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Derek Gifford of Folk North West

reviews Cold Fen by Mary Humphreys & Anahata

This is Mary and Anahata’s fourth album and their second devoted to songs from East Anglia hence the title Cold Fen. There’s nothing cold about this album though because it has a warm feel to it all the way through. Mary’s singing is clear and melodic as always and their instrumental work is refined and very accomplished. Just as a reminder to the uninitiated, the instruments they play include English and Anglo concertinas, banjo, guitar (Doug Bailey’s on this album!), melodeons, cello and smallpipes. All that talent and versatility is enough to make me envious!

They live in Cambridgeshire and are heavily involved in the club and sessions scene there when they’re not out performing professionally. The songs and tunes have been researched from often from difficult to read original manuscripts from a variety of sources.

There are some interesting versions of songs that appear in other collections and, of these, I particularly liked the ‘different’ tunes to ‘There is an Alehouse’ and ‘Valiant Sailor’. ‘Young and Single Sailor’ is a very different version of this interesting ‘love token’ song. Indeed, as Mary states in the sleeve notes, she believes that this version of the song has never been published. Mary sings it unaccompanied to great effect. Their version of ‘Rosemary Lane’ is particularly jolly with an added and very singable chorus and finishes things off nicely.

The tunes include ‘Northern Lass’ and ‘Northern Frisk’ which I particularly liked - after all they are from the north! It was also good to hear the Leicestershire smallpipes on ‘Kempshot Hunt’.

This is a valuable album for folk song and tune collectors in particular as well as being entertaining and pleasurable to listen to. Doug Bailey has the knack when it comes to recording these two and, as is usual with a Wild Goose album of this nature, the notes and background information on the material is erudite and comprehensive.

I wonder what they’ll call the next one? They’re running out of the ‘fen’ theme!