The early 1970’s are regarded as the golden age for British Folk Rock with originators Fairport Convention and Pentangle. They set the template not only for capturing a purely British sound, fusing two genres together, but were also successful for conjuring up resonant and profound images of green pleasant lands, British mythology and folklore, as well as tales of sorrow and heartbreak. Six-piece Galley Beggar make no apologies for their inspirations and the sound they want to re-capture for the 21st century. Signed to the eclectic and interesting Rise Above records, they have recorded their 3rd album with the aid of renowned producer and engineer Liam Watson (White Stripes), at the controls of his analogue Toe Rag studios.
The production is crystal clear with a modern polish sharpness while the music combines Fairport Convention, Pentangle, Steeleye Span, Led Zeppelin’s folk excursions, and a slight dusting of psych folk means they are in similar musical circles to the electrified Purson, another current British band exploring quintessential early 1970’s British rock. So how does it all compare? Maria O’Donnell’s vocals possess a harder and stronger tone than Sandy Denny’s, so might not melt as many hearts, but still provokes images of the traditional folk sound of a bygone pre-industrial revolution era Britain. In fact, there are punctuated moments throughout the album that would not sound out of place on the recent updated T.V. version of Poldark. And I mean that as a compliment.
A retelling of the biblical story of ‘Adam and Eve’ opens proceedings and has a medieval sound to it. ‘Pay my body home’ is nine minutes of intricate guitar play, which builds into a blissful folk rock jam in a similar style to Fairport Convention’s ‘A Sailor’s Life’, from their ‘‘Unhalfbricking’’ album. Then the slight reverb waver in the acoustic intro of ‘Empty sky’ contributes to a wonderful slice of mournful, there is no afterlife, hopelessness.
‘Jack Orion’ picks up the tempo with melodic fiddle for a perfect sunny afternoon festival jig with delicious warm ale at hand. It’s then back to lyrical despair with the traditional English/Scottish ballad ‘Geordie’, about a wife’s failed appeal to a judge against her husband’s hanging. It has been given a fresh musical reboot with every note adding substance to the tale, and is a song of the album contender. So is the title track, which sees Maria O’Donnell give her best vocal with a no holding back display on the pain of a failed relationship. While the closing track ‘Deliver him’ ends the 8-track album with a haunting ethereal quality.
Of course, while listening to ‘‘Silence & Tears’’ it will evoke all the aforementioned influences but take nothing away from the quality of the songs and musicianship. It’s no simple task to emulate a classic sound and to do it with such good results. Galley Beggar has produced an album to add depth to any Folk Rock collection.