Link to Living Tradition Homepage





THE MELLSTOCK BAND - The Thomas Hardy Songbook

THE MELLSTOCK BAND - The Thomas Hardy Songbook
The Serpent Press SER012

On their latest disc, The Mellstock Band presents an authentic take on the singing tradition that Hardy knew as a boy, which permeated his poems and novels. He’d noted down the songs sung by his family and neighbours, and combined these with music from his family’s manuscript books. The Mellstock Band gives a keen flavour of exactly the kind of performances with which Hardy himself would have been familiar, of material which might have appeared in his own personal “song-book”.

Nothing could be more appropriate, then, than to find a collection of these on this new disc from the Mellstock Band – who, after all, were titled almost three decades ago from the fictional name Hardy gave to Higher Bockhampton (his own native Dorset village). Members of the band have appeared in many TV and theatre productions, and previous Mellstock Band albums have covered music from Hardy’s Wessex (e.g. village band music or West Gallery Christmas carols). Here their judicious and wide-ranging selection from the Thomas Hardy “song-book” encompasses folksongs collected in Dorset by Henry & Robert Hammond (The Cobbler’s Song, The Gown Of Green, Will The Weaver, The Wild Rover), a few broadsides (The Girl I Left Behind Me, The Hollow Oak) and narrative ballads (Henry Martin, Polly Wan, The Mermaid), while throwing in for good measure the convivial alehouse favourite, Shooting The Devil (a rare instance of a Dorset wren-hunting song) and an adapted art-music item (Black-eyed Susan). There’s also a brace of rousing Christmas carols (Hark The Glad Sound, Hence Away Dull Cares), some rumbustious dance tunes, and four short but relevant spoken word excerpts taken straight from Hardy’s novels.

As you’d expect from leader Dave Townsend and his merry cohorts (Caroline Butler, Tim Hill and Phil Humphries), the performance style is suitably authoritative on all counts, dynamic and upfront: especially vital, I thought, in Shooting The Devil and the part-song The Singers’ Song. The singing might at times be described as cultured, but that’s in the sense that it’s steeped in the local culture of Hardy’s Wessex (where singing was almost as natural as speaking, yet there was evidently also pride in its accomplished practice), and thus not at all out of place in the folk context. The instrumental complement is fairly rudimentary – concertina, (baroque) violin, clarinet and trombone or serpent (and occasional bass drum) – but the scoring is felicitous and the effect is melodious, infectious and fun. All in all, The Thomas Hardy Songbook delivers a thoroughly appealing and wonderfully invigorating disc, and rather begs a sequel.

David Kidman

Secure On-line mailorder service
Buy this CD online from The Listening Post
The Listening Post is the CD mailorder service of The Living Tradition magazine.
This album was reviewed in Issue 113 of The Living Tradition magazine.