Will Hodgkinson -The Times
Darius Drewe - New Untouchables Magazine
Folk Rock. Beloved of hippies and woolly-pully music teacher types, often tinged (in the memories of many Brits, anyhow) with an unfortunate association to school Christian groups and the even more unpalatable aroma of Jesus sandal-encrusted feet, its evolution nevertheless shares not only an era but a kinship (and several key musicians) with the psych, garage, beat, bubblegum and freakbeat so beloved of NUTs.
Besides (yea verily, forsooth and with a hey nonny nonny) has not even our venerable founder Dr Robert dipped his Chelsea boots into ye olde witchy pond, by promoting both mediaeval lute-progsters Circulus and folk-inflected heavy-freakrockers Purson? I think you’ll find he has. Yet still, both stigma and stereotype stick to the genre like leather patches stick to the elbows of corduroy jackets, thusly (bloody hell, I’m even talking like one of Neil Innes’ Holy Grail minstrels now) leading many a Scenester to question whether such bands should be featured in NUTsmag to begin with.
However, when the band in question happens to be Trader Horne- formed by a founder member of Them/Belfast Gypsies and the original, ’67 psych-era vocalist of Fairport Convention, also in semi-legendary Toytown popsikers Giles Giles & Fripp and they’ve reunited for the first time since 1969 to perform their solitary classic album “Morning Way” in full, then the answer is a resounding yes. Especially when sonically, the material actually sounds far closer to the work of The Mamas & Papas, Free Design, the Great Society, Paul Parrish, Decca-era Cat Stevens or even (on “Here Comes The Rain”) Brasil 66 than anyone you’d ever stick your finger in your ear to whilst “singing in the round”.
In short, this music doesn’t hail from the distant turnip fields of Sussex, ala Shirley & Dolly Collins: this is the inner-city folk of Swinging London ’69, of the Troubadour, Bunjies and Les Cousins, with at least one tune (“Sheena”) that could EASILY be slipped into a Mousetrap or Crossfire playlist somewhere between the Searchers’ “Umbrella Man” and Kaleidoscope’s “Dive Into Yesterday” And, with original duo Judy Dyble and Jackie McAuley now backed by a quintet of younger musicians (aka the Perfect Strangers) that understand how to respect the zeitgeist (or should that be “psychgeist”?) of the time without traversing the dreaded realms of nostalgia, it still sounds, thankfully, contemporary.
If I have one complaint, it’s that of the two keyboardists, the one that isn’t Alasdair Murphy seems to favour at times a far more “early 80s Radio 2” sound than his counterpart, replacing the more eerie, mellotron-infused textures of the original with a slight coat of “Mantovarnish”, but still, I’m inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that this is merely a matter of budgetary and technical constraints rather than any conscious artistic decision. Similarly, the discordantly pretty interludes (glockenspiel, flute, stylophone, piano) that bridge each number on the original are absent, presumably because in a live setting, they would be both distracting and difficult to replicate. Yet the lyrically more-relevant-than-ever “Mixed Up Kind” “Children Of Oare” “Growing Man” and the title track (possibly the best song Grace Slick and Paul Kantner never wrote, building to a rousing, arm-waving climax comparable in a live setting to Donovan’s “Atlantis”) are strong enough to exist independently of such quaint frills anyway, with Dyble and McAuley (all the more incredible achievement considering they allegedly only undertook five rehearsals prior to the performance) both note-perfect.
True, the solo material with which they preface the main set is mixed, with Dyble’s bleak, progressively-inclined and defiantly uncommercial latter-day compositions (though melodicism remains her strongest suit, recent allusions to her being the “female Scott Walker of folk” are not that wide of the mark) far outshining the more straightforward, major-key and noticeably Dylanesque approach of her band mate, but the passion and vigour is equal, and neither at any stage sound like the work of tired old musicians. Likewise, Murphy’s own efforts (aired early on) show similar promise, one in particular recalling the work of both John Howard (a Mancunian singer-songwriter worthy of much investigation currently employing, if Mod reference points are required, the services of one Andy Lewis on bass) and Brian Protheroe (best known for “Pinball”, latterly covered by Matt Deighton)
Will tonight remain a one-off? It’s hard to tell, but now they’ve found one another again after 45 years, it would be a shame for Dyble and McAuley, their enterprising solo work notwithstanding, to simply bid farewell and part a second time. Lest we forget, “Morning Way” is one of the most perfect examples of the psych-folk genre: if there’s any possibility that now, they might at last follow it with something of similar calibre, then (providing it was produced properly with the right keyboard and guitar sounds) I’d definitely like to hear it, as I’m sure would Rise Above supremo Lee Dorrian, who recently launched new releases for Comus and The Sorrows, and was very much in attendance. And, while both songwriters may be genuinely surprised by the number of attendees they’ve drawn on this coldest, rainiest of November nights, the tumultuous applause that echoes round Bush Hall as they take their final bows suggests there may well be a good few more trips round the ‘Horne left to come. How bona to vada their dolly old eeks.