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Colin Andrews of Whats Afoot

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

How appropriate that five of today's best female singers, with some strong Hampshire connections, should celebrate the songs of five women who lived in the county some 100 years ago. When folk song collector George Gardiner turned his sights to rural Hampshire in 1904 he was pleasantly surprised to find a wealth of traditional songs still being sung. His success here was due to his meeting with Sarah Goodyear, who lived in Axford. She hosted gatherings of singers at her house, so that Gardiner was able to note down the songs more easily. Together, Sarah, along with singers Marty Monday, Elizabeth Randall, Charlotte Hall and Emma Hopkins became known as the Axford Five.

Several of the song titles are familiar the Gypsy Laddie, Sweet Lovely Joan, Lowlands of Holland, for example - but the versions may well be less familiar. Treachery and gore are essential elements in many a traditional ballad, and Long Lankie, Bold William Taylor and Lord
Derwentwater all serve up both in good measure. Even before I read the comprehensive sleeve notes, I was taken by the song Down The Lane, with its obvious link in subject and tune to the Holmfirth Anthem and to Through The Groves, a song in my repertoire.

The collaboration of Emily and Hazel Askew with Moira Craig, Sarah Morgan and Caroline Robson on this album is truly inspirational. The fiddle and melodeon accompaniments from Emily and Hazel give a delightful melodic lift to many tracks. That's not to belittle in any way the vocals, whether solo, or in acapella harmony. In some cases I had to look at the sleeve notes before being sure who was actually taking the lead on certain songs.

The new `Axford Five' have done a superb job in giving fresh life to the songs the five females used to enjoy singing over a century ago. Full marks also to Bob Askew, Hazel and Sarah, who put together the informative sleeve notes.