by Jeff Penczak
Accompanied by a massive, 16-page booklet of background essays and interpretive guidelines, as well as a lovingly detailed, 24-page track annotation manual, 'John Barleycorn Reborn' is an incredible 5½-hour, 4xCD set comprised of a formal 2xCD package and an additional 2xCD’s worth of mp3’s available for free download by purchasers of the main set, all compiled by Woven Wheat Whispers founder, Mark Coyle for Cold Spring Records. The album explores the mythos of the John Barleycorn legend across more than 60 tracks, divided into three parts: “birth,” “death” and “rebirth”, from nearly as many diverse “artists largely unknown who make unconventional folk music across Britain.” While some of the artists will be familiar to regular attendees of the Terrastock festivals and readers of the Terrascope, both the online and print editions (Sharron Kraus, Kitchen Cynics, Martyn Bates, Mary Jane, Alphane Moon, et. al), it must be acknowledged that many of these artists are new to me, despite the fact that quite a few are several albums deep into their careers. The beauty of a collection such as this, is that it offers the adventurous listener an opportunity to both discover new artists, while simultaneously being educated about the rich traditional folk song heritage of Britain, via songs whose original documentation stretches back several centuries. For that alone, Coyle and his compadres are to be congratulated. With all the work that has been poured into the set’s accompanying documentation, I’ve elected to concentrate my comments on the songs themselves, leaving their background stories to be gleaned at your leisure. Suffice it to say that this set is one of the most detailed packages you will ever own, with enough heritage for some clever scholars to build either a PhD thesis around, or at least construct a popular Music course for university credit!
I began by asking Mark where he came up with the idea for the set, and whether it was originally intended to be such a huge undertaking....
"At heart I'm a collector I think and for years had been exploring the area of unconventional folk music exploring and buying whatever music I could find. I first compiled music from 1960 - 1980 as the Lammas Night Laments CDr series. I had always planned on a modern version done with a label called 'The Green Man Awakes'. When Cold Spring got in touch, I knew I would now be able to produce such a set. The inspiration was from groundbreaking sets such as ‘Nuggets’ and ‘Pebbles,’ which have themselves run to many volumes."
"I had always wanted to prepare a set for the UK as it has suffered in attention when compared with the 'new weird American' music. My explorations had indicated that there were dozens of artists to compile with more emerging on a weekly basis. I didn't have a preconceived notion of how big the release would be, but as word spread and artists joined in, it was apparent that there was a lot of music to distribute."
Woven Wheat Whispers [WWW] has been championing this style of music for years, and many of the artists included here are part of your legal download service. Is that where you selected many of the artists you've included in this compilation, or did you have other criteria for who you wanted to approach?
"Woven Wheat Whispers provided access to many artists, but the set has been in gestation for nearly a year, so many artists joined WWW once they already knew about the ‘John Barleycorn Reborn’ set. I wrote out extensively looking for artists and didn't worry whether I knew of them or worked with them or not. I wanted this to be as extensive an experience as I could make it."
"The criteria was to find and promote musicians working in the broad area of folk music and folklore who were doing something unconventional with the form. There's a wealth of musicians who fuse experimentation with the inherently conservative musical form; that's a tension which produces interesting results."
You've divided the release into three parts: Birth, Death and Rebirth. Was that always your intention, or did the segmenting come about after you received the submissions? Was that merely an easy way to attempt to sequence the material somewhat thematically?
"Looking back now I suspect it's a combination of both intention and convenience. The birth, death and rebirth title for each part is specifically about the same happening in folk music itself. The artists we profile here are the rebirth of the music in new ways. There isn't any significance within the set if a song is on one volume or another. It's meant instead to be an experience as a whole."
"Once we had the ‘John Barleycorn Reborn’ title, three aspects of that symbolic figure were useful for the parts. It's a way of notating the chapters and shouldn't be taken to have wider significance. The music speaks for itself, the sections and design is simply about providing a sympathetic context in which people can settle into listening."
You have an amazing combination of traditional and original tunes in the set. Did you specifically have this mix in mind when you requested submissions or were your artists free to offer whatever they wanted within the Barleycorn framework?
"I prepared a brief that was sent out to interested musicians that allowed a lot of room, but provided a central concept for the release. I'm pleased to have a combination of traditional and self-written songs. Traditional songs were written by someone in the past. I was interested myself to see what resulted. It's in the hands of the musicians themselves ultimately, I'm as intrigued as anyone else."
I love the detailed liner notes and essays from many of the artists that are included in all the printed material accompanying the set. I assume you authored the liner notes, but how difficult was it tracking down info on all these artists? (You also include helpful websites for listeners to do additional research.)
"The sleeve was a lot of work and took an unconventional approach itself. I wanted the set to provide a progressive journey into the music, so that the more you read, the more you understood about the music. Lots of people are coming to this literally for the first time and providing too much detailed information about the music initially would perhaps prove overwhelming. So the idea was to read the booklet which takes you to the website then onto the detailed sleeve notes (running to thirty pages)."
"The information isn't all up-front, the idea is that in a small way the listener gets a sense of discovery for themselves like the folk song researchers of old as they read more. I did the liner notes in the booklet and there are articles by a selection of artists. Again, I didn't tell them what to write, each had their own distinctive approach."
"I asked all the contributing artists for information to include in the detailed booklet and would gladly have included much more. There was far too much to put into the physical CD booklet and including things like website addresses meant that the booklet would be out of date quickly as sites change. So providing a detailed booklet as a PDF to complement the CD (which I could keep up to date) seemed a sensible way to go."
Were you amazed at the breadth of material out there that met your criteria for inclusion, or have you long been aware of what appears to be a rather large underground contingent of musicians practicing what you refer to as "dark folk"?
"The dark folk description was originally provided by the label and provided a useful tag. But a good proportion of the music on the set isn't specifically dark in any way, it's just unconventional and fusing the form of folk music with other styles. I knew there was a healthy underground of musicians in the UK working in this area. Had I included all those I wanted to, it would probably had doubled in length. The media only covers those artists near the charts in some way on record labels they know about. This covers a tiny proportion of the music made in the UK. I'm sure the same is true of any genre. Folk hardly gets any extensive coverage anyway, so there was a genuine need to provide such a set to highlight this area of music."
For folks not familiar with the term (which, by the way, you do an excellent job of defining within the accompanying booklet), could you give us the short version of what ‘dark folk’ means to you and from where and when do you suspect this style of music emanated?
"‘Dark folk’ doesn't particularly mean anything to me, certainly not anything religious or political. I chose to use the term like the 'dark ages’: a time of cultural development that was assumed not to have happened because nobody wrote about it. It's exactly what has happened with this music. The media assumes because they aren't covering the music, it doesn't exist or grow. There are those who fuse psychedelic music, paganism, folklore, rock and other aspects with folk that makes it sound unconventional, strange or experimental. This may be seen as curious in comparison with traditional folk performed using the authentic instruments. I think folk music can possibly be traced back in some way to our lives on these Islands tens of thousands of years ago through the song motifs, symbology, simplicity and communal basis. The past is dark, unknown and strange to us so ‘dark folk’ is I suppose on this release, me trying to trace these threads back to our past via the songs."
What artist or album first introduced you to this style of music and have you spent a lot of time building your own personal library of releases from the artists who work in this genre? What are some suggestions you could offer to fans who want to explore this music (outside of the artists you've included in this set)?
"I've been collecting the music for about ten years and used to have a more completist attitude than I have now. I was introduced to the music by a friend with a similarly exploratory approach to discovering new music. When he played me artists such as In Gowan Ring, Stone Breath, Midwinter, Incredible String Band, Forest and Mr. Fox I was beguiled. As for music to track down, have a read of
which I wrote until 2006 to provide such a guide. After that it depends what style of folk you want to explore, but taking a look at labels such as Camera Obscura, Secret Eye and Fonal, the other artists listed at the dedicated site for JBR and the others at Woven Wheat Whispers is a good starting point. You could explore for years and not keep up (I know, I tried!)"
Why do you think it's important to keep this style of music alive? What is important about these old traditions and folk lore that should be protected, introduced to today's music lovers, and encouraged to survive?
"Perhaps controversially, I don't think they do need to be protected or kept alive, they will do so themselves if they have cultural relevance. It's important to promote their existence and show the connections between musicians old and new so people can trace back and explore the music further. But music has to have a function relevant to today or it will become a beautiful relic that sits on a shelf, observed, but gathering dust. In this regard we can compare music to silent film which hardly anyone can watch anymore as it doesn't connect with what we know today. So I feel we actually encourage people to experiment with folk song as it keeps it relevant and allows people to become receptive towards more traditionally based music over time."
"What I am trying to do is help find and show music that will connect with people informed by the traditions. It's very difficult for people to pick up a traditional album for the first time. So the music I promote provides a route inwards that can lead to that point. It has to connect with you on a personal level, there must be that chill up the spine. You can't fake that feeling, so some people will find that connection in the way I did and I can help that."
"I've found an enlightening, enjoyable journey that inspires me through traditional song and folklore, I'm just trying to help those who might find a similar connection discover the music for themselves."
So, having whet your appetite for this lovely trip down through the “dark” ages of British agricultural history, let’s have a listen to what’s inside. With titles like ‘The Wicker Man,’ ‘Spirit of Albion,’ ‘The Scryer and The Shewstone,’ ‘Scythe To The Grass,’ ‘The Wendigo’ and other more esoteric references like ‘Corvus Monedula,’ ‘Tierceron,’ ‘Ognor Mi Trovo, ‘De Poni Amor A Me,’ and ‘Ca The Horse, Me Marra,’ you’d be forgiven for heading for the proverbial hills in the West Country with a stack of Julian Cope’s ‘Modern Antiquarians’ under your arm and a gunnysack full of mead across your backs to fully absorb this collection’s impact. But don’t let that frighten you off – this is not a bunch of Burning Man rejects running naked through the fields trying to reconstruct the Wicker Man. It’s perfectly clear that these musicians take their work very seriously, starting with Wiltshire’s own Horses of The Gods (Mike Ballard and Matty Bane) and their earthy, acoustic interpretation of the set’s namesake. If you only know Traffic’s version, this one will surprise you, as the fairly sparse arrangement seems bettter suited to relating the story than Traffic’s (admitedly transcendent) psychedelic, electric version.
The Story is the duo of Martin Welham from cult 60’s psych folkies, Forest, and his son, Tom. Their excellent debut album ‘Tale Spin’ is the only original (i.e., non-reissue) release on the wonderful Sunbeam imprint and here they offer up a rousing rendition of the title track from the cult classic, ‘The Wicker Man.’ ‘Spirit of Albion’ is the title track from Damh the Bard’s current album, and it’s a proud, anthemic tribute to the ancient ways and gods of old Britain. Southampton’s Mary Jane are old Terrascope favorites and ‘Twa Corbies’ is their exclusive offering, another traditional song, highlighted by the powerful vocals of Jo Quinn, Steve Barker’s dynamic drumming, and the soaring, almost gypsy-like violin strokings of Gilli Hotson. Think, perhaps, Saint Joan with a medieval twist. Andrew King is another interesting artist who here sets the ancient Christian parable of Lazarus to an electric, droning backing (‘Dives and Lazarus), all powered by the mysterious fiddling of Lisa Knapp. King’s creaky, stentorian vocals, like a cobwebbed Ian Anderson, lends a note of archaic charm to his rendering of this dreary story. King is also a member of Tony Wakeford’s project, The Triple Tree, whose eerie, droning ‘Three Crowns’ is a retelling of the M.R.James short story, ‘A Warning To The Curious,’ which relates the myth of the endless quest to discover the whereabouts of the third buried crown which protects England. Wakeford, himself, is perhaps best known as the leader of the decades old folk noir band, Sol Invictus, who offer up more minimalist, razor sharp drones on the treasonous call to arms, ‘To Kill All Kings.’ And continuing the excellent sequencing that lends the collection a seemless air of one of your own personalized “mix tapes” of dark, traditional British folk tales, Sol Invictus violinist, Matt Howden is up next with his solo project, Sieben (German for ‘seven,’ although I’m not certain that that’s Howden’s preferred reference point). ‘Ogham On The Hill’ is on offer here, in an exclusive remixed version of a track from Howden’s fifth album, 2005’s ‘Ogham Inside The Night,’ and it’s a multi-layered violin/percussion extravaganza over which Howden relates the tale of the Western European holy scriptures which were preserved through carvings on trees and stones.
Another Terrastock alum, Sharron Kraus is up next with an exclusive track from the sessions from her forthcoming album. ‘Horn Dance’ is the story of the seasonal dance that has been occurring for centuries at places such as Abbot’s Bromley, which the astute listener will no doubt recognise as the title of one of The Green Pajamas’ traditional instrumentals on their ‘Carolers’ Song’ EP. It’s also the official title (i.e., ‘The Abbot’s Bromley Horn Dance’) of the annual “Winter Solabration” that’s taken place on or near the winter solstice for the past 20 years in Denver, Colorado. Adding to Sharron’s realistic recreation of the tale is a field recording from David Moore on pipe and tabor, along with the Adderbury Morris Men, who presumably were dressed up in the traditional garb of a Fool, Hobby Horse, Maid Marian, Bowman, et. al.
The British folk tradition includes scores of tales of knights wooing fair maidens, but none are as strikingly beautiful as ‘Lay The Bent To The Bonny Broom,’ a collaboration between one of Wales’ finest traditional artists, Charlotte Greig (whose ‘Quite Silent’ was one of our favorite releases from 2005) and French artist, Johan Asherton. Here she lends her delicate vocals to this heartbreaking tale (originally written down over three centuries ago) over Asherton’s simple, acoustic guitar backing. Peter Ulrich has a long and storied careeer dating back to his days as the percussionist in Dead Can Dance and contributor to 4AD’s This Mortal Coil project. His medieval two-step, ‘The Scryer and The Shewstone’ originally appeared on his 2005 album, ‘Enter The Mysterium,’ and it’s a jolly, pied piper of a track that’s led by an incessant melody from Debbie Marchant’s recorder. It regales us with the tale of Dr. John Dee, the mysterious court physician/magician to Queen Elizabeth I. Terrascope readers will also be familiar with the work of Dafydd Roberts and his wife, Ruth, purveyors of hauntingly strange experimental works from the Welsh hinterlands (well, Ceredigion) bearing enigmatic names like Our Glassie Azoth and Alphane Moon. They run the Oggum Record label, but have also released several fine, experimental, alchemical concoctions on Camera Obscura. Here they give us the relatively sedate (for them), but no less beautiful ‘Where The Hazel Grows,’ which has a hushed, almost liturgical air. The work of Prydwyn/Green Crown and B’Eirth/In Gowan Ring were the first pieces that sprung to mind.
The second part of the set, ‘Death,’ is “themed to John Barleycorn’s symbolic death as Autumn turns to Winter at Samhain.” Nottingham’s Matt Fullwood (aka The Anvil) begins the death trip with a variation of the titular track entitled ‘John Barleycorn Must Die.’ Again, all preconceptions left over from Traffic’s version must be jettisoned to appreciate this rather crude recording, with distorted guitar backing and metalic percussive poundings emulating both Fullwood’s nom de group and the mortal and pestal sound of Mr. Barleycorn being ritualistically and symbolically ground into submission. Fans of Anne Briggs and Lal Waterson will marvel at the discovery of Liverpool’s Tinkerscuss (the duo of Erin and Brony Holden, who’ve been holding court in the Cotswolds for the past two decades), who cover Waterson’s ‘To Make You Stay’ from her ‘Bright Phoebus’ album. Soft vocals soar sweetly over the simple, acoustic backing, with the occasional chiming bell acompaniment. Another duo, Orphian and LSD, are the enigmatic artists behind Electronic Voice Phenomena, whose ‘The Sorrow of Rimmon’ is anogther eerie electronic, experimental folk composition that the pair refer to as “space folk,” although old schoolers may find a lot of the work of Delia Derbyshire and David Vorhaus’ White Noise (‘An Electric Storm,’ Island, 1968) cowering within.
Pete Jardine and Dave Salsbury (aka The Purple Minds of Lazeron) combine acoustic guitars, bodhran, whistles and percussion on ‘Dragonfly,’ a playful little instrumental as light and meandering as the title suggests. With the assistance of the other worldly vocals of Moonswift, Sand Snowman paints the lovely acoustic ballad, ‘Stained Glass Morning’ and with the flower child monikers like those, you’d be right if you imagined the track to be the work of old hippies living on a commune sitting around in (stoned) circles singing poems to nature! From the Dorset Paeans Collective, sally forth The A. Lords, Nicholas Palmer and Mike Tanner, whose modus operandi is “making songs and instrumentals about Dorset recorded in natural surroundings.” A church organ, balalaika, dulcimer, glockenspiel and half dozen other esoteric instruments merge with field recordings of Dorset’s birdlife on the atmospheric instrumental, ‘Summerhouse,’ which is as soft and gentle as a summer’s afternoon nap in an English garden. Shhh…, don’t wake the little ones….
One of our oldest and dearest friends here at the Terrascope is the prolific, Aberdeen-based songsmith Alan Davidson, who’s recorded practically an entire library’s worth of albums as The Kitchen Cynics. ‘The Guidman’s Ground’ is a prime example of one of his strongest suits: putting archaic stories on top of his heavily treated guitar backing. Quickthorn’s unpronounceable membership (Ysbyddaden Bedwawd on harp, Koivuläänistä on recorders and the aforementioned Prydwyn on vocals) belie their simple accompaniment to ‘Pew Pew,’ an almost hallucinogenic dreamscape that is hopefully a portent of more releases to come. Edinburgh resident Clive Powell has been recording improvised and archaic music with his cohort, Sedayne (more about whom in a moment), and his a capella rendition of the old Tyneside and Northumberland folk song ‘Reed Sodger’ gives you an idea of the type of May carols that were popular on the streets of Newcastle back in the day. And it probably doesn’t come any more traditional that Venereum Arvum’s ‘Child 102: Willie and Earl Richard’s Daughter (aka The Birth of Robin Hood),’ a 200-year old Scottish ballad set to a nearly 800-year old French melody! The band is the husband/wife duo of Sean Breadin (the aforementioned Sedayne) and Rachel McCarron and save for some esoteric instruments like kemence and crwth and Rachel’s drone, this is another a capella arrangement which highlights that popular style of storytelling that preserved the great myths of olde.
I think you all will recognise the ancient melody of ‘Nottamun Town’ (a variation, I believe of Nottingham) – even Dylan nicked it (for ‘With God On Our Side,’ although that melody has also been atributable to the old Irish folk song, ‘The Merry Month of May’). Philip G. Martin (aka Drohne)’s interpretation on his hurdy-gurdy and wah-wah vibro drones is probably the most unique renditions I’ve heard to date, although I must also admit that Martin delivers one of the most spot-on Julian Cope impersonations I’ve heard to date! But I must caution the listener that the extended headswirling instrumental coda – sort of a duet between his drone and hurdy-gurdy machines – will have you popping seasickness pills like breath mints!
Stormcrow is family project that’s new to me, but the strident, storming pronouncements on high from dual vocalists Amanda Hadlett and Sarah Jay, combined with the fierce, 12-string guitar strumming of Sarah’s dad (and, presumably Amanda’s brother), Mark instill ‘Gargoyle’ (from their 2005 ‘Celtic Twilight’ album) with a heavy dose of anthemic, Celtic pride. Imagine a female-fronted Alarm or Billy Bragg with ethnic, as opposed to political pride. Next we hear Doug Peters’ ‘Pact,’ an old fashioned folk song/story set to a powerful marching beat, and finally, our dear old Terrastock friend, Martyn Bates wraps up this “Death” trip with a new track from his forthcoming album, ‘The Resurrection Apprentice,’ wherein he combines his love of the traditional folk lore of the British Isles with his penchant for creating exciting, experimental psychedelic-tinged folk. Here, his solo on the pipes, recalls the centuries old tradition of beckoning John Barleycorn back into life and setting the stage for the compilation’s exclusive 2xCDs worth of bonus mp3 tracks, entitled “Part 3: Rebirth.” Coyle tells us that he decided to present an additional section based upon the wealth of submissions he received for the set, and we’re glad he did, for these are no mere collection of throwaway ephemera from the artists’ editing room floors, but over 2½ additional hours of material exploring the reincarnation of the John Barleycorn persona.
Magpiety, the duo of Anne Marie Summers and Esme Ryder initiate the “Rebirth” sequence with a gorgeous a capella rendition of ‘The Rolling of The Stone’ and The Story return with the lovely flute and soft acoustic guitar folk of the tale of ‘All Hallow’s Eve.’ The curiously named Yealand Redmayne (after a small village in Northern Lancashire) offer more twee folk courtesy the acoustic guitar of Paul Micklethwaite and the lilting vocals of Laura Hulse. They seamlessly distill influences as varied as English folklore, ‘Led Zeppelin III’ and “all things June Tabor” on the quietly reflective, ‘Oh My Boy, My Bonny Boy.’ Quiet is also the operative term to describe the second track from Charlotte Greig and Johan Asherton, ‘The Bold Fisherman,’ and I also hear the possible Celtic influence of Enya, particularly her performances on the soundtrack to the 1986 BBC documentary, ‘The Celts.’
Medieval music formed the basis for many of the British traditional folk lyrics and melodies, and Steve Tyler (not the Aerosmith screamer) is one of Britain’s leading musicians and many of his projects (The Wendigo, Misericordia (both also featuring the aforementioned Anne Marie Summers), and Daughters of Elvin are included in this set. ‘Tieceron,’ however, is a solo offering and it’s a rather jolly little medieval jig. Next up, Coyle has programmed a soothing instrumental sequence, featuring medieval French court dances (The Wendigo’s eponymous track), a sort of dub-folk, cinematic floater from The Owl Service (a remixed version of the title track from the ‘Wake The Vaulted Echo’ EP), the New Agey folk of Far Black Furlong’s ‘East Room 5,’ another cinematic piece that seems influenced by the works of Japanese composer, Kitaro, and a meditative piece from Xenis Emputae Travelling Band (‘Brightening Dew’) that sounds like a duet between flute and recorder.
The Owl Service’s Steven Collins teams up with his friend, Dom Cooper in The Straw Bear Band and the multi-instrumentalist Collins combines percussion, sitar, ukelele and glockenspiel behind the pair’s vocals that relate the tale of the Bargest myth on ‘Bear Ghost’ that sounds like a haunting, folkier version of Patti Smith’s ‘Ghost Dance’ from her ‘Easter’ album. Through a happy accident, Pythagoras Marshall (aka Novemthree) is the only American artist in the set (Coyle confesses he didn’t know he was from the US). In any event, ‘Scythe to the Grass’ is another wonderfully reflective instrumental, which leads to the intimate bedsitter images created by Paul Newman, who’s neither married to Joanne Woodward or a member of the Austin post-rock guitar band, but a bard who weaves his pagan spirituality into ‘Lavondyss.’ James Reid has been compared to Nick Drake and John Martyn, and his dreamy, repetitive melody to ‘Kingfisher Blue’ will stick in your head for hours, as will the experimental, finger plucked ‘Children’s Soul’ from Wooden Spoon.
Alan Trench was one of the co-founders of the important World Serpent Distribution lable from the 90s, one of the first to champion dark folk and its various related styles, such as apocalyptic folk, neofolk, folk noir, etc. Like Steve Tyler, he is represented by three of his projects, from Cunnan’s epic, 12-minute ‘Seven Sleeps, Seven Sorrows,’ and Orchis’ ‘The Silkie,’ both featuring the crystalline vocals of Tracy Jeffery, and the traditional, experimental folk duo with Martyn Bates, Twelve Thousand Days, whose ‘Thistles’ comes from their latest release (‘From The Walled Garden’) that we loved here at Terrascope Online, and which you can read all about here. Elsewhere on part three, I also loved the angelic, a capella duet ‘When I Was In My Prime,’ the second submission from Mary Jane; the Daughters of Elvin’s Border bagpipe led medieval dance, ‘Ognor Mi Trovo,’ which is a highlight of the style of music this band plays at churches, street fairs, and early music events which focuses on the popular dances and tunes from the 13th and 14th century and features such period instruments as crumhorn, dulcimer, hurdy-gurdy, bagpipes, recorders, harps and whistles! They’d be the perfect wedding band if you decided to have a medieval theme at hyour wedding reception. Their party atmosphere and upbeat music reminds me of the work of 60’s cult folkies, The Fool.
So, we’ve given you an extensive overview of the tracks included on this mammoth set, and there are about two dozen more ranging from field recordings to more esoteric, experimental and electronic folk. There are artists delving into psychedelic, pagan folk, wyrdfolk, and more folk lore set to music that is sure to please, intrigue and inspire every musical pallette. So if you have any interest at all in the British folk tradition from a historical perspective, or British folk music in general, I encourage you to pick up this peerless set, which history will no doubt one day acknowledge as one of the consummate releases in the genre, as well as the epitome of British traditional music in the 21st century. It also forms a magical companion to Timothy Renner’s definitive wyrdfolk compendium, ‘Hand/Eye.’
I concluded by asking Mark what feedback he has so far received on the release. The artists, I assume, are ecstatic to have their music shared with the rest of the world, but what signs of encouragement have they, or folks who have purchased the set given you to suggest that this is not just a flash in the pan, flavour of the week, movement, but an important part of the British music tradition that they can look forward to hearing more about in the future?
"The feedback is constant and overwhelming. It focuses on two things, the music itself and the overall experience (usually in that order). That's good because I always believe you can leave the sleeve, the writing, all the information, listen to the music and it still provides a complete experience. The best albums work as a set of songs or music in their own right without external aspects. That's what I was aiming for, to provide an immersive musical experience, highlight the distinctive contribution of the artists but in a way that once combined they provided some kind of collective cohesion as a body of work. My contribution will ultimately fade away, it doesn't matter what I did, the music will last and that is its own reward. That can't be taken away now; for the future, in 2007, we did this, and it shows an aspect of our musical culture that was previously not widely appreciated."
"I didn't know if we had achieved that until the feedback started to come in. I trust people and those who have bought the set intuitively understand this and often write to say the experience was profound both at an individual song level and collectively. That's absolutely wonderful and a big relief to hear."
"In the way that everyone who heard the Sex Pistols or Velvet Underground went on to form a band, I would like to think that some young musicians will be similarly inspired to start their own individual musical journey after hearing this set."
I know the response was so overwhelming that you assembled 2xCDs worth of additional songs for mp3 download. If this set takes off like we hope it will, do you have even more material (and/or even more artists) who might make up a follow up project?
"There are dozens more artists, possibly more than a hundred in the UK and the Islands alone. However, I haven't found those hidden ones making music purely for the love of it away from the internet yet. I don't have further music though I am collecting songs for a Samhain downloadable set. Each day new artists contact me and I'm constantly surprised how many there are out there. The internet is a truly wonderful tool in this regard. There will be follow up projects possibly for other countries and other areas of the music. In particular, I want to do a release focused on the current performance of traditional folk plays, customs, rites, seasonal dances and the like. I want to get right to the foundation experiences, communal myths and ways of communicating that existed between us for centuries."
"Finally, the invitation in the booklet is a genuine one: come one, come all, let's do something interesting together."
Amen to that.
Part the first: Birth
01. The Horses Of The Gods - 'John Barleycorn'
02. The Owl Service - 'North Country Maid'
03. The Story - 'The Wicker Man'
04. Damh The Bard - 'Spirit Of Albion'
05. Mary Jane - 'Twa Corbies'
06. Andrew King - 'Dives And Lazarus'
07. The Triple Tree - 'Three Crowns'
08. Sol Invictus - 'To Kill All Kings'
09. Sieben - 'Ogham On The Hill (Remix)'
10. Sharron Kraus - 'Horn Dance'
11. Charlotte Greig And Johan Asherton - 'Lay The Bent To The Bonny Broom'
12. Pumajaw - 'The Burning Of Auchindoun'
13. Peter Ulrich - 'The Scryer & The Shewstone
14. Alphane Moon - 'Where The Hazel Grows'
15. English Heretic - 'Hippomania'
16. Far Black Furlong - 'Icy Solstice Eye'
Part the second: Death
01. The Anvil - 'John Barleycorn Must Die'
02. Tinkerscuss - 'To Make You Stay'
03. The Straw Bear Band - 'Trial By Bread & Butter'
04. Electronic Voice Phenomena - 'The Sorrow Of Rimmon'
05. The Purple Minds Of Lazeron - 'Dragonfly'
06. Sand Snowman - 'Stained Glass Morning'
07. The A Lords - 'Summerhouse'
08. The Kitchen Cynics - 'The Guidman's Ground'
09. Quickthorn - 'PewPew'
10. Clive Powell - 'Reed Sodger'
11. Venereum Arvum - 'Child 102 Willie And Earl Richard's Daughter'
12. Drohne - 'Nottamun Town'
13. Stormcrow - 'Gargoyle'
14. Doug Peters - 'Pact'
15. While Angels Watch - 'Obsidian Blade'
16. Xenis Emputae Travelling Band - 'John Barleycorn: His Life, Death & Resurrection'
17. Martyn Bates - 'The Resurrection Apprentice'
Part the third: Rebirth
01. Magpiety - The Rolling Of The Stones
02. The Story - All Hallow's Eve
03. Telling The Bees - Wood
04. David A Jaycock - Bonny Jaycock Turner
05. Yealand Redmayne - Oh My Boy, My Bonny Boy
06. Charlotte Greig and Johan Asherton - The Bold Fisherman
07. Steve Tyler - Tierceron
08. The Wendigo - The Wendigo
09. The Owl Service - Wake the Vaulted Echo stTigon Mix8
10. Far Black Furlong - East Room 5
11. Xenis Emputae Travelling Band - Brightening Dew
12. Sedayne - Corvus Monedula
13. The Straw Bear Band - Bear Ghost
14. Novemthree - Scythe to the Grass
15. Paul Newman - Lavondyss
16. James Reid - Kingfisher Blue
17. JefvTaon - (Digging The) Midnight Silver
18. Wooden Spoon - Children's Soul
19. Big Eyes Family Players - A Dream of Fires
20. Sundog - Kilpeck June 2007
21. Clive Powell - Ca The Horse, Me Marra
22. Mac Henderson of Grand Union Morris - Jack In The Green
23. Cunnan - Seven Sleeps, Seven Sorrows
24. Orchis - The Silkie
25. Twelve Thousand Days - Thistles
26. Novemthree - Harvest Dance
27. James Reid - Elder
28. Mary Jane - When I Was In My Prime
29. Daughters of Elvin - Ognor Mi Trovo
30. Misericordia - De Poni Amor A Me
31. Venereum Arvum - child102 lily (flower mix)
32. The Anvil - John Barleycorn Must Live
33. The Sunshine People - The Old Way
For more information about the John Barleycorn Reborn project, visit the website at: www.john-barleycorn-reborn.com. Mark Coyle can also be contacted via his legal download service, Woven Wheat Whispers at www.wovenwheatwhispers.co.uk.