The Early Folk Band - Robin Hood - Ballads Songs and Dances
Miriam Andersén, Gesine Bänfer, Susanne Ansorg, Ian Harrison, Steven Player
‘It is a tale of Robin Hood, Which I to you will tell, Which being rightly understood, I know will please you well.’
From a True Tale of Robin Hood, Martin Parker, 1632
Ian Harrison and Gesine Bänfer are very fine pipers – and who of those of us at the 2006 and 2007 Blowouts can forgot their fine piping – and as such need no further introduction, but you may not be aware that they are also very fine shawm, cornet and recorder players (try to hear them playing with their medieval and renaissance wind band, les Haulz et les Bas). I saw Ian in another guise in 2014 playing, singing and dancing in The Society of Strange and Ancient Instruments’ show about Will Kemp, Nine Daies Wonder. They are joined on this CD by Steven Player – a superb dancer who also appeared in Nine Daies Wonder, but here showing himself to be a fine singer and string player. Nine Daies Wonder illustrated the impact of taking a strong thematic concept as the basis for a show rather than following the routine of presenting a concert of less well connected tunes. That approach is successfully repeated on this CD for an exploration of the life and death of Robin Hood.
The CD insert tells us that Robin Hood was born in song. Accounts of his feats appear in printed broadside ballads from the 16th century onwards and have ensured that his name remains known across the world today. Yet listening to these songs, many were new to me.
Ian and Gesine’s stylish piping is heard on 6 tracks, but this is not a CD only of piping; the sound scape is varied, stylish and engaging. Tunes, songs and stories abound as the tale of Robin Hood unfolds. The way in which the tracks move forward on the CD and some of the theatrical presentation suggests to me that this is a performance of a story rather than the performance of isolated tracks. Dance tunes come from such as Henry Playford, Lawrence Leadley, William Dixon and the Adderbury Morris tradition; songs often combine earlier text with other – many later - collected tunes, all to good effect. My favourite tracks are the haunting song, Robin Hood and Allin a Dale, Ian’s precise and flamboyant playing of Mary Scott, the Flower of Yarrow and Jenny Dang the Weaver and the fine cornet playing by Ian on Robin Hood and Little John.
A good indicator for the quality of a CD is how often you want to replay it. My copy seems to have been on a loop in our kitchen for a few days and I can’t say there is a poor track. These are all fine musicians who also come over as great storytellers. This material would make a fine show in the manner of Nine Daies Wonder. They are certainly worth seeing live and if you can’t manage that – or want a reminder of how much you enjoyed their musicianship – then this CD makes a very fine substitute. I highly recommend it.