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THE HOTWELLS HOWLERS - Kiss Me Now Or Never: Songs From The Chew Valley & Mendip Hills

THE HOTWELLS HOWLERS - Kiss Me Now Or Never: Songs From The Chew Valley & Mendip Hills
Supernova SN7

In 2012, The Hotwells Howlers, a Bristol-based ensemble, released Love And Liberty, a double CD of songs and tunes from in and around the Quantock Hills area of West Somerset. For the Howlers’ follow-up collection, the regional focus shifts to somewhat closer to their home base.

The vast majority of the material on the new disc was collected by Cecil Sharp, who first visited the Mendip area in April 1904; many of them were eventually published in his Folk Songs From Somerset volume, but the Howlers have often sourced from versions ‘adapted’ subsequently through the folk process by local singers and thus a good number of the disc’s selections present refreshingly different variants of songs we thought we knew only too well.

The version of Creeping Jane, for a start, which comes from the singing of William King of East Harptree, will at first no doubt seem decidedly unusual to our ears but proves very satisfying as it progresses, especially in such a spirited performance as this with Harry Langston taking the lead. Incidentally, Harry’s sturdy account of The Life Of A Man provides the disc with another of its highlights. The Streams Of Lovely Nancy receives a considered rendition that enables a fresh perspective on this song replete with notoriously strange imagery, as does another song from the repertoire of William Stokes, High Germany. Then there’s Coal Black Smith (aka The Two Magicians), which is dispatched by Angela and John Shaw as a delightfully fun duet; here, as on other songs like Gossip Joe, the participants have gleefully collated verses from sundry versions. The disc’s instrumental medleys are delivered with plenty of panache and brio while, forming an interlude in the ensemble-based programme, The False Bride comes in the form of a solo rendition by Chris Molan (who’s also responsible for the disc’s charming artwork).

Elsewhere there may be occasional instances of exaggeration on the part of individual singers (The Golden Vanity), but by and large the performances of all 11 of the singers (seven of whom double as instrumentalists) are assured and hearty, with no sense that concessions or standards are needing to be invoked; everyone gives of their best, whatever their level of ability. This gives the disc an overall feel that’s a kind of cross between the well-rehearsed folk-chorale and the better class of informal song-and-tune-session where all participants are well acquainted with each other’s talents. It’s to be noted that while the songs necessarily (to some degree) employ conscious arrangements, with a certain amount of part-sharing and personalised role-playing designated to suit the individual and collective voices and skills of the performers, the bonhomie and enthusiasm is impossible to resist, as is the impulse to join in! The CD clocks in at a generous 77 minutes and has a fine set of song notes tucked into the package too.

David Kidman

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This album was reviewed in Issue 105 of The Living Tradition magazine.