Odd, unconventional melodies, poetic, sophisticated song-writing and the bewitching clarity of Kent-born Lucy Farrell’s voice are made elegant with sparse, careful accompaniment on tenor guitar and occasionally viola, carving out a unique niche for an artist at the forefront of contemporary English folk music.
Immersed in folk culture and traditions from birth via her Morris-dancing, folk-club running 14th century family home in Kent, the Garden of England, Lucy studied Folk and Traditional music at Newcastle University and has gone on to pick and choose the elements of tradition that suit her, and discard those that don’t in favour of sounds and methods that support the songs – both hers and those handed down. It’s as easy to imagine Farrell ignoring ink-stained fingers from a quill as hunched over tapping lyrics into an i-phone, though the seeming contradictions in sensibility aren’t just on the surface. There’s an ease and confidence in the deeply personal lyrical style of her own songs, as well as an effortless familiarity as she traverses material from hundreds of years ago.
In conversation, Lucy – who is deeply funny and self-deprecating alongside her insightful and deliberate songwriting – will talk of wearing her special tweed coat and trousers and taking nips from a hip flask full of Ribena when she saw Richard Thompson in concert as 10th birthday treat, along with her dad and maths teacher, or of how many pints it takes to lubricate the knees to dance with her father’s Morris Troupe; or of playing totem tennis while commentating in an ‘awful Australian accent’ as part of Eliza Carthy’s Wayward Band. There’s something to those ink-stains though – Farrell is also an accomplished visual artist and crafter who will often put down her guitar and pick up a pen, or needle and thread.
Finding an international audience among artists like Julia Jacklin, Emily Portman, The Weather Station, The Unthanks and Eliza Carthy, the 2017 BBC Radio 2 Folk Award Winner Lucy Farrell is not only awarded as a renowned composer and singer, but also as viola/fiddle/tenor guitar-player. Her work as a band member and collaborator with such artists and projects as Eliza Carthy and the Wayward Band; Gluepot; Modern Fairies; The Furrow Collective; Carthy, Oates, Farrell & Young; and her duo work with Andrew Waite and Jonny Kearney, respectively, has meant releasing a collection of her distinctive solo work has had to wait – until now.
Songs from Lucy’s debut solo album, recorded at Wenlock Abbey in Much Wenlock, are scheduled for release through Hudson records from Fall 2021.
laughing dog music
Jonny Kearney and Lucy Farrell album review by Robin Denselow *****
This is a debut album, but the 12 songs are in many ways a continuation of the haunting six-track EP The North Farm Sessions Jonny Kearney and Lucy Farrell released last year; after all, they were recorded in the same location, at the Northumberland home of Rachel Unthank and her husband Adrian McNally, who again acts as producer and adds delicate piano work on a couple of tracks. Kearney and Farrell met while studying in Newcastle, and first came to attention when the Unthanks invited them on tour. Inevitably, there have been comparisons with the Unthanks' gently edgy style, but this young duo are no mere copyists. Kearney is a fine songwriter, responsible for the simple but powerful There's a Disease, and the more folky, sad-edged Green-Leaved Trees, as well as the finger-clicking Stand Up Show, and charming Swing Low, a love song that already sounds like a standard. His singing is considered and intense, and he seems to work intuitively with Farrell as they switch between duets and solos. She takes the lead on two traditional songs of love and loss, and adds one of her own to this compelling set.
Press review #1
The Furrow Collective: Fathoms review – close-knit harmonies hit home *****
Folkies flit between outfits almost as much as jazzers. Emily Portman, Alasdair Roberts, Rachel Newton and Lucy Farrell all have their own groups and albums, becoming the Furrow Collective to concentrate on tradition rather than original compositions. Most of the dozen songs on this third album are well known – in the case of The Cruel Grave and the Dark-Eyed Gypsies one might say overexposed – but the group refresh them with a mixture of agile arrangements and close-knit harmonies.
Though the quartet take turns to sing lead, it’s their blended vocals that strike home. Davy Lowston, a true tale of abandoned mariners, uses only harmonium and voices. Our Ship She’s Ready, a poignant story of emigration, likewise has a solitary guitar backing. When they do pick up their instruments – violin, harp, banjo, squeezebox and more – the collective stay restrained. The Cruel Grave comes with eerie electroharp; otherwise the group are content with cadent, spangled backdrops. There’s little of the ebullience that lifted 2016’s Wild Hog, but Fathoms has its own charms, and once again comes expertly produced by label boss Andy Bell. Chalk one up for tradition.
Press review #2
Fathoms | Furrow Collective By Colin Irwin
Pop-up groups (let’s avoid saying ‘supergroups’) have been, well, popping up all over the place in recent years, presenting familiar artists in different combinations, line-ups and themes; the cynical might suggest this trend merely to be a convenient method of renewable energy – and marketing – to sustain interest in the artists concerned to counter the threat of fatiguing audiences who see the same names over and over again at all those festivals.
But chemistry is a wondrous and elusive thing and this Anglo/Scots alliance of Emily Portman, Lucy Farrell, Rachel Newton and Alasdair Roberts clearly have a natural empathy that works organically, seemingly without excessive effort. Now into their third album after five years and a BBC Folk Best Group Award in the locker, they’ve certainly earned their spurs as rather more than a passing fancy.
Sticking resolutely to traditional ballads from both sides of the Tweed, they have a very clear sense of identity, each approaching the music with a sort of easy yet cunning guile, while individually bringing something distinctive to the party; be it Emily Portman’s deceptively homely vocals and occasional banjo, Rachel Newton’s lyrical harp and fiddle or Lucy Farrell’s warm voice and viola (and, of course, let’s not forget that famous musical saw). All lure you into a disarming sense of cosiness as tales of blood, death, treachery and heartbreak emerge on powerful songs like My Son David [hear it on this issue’s fRoots 71 compilation]The Cruel Grave and Down By The Greenwoodside while they musically skip between jaunty charm and disquieting weirdness.
The glue that holds them all together and provides much of the quirkiness that underlines them is surely the mighty Alasdair Roberts who, whether through persuasive voice or flowing guitar, emphasises the rare intimacy and occasional ghostliness of their sound, which is immeasurably enhanced by Andy Bell’s empathetic production. The songs are as old as the hills, the stories timeless and the treatment as fresh as the day.
None better than The Dark-Eyed Gypsies, arranged with the sort of backing harmony vocal arrangement that comes close to sounding absurdly twee, yet here raises a smile, the right sort of smile. I’m not entirely sure about their clippety-clop treatment of Come Write Me Down, but that may be due to over-fondness for the Copper Family version and you’ve got to love a banjo. There is much to commend them – Lucy Farrell’s unaccompanied opening to Davy Lowston introducing the sort of harmony singing in which they specialise and show again on Our Ship She’s Ready; the powerfully sparse arrangement that adds so much fuel to False True Love; Rachel Newton’s storytelling qualities on False Lover Won Back.
A rare band of distinctively individual singers and musicians who knit perfectly. It’s proper folk music – what’s not to like?