Andrew Robson album




child resIt took an American to systematically compile hundreds of English and Scottish ballads from across the centuries. In so doing Francis James Child (1825-1896) performed not only a massively important task in preserving the cultural heritage of the British Isles, he provided composer Andrew Robson with thrilling raw material for a collection of eight songs. What composer wouldn’t be stimulated by such Gothic horror as poor innocent Child Owlet being torn limb from limb by four horses?! Indeed horror, murder, rape and torture constitute the core of the subject matter, alongside the inevitable stories of love – usually lost or thwarted.

Robson’s triumph here is to make his music so raw and visceral that the tales become real rather than fantastical. He has scored his songs for his own alto and baritone saxophones, Llew Kiek’s acoustic guitar and bouzouki, Steve Elphick’s double bass, and, most crucially, Mara Kiek’s voice and tapan drum. Kiek has to dig deep to make this stuff work, and she comes up wild northern accents and spitting, witch-like singing. Her sound, alone, is enough to send chills down the spine, let alone the grisly subject matter of which she sings.

Nor is the music’s vice-like grip released in the instrumental sections. On Flodden Field, for instance, Robson’s baritone explodes like the clash of arms upon that field, and the bass, tapan and guitar often carry a furiously energised momentum. My only regret is that the album does not come accompanied by a booklet of the potent lyrics, as they are often hard to catch in their entirety.