Henry Parker – Live After Lammas: Album Review

Electric folk music continues to demonstrate quite how much life is left in the genre, Henry Parker at the forefront of a new renaissance.

Release Date: 4th November 2022

Label: Cup and Ring Records

Format: CD/digital

Henry Parker, eh? Both the name and the look seem of a sepia-tinted past, the manner and style of an eccentric Victorian preacher man and poet, probably one who sees visions. But he has been, slowly, steadily, making quite a mark for himself across the broad community of what counts as folk these days, crossing over into a lot more beside. And if my image of him presents an expectation of winsome wyrdness, acoustic whimsy in 9/11, in tongues, well, you couldn’t be much further wrong. This is aggressive and muscular electric music, a discordant jangle of some elegance and power. True, perhaps more in thrall to the late 1960s than today, in style, but the substance is entirely at one with now. This is a live album, in limited release; just 200 discs, he says, near a year to the day from his ‘Lammas Fair’ album, and celebrates one night of performance in Leeds. Lammas is August the first, in part explaining the title, but the title is also a nod to ‘Live After Death’ (Iron Maiden) and, maybe, even to ‘Live At Leeds’ (your choice between the Who or John Martyn), and any similarity doesn’t end there.

I didn’t know there was a Hyde Park in Leeds, but this show, all from a single night was recorded at The Hyde Park Book Club in that city. Hip, casual bar it says on googling, with a capacity of a mere 100 bodies, so it is just as well Parker runs a tight ship, with an electric trio.(Now who does that sound like?) He sings and plays guitar, with Rob McNicholas on bass and Louis Berthoud on drums. Most of the songs come from the aforementioned ‘Lammas Fair’, with a smattering from the earlier ’Silent Spring’, from 2019, and, bar a couple from trad.arr., they are all his own.
Built on a drone figure, with picked guitar flickering around his voice, Return To The Sky offers a good introduction, the first impression akin to the work of Michael Chapman, in both voice and guitar play.

The title track from Lammas Fair follows, with a helpful introduction, “strange goings on, on the North Yorkshire moors,” the harvest festival of August 1. Think pagan leftover ceremonies spilling over into the sacraments of the church, a confused/ing mix of religion and folklore. The song continues the whiff of Chapman and flavours of that there Richard Thompson, yet with enough identity and originality to stand apart from either. The guitar workouts are carefully geometric and weave in and around the steady metronome of the rhythm section. It strays little from the studio version, but has a pleasing added rawness, sharpening the central focus as the edges delicately fray. Sounding genuinely surprised by the reception, Nine Herbs Charm has an almost bossa nova beat, and a charming melody, with McNicholas’s bass burbling high in the mix. The guitar sticks to fingerpicked curlicues, that, at times, meander into quiet little diversions between the verses.

Two solo pieces follow, Blackthorn and Driving For A Living. If the first is a reference to cider, I’d be surprised, even if the instrumental beckons the sense of lazing way an afternoon, possibly woozily, and it has a courtly pastoralness. The second is a more traditional sounding ballad, the trials and tribulations of the itinerant working man, with, as the verses unfold, the reveal it applies equally to the present day. Hence, I guess, the title, itself maybe a sly nod around how musicians make their living, a variation around Charlie Watt’s breakdown of his time spent in the Rolling Stones. But Charlie won’t have driven from gig to gig himself, kit in the boot, band in the back. Who then join him again, appropriately enough, for Drive East. As his fingers pick out a swirling melody, Parker recounts how the inspiration was the wonderful drive east, over to Whitby. A drive I have made myself many time, it is certainly quite something, first market towns and, then, the quietly desolate high route to the coast. Again, the mood of the song is of a late ’60s, electricity being embraced for the first time. Indeed, this song contains many clanging would be power chords, between the filigree jangles. Think a cross between the Byrds, when they were Five Miles High, and Fairport’s Sailor’s Life. With that song hailing from from his debut, Silent Spring, now comes the title track from that album. With the build, track on track, having been so subtle and gradual, it is a surprise to appreciate how suddenly much more muscular is this arrangement, and, boy, how the bass and drums do rattle.

You want rattle? Closer, the traditional The Brisk Lad, is all distorted and echoed guitar, and it is a quite wonderful din. As Parker sings, Berthoud taps his entry into the second verse, before making a few more determined thumps, McNicholas billowing in behind him. The three instruments are now a perfect cacophony. This is folk music as primal therapy, and the trio expand and extemporise, sensing telepathically when to change pace or direction. The end is swift, abrupt and even a little shocking. As contrast, the encore is a quite wonderful Willie O’Winsbury, a slow, gently swaying arrangement, with Parker’s guitar weaving about McNicholas’s equally deft playing, keyboard drones a constant reassuring presence. Taking its time to reveal the tune, this is a truly satisfying rendition to this rounded performance. I hope many more than 200 come forward for this, necessitating a rethink on that. But the disappointed can, I guess, always grab a download or copies of those first two albums. I did. Bandcamp is your destination.

With thanks to Colin Harper, here is a more recent outing of The Brisk Lad, from Halifax last month:

Henry Parker online: website / Facebook Twitter / Instagram

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