Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Album Review: The Young Tradition 'So Cheerfully Round'

Album Review of:
(Castle ESM CD 409, 1996)

Norma Waterson’s been belatedly Mercury Prize’d into celebrity, so it’s fitting the Waterson’s only real mid-sixties rivals should now get their moment’s revitalisation too. For at a time when chart-greedy Dylan clones were rocking Folk ‘n’ Roll hybrids towards Pop audiences, the Norfolk-based Young Tradition were leading a purist backlash from a grass-roots bedrock of Folk Clubs. Their songs not only rediscovering the earthy lure of the traditional repertoire but throwing new curves of powerfully raw authenticity onto them. With minimal drain on the National Grid, but electrifyingly acoustic interpretations to the max, the late Peter Bellamy, with brother and sister Royston and Heather Wood achieved near awesome performance levels. Each concert cunningly replicating a rural Theme Park Arcadia of ‘Bold Dragoons’, Pretty Ploughboys, Poachers, seduced Serving Maids and the romanticised barbarism of Fox Hunting and Class inequality as sharply evocative as hell.

Here Wood-Bellamy-Wood’s concise three-part harmonies are faultlessly clean, but never sterile. Finger-in-the-ear unaccompanied deliveries, but no mere hard-line Traddie imitations either. ‘I personally don’t copy’ declared flamboyant Rudyard Kipling-fixated Bellamy, ‘but by god, I steal!’. Lifted from their first two LP’s (‘The Young Tradition’ TRA142, 1966 & ‘So Cheerfully Round’ TRA155, 1967, originally issued on credibility-plus white-label Transatlantic), here are the macabre liturgical resonances of their stand-out “Lyke Wake Dirge” – a healthily pre-Christian song later taken over by Pentangle, following the ‘soul’s journey after death’. Then the keening dissonances of “Pretty Nancy Of Yarmouth” and “Byker Hill”, plus a charming “Derry Down Fair”, “The Banks of Claudy” and the rest. Barring odd re-unions the trio finally split – mission completed, in September 1969, for diverse solo ventures. But these earliest of tracks remain pristine, and Prize’d.

Traditional, yes, but Forever Young.

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