Derek Gifford of Folk Northwest
reviews Fenlandia by Mary Humphreys & AnahataAnyone who has seen Mary and Anahata live will be aware of the vibrancy of their performance and to try and replicate this on a recording must have given Doug Bailey of Wild Goose some difficulty. However, there is nothing here to suggest that he has done anything untoward and the atmosphere of their style is well captured.
There are many well known traditional songs on this album and, on reading the sleeve notes, a potential purchaser might be fooled into thinking that much of the material is old hat (or even old an-a-hat! Ha! ha! - Sorry Ed. couldnt resist that one!). But even the much recorded Nutting Song, Polly Vaughan and Lord Thomas & Fair Eleanor are given a fresh treatment.
Many of the songs were collected from the singing of Mrs. Charlotte Dann (nee Few) of Cottenham, Cambridgeshire by Ella Bull in the early 1900s. Mary has taken the original tunes and completed the texts from broadsides or song variants collected in the south of England. The result is not only a pleasurable listen but also a valuable recorded archive of material. One of the most intriguing songs is Hungry Army which has an interesting pedigree. It was published in the mid 1800s as a broadside in Ballarat, Victoria, Australia following the massacre it depicts and was collected from Walter Pardon in 1979 with a different tune. This tune was collected from the singing of Mrs. Charlotte Dann. and Mary got a complete set of words from the Bodleian librarys broadside collection and slightly altered them to make it more fluent and therefore more singable.
Seven tunes are included in the album. These are mostly East Anglian in origin but they have also snuck in three Welsh tunes hoping they can get away with it - even though the album is meant to be representative of material from the fens of East Anglia!
They are ably assisted in both tunes and songs by Dave Holland on fiddle and hurdy-gurdy and by Gina Holland on flute, piccolo and recorder who are members of their band Fendragon. Even Doug B. gets to join in the choruses - and why not?!
As always with a Wild Goose album the sleeve notes are erudite and comprehensive with delightful photos of fenland scenes on the cover and inserts. These made me want to get back there for a bit of birding - singing along to this lovely album on the way there of course!