PICKING UP THE PIECES - THE CHANGING ROOM
LCM ALBUM OF THE MONTH - JAN 2017
Release Date: 12th August, 2017
Band Members: Tanya Brittain and Sam Kelly
Location: Cornwall, UK
Record Label: The Changing Room Music
There is something very special about Looe-based folk band The Changing Room who delivers original songs in English and Cornish language. Formed in 2014 by Tanya Brittain and Sam Kelly, the band is already multi-award winning having won Kan rag Kernow 2015 and the International Pan Celtic Song Contest 2015. Sam also won the Horizon Award at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards 2016. Picking Up The Pieces their second album released last summer contains rootsy, very catchy Celtic-infused songs heavily influenced by the industrial heritage of Cornwall. The album has a perfect blend of instrumentation, songwriting and arrangements, It's a hidden gem and it won't surprise me if it is included in most 'Best of' end of year lists. It's one of my favourite folk albums in 2016 and that is in a very strong year for UK Folk music. It is an album which quite simply is a pure joy to listen to.
The Changing Room have currently released four EP’s and a two full length albums.
- A River Runs Between EP (English)
- Splann EP (Cornish Language)
- Behind the Lace Album (English)
- Name on A Wall EP (English)
- The Magic Of Christmas EP (English)
Guests on 'Picking Up The Pieces' include Jamie Francis (Banjo, Vocals, Electric Guitar), Evan Carson (Percussion), Morrigan Palmer Brown (Harp), Kevin McGuire (Upright Bass), Belinda O'Hooley (Piano) and John McCusker (Fiddle, Harmonium).
The album begins with a powerful song 'Caradon Hill' about Cornish copper mining and the hardship of the miners.. "A miner's life is hard and Caradon Hill is scarred with remnants of our plight.....We're hungry and we're weak and the copper ore we seek is elusive, it's nowhere to be found."
'Zephaniah Job' a Polperro Mr. 'Fix-it', smuggler's banker and moneylender is the next subject of the next Cornish tale. He seems to be an early version of a cross between the 'Godfather' and Wonga.com. It has a very catchy chorus with hints of Megson.
Probably next is one of my favourites on the album. We travel to Looe to find 'The Grayhound' a three-masted lugger and privateer. With a crew of sixty men, the ship was a Cornish coastal raider with a letter of marque.
Containing the inspiration for the album title 'Bal Maiden's Waltz' co-written with the great Boo Hewerdine is another song about the hardships of mining. This time it's about the 'Mine Maidens' a young or unmarried woman who was a female manual labourer working in the mining industries of Cornwall and western Devon. They would work above ground processing the ore sent up by the miners below. "Picking up the pieces same thing every day, Passing time together in thoughts of yesterday and tho the work us hard it's all we've ever know...crush it grind it, break it down."
A huge favourite is the first song in Cornish on the album is 'Gwrello Glaw (Let It Rain)' wonderfully written by Tanya. It's rich in beautiful stunning arrangements and lyrics. Sam has a brilliant pure vocal and this song perfectly showcases it. "Guide me, be my searchlight, be my crew, Be the hole in the cloud, where the sun breaks through......Let It rain, let in rain. Cos' I've seen the edge and made it back again. Let it rage, let it pour, I will dance, I'll be back for more" . As Mr Goodman would say 'It's a ten from Len'
The toe-tapping and almost country rock 'The Cinder Track' is a song with road building as its central theme. The combination of Sam (on vocals, guitar, bass and piano), Tanya (on vocal and accordion), Jamie (on banjo, vocals or electric guitar) and Evan on percussion works perfectly,
The pace slows for a lovely Boo Hewerdine track 'Koh-I-Noor' (Mountain of Light) written about the very famous diamond. The Koh-I-Noor diamond was found near Guntur in Andhra Pradesh, India, possibly in the 13th century and it weighed 793 carats (158.6 g) uncut. The stone changed hands several times between various feuding factions in South Asia over the next few hundred years, before ending up in the possession of Queen Victoria after the British conquest of the Punjab in 1849. As the diamond's history involves a great deal of fighting between men, the Koh-i-Noor acquired a reputation within the British royal family for bringing bad luck to any man who wears it. Since arriving in the country, interestingly it has only ever been worn by female members of the royal family.
With traditional lyrics and new music written by Sam is the next track 'Delyow Sevi' (Strawberry Leaves), It's a story of a young maiden on her way to pick strawberry leaves which, so the song alleges, make young girls pretty. She meets a travelling tailor, who seeks to seduce her. "Who will clothe the child?" asks the young man. "Ah, but his father will be a tailor," the maiden concludes. The repeated refrain "dark face and yellow hair" probably alludes to the traditional view of female beauty. So the moral of this story is eat plenty of strawberries and don't trust a Cornish tailor especially when they are 'on the pull'.
The thought provoking, reflective and piano lead 'We Will Remember Them' featuring Belinda, considers the huge costs of war, the lives lost and the families left behind. Lessons haven't been learned over the years and we still have the same bitter conflicts. "So whatever happens now? Who will show us how....a live a life of peace and carry on? Our hopes and dreams and our reason gone.....But we will remember them and carry on.......But life goes on".
Another very catchy song is 'Tie 'Em Up' written by Geoff Lakeman the patriarch of the very famous Lakeman folk family. With the hardships of Cornish fishing as one of its central theme. Superb interplay between acoustic guitar, accordion, banjo, bodhran and upright bass. It has an incredibly catchy earworm of a chorus. It's almost impossible not to sing along.
In typical fashion the album closes with a song about Cornish workers and industry, this time it's transporting good by road and railway. 'It's All Downhill From Here' name-checks many important places in Cornwall. Yet another earworm of a chorus to finish. It really reminds me of Greg Russell and Ciaran Algar too.