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Bryony Griffith and Will Hampson - Lady Diamond (Selwyn Music)

Star rating: 
4

There's always a slight concern when reviewing music, whether it be for a new record or a live gig, that you might write something that at some later stage you might disagree with. The passage of time can often change your opinion or maybe in hindsight, reveal a moment of over-zealous enthusiasm. When I last wrote about Bryony Griffith I waxed lyrically, claiming I had just heard a young Norma Waterson (with the poise and attitude of the late Sandy Denny and with the stage presence of Janis Joplin - yes I said this). Lofty comparisons you might say, but upon hearing LADY DIAMOND I'm sticking to my guns.

This eagerly anticipated debut from husband and wife team Bryony Griffith and Will Hampson is made up entirely of traditional songs and tunes delicately arranged by the duo themselves and presented as a 'live' studio record with no embellishments or studio trickery. This is a true reflection of what you might get from the duo at a festival, concert or in the back room of a pub. 

Bryony's inimitable voice dominates the songs here, sung with equal dollops of fire, grace and passion. There's nothing sweet or fanciful in Bryony's singing, it's right there in your face, an earthy gritty no-nonsense approach to storytelling, and by, do you believe every word. There is the one exception here, when Bryony turns in a gorgeous interpretation of The Constant Lovers, accompanying herself on piano. It's not just Bryony's voice that impresses upon hearing this debut, there's also the fine fiddle playing, which she handles like a demon, a Demon Barber to be precise. Her work over the last few years with a ceilidh band aptly called Bedlam, a certain coven from Elswick and of course the Demon Barbers, has provided the experience and apprenticeship that has now come to fruition, providing the traditional folk world with another distinctive voice.

Will Hampson provides the perfect accompaniment to all this singing and fiddle playing with an intuitive ear and flair in his melodeon playing. Providing the melodies and rhythms for Morris dancing from an early age allows a musician time to develop a personal style, which comes over on this album. The 'bottom end' is clear in the mix as are all the squeaks and creeks of a living breathing instrument. On a couple of occasions Will allows his instrument to 'breathe' on such songs as The Murdered Servant Man for instance, all of which brings character to the playing and life to the songs. 

Starting with some pizzicato fiddle plucking on the traditional Martinmas Time, familiar to either Ann Briggs or Andy Irvine fans equally, the song blooms before our very ears into something quite extraordinary. Likewise the duo's almost chamber version of Child Ballad 269 Lady Diamond, the title song, which encompasses everything we love in traditional ballads from love and pregnancy to royalty and murder, all the ingredients necessary for a good meaty folk song. The Lady of York, learned from the singing of Jim Elden, has more death and cruelty, beautifully retold here by a duo unafraid to venture right into the nitty gritty of a song. Elden claims he learned this from the singing of gypsy children, which kind of sends shivers as does Bryony and Will's performance of the song here.    

Bryony and Will were but children themselves when they first started playing together and LADY DIAMOND takes its place as one of the duo's rites of passage, their status changing from important musicians in their many collaborative endeavours to a perfectly formed entity in their own right. I look forward with keen interest to their further development.

Allan Wilkinson
Northern Sky