People find their own way into folk and traditional music. For some it’s always been a part of their life, for others it can be a great gig or, in Jon Wilks’ case, it can be finding out that your grandparents had begun their relationship at Cecil Sharp House.
This small piece of family history inspired music obsessive Wilks to undertake nine months of research into traditional English folk music. The more he found out, the more he fell in love with these old songs. Wilks talked to many folk musicians, set up a website (offline at the time of writing) and recorded this nine track digital download album, Songs From the Attic.
The album is a completely solo effort - just vocals, acoustic guitar and a twitchy foot. There are nine songs offered which share, says Wilks, the love of storytelling which is at the heart of folk music.
Wilks’ clean finger-picking guitar style is the first thing that strikes the listener to this album. The Sandgate Dandling belies its origins as a lullaby by the propulsion of Wilks’ playing. It’s only when one listens to the lyrics that one realises the darkness at the heart of this piece.
The Bedmaking has an almost percussive accompaniment which, although reminiscent of Martin Carthy’s version, is good enough to stand on its own two feet. As a contrast, there’s a touch of the blues to Wilks’ rendition of My Old Hat That I Got On, (better known as All For Me Grog). Wilks has fun with this song and his vocals, which can be a touch weak and forced on other material, are right at home on this piece about the life of a sailor.
Girl on a Kemble Train is one of two Wilks originals on the album. It’s a slight anecdote which obviously made an impression on the writer but, like many personal experiences, it loses something in the telling. Much better is Durham Fair which is based very loosely on Wilks’ grandmother’s account of her own lifestory. The song is simple and is sung with great tenderness.
The best song is saved until last. Wilks’ version of Shallow Brown fits him like a glove. His guitar playing is exquisite here and the subtle harmonies add much to this shanty transformed into a song of loss and remembrance.
Songs From the Attic is a genuine, carefully considered album which is made with a lot of heart. It deserves to be noticed.Stephen Witkowski
Self-released as a digital download only on 22 September 2017.
1. The Sandgate Dandling
2. The Bedmaking
3. Girl on a Kemble Train
4. When First I Came to Caledonia
5. Hard Times of Old England
6 Ye Mariners All (A Jug of This)
7. My Old Hat That I Got On
8. Durham Fair
9. Shallow Brown