Georgia Shackleton - Harry’s Seagull

2023 studio album

Harry’s Seagull - Georgia Shackleton

the bright young folk review

Following three studio albums with The Shackleton Trio, Georgia now branches out with this entirely solo debut, a celebration of the musical heritage of her native East Anglia. It opens in sprightly manner with the plucked fiddle treatment of Twenty, Eighteen, a version collected in Norfolk by Lucy Broadwood in the 19th century and variously also known as Madam, I Have Come to Court You and Ripest Apples in which he protagonist rejects a man who assumes he can seduce her with his wealth.

Bowing the fiddle, Come, Little Leaves is a swayalong setting of a poem by George Cooper about autumn giving way to winter (though equally about mortality), learnt from the singing of Walter Pardon. Managing to cram all six of the broadsheet verses about the titular prodigal son into 90 seconds, again with plucked fiddle, Rambling Robin is an adaptation of the tune recorded (twice) by Peter Bellamy in 1975 and pretty much encapsulates the general perky nature of the whole album.

A huge influence on the revival of traditional English music in the 70s, Norfolk farmworker Harry Cox is a major inspiration and the source of two tracks here. The first being the medley What Will Become Of England / Yarmouth Hornpipe / Harry’s Seagull, opening, backed by harmonium, with his powerful indictment of the failed leadership and social inequality of the 50s, still relevant today, and leading into the two instrumentals, the latter being the only original and written in honour of Cox who kept a pet seagull.

Harmonium drone provides a suitably doleful backdrop to Small Birds Whistle, which dates back the 17th century, a Child ballad about the trials and tribulations of a woman who finds herself pregnant out of wedlock, this shortened version learnt from Norfolk singer Jasper Smith. Harmonium and pulsing fiddle combining, his sister Phoebe is the source for The Blacksmith, collected in 1958 in Suffolk by Peter Kennedy, this hewing to her lyrics in which the woman, while not betrayed by her lover, is left alone as he goes off to fight overseas, ending with the Sapphic suggestion that, since “there ain’t no belief in a man, nor your own brother…girls, whenever you love, love one each other”.

From the 19th century, the sole totally instrumental track is another hornpipe medley, Watson’s Hornpipe/Swanton Abbott Hornpipe, which features fiddle dancing over a harmonium base, celebrating the East Anglian step-dancing tradition. This gives way to her trademark plucked fiddle again for the penultimate Yarmouth Fisherman Song, another from the Cox repertoire and ostensibly written by one of his father’s shipmates about the hard life on board a Yarmouth drifter, and raising a glass to toast “health unto the people that stood the voyage through/And here’s health unto our master, our boy, and all the crew”.

Picking up the image of storms at sea, it ends with Windy Old Weather, another borrowing from Cox in tandem with a version by Sam Larner, a playful song tale in which a fishing boat skipper is given advice by assorted talking fish, arranged for a repeated plucked fiddle pattern with a swaying music hall feel to the melody and apparently big among the East Anglian fishing community.

Along with her engaging voice that makes unfussy but effective use of her local accent, the instrumentation is a fine example of how less can be more, or how Harry’s Seagull is a case of squawk, strangeness and charm.

Mike Davies

Self-released on CD, vinyl and digitally November 30 2023. Produced by Aaren Bennett.

1. Twenty Eighteen
2. Come, Little Leaves
3. Rambling Robin
4. What Will become of England / Yarmouth Hornpipe / Harry’s Seagull
5. Small Birds Whistle
6. The Blacksmith
7. Watson’s Hornpipe / Swanton Abbot Hornpipe
8. Yarmouth Fisherman’s Song
9. Windy Old Weather

Georgia Shackleton discography