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Tam Lin.
Frankie Armstrong, Brian Pearson, Blowzabella and Jon Gillespie.
Plant Life Records.

Surprisingly, though my co-editor Jan Henning is a folk singer and I listen to a lot of folk music, this is the first record review to appear in Wood and Water. And there could be no better singer than Frankie Armstrong for our first review. Frankie has a superb strong voice, equally at home with big ballads, lyrical songs and humorous songs, and capable of moving from one type to another without incongruity. One of her best records is Out of Love, Hope and Suffering where this comes out very clearly, when Prince Heathen, a ballad of a man's extreme cruelty to a woman, is preceded by the light Too Much of a Good Thing, and later the humorous Nine Times a Night is followed by Frankie's own The Doors of my Mind.

Frankie has always sung songs which show the world from a woman's standpoint, sometimes oppressed but fighting back, sometimes joyful, sometimes sexual, or several of these at once. Lately she has been particularly concerned with issues about nuclear power and weapons. Her single for Women for Life on Earth (TPLS 03) contains two songs with which Wood and Water is very much in tune, Message from Mother Earth and Shall there be Womanly Times or Shall We Die. In volume 2, number 4 of Wood and Water, we were very pleased to publish her Out of the Darkness together with an account of how it was written.

The ballad of Tam Lin (which Jan looked at in some detail in volume 2, number 4 of Wood and Water) has lived in Frankie's imagination for many years. Now she and others have produced an album of variations on the theme. It begins with Frankie singing the ballad of Tam Lin. There are songs of love won through trials and songs of lost love — Frankie and Brian look through the eyes of the Queen of Elfland, and also consider how mortals can be attracted to Elfland and also find its changelessness destructive. The Second Serving Maid “knows a herb in the merry green wood that will twine the babe away” and sings of her pain and anger at having had to learn this. There are songs of the Old Ones and of the yearly round, very magical and some suitable for ritual use. The musical instruments are unusual, including hurdy‑gurdy, bassoons and recorders among others — fine music in its own right and blending with the songs to enhance the magic and power of an exceptional record.

Wood and Water 15, Summer 1985
© Daniel Cohen

 

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