Peter Bellamy’s musical settings of the works of Rudyard Kipling were highly influential, particularly the 1970 album ’Oak, Ash and Thorn’. In this 2011 release, Folk Police Recordings have gathered some of the brightest stars of the current folk scene to reinterpret Bellamy’s work.
The result is a superb album which succeeds in the difficult task of melding together many artists with their own distinct styles to produce a cohesive sound.
The opening Jon Boden track ’Frankie’s Trade’, which was recorded on a wax phonograph cylinder, provides a strong start with a crackling vinyl sound that gives an inventive connection to the feel of the original record.
A fine ’Harp Song of the Dane Women’ from Rapunzel and Sedayne has a haunting description of ’the old grey widow-maker’.
’Our Fathers of Old’, by Cath and Phil Tyler spins a story of the many failings, but also the courage of medieval physicians.
The title track ’Oak, Ash and Thorn’ is beautifully sung by the Unthanks and segues pleasantly with one of the few original tracks on the album ’A Three Part Song/ Saturnine’, a near perfect love song to the countryside of England by Jackie Oates.
Sam Lee’s contribution begins with a sample of an interview and song from Bob Copper before slipping seamlessly into ’Puck’s Song’, an engaging and intensively evocative linking of the geography to the history of England.
The sense of a mysterious, slightly otherwordly view of the countryside continues with Elle Osborne’s ’The Way through the Woods’.
’Oak, Ash and Thorn’ is a fascinating collection, which both recalls and honours the work of Peter Bellamy and reinvents it for a modern audience. Essential listening.