Mercurial, that’s the word. Martin Newell is indeed a mercurial beast. From progressive rock to shimmering and often skewed indie pop, never one to follow conventions and creating wonderful and quintessentially English music along the way. Latterly he has dedicated his time to being a poet, author and award-winning columnist.
Here we find 2 of his best-loved poems put to music with the aid of East Anglia’s longest established ceilidh outfit, The Hosepipe Band, and the result is fantastic. The first half of the album is The Song of the Waterlily, which documents the building of a ship, a deep-sea fishing smack, seen through the eyes of a younger apprentice shipwright, a journey from tree to sea. The series of musical chapters weave between spoken word, shanty choruses, gentle folk accompaniments and smart musical interludes and reminds me of the sort of thing that Jethro Tull may have engaged in back in their seventies Songs From The Wood era heydays (only without the one legged theatrics and frightening codpieces.)
The song cycle just oozes calm and pastoral peace, despite the industriousness at the heart of the story, for it is a gentle, older form of productivity, one that seems at one with the waterfront and greenery you picture as the tales framework.
Black Shuck is a darker piece, the tale of a demonic hound that has been haunting the fens, coastline and churchyards since “Essex was a front line between Saxon and Dane” a beast whose presence spells misfortune. Musically, in contrast to the lighter folk offerings for the first piece, we get more drama and more eclecticism in the music.
Through these two poems, which seem to hark back to earlier times, Newell is allowing himself to revel in the East Anglia that he loves, the small villages and quiet lanes, the timelessness and weight of history which seems to hang in the air.
Even if you’re not from the neck of the woods that Martin and The Hosepipe Band are so wonderfully honouring, it still speaks to the listener of lost times and folklore, of tales told in corners of pubs on winter nights and of the ever present sea. It is a wonderful collaboration that matches the deft words of Newell with some suitably dexterous playing from the band and makes for a very unique experience.