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Mary Humphreys of Mardles

reviews The Axford Five by The Askew Sisters & Craig Morgan Robson

This is a project that is the culmination of a huge amount of research by Bob Askew into George Gardiner's collection of songs from five female singers who lived 100 years ago in Hampshire. He must be very proud of this achievement and of his two daughters who provide all the accompaniments (fiddle, melodeon and harp) on this album, and of Hazel who gives memorable vocal renditions of the songs. There is a wealth of local information and photographs of the source singers included in the sleeve notes.

The solo tracks are much more to my taste than the arrangements for three voices. Carolyn's all-too brief He Was Under My Window is haunting. Tarry Trousers is sung as a dialogue, and very effective it is too.

In the harmonised tracks there is not enough prominence given to the tune. This is particularly evident in Bold William Taylor where the tune disappears within the pretty arrangement. That being said, it is good that one verse of this song is presented on its own to start with so we can hear it. The Lowlands of Holland, although harmonised beautifully by CMR and sung with all their usual attention to phrasing and expression is unhelpful to a singer who would like to learn it aurally because one never quite hears the whole song in all its glorious solo splendour. The same comments apply to Down The Lane.

That minor criticism apart, the whole album is a treat to listen to and the five women singers present their songs with obvious relish and delight. It is good to hear Hampshire versions of songs I know from Cambridgeshire Lord Derwentwater (Ellenwater), An Old Man Came Courting Me (Hey Down Derry). There is a belter of a song at the end of the CD - The Trooper's Horse you may remember a version printed in Marrowbones many years ago. Moira sings it with wicked relish and the girls all join in with abandon. I can just imagine the Axford five having a great time singing that to Gardiner and watching the expression on his face while he tried to write it down.