All members contribute to vocals and as you might expect from the name, the material is, mostly, a collection of traditional English folk songs and tunes, thereby rise to the credit trad.arr. TRADarrr. Conceived in the mode of the 70s folk rock revival, the fairly inevitable comparison will be early Steeleye Span and Fairport Convention, to which end the album’s guests just happen to include three of the latter’s current roster (Pegg, Leslie and Sanders) as well as their erstwhile guitarist Jerry Donahue. All have likely played with at least one of those involved at some time over the years, with guest guitarist Pete Scrowther having had his songs recorded by Little Johnny England .
Pretty much laying their cards on the table from the start, the album opens with Ralph Vaughan Williams’ English Folk Song Suite (Pt 1) adopting the original orchestral arrangement pretty much note for note (though Ralph probably never imaged it slipping into a reggae beat or featuring Mariachi trumpet) and featuring Ric Sanders on fiddle.
Fleetwood steps up to the spotlight for a lovely reading of My Lagan Love, her a capella intro giving way to double-tracked harmonies and, around the three minute mark a throaty appearance of Wright on slide and sitar.
Gregg Cave provides the music and arrangement for Mad Dog, a slow stomp setting of Oliver Goldsmith’s An Elegy on the Death of a Mad Dog poem about a rabies outbreak (complete with a faint spoken intro of the opening lines) that, in classic early 70s folk-rock style, transitions into a sprightly fiddle jig. Adopting the Shirley Collins arrangement, Glenlogie features Scrowther on vocals for a robust take on the Scottish ballad about the girl who threatens to set herself ablaze when the local laird rebuffs her advances.
Cave steps up again for Adieu (a version of Here’s Adieu to All Judges and Juries), not only singing it, but writing the new billowing tune to the account of a man awaiting transportation and promising to return to his love. Set to the Morris tune The Week Before Easter, Fairport’s Chris Leslie takes lead with Fleetwood on harmony and Stevens on cornet for Whitsun Dance, Austin John Marshall’s poignant number about the legacy of the First World War and an anti-war song in the tradition of Green Fields of France and Where Have All The Flowers Gone.
Cave and Fleetwood share vocals for one of the standout cuts, a fine melancholic reading of Simple Ploughboy (girl dresses as bloke to find her lover who her parents have had press ganged), the former providing new chords, with a nod to Levon Helm and some fine throaty electric guitar from Donahue, then it’s back to Scrowther and some warm horn and cornet from Stevens for the evergreen Jacobite ballad Derwentwater’s Farewell.
Vocals take a rest for a couple of morris tunes with melodeons a go on the sprightly Princess Royal and a galumphing Upton Stick Dance before things close-up with the album’s most muscular electric folk rock number, everyone contributing to the vocal mix, pairing a punchy Nottamun Town with a fiery, cornet-streaked take on Appalachian murder ballad Pretty Polly, climaxing with Wright letting rip on electric and slide, the only downside being that, even at six minutes, it fades away far too soon.
It may not be particularly in step with the current vogue for contemporary restylings of traditional folk songs, but this will nestle very comfortably in the same CD wallet as such 70s folk rock classics as Please To See The King and Liege and Lief.
Link to FolkRadioUK website
From Dai Jeffries of Folking.com:
I have to say this, just to get it out of the way – TRADarrr is not a great name. Particularly when it’s attached to a great band. There, I’ve done it – you may now heap opprobrium on my head.
TRADarrr are (or arre) Gregg Cave, Marion Fleetwood (of Jigantics and ColvinQuarmby) and Guy Fletcher, Mark Stevens, and PJ Wright (of just about anybody you can think of). The music isn’t all trad. arr. but it’s close enough for folk – when you can list Ralph Vaughan Williams, Oliver Goldsmith and Shirley Collins in your credits nobody is going to be picky.
The album starts with a brilliant idea: ‘English Folk Song Suite Pt 1’ (we can hope that part 2 will emerge later) – folk songs turned into an orchestral piece by RVW and then returned to folk or rather reworked as folk-rock.. Perhaps I should also have said that Cautionary Tales is folk-rock at its very best. Next up is ‘My Lagan Love’, which owes something to Fairport’s arrangement of ‘The Quiet Joys Of Brotherhood’ with Marion taking the lead vocal. Actually Tradarrr boast five vocalists although they also recruit Chris Leslie and Pete Scrowther to take some lead lines with Gregg handling the rest. Other guests include Jerry Donahue, Dave Pegg, Ric Sanders, Marcus Parkinson, Simon Care, Gareth Turner and Kristaps Fisher with the melodeon trio featuring on ‘Princess Royal’ and ‘Upton Stick Dance’. I’m not sure that they need all these guests, except to have more fun in the studio, and I’m a bit iffy about importing lead vocalists.
The sound that gladdens my heart on this record is that of Mark Stevens’ cornet. It doesn’t have the power of Brass Monkey in their pomp but it brings a contrasting texture to what is essentially a string driven album – brass is such an evocative sound in folk music – and it’s the perfect finishing touch.
From Paul Saunders of Spiral Earth:
Let’s make no bones about it. This is an album that is about to blaze a fresh, new trail on the well-trodden path of British folk rock. Right from the opening track, a feisty, full-on note-for-note transcription of Ralph Vaughan Williams’ orchestral English Folk Song Suite, TradArrrr nails its colours firmly to the mast with imaginative, ambitious, sometimes startling, arrangements. Who ever thought to hear Mariachi horns and crunching lead guitar alongside Seventeen Come Sunday? Roll over, RVW!
This mighty crew – Gregg Cave, Guy Fletcher, Marion Fleetwood, Mark Stevens and PJ Wright – are a well seasoned bunch from a broad soundscape with a powerhouse of riffs and rhythms tight as a torque nut. On the aptly titled Mad Dog, Gregg Cave’s take on an Oliver Goldsmith poem, Steven’s drums, partnered by guest bassist Marcus Parkinson, lay down an addictive groove while PJ fires out incendiary solos and Fletcher spars with Fairport’’s Ric Sanders, for fiddle supremacy (honours even). There are more fireworks in Glenlogie, one of the noted Child ballads “in which a precocious teenager threatens a terminal sulk to get her own way”. Enter Pete Scrowther on vocals and from its gentle beginnings – acoustic guitar, fiddle and hi-hat -they slowly ratchet up the tension. Marion Fleetwood creates a full string quartet over Stevens/Parkinson mighty beat, whilst Wright and Fletcher start to rock out whilst delivering a masterclass in tone and control.
It’s not all ‘foot hard down’ though. Wright and Stevens, joint producers of the album, also know the value of ‘less is more’. Marion Fleetwood’s breathtaking, near acappella performance of My Lagan Love with a gossamer clear accompaniment: e-bow by Stevens, sitar,12- string ‘ghost’ and majestic slide guitar solo by PJ is as dramatic a piece of music as you are likely to hear this side of the great divide.
Stevens and Wright are also followers of the Steely Dan approach to recording, bringing in appropriate guests to meet the needs of the material. Whitsun Dance Austin John Marshall’s song of the legacy of the Great War, requires a delicate touch and Chris Leslie’s fine voice rings true and clear, with his filigree mandolin lines sparkling amongst the full acoustic setting. Pete Scrowther returns to render a deliciously plaintive Derwentwater’s Farewell, telling the tale of the sad demise of James Radclyffe, beheaded for his part in the Jacobite rebellion. Alongside Fleetwood’s cello and viola, Mark Stevens plays unimpeachable, poignant brass on both.
A songwriter and voice to be reckoned with, Gregg Cave has a happy knack in adapting and re-working traditional ballads to great effect. Achingly sad, Adieu, whose tune’s beauty belies the sadness and circumstances of the lyrics, is a gripping performance by Cave, and the rest of the band step up to provide sublime backing vocals whilst Fletcher positively shimmers on violin. Simple Ploughboy is also a seafaring story of the cross-dressing variety so popular in English balladry. Once again it is Cave’s tune, but in an “AL Lloyd meets The Band” moment, virtuoso guitarist Jerry Donahue and Fairport’s legendary bassist Dave Pegg drop in to inspire a sound that is a musical toast to departed heroes. Wright and Donahue trade licks and tones while Pegg’s bass, as you would expect, is right on the money. No-one puts a foot out of place we get a glorious tour de force from a band made in heaven.
The Moulton Melodeon Mafia, aka Simon Care, Gareth Turner and Kristaps Fisher, push the music in a different direction as they lead the band, along with Ric Sanders and Dave Pegg once more, in two rousing English dance tunes, Princess Royal and Upton Stick Dance, the first quite stately and four square, the second more like a dash to the bar. A fine balance of finesse and energy by musicians steeped in the tradition, some tasty guitar and bass to rock it up, a soupçon of wit and a classy cornet introduction to Upton.
As far as cautionary tales go, the final track’s two songs, Nottamun Town and Pretty Polly, are suitably imbued with mystery and menace by way of Gothic backing vocals and an intense, relentless groove. Punching out some tasty acoustic guitar, Cave leads us through Nottamun sounding suitably perplexed. PJ picks up the tale with a gritty lead vocal on Pretty Polly over driving electric guitar, fiddle and Mariachi horns. As the story heads towards its diabolical conclusion Fleetwood picks up the woman’s side of the story, the band pushes the pace on, one more blistering PJ solo and well, trust me…. you can smell the brimstone from your chair.
Like I said, it’s ambitious, imaginative and startling. It sizzles from start to finish. Essential listening. Go get one.