Wednesday 9 March 2022

Bleckell Murry Neet

Bleckell Murry Neet; The Cumbrian Duo - Ed Heslam, Jean Altshuler; Willowhayne

Bleckell Murry Neet
; The Cumbrian Duo - Ed Heslam, Jean Altshuler; Willowhayne

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 8 March 2022 Star rating: 3.0 (★★★)
Traditional tunes from Cumbria in engaging modern versions for guitar and harp

Bleckell Murry Neet on Willowhayne Records features a selection of Cumbrian tunes performed by the Cumbrian Duo (Ed Heslam, guitar, Jean Altshuler, harp) in arrangements by Ed Heslam.

Heslam, a composer and guitarist, has been both a member of an early music consort and a folk dance band. He moved from making arrangements of traditional folk melodies, to researching old melodies and songs from unpublished material including 18th and 19th century fiddle books. 

These are not attempts to recreate the original context (the Cumbrian fiddle tradition died out at the beginning of the 20th century), but to develop the melodies into new music, set in a new context. As such, Heslam's arrangements take full advantage of the rippling, flowing nature of writing for the guitar and the combination of guitar and harp in these songs is very seductive.

The disc has fourteen tracks, which vary between individual songs and longer medleys. So that Slates Away, Time to Play is a medley of old playground songs, with the melodies taken from an article in a late-19th century magazine, the North Lonsdale Gazette.  Whilst Geordie Gill features two songs originally recorded by RVW, who reputedly did not record the words because he could not understand the singer's dialect! 

Several of the songs are by the Cumbrian bard, Robert Anderson (1770-1833), and another such creator of local ballads was Susan Blamire of Dalston (1747-1794),  whilst other songs come from manuscript books. The title track, Bleckell Murry Neet refers to a song by Anderson (written in 1803) which describes a lively night at the Theak't Cott pub at Blackwell, and the performance moves from Tommy Coulthard reading the words to Heslam and Altshuler's performance. And the record cover shows an old photograph of the inn (which was demolished in 1904).

The booklet notes are excellent as Ed Heslam gives background to each of the songs, where it came from and the local background. Whilst there are toe-tapping dance numbers here, many are often gently engaging, the lyrical melodies benefiting from Heslam's imaginative treatments. The sound world is very much the modern day salon, Heslam and Altshuler firmly take these songs out of the pub and the local, and re-present them in a form suitable for the modern recital. The result is an enchanting disc, full of gentle delights.

Bleckell Murray Neet - songs from Cumbria
The Cumbrian Duo (Ed Heslam, guitar, Jean Altshuler, harp)
Recorded in St John's Church, Keswick, 8 & 9 October 2020

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