh jigs, as well as a bold reading of the march Ymdaeth Gwyr Dyfnaint, for the interpretation of which Mick's assistance is gratefully acknowledged. The fact is, Mary was born a stone's throw from the entrance to that tragic pit at Gresford, near Wrexham.
Though having lived virtually all her adult life in the north of England, and now regretting the loss of her conversational capacity in her mother tongue, Mary will always contribute a few traditional Welsh songs, in both Welsh and English, to their gigs, along with a string of Welsh dance tunes played on her and Anahata's English and anglo concertinas. "We have been intending for a while now to make an album of Welsh music, including Mary's songs in Welsh," explains Anahata. "We'll put the album together at home, where I have a small recording studio."
When we spoke, Mary and Anahata were looking forward to a return visit to south Wales' Miskin Festival this Easter, where they anticipate renewing old friendships and perhaps forming many new ones. They'll later be appearing at Chippenham, Bideford, Sidmouth, Dartmoor and Whitby festivals and Shrewsbury, on the August bank holiday, where they will perform both as a duo in concert, and as half of ceilidh band English Rebellion, partnering mid Pennine based Nick and Mary Barber. With half of this band in the Fens and the other half in Yorkshire, this is of necessity an occasional convention, geared to bigger public ceilidhs and festivals and has grown out of Anahata's chance meeting with Nick at Whirdesea Straw Bear weekend, followed by collaboration on the Barbers' folk orchestra workshops at Sidmouth festival. But Mary and Anahata also team up regularly with Dave and Gina Holland of Gog Magog Molly, and formerly of the Cambridge Round band, in a Cambridgeshire based ceilidh band, Fendragon (Okay, just how many puns can you make around the word Fen?) who've built up a healthy following and bookings diary in their home area. "They (Dave and Gina) are wonderfully talented musicians and we've used them on all three of the albums we've recorded with Wild Goose," adds Anahata. Fendragon are also developing a concert repertoire, so that a whole festival package can soon be offered.
Another collaboration in the offing is an occasional folk extravaganza entitled CHARM. The name derives from the duo's teaming up with songstresses Craig:Morgan:Robson (spot the acronym), and the plan is to tour arts centres and the bigger folk club venues.
On top of this incredibly busy schedule of band and duo work, and the promised CD of Welsh songs and tunes, there are more songs from the Ella Bull collection that they're itching to get out into their folk club repertoire, and eventually to record. And they'd still love the chance to bring all the Welsh songs and tunes back home to the folk clubs of Wales. Iechydd dda, both.