An in-depth exploration of the experiences of motherhood and feminine determination from Carol Fieldhouse
Release Date: 10th June 2022
Label: Self release
Formats: CD / Download / Streaming
Sometimes, an album comes around that really rewards deep, sympathetic listening. Continuum, the second album from Derbyshire singer/songwriter Carol Fieldhouse is one such album – I’ll try to tell the story from the beginning.
Back in 2016, Carol initiated a songwriting project, exploring the experiences and emotions of motherhood through the eyes of five mothers, each at a different stage of the journey that stretches from the first, breathless, announcement of pregnancy to the joyful experience of a grandmother watching her grandchildren mature from infants into young adults. A journey that, along the way, gathers inspiration from the bravery, compassion and vision of women past and present. Continuum is the result of that long-gestated project and Carol has encapsulated those experiences and inspirations in twelve delightful, gentle and intimate songs that strike repeated chords of sympathy and recognition in anyone who cares to listen.
It’s true to say that Carol has got some powerful help; she’s joined on the album by Producer Chris Pepper, who contributes a dazzling range of instrumentation, including harmonium, bass and percussion, John McCusker who plays whistle, accordion and some wonderfully atmospheric fiddle, Neill McColl who adds mandolin, guitar and splashes of marxophone (a kind of fretless zither), Mohammadreza Behjat who chips in with santoor when an eastern flavour is called for and, none other than our old friend Boo Hewerdine – producer of Carol’s debut album, 2016’s Linen – who brings acoustic and electric guitars and bass to the party. But, truly, Continuum is about Carol’s voice, her guitar and piano and, most of all, her fascinating, endearing stories – it’s these that make Continuum such an excellent and rewarding album.
The name Carol Fieldhouse may be a new one to you, as it was to me. A long-term exponent of folk and early music, Carol fell back upon her own songwriting talents as long ago as 2008. She’s undertaken a number of commissions to write and perform songs for projects such as Graham Sellors’ plays Gorsey Bank To Gommecourt and Wusser, the latter of which included Carol’s anthem for the town of Wirksworth, Derbyshire. She is the co-leader of a weekly music group at Derbyshire Refugee Solidarity, leads a choir at an Extra Care Residential Home and promotes small-scale music performances at Coach House Studios in Wirksworth. And just ion case all that activity doesn’t manage to fill her diary to overflowing, in 2016 she completed an MA in Songwriting and Performance at the University of West of Scotland and exercises her love of classical music by performing with Richard Roddis Singers and with Musicke in the Ayre for good measure.
The theme of inspirational women gets an early airing in Continuum’s opening track, Beyond The Tide. Carol wrote the song in honour of Margaret Wilson and Margaret McLaughlan, two of the Wigtown Martyrs who, in 1685, were forcibly drowned in the River Bladnoch because they refused to accept the King as the head of their church. It’s a harrowing tale of immense bravery and commitment in the face of unspeakable savagery. Carol’s clear voice and Chris’s harmonium give way to a rich blend of instruments in a tune with strong Scottish tones that match the song’s subject matter perfectly.
Carol’s Early Music roots come to the fore in the percussive rhythms of The Dancer, a song that celebrates the human impulse to move whenever (enjoyable) music is played, before the motherhood theme returns for Laura, Carol’s message to her daughter, hunkered down in the arctic winter of Finnish Lapland. It’s a wonderful, gentle song, awash with swishes of acoustic guitar from Carol and Boo.
Carol sings with particular fragility in Continuum, the album’s title track. The song is addressed to Carol’s friend, Fiona Banks, a lady who has suffered unimaginable tragedies during her life, but who’s losses were sweetened by her daughter’s announcement that she was pregnant. Fiona’s losses and her great joy at hearing her daughter’s news are both considered in an inspiring lyric, particularly as Fiona’s daughter declares: “Mum! I have a baby somersaulting, hiccoughing inside me!”
Co-written with Carol’s youngest daughter, Hannah, the endearing Little Red Scarf recalls preparing a small child to attend school for the first time, whilst looking forward to the child’s life ahead. Carol sings with great assurance as, once again, piano, guitars, bass and harmonium blend deliciously together. The contemplative Birdsong is a welcome addition to the catalogue of songs written over the years that contrast the present-day tranquility of the Somme Valley with the devastation and carnage that once took place there. Carol’s folky delivery is accompanied by actual birdsong, before a slow, ponderous, haunted tune develops and Carol imagines the evil and pointlessness of the vanished battlefield and celebrates the power of nature to heal the wounds inflicted.
The emotions left behind as children become young adults and leave home – often for ever – form the subject of the magnificent Pale Sun, a song that Carol co-wrote with Heather Fitton. The song was written during an early morning country walk, and the emotional contrast in the lyrics between the enjoyment of the breaking dawn and the pervading sense of loss is marked. The contrasting emotions come over clearly in Carol’s delivery and there will be many listeners who empathise strongly with the sentiments she expresses.
The turning of the seasons in the Derbyshire village of Birchover set the scene for Aurora, Carol’s “thank you” message to a helpful friend, about to retire. The song’s lyrics are wonderfully evocative of the unique Derbyshire countryside, with swaying birch trees, moorside edges and gritstone walls all featuring, and Carol’s regard for her friend is unrestrained in the song’s closing lines: “And love will always find you, receive all you’ve given/ Beautiful teacher and guide you have been.”
Perhaps my favourite song of all on this splendid album is Sulaymaniyah, a song that gets right to the point of what connects us universally as human beings. The song’s lyrics are as evocative in their description of the deserts of Arabia as Aurora is of the Derbyshire moorlands and I particularly love how the chorus epitomizes the unification of cultures: “I know little of your culture, I know nothing of your lands/ But as the snow falls in the desert and settles in your hand/ I recognize your wonder, an eagerness to play/ And the peace of snow descending in Sulaymaniyah today.” If only those in power could think that way… And the tune reflects that unification, as guitars, harmonium and violin, grounded in the western folk traditions, are given added spicy eastern flavour by Mohammadreza’s santoor.
The life of former Wirksworth resident Beryl Tacon, and particularly the way she overcame discriminatory obstacles to see her children and grandchildren succeed in vocations from which she, as a woman, was excluded, is the inspiration for Woman of the Land. Set to a nice quasi-traditional tune, opening couplet: “A woman of the land, a furrow seldom ploughed/ A foot in closing doors, close to the ground” sets the scene for Beryl’s story, before we get to Daisies, the final song of the “Motherhood” project. I love Carol’s reference to the umbilical telephone chord that allows a mother to recognize a child’s state of mind and health, merely be hearing the first words of a telephone conversation. It’s a lovely, soft, folky song and the sparse accompaniment from Carol’s acoustic guitar and Boo’s electric guitar is all that’s needed.
Which all brings us to The Message, the album’s exquisite, perspective-laden closing track. This time, Carol’s inspirations were a photograph taken from the Voyager 1 space probe that showed our planet in its true perspective – a small blue dot, or a “blue pixel in boundless night,” dwarfed by the vastness of the Universe, and the words and determination of Greta Thurnberg, as she inspired a generation to take our self-inflicted environmental perils seriously. The Message is as intimate as any song on this album of arch-intimacy – just Carol’s voice and her piano are all that’s needed to put that message across – we could tear this planet apart, and the Universe wouldn’t even notice.
Continuum is a splendid album from a talented and highly principled songwriter. These songs need to be heard.
Watch Carol Fieldhouse perform The Message – the album’s closing track – here:
Carol Fieldhouse Online: Website
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Thank you, John for such a thoughtful and thorough review of Continuum, I appreciate the time you’ve taken best wishes Carol
Many thanks Carol – I loved the album, and so now do my family! Hopefully the review was an accurate one…
Only just seen this…That’s lovely to hear! Continuum album launch is on the 14th September as part of Wirksworth Festival