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Cecil Sharp Project

cecil_sharpWith Jim Moray, Jackie Oates, Andy Cutting, Steve Knightley, Kathryn Roberts, Leonard Podolak and Caroline Herring.

The Cecil Sharp Project was a multi-artist, residential commission to create new material based on the life and collections of the founding father of the English Folk Revival Cecil Sharp. The 8 of us spent a week together in a beautiful old Shropshire farmhouse, where we played music, wrote songs, ate good food and drank the odd glass of wine! The week culminated in two performances, one at Theatre Severn in Shrewsbury and the latter, rather appropriately, in Cecil Sharp House in London. These two shows were recorded and the album was subsequently released. We performed at the Shrewsbury Folk Festival 2011 to great acclaim and consequently a tour was booked, including a performance at Celtic Connections 2012.

“This was a tough brief. Eight folk musicians spent a week in the countryside writing a concept work about the folk-song collector Cecil Sharp. He may have played a crucial role in the revival of the genre in the early 20th century, but he’s hardly a likable figure (“a bit of an anorak,” said Steve Knightley), and little is known about his personal life. A performance at the headquarters of the English Folk Dance and Song Society added pressure. But it worked because the songs were unexpectedly varied and the mood bravely and cheerfully non-reverential. 

It was a Who’s Who of the new British folk scene, with Knightley joined by Kathryn Roberts, Jim Moray and his sister Jackie Oates, Patsy Reid from the Scottish band Breabach, and the squeeze-box star Andy Cutting, along with the funny and furious Canadian banjo player Leonard Podolak and the fine American singer Caroline Herring, the discovery of the evening. Amazingly, they sounded like a band rather than a collection of talented individuals, with singers and instrumentalists interacting and swapping solos.

Part of the set consisted of songs that Sharp collected, with Oates and Roberts providing exquisite harmonies on Barbara Allen, and Oates swapping vocals with Herring on different versions of Lover’s Lament.

The new songs ranged from the poignant to the critical. Ghost of Songs was a moving tribute to those who gave Sharp their songs, the jaunty Dear Kimber dealt with morris dancing but also his patronising approach to women, while Maud and Cecil was a comic sexual fantasy about his relationship with his loyal assistant Maud Karpeles. And this in Cecil Sharp House? He’d have been furious.”

**** The Guardian

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