“A Year Too Late and a Month Too Soon” by Bryony Griffith & Alice Jones
“Straight up, beautiful and bold folk singing”Mark Radcliffe – BBC Radio 2
“Well-known on the grassroots scene for multifarious adventures with different outfits, this pair pitch together their fiddle and guitar and passionate vocals with winning vitality on a vividly enticing bunch of traditional music from their home county of Yorkshire. No fancy frills here – we get songs of fratricide, coalmining, betrayal, cockfighting and drinking, delivered in all their raw glory. Honest, wholesome and thoroughly enjoyable.”
FOLK RADIO UK
It has been said that they do things differently in Yorkshire and Bryony Griffith and Alice Jones’s first recording together certainly stands out for its fresh, vibrant and direct approach. The album is subtitled ‘Songs from Yorkshire’, and songs, not so much from but, as the sleeve notes put it, “collected in Yorkshire and by people living in Yorkshire”; and that is what you get, performed by two of Yorkshire’s finest, delivered with absolute conviction and palpable charm.
Bryony and Alice are embroiled in many activities on the English folk scene (as mentioned here). They describe the album as being “curated and recorded” during the pandemic, which led “us all to delve deeper into our connection with community, both local and virtual”. Hence a collection of local songs that are “a reflection of this time of introspection and a celebration of the rich heritage which can be found on our own doorstep”. There are versions of songs that are familiar from other versions collected variously elsewhere in England, in Ireland, Scotland, Wales and beyond, and a good number of songs indigenous to Yorkshire, as far as anyone can tell.
The opening track, Wanton Lassies Pity Her, is sung in large part in unison, and the combined voices are an absolute delight. A young woman marries an unkind, violent man and, in the song’s quirky, outdated phraseology, she is: ‘Tethered to a haughty fop, Proud and brainless as a mop, Should she cross him, her he’ll wop’. The tune suggested in the source for the song was Duncan Gray, a lively Scottish tune usually played as a reel. Considering that tune to be too jolly for a song about such an unhappy subject, Alice reworked it into something more akin to a march, which, played on fiddle and harmonium, has plenty of energy and turns the song into a pronouncement, a broadside sung as a warning to others.
What Is That Blood on Thy Shirt Sleeve is immediately recognisable as a version of the ballad variously titled Edward, My Son David or What Put the Blood? The subject matter of brother killing brother calls for solemnity. That comes from Alice’s chapel-like harmonium as the only accompaniment to the equally apt, hymn-like led vocal. In most versions, the tension in the telling comes from the culprit denying their guilt until well into the song. This being a Yorkshire version, the blunt confession comes upfront, in the first verse, followed by the typically flimsy excuse – in this case, “Because he shot those three little pretty birds” – and then working out the unavoidable consequences.
When Bryony and Alice describe ‘curating’ their album, they are, of course, describing a process, the efforts of which are largely concealed from the listener. The duo have spent many hours exploring written and online traditional song collections that include Frank Kidson’s collection and the Yorkshire Garland website. In some cases, they have added verses from elsewhere (the album’s title is a line from just such an addition to Willy Went To Westerdale) or used alternative tunes. The excellent sleeve notes lucidly describe the results of this labour, and the stories behind the songs make for fascinating reading.
One such song is The Girl Who Was Poorly Clad, in which Alice takes the lead. With glorious harmonising, and no instrumentation, our attention is given entirely to the tragic tale of poverty and death. It is among several tracks sourced from Yorkshire song collector Frank Kidson (Alice made a double album with Pete Coe celebrating the legacy of Kidson in 2014). Kidson collected this one from Frank Kelly, an Irish street singer who lived in Leeds and sang it in Gaelic. It is a version of Young Girl Cut Down in Her Prime.
The Watersons’ were well-known for their celebration of East Yorkshire song, so you would expect some crossover in the ground covered. Bryony and Alice’s The Hunslet and Holbeck Moor Cockfight is cheerfully sung by Alice and aided by an equally spirited fiddle from Bryony. It’s another from the Kidson collection that tells of the occurrence of that particular, legal until the early 19th century, blood sport. The Watersons recorded a version in 1965 that has five to Kidson’s seven verses, the two versions both sharing the first two verses and one later verse.
Two more of Bryony and Alice’s songs, Strawberry Tower and Willy Went To Westerdale appeared, in not dissimilar versions (the former as Stow Brow), on the Watersons’ third album A Yorkshire Garland, a collection of Yorkshire songs from 56 years earlier. Bryony and Alice’s versions of both songs were learnt from John Greaves, a North Yorkshire singer and farmer. Bryony sings Strawberry Tower, the tragic story of a drowned sailor and his lover, in suitably sombre mode, enhanced by Alice’s harmonium. On the surface, Willy Went To Westerdale seems to be a misogynistic song about a wife who could get nothing right, but Bryony and Alice speculate in the sleevenotes that ‘she’s probably doing it on purpose’. The only accompaniment is Alice’s tenor guitar, which sounds for all the world like a bouzouki, and drives the rhythm along at a chirpy, encouraging pace.
What Bryony and Alice accomplish together is very much all their own, whatever comparisons may spring to mind, the album has a strong sense of putting down a marker. In every respect, the songs are centre stage. The production and mix – courtesy of Joe Rusby – ensure exceptional clarity that is perfect for hearing Bryony and Alice’s buoyant, proudly Yorkshire singing without missing a word. The vocal arrangements are wonderfully creative, with the lead being shared equitably across the songs. It is deliciously unpredictable from song to song as to which lines, verses or choruses will have the added harmony ingredient. The instrumental playing, when employed, adds subtle light and shade. Bryony’s very fine fiddle playing is used sparingly, and Alice shifts between harmonium and tenor guitar, except on My Johnny Was A Shoemaker, where we are spoilt with ‘body percussion’ from Alice, in tandem with staccato fiddle.
A Year Too Late And A Month Too Soon is traditional folk music at its most beguiling. It is one of those rare collections of music that cajoles its way into your listening consciousness, drawing you in so you become immersed in it and want to bring it to the attention of others.
It’s both an honour and a privilege to be afforded the opportunity to write this CD review. The talents and skills of both Alice and Bryony as individuals are well known to me from their earliest forays into the performance of English traditional song, dance and dance music; Bryony, of course, with her involvement with The Witches Of Elswick and The Demon Barbers and Alice for her step-dance work with Ryburn3Step over many years, her role of thumping piano in Pete Coe’s The Black Box Band, and more recently her amazing collaboration with Pete Coe on the highly acclaimed CD, The Search For Five Fingered Frank (a study into the collecting work of Frank Kidson – if you didn’t already know).
So, having followed, closely, both of their individual careers over many more years than their youthful, fresh-faced appearance might suggest and the close proximity of their residential locations, my only question is: What took them so long? This is indeed an inspired coming together (a match made in heaven, I venture) and I, for one, feel bereft for all the years they should have been doing it… but, now they have, I’m ecstatic!
The collection is, of course, all drawn from a variety of local collectors, publications and the older generation of traditional singers from Yorkshire and all are songs of the utmost quality – as you might expect from these two. Most of the songs (or versions) are either less known or unknown to me and every one is a gem.
The CD opens with Wanton Lasses Pity Her – a full on duet performance with lead vocal sharing and harmonies of sibling closeness (they are, of course, not sisters) and demonstrating their considerable instrumental abilities on fiddle and harmonium… and a taster of much more to come! Bryony does a splendid job of the vocal on What Is That Blood On Thy Shirt Sleeve?, a cobbling together of two versions of the ballad, Edward, from Frank Hinchliffe and Grace Walton. Inspired performance altogether. Immediately following that is Alice’s equally stunning rendition of A Young Girl Cut Down In Her Prime, titled here, The Girl Who Was Poorly Clad, from Frank Kidson’s mammoth collecting work. An extraordinary and beautiful melody.
.My Johnny Was A Shoemaker, again from Frank Kidson, and all credit due to Alice for volunteering to turn her entire body into a full set of drums as only she can, for a cracking vocal performance from both singers and a nifty bit of fiddle accompaniment from Bryony.
In addition to their supreme performance throughout, you will not be disappointed with the quality of information on the songs and credits inside the cover. They have left nothing out!
To conclude: the intuitiveness and creativity of these two, individually, cannot be overstated, and together, it’s like a bomb going off! This body of work is a clear contender for CD of the year and, for me, of the decade… get it!
Bryony Griffith and Alice Jones, two established folkies from West Yorkshire, started working together before
the pandemic, and have only now released a debut album. Appropriately titled A Year Too Late And A Month Too Soon, it’s a collection of Yorkshire songs – many unfamiliar – sung in authentic Yorkshire voices, and performed without frills, the sort of album that isn’t often made these days.
Accompanying themselves on fiddle and harmonium/guitar, Bryony and Alice share lead vocals on songs that show a healthy variation in both tempo and arrangement. Alice leads on ‘The Grey Mare’, one of several songs sourced from Frank Kidson, which bounds along with fiddle and guitar, while Bryony goes unaccompanied on ‘The Grey Goose And Gander’, a drinking song with a great chorus and cracking harmonies. ‘My Johnny Was A Shoemaker’ gives Alice a chance to demonstrate impressive body percussion, and a spritely ‘The Hunslet And Holbeck Moor Cockfight’ is interwoven with a traditional hornpipe.
Stellar performances are aided by crisp production from Joe Rusby, and there’s a peerless CD booklet with twenty pages of background, song lyrics and excellent photography. All in all, it’s a fabulous package from a duo who are clearly thriving from working together.
Thankfully, it is now that we are beginning to see the beauty that can emerge from a tumultuous few years. This wonderful collection of folk songs from Bryony Griffith and Alice Jones was curated during periods of lockdown, a time where we were forced to connect with our immediate surroundings. From two proud Yorkshire natives, this album celebrates the rich heritage of Yorkshire folk song.
Their voices complement each other perfectly, as if this duo were always meant to sing together. Their vocals are left to hold their own entirely on the a cappella waltz ‘The Girl Who Was Poorly Clad’, and hold their own they do as reminiscent of sean nós singing, subtly beautiful harmonies allow storytelling to take centre stage. The duo are also talented instrumentalists; the beautiful ‘Nellie O’Bob’s O’t’Crowtrees’ opens with Jones’ delicate acoustic guitar, joined soon by Griffith’s arresting fiddle melodies. Several tracks are underpinned by Jones’ enchanting harmonium, most notably the hymn-like ballad ‘What is That Blood on Thy Shirt Sleeve’. Every element weaves together seamlessly throughout this album, the delicate subtlety with which each line has been curated only adding to the impressive handling of these tunes.
Bryony Griffith and Alice Jones deliver A Year Too Late and a Month Too Soon, later than expected but the sooner the better, and it’s a wonderful album to boot.
At the beginning of lockdown, as people searched for positives, conversations frequently turned to the unexpected joys of having nowhere far to roam. Unable to go anywhere for more than an hour a day, people were forced to find ways to make the most of their immediate vicinity. For traditional folk musicians, an obvious version of this was to look to the songs of their community – those Roud numbers that lived only metres from their front doors; neighborhood songs; songs with local postcodes.
Bryony Griffith and Alice Jones did just that. Well-versed in their local Yorkshire traditions, they spent their various lockdowns digging deeper. The result is A Year too Late and a Month too Soon – a bright and airy album that, despite having been delayed several times for reasons of covidity, rejects the claustrophobia of those pandemic years.
Filled with the stories and characters of their surrounding landscape, it comes across as a deeply personal, albeit welcoming collection. This is partly down to the perfect match of the singers’ two voices, which sound as though they were cut from the same gratifying cloth. Combined, they weave a homely but enchanting spell, and it’s pleasing that the sparse production gives them plenty of room to shine. There’s no reinventing the wheel here; A Year Too Late and a Month Too Soon is an album of 11 old or traditional folk songs presented as is, allowing the songs to take centre stage. The magic is in the performers’ chemistry, as well as the choice of songs, several of which are fairly rare amongst modern performers.
It’s hard to select stand-out tracks. They all have their considerable merits. If you’re after something to showcase the joy of the two singers together, head for the unaccompanied song, ‘The Girl Who was Poorly Clad’, a mournful relative to ‘Young Girl Cut Down in Her Prime’ [Roud 2]. For what it’s worth, the song this reviewer has returned to the most is the rustic, sublime, ‘Nellie O’Bob’s O’t’Crowtrees’, which you can well imagine turning up on a MacKenzie Crook soundtrack. But picking and choosing between these tracks is pointless. They’re all entrancing in their own way, and it’s rare that you can say that about a whole album.
We’re five months into the year and A Year too Late and a Month too Soon is up there with the best releases so far. It may well be a year too late due to the times we’ve lived through, but albums like this can’t come soon enough. More, please.
This beautiful album from the new duo of Bryony Griffith and Alice Jones showcases traditional folk songs from their home county, Yorkshire, sourced from a variety of collectors (notably Frank Kidson, whose name crops up multiple times) and fellow musicians.
The liner notes suggest they’ve invested considerable time and effort into researching and selecting their favourite songs to feature on this collection. This is very much a duo release, with no guest musicians – but it feels accomplished and complete. It was expertly recorded, mixed and produced by Joe Rusby in between coronavirus lockdowns.
Bryony and Alice share lead vocals and harmonies, and the musical backing is simple but effective, using Bryony’s fiddle and Alice’s tenor guitar or harmonium, never more than what’s needed to emphasise the mood and maintain interest. It’s all extremely well-judged.
The vocals take centre stage and are a joy to listen to – Alice and Bryony sound like they could be sisters. I was surprised that this is their first album together – they seem incredibly comfortable singing and playing with each other, like they’d been doing it for years. I was reminded of early Unthanks performances.
The songs are mostly not massively well known and include just a few I’d heard before (My Johnny Was A Shoemaker, The Hunslet And Holbeck Moor Cockfight). They’re all story songs in line with what you’d expect from traditional English songs – courting, heartbreak, drinking, fratricide, seafaring and collier fancymen, drowning, cockfights – but with a dash of humour and more women coming out OK than you would expect. I particularly enjoyed The Grey Mare, where a young suitor misses out because he seems more concerned to secure the father’s horse than the bride-to-be.
The album artwork is sourced from a summery photo session on Norland Moor, West Yorkshire, and looks like a very tempting invitation to join them for a musical cream tea in a gorgeous moorland setting. You won’t regret jumping in.
Anja S Beinroth
Let’s not quibble about the temporal argument and connotations here! Whatever time or date this album arrives on your CD player, it brings you true Yorkshire spirit at its most beguiling and persuasive, with songs collected in Yorkshire curated and performed by two of that county’s most charismatic musicians. The album even bears the subtitle “Songs From Yorkshire”. For, as the liner notes reflect, the pandemic provided them with the opportunity to “delve deeper into our connection with community, both local and virtual”, in a “celebration of the rich heritage which can be found on our own doorstep”. Of course, both Bryony and Alice have already played a considerable part in the revitalisation and promotion of the region’s folk heritage, both having been tirelessly active in a range of musical activities over the past decade. Fiddle-singer Bryony’s career has taken her from feisty a cappella group The Witches Of Elswick and the award-winning Demon Barbers to acclaimed duo work with Will Hampson, while Alice’s CV ranges from step-dancing and clogging prodigy, ceilidh band musician and membership of The John Dipper Band to soloist (singer and multi-instrumentalist) and researcher of traditional song, bringing these strands together in her key collaboration with Pete Coe, the Search For Five Finger Frank project based on the collection of Frank Kidson.
So expectations are high for the debut on CD of this particular teaming – and Bryony and Alice sure don’t disappoint. The singing and playing are fresh, honest and upfront, and the tone of the album is well varied through judicious choices in texture and pace and switching between lead singer and between solo voice, unison or harmony mode. Bryony and Alice sound really well together vocally, as demonstrated on the opening song Wanton Lasses Pity Her, a delicious adaptation of an admonitory broadside in antiquarian language featuring a jaunty fiddle and harmonium backing. The bouncy jig-like rhythm is carried through into The Grey Mare, then comes a contrast in pace with a simply accompanied version of the well-travelled fratricide ballad What Is That Blood On Thy Shirt Sleeve?, derived from the singing of Sheffield’s Frank Hinchliffe, that tells its story in an unusually different fashion (no spoiler alert here!). The mournful ballad Strawberry Tower (a version of Stow Brow) receives a similarly unadorned treatment that emphasises the brooding nature of the narrative.
Just three of the CD’s songs are sung in artful a cappella harmony: The Girl Who Was Poorly Clad is a version of Young Girl Cut Down In Her Prime, while Bryony & Alice’s charmingly beery take on The Grey Goose And Gander makes an interesting comparison with Fay Hield’s rousing singalong version (on her Looking Glass album) and A Collier Lad is nobbut a slip of an earworm teaser to end the album. Nellie O’Bob’s O’t’Crowtrees is an unashamedly sentimental poem by Halifax dialect poet John Hartley, which ideally suits Alice’s voice (and Dave Hillery’s tune). And Alice takes the lead (voice and feet) on a wonderfully frisky rendition of My Johnny Was A Shoemaker; this sense of springy animation extends to the decidedly morris-like setting for the tale of The Hunslet & Holbeck Moor Cockfight.
All credit to Bryony & Alice for their song research, which has been extensive and exhaustive, and copious credits and references are contained within the excellent accompanying booklet’s fabulously detailed background notes; commendably, too, full lyrics are also provided.
Here, then, we get an enticing selection of eleven songs blessed with engaging arrangements and played and sung with the greatest enthusiasm. Highly recommended.