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Hark! The Herald Albions sing

November 24, 2016

61s8hj4u1ml-_ss500Just in time for the stocking-stuffer season, The Albion Christmas Band has brought forth a new album of – no surprises here – Christmas songs to go along with its annual tour of British folk venues and cosy theatres. It is an eclectic mix of poems, jigs and soaring paens to the ancient winter solstice season.

The band only shows up at this time of year, of course, but it has deep roots in British folk and folk-rock. Its bassist and main poetry reciter is Ashley Hutchings, founding member of Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span and The Albion Band, of which this is one of many offshoots. On guitar and vocals is Simon Nicol, eminence grise of  the many grises that make up and have made up Fairport.  Simon Care, of reggae-folk fusion band Edward II and his own four-man trio (!), plays a dangerous melodeon and waves the odd Morris bell. The vocal queen of the ball – right up there in talent with British folk icons Maddy Pryor, Jaqui McShee and the late Sandy Denny – is Kellie While.

What they do – and have done again with the new album – is take travellers down a musical road into the folky heart of British Christmas. It is chestnuts roasting on an open pub fire .

“Magic Touch” has one immediatley recognisable song – a haunting rendition of “Silent Night” in English and the original German that features While in her finest goosebump mode. She does the same throughout, including with the traditional “Gower Wassail”.

Care, meanwhile, turns “Fairytale of New York”, the punkish Pogues hit, into a Morris dance track that loses nothing of its bite.

The readings include a half-sung “Christmas Eve, 1914”, relating the famous tale of British and German soldiers rising up from the World War I trenches to pay football and swap cigarettes duing an informal truce at Christmas that almost brought the war to an early end.

A poignant recitation on the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme, it is a reminder to those of us living in peace how lucky we are. So, for that matter, is the whole album.

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From → Music, Music Review

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