The Furrow Collective - We Know The Moon

2023 studio album

We Know The Moon - The Furrow Collective

the bright young folk review

Celebrating their tenth anniversary, Lucy Farrell, Rachel Newton, Emily Portman and Alasdair Roberts follow up their 2022 winter EP The Longest Night with a lunar-themed album of traditional songs from the British Isles and beyond.

It opens with two songs specifically concerning the moon. The first, sung by Portman to a shimmering wintry arrangement of keys and strings, The Moon Shines Bright is a new year carol collected by Lucy Broadwood from a gypsy family in around 1893. Though the lyrics, compiled from different variants which dwell on mortality with lines about the worms eating your flesh aren’t exactly brimming with good cheer.

The second is the grammatically challenged and sprightly waltzing The Moon Shines On My Bed Last Night, a Scottish traditional learnt from a 1963 recording by Scottish Traveller Jeannie Robertson which, sung by Newton and accompanied by picked banjo and Farrell’s viola, is the lament of a young woman separated from her true love.

Sung a cappela by Farrell, the other voices joining as it progresses, a song of parting Every Day Is Three is a variant of A-Roving on a Winter’s Night or, Dearest Dear, the Appalachian flavours of the version here nodding to Tim Erickson’s 2012 recording. Roberts takes the lead for the jaunty Apprenticed In London, a familiar tale of a night-time bedroom tryst while the girl’s parents lie sleeping (hence the alternative title Blow The Candles Out). Dating from the late 17th to early 18th century and learnt from a 1977 live recording by Derroll Adams, Portman’s banjo augments Newton on harp.

Sung in Scottish Gaelic by Newton, opening with minimal accompaniment before piano and guitar enter the mix as it builds in intensity, ’s fhada leam an oidhche gheamhraidh was written by Murdo MacFarlane, a Scottish poet from the Isle of Lewis, during a bout of homesickness while living in Canada.

Another poet, Paisley’s Robert Tannahill, and another night visiting song, provides Roberts’ second vocal Are Ye Sleepin Maggie, which, featuring a viola solo from Farrell, leans on a 1982 recording by the late Ray Fisher, though his own association dates back to a 1976 version by the Tannahill Weavers. And on the subject of Scottish bards, there’s also inevitably an appearance by Robert Burns for O, Wert Thou in the Cauld Blast? The last song he ever wrote, here opens with The Emperor And The Moon, an English country dance tune played on harp and piano before Roberts again sings lead, the text set to a tune by Mendelssohn.

Opening with tinkling electroharp again setting a wintry mood, Portman taking lead, Wild Wild Berry is a variant of Lord Randall who, in this version, learnt from a 1989 recording by Ray Driscoll, is poisoned by his lover with woody nightshade, the track building to a chiming, discordant psych folk finale. Of an equally dark nature and another night visiting, this time of a supernatural nature (bereaved mother, dead children), The Wife Of Usher’s Well, here in a Scottish version, is invested with a suitably sparse and chill plucked accompaniment to Farrell’s glacial, mournful vocals.

Having both previously performed the song individually, given a harp setting Roberts and Farrell bring their versions together for The Hurdy-Gurdy Man (Der Leiermann), singing line by line in alternating English (her) and German (him) to the original tune composed by Schubert from the Winterreise (Winter Journey) song cycle.

And, finally, their voices all come together for the a capella O Watch the Stars. An African-American spiritual and folk hymn learnt from American Folk Songs for Christmas, a 1957 album by The Seeger Sisters featuring the young Peggy Seeger, led by Portman and returning to the titular theme with its line “watch the moon see how it shines”. It’s a gorgeous ending.

Accompanied by a song notes booklet illustrated by Farrell’s mother May, they describe it as “to be listened to after dark, by candlelight, firelight, or under the cold, steady light of our constant lunar companion". Waxing lyrical indeed.

Mike Davies

Released digitally on Hudson Records November 27 2023. Produced by Andy Bell.

1. The Moon Shines Bright
2. The Moon Shined on My Bed Last Night
3. Every Day is Three
4. Apprenticed in London
5. ’s fhada leam an oidhche gheamhraidh
6. Are Ye Sleeping Maggie
7. The Wild Wild Berry
8. O, Wert Thou in the Cauld Blast
9. The Wife of Usher’s Well
10. The Hurdy Gurdy Man (Der Leiermann)
11. O Watch the Stars

The Furrow Collective discography