Review in fRoots December 2014
THE HOTWELLS HOWLERS
Kiss Me Now Or Never Supernova SN7
How to describe The Hotwells Howlers. A band? No, not a group either. A choir? No,not really. A collective? Well, sort of…
They are a dozen or so singers and musicians who perform traditional songs and tunes together and separately and, on the evidence
of this recording, they share the lead singing. None of them is an outstanding musician or singer but on the other hand, none is
less than average. There is, however, a strong feeling that the whole is much more than the sum of the parts. This is a very full CD with the
22 items almost filling the capacity and album is full of straightforward, honest performances that are full of charm and enthusiasm.
They take all their material locally from the Chew Valley and the Mendip Hills. Mostly these versions come from Cecil Sharp’s preWorld
War 1 visits to this area and a definite plus for the performances here is that by avoiding well-known versions they offer the
listener pleasure in fine, neglected versions.
In the excellent notes, they pay tribute to the “wonderful resource” Full English, the EFDSS / VWM Library website. True! No need for
singers to got get their material from wellknown albums when there is so much available of great quality available on that site.
Examples here would be the versions of Creeping Jane , John Barleycorn, Dabbling In The Dew and the interestingly
different version of the tune Cuckoo’s Nest, all of which deserve to be more widely known… or you could go to Full English and
find some neglected gems of your own.
English Dance & Song magazine, www.efdss.org
Supernova Records, SN7
With this CD, the Hotwells Howlers kindly invite you to a musical journey around the Chew Valley and the Mendip Hills. Somerset, rich in traditional songs and tunes, was visited by Cecil Sharp on a number of occasions, and his collecting in those areas forms the basis of this recording.
Based at the Nova Scotia pub (for practice purposes only, you understand), in Hotwells, hence their name, this group of friends have now produced three CDs of carols, songs and tunes from their beloved Somerset and long may they continue to bring us more of the same. For they lay before us 22 tracks, mostly songs, that are a joy to listen to. If you just look at the play list, there are titles of songs that you might recognise, ‘Creeping Jane’, ‘The Lady and the Dragoon’, ‘Gossip Joe’ for instance, and possibly think that you know them.
Don’t assume, for these are local versions and deserve to be sung far and wide. I am sure the Nova Scotia has witnessed the Howlers on many occasions, deliberating and finally deciding on the material for this CD and then, hearing them diligently practising it – and all for our benefit. Well, not quite, because they are very generous with any monies they have received from previous recordings and performances, donating to charities that are dear to them.
You can hear their smiles and feel their enthusiasm on this, their latest offering that has been produced for all the right reasons.
Do yourself, the Hotwells Howlers and the charities they support a favour, buy it.
Review in Living Traditions www.livingtraditions.co.uk Issue 106
In 2012, The Hotwells Howlers, a Bristol-based ensemble, released Love And Liberty, a double CD of songs and tunes from in and around the Quantock Hills area of West Somerset. For the Howlers’ follow-up collection, the regional focus shifts to somewhat closer to their home base.
The vast majority of the material on the new disc was collected by Cecil Sharp, who first visited the Mendip area in April 1904; many of them were eventually published in his Folk Songs From Somerset volume, but the Howlers have often sourced from versions ‘adapted’ subsequently through the folk process by local singers and thus a good number of the disc’s selections present refreshingly different variants of songs we thought we knew only too well.
The version of Creeping Jane, for a start, which comes from the singing of William King of East Harptree, will at first no doubt seem decidedly unusual to our ears but proves very satisfying as it progresses, especially in such a spirited performance as this with Harry Langston taking the lead. Incidentally, Harry’s sturdy account of The Life Of A Man provides the disc with another of its highlights. The Streams Of Lovely Nancy receives a considered rendition that enables a fresh perspective on this song replete with notoriously strange imagery, as does another song from the repertoire of William Stokes, High Germany. Then there’s Coal Black Smith (aka The Two Magicians), which is dispatched by Angela and John Shaw as a delightfully fun duet; here, as on other songs like Gossip Joe, the participants have gleefully collated verses from sundry versions. The disc’s instrumental medleys are delivered with plenty of panache and brio while, forming an interlude in the ensemble-based programme, The False Bride comes in the form of a solo rendition by Chris Molan (who’s also responsible for the disc’s charming artwork).
Elsewhere there may be occasional instances of exaggeration on the part of individual singers (The Golden Vanity), but by and large the performances of all 11 of the singers (seven of whom double as instrumentalists) are assured and hearty, with no sense that concessions or standards are needing to be invoked; everyone gives of their best, whatever their level of ability. This gives the disc an overall feel that’s a kind of cross between the well-rehearsed folk-chorale and the better class of informal song-and-tune-session where all participants are well acquainted with each other’s talents. It’s to be noted that while the songs necessarily (to some degree) employ conscious arrangements, with a certain amount of part-sharing and personalised role-playing designated to suit the individual and collective voices and skills of the performers, the bonhomie and enthusiasm is impossible to resist, as is the impulse to join in! The CD clocks in at a generous 77 minutes and has a fine set of song notes tucked into the package too.