The impressive Atkinson facility on Southport’s Lord Street provided a splendid setting for the assemblage of musicians who are on a short tour to represent a performance aspect of the EFDSS’s digital archive of English folk song and dance. Fronted by academic and folk singer, Fay Hield, she has gathered an impressive collection of musicians to dip into the archive and put together an album and set of songs to take on the road.
What the Full English show does is to present a very small tip of a very large iceberg. As Fay explained about The Full English “I’m OK with the ‘The’ bit of that but that’s where it stops.” There’s no pretence that the ‘Full’ aspect of the collection refers to it being the definitive article and as for the English bit, well there are Scottish, Irish, Eastern European tunes in there representing a mish mash of cultures which have all contributed to the English repertoire.
The album, (recorded in a two day blitz following the archive launch and a short band performance) has already made some impact on the various charts as they exist nowadays, and was naturally the basis for the show along with various embellishments in both the musical and visual sides. The ribald tale of ‘Arthur O’Bradley’ was a first half highlight with the whole ensemble making it a true team effort – Fay and Nancy Kerr trading verses while Sam Sweeney and Seth Lakeman stepped in for the chorus in the tale telling narrative which was almost operatic in arrangement in the way the vocal baton was passed back and forth. And while the ladies took a breather, it gave a chance for the shy and unassuming Ben Nicholls a chance to step into the limelight taking lead vocal on the seafaring saga ‘Rounding The Horn’. The whole troupe also combined to stunning effect for the closing number, Seth Lakeman’s ‘Stand By Your Guns’ – the dramatic tale of sea battling whose dynamics and atmosphere was the result of some exceptional accompaniment from Martin Simpson’s slide guitar and Nancy Kerr’s deft fiddle notes.
In an evening which was both entertaining and educational, Martin Simpson added his take on Martin Carthy’s version of ‘Peggy and The Soldier’, Nancy Kerr led an acapella version of Ella Mary Leather’s ‘Seeds Of Love’ and Fay Hield’s charming ‘The Hornet and The Beetle’ was prefaced with the story of how the song was collected by Vaughn Williams whose interest lay more in tune rather than the words, the result of which was the singer mailing on the words to the intrepid collector after he’d left – that document now being part of the archive and displayed on the onstage plasma screens during the performance. What made the show such a treat was the differing combinations of musicians – in particular, it warranted a rare opportunity for Rob Harbron and Sam Sweeney to showcase their concertina and fiddle playing to accompany some archive visuals of collectors Maud Karpeles and Cecil Sharp, the Karples sisters and George Butterworth presenting various morris dancing and reels from 1912 filmed on Kinora machine.
The Full English band and show, like the whole project, haven’t set out to seek any sort of purity or attempt to set boundaries but much more simply to bring to life a vast archive and raise the awareness of it’s existence and importance to English culture. The archive is a precious one but one which the band have shown to be notably accessible without being too protective, and have produced a marvellous peek into its potential.