REVIEW: Classical guitarist revives Cumbrian folk tunes

By Alan Cleaver

edheslamTUNES that had not been heard in the county for over 100 years were revived in an intriguing concert at Lamplugh Village Hall.

Classical guitarist Ed Heslam, along with his wife Fiona, has spent months researching the old folk tunes of Cumberland and Westmorland.

And now he’s brought them back to life, with modern arrangements that give them a new sparkle.

Ed returned to Cumbria a few years ago (he now live at Bridgefoot, near Workington) but was surprised to find that the local folk clubs were more intent on playing Irish tunes than anything English.

Or indeed Cumbrian. So he set out to discover Cumbria’s ‘lost’ folk song tradition.

And the good news is that the concert at Lamplugh just ‘scratched the surface’ of the hundreds of local tunes waiting to be rediscovered.

The concert combined a chat by Ed about some of the tunes and their history.

In some cases not much is known about the composer or the reason behind the title.

But for others there was a fascinating and magical ‘back story’ that was lapped up by the audience.

Included in the concert were such delights as Miss Pratt’s Minuet, The Border Widow’s Lament, And Ye Shall Walk in Silk Attire and The Fond Shepherd.

Many of the tunes don’t have titles but others record the names of villages or people.

The New Road to Alston obviously recorded the excitement of such a major event in the villager’s lives (I suppose A New Bridge to Pooley Bridge would be the modern equivalent) while the ghosts of such characters such as Miss Greenop, Mr Irwin and Nancy Under t’Hill were brought back to life – if for one evening only.

Such rustic music could also be quite ‘bawdy’ and Kiss Me Fast My Mother’s Coming, Set Her Against The Wall and other similar titles showed raunchy music was not invented in 1961.

I was particularly interested in Whitehaven Volunteers – a tune which was written some 250 years ago as John Paul Jones and his crew were terrorising the town and revolutions in Europe and America were sending chills down the spines of our ancestors.

Ed was able to shed light on some of the history behind the songs and the songwriters but it clear there is much more yet to be rediscovered.

Thank goodness! It would be a crying shame if the 30 or 40 songs Ed performed that night were all there was.

Judging by the reaction of the audience, Ed has ignited a spark of interest in Cumbrian folk music.

He is helped by a small minority of others including Steve Wharton of Frizington.

They are whetting the appetite of people and we want more!

Sadly, I can’t tell you yet when Ed or Steve will be performing next. Steve Wharton is on Facebook so follow him there.