Album ReviewsReviews

Review: V.A. - John Barleycorn Reborn (2007)

artist: Vari­ous Artists
release: John Bar­ley­corn Reborn : Dark Brit­an­nica
format: 2CD + MP3
year of release: 2007
label: Cold Spring & Woven Wheat Whis­pers
dur­a­tion: 5:08:16

detailed info: dis​cogs​.com

Where to begin with an abso­lutely massive com­pil­a­tion like this? Well, it all star­ted with Mark Coyle’s Woven Wheat Whis­pers label, which star­ted in late 2005. Since then, he has man­aged to gather an impress­ive num­ber of artists to his MP3-only label, cov­er­ing the broad area of under­ground mod­ern folk music, ran­ging from tra­di­tional to folk rock, from neo­folk to psy­che­delic folk, from medi­aeval to pagan folk. Hun­dreds of albums have been (re-)released, and the scope of the label has become huge. All the more reason why an over­view com­pil­a­tion like this one is very wel­come. Not only does the first edi­tion of the John Bar­ley­corn Reborn series con­tain a host of great artists, this is only the tip of the ice­berg, for as the sub­title gives away, only Eng­lish artists have been fea­tured on this album (with the unfore­seen excep­tion of novem­three). More edi­tions are to come, which will con­tain Amer­ican artists, other European coun­tries, and who knows what else?

But, let’s focus on this one first. In col­lab­or­a­tion with Eng­lish neo­folk/­post-indus­trial label Cold Spring, Woven Wheat Whis­pers has released the main part of the com­pil­a­tion on a fine 2CD set, con­tain well over two and a half hours of music. But, a WWW release would­n’t be com­plete without some free stuff. In this case, this means a huge MP3 sup­ple­ment, freely down­load­able if you’ve bought the CDs. It con­tains a fur­ther two and a half hours of music, mak­ing the total run­ning time of the set over five hours - now there’s value for money.

But, the value is not only in quant­ity, but also in qual­ity, as there are so many great artists from vari­ous sub­areas of the folk world fea­tured on this com­pil­a­tion. Even more so here than any­where else, it would be a fool’s errand to try and give an in-depth review of every track. As it as, I’ll try and pick out the high­lights, while giv­ing a taste of the diversity con­tained in here at the same time. Of course, this com­pil­a­tion would­n’t be com­plete without rendi­tions of the tra­di­tional song that gave it its name: “John Bar­ley­corn”. Both CDs start with a ver­sion of this clas­sic, and The Horses of the Gods and The Anvil both pull it off con­vin­cingly and ori­gin­ally. Other tra­di­tion­als also fea­ture on the album, such as “Lay the Bent to the Bonny Broom” by Char­lotte Greig and Johan Ash­er­ton, who deliver a long, intim­ate rendi­tion of this cruel bal­lad. Clive Pow­ell’s “Reed Sodger” is based on vari­ous pieces of tra­di­tional rhyme, and fea­tures Clive’s unique voice over subtle elec­tron­ics. The omni­present (but rarely dull) “Twa Cor­bies” is here executed by pysche­delic folk­rock­ers Mary Jane, who turn this track into a quite funky affair. “Pew Pew” is a Scot­tish tra­di­tional text, here set to harp and recorder by Quick­thorn, fea­tur­ing the vocals of Prydwyn. But, one of my abso­lute favour­ites has to be Venereum Arvum’s ver­sion of “Child 102”, the bal­lad of the birth of Robin Hood. Sean and Rachel’s vocals soar in uni­son above subtle accom­pani­ment, let­ting the beauty of the melody speak for itself con­vin­cingly.

Also the non-tra­di­tional tracks con­tain some great stuff. The Eng­lish divi­sion of neo­folk can’t be left out here, of course, and least of all Tony Wake­ford’s Sol Invictus, who come with a brand new track, rep­res­ent­at­ive of the band’s recent exper­i­mental dir­ec­tion. This is equally true of The Triple Tree, where Tony col­lab­or­ates with Andrew King. “Three Crowns” is a dark track com­bin­ing acous­tic sound­scapes with obscure folk­loric themes (in this case from an M.R. James story). Andrew King solo is a guar­an­tee for tra­di­tional song delivered with con­vic­tion, and based on proper research, and his ver­sion of “Dives and Laz­arus” is no excep­tion. This is a re-recor­ded ver­sion of the track which ori­gin­ally appeared on the split with Changes. Matt Howden’s Sieben is also fea­tured with a remix of a track from Ogham Inside the Night; a fine example of his ori­ginal violin ‘n’ vocals approach to folky mod­ern song. Finally, there’s While Angels Watch, with a not totally con­vin­cing track, which nev­er­the­less has a very nice atmo­sphere and devel­op­ment.

But there’s so much more going on here I just have to men­tion. Damh the Bard deliv­ers a rous­ing piece of pagan folk on “Spirit of Albion”. The Kit­chen Cyn­ics’ “The Guid­man’s Ground” is a song based on spacy gui­tar, accom­pan­ied by subtle vocals telling a rather dark folk nar­rat­ive. “Sum­mer­house” by The A. Lords is a won­der­fully serene piece of pas­toral music, based on gui­tar, organ, and field record­ings. The ever impress­ive Shar­ron Kraus comes with the very nice little “Horn Dance”. More eso­teric things are hap­pen­ing with Alphane Moon, who offer a bril­liant mix of semi-gregorian singing and the mys­tic acous­tic sounds we’ve come to expect from these people at Oggum Records. Even more occult is Eng­lish Heretic, of course, as always explor­ing obscure folk­loric sub­jects, and present­ing the res­ults in the form of exper­i­mental music, here with elec­tric gui­tar freak­i­ness, wild vocals, drums, and samples. “Stained Glass Morn­ing” by Sand Snow­man is a great piece of psy­che­delic folk, com­bin­ing superb acous­tic gui­tar melod­ies with sooth­ing female vocals.

And that was just the first 2CD part of the col­lec­tion! If you get this album, be sure to get the free MP3 down­load as well, because there are quite some hid­den gems in there as well. Of course, no time to men­tion them all, but here’s the ones that stuck with me most. First of all, Far Black Fur­long present a won­der­ful epi­logue (again with great oboe work) to the already excel­lent The East Room album, also on Woven Wheat Whis­pers. Odd one out is Amer­ican novem­three, who nev­er­the­less brings two con­vin­cing instru­mental track of his foresty folk with nice per­cus­sion. Alan Trench and Martyn BatesTwelve Thou­sand Days presents “Thistles”, a won­der­ful track from their 2006 album From the Walled Garden. Other work of Trench’s is also fea­tured, with nice tracks by Orchis and Cun­nan. Paul New­man’s “Lavon­dyss” is a very good mel­an­cholic track on vocals and acous­tic gui­tar. We also get a very nice selec­tion of tunes from some of England’s finest medi­aeval artists, such as The Daugh­ters of Elvin and Steve Tyler. Best of all is Miseri­cor­dia’s “De Poni Amor A Me”, a superb song based on hammered dul­ci­mer, hurdy-gurdy, and bag­pipes.

I haven’t men­tioned all, of course, and this is not the place for an even more in-depth approach. It does­n’t mean the unmen­tioned tracks aren’t good or inter­est­ing, of course, because this com­pil­a­tion has a very con­sist­ent qual­ity level. What’s also not men­tioned yet is that in addi­tion to a load of great music, John Bar­ley­corn Reborn also has a very firm folk­loric concept. A selec­tion of artists, as well as pro­ject ini­ti­ator Mark Coyle have writ­ten short con­tri­bu­tions in the book­let, to cla­rify their feel­ing towards this com­pil­a­tion, and towards the new folk revival that is being doc­u­mented by it. For I believe a revival is a cor­rect term. Folk music and lore has served as an inspir­a­tion to many artists over the past two dec­ades or so, John Bar­ley­corn Reborn is one of the first to provide an over­view of at least a part of this area of music so full of ori­ginal approaches. I firmly believe that this set and its fol­low­ers will serve as a monu­ment to this revival, and I ima­gine myself look­ing back to this in a couple of dec­ades with a sense of nos­tal­gia. I com­mend Woven Wheat Whis­pers and Cold Spring for put­ting this together for us, and I’m look­ing for­ward to the fol­lowups. Any­one who wants to know what’s hap­pen­ing in under­ground folk music these days should abso­lutely get this treas­ure trove! Even for those who knew many of the artists already, there is loads to dis­cover.

Reviewed by O.S.


Part 1: Birth:

1. The Horses Of The Gods - John Bar­ley­corn (3:56)
2. The Owl Ser­vice - North Coun­try Maid (2:39)
3. The Story - The Wicker Man (2:30)
4. Damh The Bard - Spirit of Albion (4:15)
5. Mary Jane - Twa Cor­bies (5:13)
6. Andrew King - Dives and Laz­arus (6:29)
7. The Triple Tree - Three Crowns (5:37)
8. Sol Invictus - To Kill All Kings (5:55)
9. Sieben - Ogham On The Hill (Remix) (4:03)
10. Shar­ron Kraus - Horn Dance (3:30)
11. Char­lotte Greig And Johan Ash­er­ton - Lay The Bent To The Bonny Broom (7:54)
12. Puma­jaw - The Burn­ing Of Auchindoun (5:43)
13. Peter Ulrich - The Scryer & The Shew­stone (5:06)
14. Alphane Moon - Where The Hazel Grows (4:30)
15. Eng­lish Heretic - Hip­po­mania (6:50)
16. Far Black Fur­long - Icy Sol­stice Eye (3:28)

Part 2: Death:

1. The Anvil - John Bar­ley­corn Must Die (4:37)
2. Tinkerscuss - To Make You Stay (2:55)
3. The Straw Bear Band - Trial By Bread & But­ter (3:37)
4. Elec­tronic Voice Phe­nom­ena - The Sor­row Of Rim­mon (3:56)
5. The Purple Minds Of Lazeron - Dragon­fly (4:21)
6. Sand Snow­man - Stained Glass Morn­ing (5:56)
7. The A. Lords - Sum­mer­house (5:11)
8. The Kit­chen Cyn­ics - The Guid­man’s Ground (4:18)
9. Quick­thorn - Pew Pew (2:32)
10. Clive Pow­ell - Reed Sodger (4:19)
11. Venereum Arvum - Child 102: Wil­lie and Earl Richard’s Daugh­ter (aka The Birth of Robin Hood) (7:33)
12. Drohne - Not­tamun Town (6:55)
13. Storm­crow - Gar­goyle (6:16)
14. Doug Peters - Pact (4:21)
15. While Angels Watch - Obsidian Blade (5:07)
16. Xenis Emputae Trav­el­ling Band - John Bar­ley­corn: His Life, Death And Resur­rec­tion (4:52)
17. Martyn Bates - The Resur­rec­tion Appren­tice (2:42)

Part 3: Rebirth:

1. Mag­pi­ety - The Rolling Of The Stones (2:05)
2. The Story - All Hal­low’s Eve (5:07)
3. Telling The Bees - Wood (4:44)
4. David A Jay­cock - Bonny Jay­cock Turner (2:46)
5. Yea­l­and Red­mayne - Oh My Boy, My Bonny Boy (3:49)
6. Char­lotte Greig and Johan Ash­er­ton - The Bold Fish­er­man (4:37)
7. Steve Tyler - Tier­ceron (4:02)
8. The Wendigo - The Wendigo (6:32)
9. The Owl Ser­vice - Wake the Vaul­ted Echo [Tigon Mix] (4:52)
10. Far Black Fur­long - The East Room V (3:35)
11. Xenis Emputae Trav­el­ling Band - Bright­en­ing Dew (3:14)
12. Sedayne - Cor­vus Monedula (4:05)
13. The Straw Bear Band - Bear Ghost (5:08)
14. Novem­three - Scythe to the Grass (2:33)
15. Paul New­man - Lavon­dyss (4:59)
16. James Reid - King­fisher Blue (5:17)
17. JefvTaon - (Dig­ging The) Mid­night Sil­ver (4:24)
18. Wooden Spoon - Chil­dren’s Soul (1:49)
19. Big Eyes Fam­ily Play­ers - A Dream of Fires (3:20)
20. Sun­dog - Kilpeck June 2007 (4:15)
21. Clive Pow­ell - Ca The Horse, Me Marra (11:14)
22. Mac Hende­r­son of Grand Union Mor­ris - Jack In The Green (2:41)
23. Cun­nan - Seven Sleeps, Seven Sor­rows (11:58)
24. Orchis - The Silkie (3:46)
25. Twelve Thou­sand Days - Thistles (5:30)
26. Novem­three - Har­vest Dance (2:32)
27. James Reid - Elder (3:51)
28. Mary Jane - When I Was In My Prime (5:06)
29. The Daugh­ters of Elvin - Ognor Mi Trovo (3:19)
30. Miseri­cor­dia - De Poni Amor A Me (6:15)
31. Venereum Arvum - Child 102 (lily flower mix) (7:54)
32. The Anvil - John Bar­ley­corn Must Live (5:39)
33. The Sun­shine People - The Old Way (1:07)