Howay The Lasses – s/t: Album Review

A celebration of all things North East – if you didn’t guess.

Release Date: available now

Label: Self-released

Format: CD / digital

Being completely shallow and judging the book by the cover, here’s a lovingly packaged (CD and booklet housed in a fold out poster) and crafted set from Annie Ball, Bronwen Davies-Jones, Gareth Davies-Jones and Katie Tertell. All coming from varying backgrounds of Chamber, musical theatre and the folk tradition, they obviously subscribe to the notion of ‘if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well’ with their self-released set of ten songs that celebrate the stories of notable North East women. Stories from the present day and which reach back as far as two thousand years.

The Unthanks and The Young’uns mine the area particularly thoroughly, the latter has even created a monster in the Ballad Of Johnny Longstaff story. The Lasses (and Gareth) opt for the gender-balancing option, applying a kaleidoscope of traditionally rooted and warm soundscapes to their subjects. Subjects with “Northern flair and grit aplenty.” Engineers, administrators, mathematicians, miners, reformers and footballers – pioneers all.

From the vibrant roll of the opening Janet Taylor to the simple delicacy that Gareth brings to Sheila Graber (she drew Paddington Bear for the BBC in the 1980s) the variety and contrast are evident. A rich sobriety carries Fiona Hill – the line “from the coal house to the White House” sums up the tale, a sign of the ambition and hard work (plus a smidgeon of luck) that lies at the core of these characters. The tale of Lady Mary Eleanor Bowes is similarly sombre, yet uplifting in her triumphs of initiating the need for reforms to divorce laws. The origins of the ‘rule of thumb’ notion are also exposed for anyone unfamiliar.

The broadsheet sourced love story of the brilliantly titled The Female Muffin Man also epitomises the set – our protagonist foresaking an arranged marriage to follow her heart in a proper folk tale of ingenuity and true love. They’re accompanied by a swing and brightness where the ring of strings from guitar and mandolin and accordion (unusually no fiddles here, but the depth from the cello on the likes of The Collier Lass is more than welcome).

Celebrating the twenty thousand that came to St James to watch the women’s NUFC, the title track and clarion call hones in on “the new era, the changing of the guard,” as the profile of women’s football reaches a new peak. And for a finale, it feels like The Women’s Engineering Society should be accompanied by the same jolly tune as The kinks’ Village Green Preservation Society. It scans pretty well too and the chorus is sweetly inspiring in the way not dissimilar to the signature Keston Cobblers Club sound with even a bit of an audience participation”whoa-ooohh-ing” thrown in for good measure.

Blows struck and awrarenesses raised, Howay The Lasses adds another keystone to the North East musical legacy.

Here’s the title track:

The Lasses are online here: Website

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