The coming together of Jo Freya with Chumbawamba’s Jude Abbott and Neil Ferguson for their debut album Get Well Soon is a more than welcome addition to the current UK folk revival.
As you would expect from Freya, who was part of the Old Swan Band in the 1970s and 1980s act Blowzabella, and members of former chart toppers Chumbawamba, the trio skilfully blend traditional and contemporary tastes.
The track that attracted us to the album, which is released on the No Masters label, was their cover of the beautiful Lal Waterson and Christine Collins track ‘Piper’s Path’.
Another that caught our attention was the trio’s excellent cover of XTC’s ‘Dear God’. Freya says their version is deliberately low key to bring out its appeal to both Christians and atheists alike.
She says: “For many people, on the face of it, it appears to simply say ‘why would anybody believe in god’, but for me it’s deeper than that.
“It also incorporates the questions of the borderline believers too and those who have had their faith challenged by disaster and tragedy and it very loudly says -why! I love it because it is challenging but absolutely on the button. That’s why we didn’t go for an all out angry feel.”
She adds: “I take full responsibility for introducing it into the group. For me this is the best song on this subject in the business.”
The inclusion of the track got us thinking about what it is about XTC’s work that appeal to folk singers in particular.
Sarah McLachlan has already covered Dear God and Jim Moray has covered ‘All You Pretty Girls’.
Freya tells us that it is not only that their “lyrics have a depth and poetic quality that is often more associated with folk songs in their broader context than pop songs.”
It is also because the lyrics, “tell a story and the subject matter varies. Not everything is about love.”
She adds that XTC’s “corking tunes” help too. “When I toured extensively with Blowzabella in the 80’s XTC was a must have listen in the tour bus.”
Aside from some well-worked covers there’s so much more to like on this album that has an eclectic range of styles. While ‘San Fran’ and ‘Cornwall’ offer some high quality indie pop there are also more standard folk highlights such as Freya’s ‘Bold William Brigg’ and her reworking of the traditional ‘ Two Sisters’.
Even though Freya takes lead vocals and the bulk of writing duties there’s a strong trio feel to the band, with Chumbawamba’s trumpet and acoustic guitar style blending well with Freya’s clarinet and saxophone playing. This is unsurprising given they have been playing together as a live act for a few years now.
There’s an instant appeal to Freya’s voice as well. So much so that on her murder ballad ‘Betsy Walton’ she even manages to make the drowning of a lover sound fun.
by Joe Lepper
Get Well Soon can be bought direct from No Masters.
See Also: Top Ten Albums From The Golden Age of UK Folk Music