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BELSHAZZAR’S FEAST - The Whiting’s On The Wall

BELSHAZZAR’S FEAST - The Whiting’s On The Wall
Unearthed EARTHOL004

If you don’t read your bible you may still know Rembrandt’s painting of Belshazzar, The King Of Babylon, being startled by the writing that appeared on his wall during a banquet. He’d have been equally stunned to discover that, millennia later, a couple of hairy blokes called Paul would call themselves Belshazzar’s Feast and spend 20 years as one of folk music’s most distinctive duos before releasing a live album The Whiting’s On The Wall, with a CD cover featuring… well, a whiting on a wall. Paul Sartin, on oboe and violin, is better known as a member of Faustus and Bellowhead, while accordionist Paul Hutchinson is also in Beauty And The Beast and Hoover The Dog.

Recorded at The Pound in Corsham in September 2013, the album showcases their blend of serious musicianship and dedicated subversion. Their intricately arranged instrumentals are a roomful of strangers introducing themselves at a party and getting along fine. Classical music (Bach, Beethoven, Mozart) meets southern English tunes, Playford dances, European waltzes and mazurkas and popular tunes. You don’t know what’s coming up next and you enjoy the danger.

The song choices show a more respectful side to these lords of misrule. Home Lad Home is a setting by the late Sarah Morgan (Hen Party etc.) of Cicely Fox Smith’s poem from 1916 about lads and horses working in the fields then going to Flanders. Both ladies lived in villages along the River Test in Hampshire, as does Paul Sartin. Paul’s village is also where Henry Lee was recorded singing Wild Rover and If I Were A Blackbird in 1906two familiar songs given a fresh sound. Thresherman is a cousin of The Labourer, one of The Copper Family’s repertoire.

In far-off days I used to slip away from work and go to the free lunchtime concerts in the foyer of The Royal Festival Hall on London’s South Bank. Belshazzar’s Feast was one of the first I saw and they can’t have been long into their partnership. I came away buzzing at their lightly worn skills and their humour. The audience at Corsham and anyone else who has seen them over all these years, will know the feeling.

Tony Hendry

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This album was reviewed in Issue 101 of The Living Tradition magazine.