The mixing of folk song with recorded interviews has a long pedigree, stretching back to the BBC Radio Ballads in the 1950s. Feted singer Sam Lee picks up the baton with Hullucination.
Commissioned by the PRS Foundation as part of their New Music Biennial series and given its debut during Hull’s UK City of Culture festivities in 2017, this 17-minute long work sees excerpts of songs collected in and around the city interspersed with recollections of two of its residents. With Lee taking care of the sung sections, he’s backed in a gentle and unobtrusive fashion by piano, fiddle, shruti box and musical saw.
The spoken sections provide a fascinating window onto disappearing ways of life, and Lee has done an excellent job of getting Renie Smith and Ken Knox to open up. The former speaks of the harassment faced by the traveller community, while Knox tells of the dangers of life on board the fishing boats.
As Hullucination was conceived by one of the finest singers on today’s folk scene, it’s a slight shame that it doesn’t feature more of his considerable vocal talents. The verses that do make the cut prove tantalising, from the foreboding of Go from my Window to the pathos of Goodbye Old Ship of Mine.
It’s a sacrifice that’s worth making though, for the sake of giving a wider audience to the stories of ordinary people. Which, after all, is a large part of what folk music is all about.Nick Brook
Released on download by NMC Recordings on 20 April 2018