Craig;Morgan;Robson have been
on the receiving end of accolades not only from audience members but also
from club and folk festival organisers, fellow performers and the folk press.
" thanks to Sarah, Moira and Carolyn for a great night at the Grand Union. The evening left us all feeling at one with the world and our new landlord, who had never been to a folk club before he took over the pub 3 weeks ago, was completely blown away. He's definitely a convert (which is good for the club)".
Kate and Peter Abbott, Folk in the Vale, Dorset:
"What a fantastic Concert we had at Fifehead Magdalen last night. Moira Craig, Sarah Morgan and Carolyn Robson excelled themselves with their magic harmonies and arrangements. We are sure that this old Village hall has never heard finer singing in its hundred years existence...the best night ever at Folk in the Vale."
Ruth Steggles, Robin Hood Folk Club, Nottingham:
"I thought they'd be terrific - and they were!"
Sally Saysell, Monmouth Folk
"I can honestly say I've never enjoyed an evening more."
Green Man Folk Club, Golden
"A brilliant evening - a wonderful blend of voices and songs delivered with warmth and good humour"
Keith Kendrick - folk musician:
"A mix made in Heaven"
Bob Berry - Chippenham Folk
"With well researched material, stunning singing and a blend of voices that bring about a whole new meaning to harmony, they certainly get my vote!"
Carmen Hunt - Cornwall Folk
"The audience emerged, buzzing about the glorious singing and about the atmosphere that really drew people into the performance - fantastic work!"
Paul Davenport - Editor, English
Dance and Song:
"The collective sound is a rich cocktail which thrills the ear…yet holds the attention of the mind to each word of their songs. … These are performers who know their material and have a tangible respect for the validity of everything that leaves their lips. There are those who question the place of traditional song in a post industrial society, even more who reckon tradition itself worthless. An hour in the company of this trio will raise questions that the doubter would find hard to dismiss. Traditional music is challenging and difficult, and nowhere more so than in the British traditions. Craig, Morgan & Robson are adepts at making this musical tradition accessible. They are not to be missed."
David Cheffings, Dursley Folk
"Their professionalism meant that I was able to just leave them all to it (running workshops, etc) & concentrate on other things during the event. They all sing exquisitely as individuals and when together their beautiful close-harmonies are 'spine-tingling'!"
Devizes Folk Club:
"Craig, Morgan, Robson are fast becoming the must have group for Clubs and Festivals. Moira, Sarah and Carolyn work their songs into beautiful music with intricate and unusual harmonies that both enthral and delight. Not one to miss."
Valmai Goodyear, Lewes Arms
"Applying vocal harmony to a ballad can interfere with the drive of the narrative, but CMR's intelligent treatment … intensifies the magical atmosphere while keeping the story shining clear."
Paul Ryan, Black Diamond Folk
“A joy to the ear - a harmony master class”
Valley Folk, Pontardawe:
“Absolutely fantastic night – wonderful voices and exquisite harmonies. Lots of fun, but poignant too – definitely not to be missed.”
Jon McNamara, Bishops Stortford:
"When three of the first ladies of folk get together to harmonise and entertain in the form of "Craig, Morgan and Robson" the cup of pleasure is filled to overflowing. After their brilliant and mesmerising performance at Stortfolk I can honestly say … organisers - book them while you can - they'll soon be very busy - listeners - hear them as soon as you can - your ears really do deserve this treat."
It's great to see and hear one top class trio of women harmony singers, but when two come along, you have the makings of an unmissable concert.
Craig:Morgan:Robson and the Tabbush Sisters each performed two sets, to a great reception from a large and enthusiastic crowd at the Cause. The venue is a restored chapel, and its beautiful acoustic makes singing a joy, so the carefully matched harmonies seemed to float endlessly and soar round the room.
Craig:Morgan:Robson produced a well balanced, varied first set starting with a cheery We'll be all Smiles, and Fare thee well cold winter, a Scots version of Twa Magicians, contrasted by Dave Goulder's desperately bleak and harrowing Easter Tree, then proved they can deliver comedy as well, with the second World War song Rob 'em all. The harmonies of Craig:Morgan:Robson (call them C:M:R for short) are crafted with great skill and applied with a delicacy of delivery, and subtle interchange. The overall effect is a wonderful, powerful mix of three great individual singers, each conscious of how best to use their talents to produce a single, unified approach which enhances each song.
The approach of the Tabbush Sisters is quite different. They have the certainty which only comes with the familiarity of close family singing together. They each have their part in the arrangement, but the harmonies are closer, more three parts of one voice, than three voices in unity. It's instinctive and unique, and the end result is a sound of staggering beauty and purity.
The Tabbush Sisters opened with a traditional number, Ten Thousand Miles, followed by a distinctive contemporary make-over of Died of Love. The highlight of their set, was Where do you lie?, Karine Polwart's heart-breaking song of loss written after the massacre at Srebrenica. This concert was on the day Slobodan Milosevic was buried, adding topicality to the poignancy of the song. They followed with lighter numbers, a Swedish song, called, possibly, Dar Stood, a rousing, hopelessly fast version of the drinking song Old Sir Simon, and their complex woven interpretation of Lavender's Blue.
C:M:R opened their second set with the wonderfully evocative Snows of Winter Fall, followed by the title track of their album, the Ralph McTell song Peppers and Tomatoes, which again evokes memories of war in Yugoslavia. A beautiful Shetland lullaby followed, with next a Hampshire comic song The Wonderful Sucking Pig (careful about the pronunciation there). Their delivery of the Tennyson poem Crossing the Bar, put to music by Rani Arbo, was subtle and under-stated. C:M:R choose their material well, and whether it is traditional or contemporary, serious or light, it always adapts excellently to their interpretation.
The Tabbush Sisters delivered another lovely set of mixed songs, from the traditional Wild Goose Shanty, through the glorious modern Your Love is better than Ice Cream (by Sarah McLachlan), then back to more traditional songs for a measured, mournful rendition of Flandyke Shore. Just when you think you have heard everything, they can still deliver the unexpected, this time with a great straight version of the old Elvis classic (I can't help) Falling in Love with You. They finished with their trademark version of Elsie Marley, impossibly fast and with all three swapping lead vocals. For an encore they sang the Tracy Chapman song, The Promise, then brought back mum Carolyn (the Robson of C:M:R) and Sarah Morgan and Moira Craig to finish the night with a good old sing, with lots of audience participation in a couple of songs from the shape note hymn tradition, Only Remembered, and Down to the River to Pray. This concert was a wonderful object lesson in the fine art of good harmony singing, performed by two superb and contrasting groups, with a wide variety of material and great consistency of quality. If you get the chance, see whichever group come your way. If you get the opportunity to see both in one concert, then sit back and think yourself very lucky indeed.
On the strength of their performance at Wiltshire Traditions Club I can happily confirm that they have indeed created something wonderful. The evening consisted of ensemble pieces as well as various combinations of duets and a solid solo piece from each of the trio. An eclectic mix of songs ranging from the traditional such as "Hares on the Mountain" to newer material from Ralph McTell and Graeme Miles were given a new twist with some beautiful and unusual harmonies.
Highlights for me included Graeme Miles "Snows of Winter" and the heart wrenching "Peppers and Tomatoes" by Ralph McTell both sung by the whole trio with real feeling and power. The solo pieces added to the variety of the evening and I particularly enjoyed Caroline's "Gallergate Lad", a wry Geordie song, and Sarah's "Mr Fox" with its haunting and eerie melody. There were also lighter irreverent songs such as Moira's rendition of Alison Humphries' "Evening Classes" which was a new take on the idea of going out to meet new people by joining an evening class. The set was rounded off with a rousing rendition of "Rob 'em all" about the NAAFI canteen workers creaming off the profits.
It was also clear that CMR are enjoying themselves on stage, their relationship with the audience (who sit very close to the performers in the small club room) was easy and relaxed and they took clear delight in their material which was delivered with genuine enjoyment and feeling. The significantly larger than average audience who came to Wiltshire Traditions Club on a damp October Monday obviously expected to see something special from CMR and they were not disappointed. This trio is a delight to listen to and will charm any audience. I look forward to seeing their special show "Tales of Otherness" in the not too distant future.
Back to top
Summon Up the Sun
Live performance reviewed by Shirley Harry
6th January 2006, The Cut Arts Centre, Halesworth
And summon it up they certainly did with a choice mix of traditional and modern from near and far, whether it be a carol from Hampshire or news from Newcastle, a fairy story or a surprise 50s pop song! The show flows seamlessly through the whole winter season keeping the attention with either Moira, Sarah or Carolyn telling a story between songs such as the superb Graeme Miles 'The Snows of Winter' or a beautiful American Carol 'Beautiful Star of Bethlehem'. The stage props are interesting - full marks for ingenuity! A perfect entertainment for Twelfth Night at The Cut and much enjoyed by an appreciative audience who didn't want to go home!
Back to top
The trio performed a wide selection of traditional and contemporary songs in exquisite harmony, introducing each one in a humorous or charming manner with anecdotes of where the songs had been collected or where they had been performed. Because all three can lead and harmonise, they changed roles (changing places - choreography as they called it), each taking turns to lead and blend, so that there was an ever new and different sound to each arrangement. They performed two 45 minute sets, yet all would have been happy to hear more. In the first set "Claudy Banks" from the Copper family's Sussex version, a song also collected in Minehead, lead into the traditional "Hares on the Mountain"; "Bitter Withy" introduced as Christ using his powers as a young boy as a prank, and Graham Miles' "Snows of Winter" were spell-binding, as were, in the second set, "Lark in the Morning" (trad), "Peppers and Tomatoes" - Ralph McTell and the title track of one of their CDs, and Sarah's own "Keep You In Peace" adapted from the Celtic blessing to close the evening.
One of the beauties of The Acorn Folk Club progressing to booking top guests, is that there is a spin-off, in that many very talented floor singers and musicians are attracted to the Club, wanting to hear the artists, and also being given an opportunity themselves of performing to a very high standard, which was remarked on by the guests. There were no less than 16 floor spots to support CRAIG MORGAN ROBSON, with another five performers being willing to wait until the next Club Night on 3rd March. For further details of the performers please visit [their website] and look out for them elsewhere, and for full details of the Acorn please visit www.acornfolkclub.co.uk
'Back to top
Craig; Morgan; Robson or Moira, Sarah and Carolyn to their friends, have been singing a cappella harmonies together now for almost seven years. This third trio recording is an unassuming, yet confident release, singleminded and frequently gorgeous. They keep things simple, relying on a natural charm and a repertoire of largely English folk song, most of which will be familiar ('The Bitter Withy', 'The Lark In The Morning') but with some items such as 'Beautiful Star Of Bethlehem' which were new to this reviewer. If you want melody and well-crafted arrangements, you've come to the right place.
A largely unaccompanied outing then, but with restrained instrumental inclusions from time to time – Rachael Drayson's subtle cello flourishes on 'It Was All For Our Rightful King' for example – which are wholly appropriate and complement these timelessly sweet melodies perfectly. Straightforward narratives and unforced song structures make this an accessible and extremely listenable record, with warm, distinctive and, above all, honest music well to the fore.
This is no sonic experiment, there are no bolts of lightning but harmonies haven't sounded this fresh in ages. 'My Bonny Moorhen' is a case in point. CMR make this yearning meditation on the Young Pretender's hoped-for return a captivating thing, delicate as thistledown. By contrast, their 'Mining Trilogy', combining items giving a female perspective on that most arduous of employments, uses the tradition, with Johnny Handle's and Billy Ed Wheeler's writings to provide as the artists say 'a perfect example of how to say much in a few words.' Agreed – lean, punchy songs have rarely sounded so persuasive. An altogether pleasing album.
“I want you to reap it with a scythe of leather
And rake it up with a hummingbird’s feather”
These lines are taken from the opening track. As well as providing the title for the album, they give insight into how carefully Moira Craig, Sarah Morgan and Carolyn Robson (CMR) choose each track: lyrics are important. Drawing from their own individual traditions, CMR each contribute songs for the trio to sing. The arrangements sympathetically allow for three superb singers to blend their voices and harmonies to create a whole that enchants the listener. At times subtle instrumentation is added, but for the most part they sing a-cappella.
All the songs are traditional or drawn from writers who have become known as traditional writers. The comprehensive sleeve notes provide details of the sources and the reason for choosing the songs included on “Hummingbird’s Feather”. From the first track, Cambric Shirt, a light riddle, to the last, Down the Lane, the listener is transported between Scotland, Northumberland and the south of England, with cameos of the world of work, home, sorrow, and enjoyment. Two carols The Bitter Withy, a narrative carol, and Beautiful Star of Bethlehem, an American carol collected in the Orzak Mountains in 1958, add seasonal interest, while Down the Lane recalls the Holmfirth Anthem, to which it appears to be related. A version of Lord Bateman collected by Cecil Sharp from Henry Larcombe of Somerset is sung with a fresh approach and fitting accompaniment: in common with all good ballads the narrative touches upon wealth, travel, imprisonment, romance and bigamy. A favourite that will be new to many listeners, is Boney on the Isle of St Helena, a song of its time when it would have, no doubt, been sung with mixed feelings on this side of the English Channel. CMR acknowledge the influence that The Copper Family has had on their development and sing their version of Claudy Banks with a few lines added, ‘borrowed’ from another, Sussex singer, Pop Maynard.
Throughout, CMR sing with power. Even when singing in a more gentle style, the resonance and fine timbre of their voices is present. They skilfully use their individual strengths to vary the presentations, and the use of piano, guitar and ‘cello on three separate tracks, adds another dimension to the interpretation. It is an excellent CD.
Since their formation as a trio in autumn 2003 Moira Craig, Sarah Morgan and Carolyn Robson have released two previous albums - "Peppers and Tomatoes" and "Stranded" - and have been continually performing - as regulars at folk festivals, workshops and clubs, not to mention their inspiring work with choirs and publishing song books. This new album carries on the acapella harmony singing of traditional songs - 14 in all - with arrangements by the group. While remaining firmly in the tradition, the choice of songs is diverse - from New Hampshire and Missouri and across England and Scotland.
Some will be familiar to most followers of folk - `The Lark in the Morning' and 'Claudy Banks' among them - and always with a beautifully clear delivery, their voices weaving in and out of each others' - it seems with great ease - but of course this is the product of years of working together.
Two songs have a particularly music hail flavour - the Northumberland-sourced "The Sandgate Lass on the Ropery Banks" - which could only be sung in a strong accent, as performed here by Carolyn. And also in "The Drowned Lovers".
As beautiful as each individual voice is, it is only - in the opinion of this reviewer - when they are singing in full flow harmony (with occasional individual lead on verses) that the group reaches the highest heights. The three very distinctive accents make for richness in harmony - and also bring an authenticity to performances such as the Scottish "My Bonny Moorhen" on which Moira's voice comes through particularly strongly - and later leading on "It Was All for Our Rightful King". Sarah's voice features prominently throughout - and takes the lead on and' Lord Bateman', giving this well-known song a lovely airing. Gentle instrumentation is occasionally used in the form of piano, guitar and cello — always sensitively supporting the voices and never resulting in a cluttered production.
In many ways this CD follows on in the same style as the previous albums — and that is a very good thing since I can think of no other acapella group who could better deliver songs such as these. Informative sleeve notes provide background sources of all songs,
In the spring of 1907, folk-song collector George Gardiner started working in the Northeast corner of Hampshire around Preston Candover, and eventually noted no less than 164 songs in the district. This is a selection of songs he found in the repertoires of five of his best singers – all women. Many CDs embarking on this sort of project end up with well-performed, worthy, interesting but lifeless results. No such problem here! New life is breathed into some wonderful material by some scintillating performances. Surprisingly, there is only one solo unaccompanied offering, Sarah Morgan’s beautiful delivery of A Famous Farmer, and although several items are performed by the two “units”, it is the combination of forces which produces a sum greater than the considerable parts. The instrumental arrangements from the Askews (fiddle, melodeon and gothic harp – gothic harp?! I bet Gardiner didn’t find many of them in early 20th-century Hampshire! Sounds good though) are beautifully judged, never over-elaborate, but really lifting each song. The album has a good mix of song types, from the ballad (Long Lankie) to the bawdy (The Trooper’s Horse) as well as several points in-between.
Superb singing and playing combined with excellent research and sleeve notes contrive to produce a wonderful album to really lift your spirits. I hope to see this line-up doing much more of this sort of thing – both at Festivals and on record.
This album was reviewed in Issue 86 of The Living Tradition magazine (and may also be purchased from The Listening Post)
A second album of the glorious a cappella harmony singing that seems to flow so effortlessly from Moira Craig, Sarah Morgan and Carolyn Robson. All highly accomplished unaccompanied singers in their own right, it still comes as a bit of a surprise that their differing vocal styles blend together so seamlessly. If anything they sound even more comfortable together than on their well received debut Peppers and Tomatoes.
Much of their material comes from the tradition (such as Polly Vaughan, Twa Magicians, Willie's Fatal Visit, or the Copper family's Christmas Song) but there are two noteworthy songs from Mike O'Connor (Wassail the Silver Apple and Summon Up the Sun), and to finish, a just beautiful setting of Tennyson's poem Crossing the Bar (alone worth the price of the album). A strong follow-up to their already impressive debut, Stranded should undoubtedly confirm CMR's reputation as one of the best harmony groups around at the moment.
Back to top
This sublime female harmony trio would always have their work cut out in attempting to follow such an excellent CD as Peppers And Tomatoes, but Stranded certainly comes close. The "dream team" of Moira Craig, Sarah Morgan and Carolyn Robson can always be relied upon to come up with inspiring and often unusual material that fully suits (a) their voices and (b) their "harmony master-class" approach, and this collection of 15 songs proves no exception. Each song is arranged with impeccable skill and taste and with full cognisance of the three voices, their special qualities and their capabilities (individually and to blend). Two-thirds of the selections are of traditional origin, and are without exception innovatively managed, yet with the timeless sentiments still ideally expressed. I liked the way Moira's lead on Twa Magicians is offset with supernaturally acerbic and spine-tingling harmonies; elsewhere, the cryptic street song The Blackbird works well as a duet, as does the trio's charming rendition of The Sailing Trade (taken from Roy Palmer's Valiant Sailor book). Light relief comes with the gleefully-related tale of The Wonderful Sucking Pig. But for me some of the disc's highlights come with the three songs which are done as solo performances: Carolyn gives us Abroad As I Was Walking, whose potent marriage of cruel story with attractive, lyrical melody is given even more weight by Nick Sowden's sparse, fragmented guitar accompaniment. Sarah's solo is a Night Visit Song on which her own voice and concertina is further hauntingly accompanied by Paul Sartin's oboe. And Moira turns in a beautifully-paced unaccompanied account of Willie's Fatal Visit (Child 255), which though taking just a fraction under four minutes seems not a whit hurried (and it's another instance of a gruesome tale set to a beautifully lyrical tune!). Actually, I was surprised to find several of the songs weighing in at less than three minutes, but the ladies pack so much interest into that timespan with their full yet economical arrangements that the passage of time is never an issue. Turning finally to the non-traditional items, Dave Goulder's wonderfully bleak The Easter Tree perfectly complements Summon Up The Sun, one of two Mike O'Connor compositions on the disc. The latter, to my mind one of the most evocative Green Man songs ever written, clearly made such an immediate impact on Sarah (comparable to that on me at first hearing Sarah herself sing it) that it just had to be learnt at once! The disc closes with more perfection, a beautiful rendition of Rani Arbo's simple yet moving setting of Tennyson's Crossing The Bar. Any reservations about this disc are small, and very probably insignificant in the scheme of things. Firstly (and this aspect is common to all harmony-based ensembles to some extent), there are one or two places where the creative harmonies distract the ear and make it difficult to follow the melody line. And secondly - initially at any rate - the disc at first gives a mild and inescapable impression of austerity; this may be due to the sequence adopted, whereby some slower-paced, reflective material is placed at the beginning. I think the uplifting fugueing of Awake, Behold (given in a scaled-down version of Roger Watson's four-part arrangement) might have made a better choice for opener than Mike O'Connor's less punchy Wassail The Silver Apple. But the above are minor points in the scheme of what is a truly lovely CD, persuasive to a fault and brimful of exceptional singing and fine songs. (Mail-order: tel. 01252- 722938.)
Back to top
It was in 2003 that Moira Craig, Sarah Morgan and Carolyn Robson started singing together: three fine singers each with a wealth of knowledge and great enthusiasm for the traditional songs of their native countries. Since then they have performed throughout the country, gathering many followers. The arrival of their second album will, therefore, be appreciated by many.
As on the first album, Peppers & Tomatoes, the majority of the songs are traditional. Within the tradition the spectrum is broad: sources include the Child ballads, the collecting of George Gardiner in Hampshire, the Copper family and a West Gallery carol, with a geographical spread from Scotland to the south of England. The themes will be familiar to devotees of traditional song, the many vagaries of human life are covered within the fifteen tracks. Some will raise a smile, some will touch the heart, while others will bring memories of a particular time of year. To name just a few is difficult but for those who appreciate it favourites include: Twa Magicians, The Wonderful Sucking Pig, Polly Vaughan, Christmas Song. The contemporary songs have been chosen with discernment. Songs in keeping with the general genre have been carefully selected. These include two from Mike O'Connor Wassail the Silver Apple and Summon Up the Sun, The Easter Tree from Dave Goulder, the author of what has become a favourite throughout the country, The January Man, and a setting of Tennyson's Crossing the Bar.
The arrangements are a joy for those who enjoy harmony singing at its best. The use of close harmony, solos, different leads, tempo and tone is subtle, appearing effortless. Careful consideration has been given to the contrast to give a pleasing blend for the audience throughout, creating an album that is an integral whole. A few tracks are enhanced by instrumentation, Paul Sartin on oboe, Nick Sowden on guitar and Sarah Morgan on concertina.
On occasion three fine solo singers fail to create a good trio combination owing to their own individual style and voice; conversely trios who attempt to perform individually find it hard to add variety and depth to their own performance. This album confirms that Craig, Morgan and Robson are masters of both. As mentioned above, they perform extensively. If you have not seen them this album will make you want to do so. If you buy this album as a result of having seen them live, you will not be disappointed. Either way, buy it, play it and play it again.
Back to top
Review by Baz Parkes for "English Dance & Song", the magazine of the EFDSSMoira Craig, Sarah Morgan and Carolyn Robson offer up a selection of traditional and contemporary songs; fifteen in all, mostly unaccompanied and in close harmony. But what harmonies! There's a sense of positive enjoyment that comes from the speakers which seems to enhance the sound.
Of the traditional songs, most are reasonably well known, but the trio seem to have sourced some unusual or unlikely versions; 'Hares on a Mountain', 'Twa Magicians' and The Blackbird' being cases in point. From more recent pens, there's a suitably chilling treatment of Dave Goulder's 'The Easter Tree', and Mike O'Connor's 'Wassail the Silver Apple' is a finely crafted song which suggests those in search of new material could do worse than search out others by this all round clever person'.
A new song to these ears is Moira Craig's version of Lizzie Higgins' 'gruesome tale' 'Willie's Fatal Visit'. And you don't get much more gruesome than this: ghost of betrayed lover meets Willie who now has new love; he tries hiding in a church; ghost, having none of it, tears him limb from limb, and hangs a bit of him on every piece of ecclesiastical furnishing. And if that wasn't enough, she saves the head for his new love's pew. They don't write 'em like that any more! Well, they probably do, but they're Certificate 18, or under the counter in your nearest dodgy video outlet.
Why 'mostly unaccompanied'? Because one of the finest tracks, The Night Visiting Song', features some outstanding concertina playing from Ms. Morgan, which, coupled with Paul Sartin's oboe adds a suitably eerie and ethereal edge, totally fitting the subject matter of the song. All in all, well worth a listen.
Reviewed by Dai Jeffries for "Folk On Tap"
Here are two CDs, launched together and spanning the generations. Moira Craig, Sarah Morgan and Carolyn Robson have enjoyed long careers as soloists and in other groups and have worked together for about eighteen months and Peppers & Tomatoes is their debut. They have very different backgrounds (Scotland, Surrey and the debatable lands of the Borders) and very distinctive voices - so much so that the first reaction of everyone who heard that they were working together was "I wonder how that will sound?". The simple answer is "wonderful".
The album opens with 'Bannero', always my favourite version of the Reynardine story and is followed by the title track, Ralph McTell's depiction of ethnic conflict in which little incidents build a sense of menace culminating in the final "you must come with us". After Graeme Miles' 'When The Snows Of Winter Fall' comes the stunning 'Minnie Of Shirva's Cradle Song' (sometimes called 'The Boatie Rows'). It's a deceptively simple song and my highlight of the whole collection. All three take a solo from their own regions. Carolyn's is 'Blow The Wind Southerly', cast as a parlour song over Andy Johnson's piano; Sarah sings a Hampshire version of 'Low Down In The Broom' and Moira's choice is a setting of the 23rd Psalm with words by Bernard Fergusson (Lord Ballantrae) and music by Sarah Morgan, another outstanding performance. But it's the interweaving harmony voices that are at the heart of the record and I can only marvel at the vocal dexterity from the fugue of 'Minnie' to the Watersons sound of 'Farewell He'. The collection closes with 'Only Remembered', recorded in a local church with friends and family making up the choir and here you'll find the rationale behind Craig;Morgan;Robson - the unashamed love of harmony singing.
Carolyn's daughter, Anna Tabbush, is already something of a veteran but Waiting In The Wings is her solo debut. It opens with the shanty 'One More Day' interspersed with Anna's own tune 'Rockin' And Rollin' Johnny' and with her electric fiddle at the forefront you'd be forgiven for thinking of Anna as a dedicated follower of Eliza Carthy.
But hold on. Anna's true direction is as a singer-songwriter although her traditional roots show through in the structure of her songs. 'One More Day' is not really representative - more typical are 'Going Through The Motions', 'Carry Me Back To The Ocean' and the title track. There is a naivety and a painful honesty in her writing that masks the songwriting craft - many of the songs were written when Anna lived in Brighton and the sea features repeatedly, but if they are in any way autobiographical she must have had a lousy time there. The best track is the moving 'Last Springtime' and if Anna never writes another line she should have ensured her immortality with these seven verses. Her supporting musicians: principally Adam Chetwoode, Tom Bailey and producer Nick Sowden are always interesting but never overpowering and Anna plays flute and various keyboards as well as fiddle so there's a lot of variety between the folk-rock of 'One More Day' and the unaccompanied 'The Colour Of Amber'.
Of course I like Peppers & Tomatoes. How could I not? It's the music I've been listening to for nearly forty years. Perhaps I shouldn't expect to find any common ground with Waiting In The Wings but I'm enjoying it every bit as much.
From Folk on Tap the SCoFF magazine, Summer 2005
Back to top
Review by David Kidman for "NetRhythms"
Another of those forbidding-sounding legal-type group names with decidedly idiosyncratic punctuation, this one conceals a trio of lovely ladies each possessing considerable vocal talents in her own right. Usually, the best way to experience such a combination of voices is to hear them live, and this recording scores extra points for embodying an immediacy that's very close to the live experience. There's nothing to compare with the sound of three highly accomplished female voices in close and considered harmony, and CMR (along with Grace Notes) must be England's finest practitioners of such. To give each lady their due: Moira Craig has long been recognised by club and festival goers for her superb interpretations of Scottish, Irish and English traditional songs, whereas Sarah Morgan is renowned as a singer, song-writer and arranger; many choirs and harmony groups throughout the land are now singing her exquisite arrangements (she has so far published two songbooks). Sarah has been a member of acclaimed harmony groups Bread and Roses and Hen Party, and has worked with Appalachian singer Mary Eagle, and with Mick Ryan in two of his folk operas. Carolyn Robson has an extensive repertoire of songs from her native Northumberland and Scotland as well as from other parts of the British Isles. Some of my most memorable club nights have been spent in the company of one or other of those three ladies, in fact! Their individual versatility is legendary, each well capable of communicating expertly and directly in her own special way with an audience, whether on a deadly serious classic ballad, a hymn, a patter-song or a flippant slice of music-hall nonsense.Back to top
The repertoire they perform as a threesome is similarly varied, reflecting the predilections of each of its members, in turn reflected on this long-awaited disc. And though each voice is so strongly individual, to hear them harmonising together is a revelation; and what's important too is that the ever-creative harmonies are never allowed to obscure either the melody or meaning of the songs. Quite often too, any disc consisting almost exclusively of acappella singing can turn out unduly precious and sound all too refined and polished, not to mention unduly esoteric, but the impeccable collective artistry (and vocal power and strength) of CMR ensures that this trap is invariably well avoided - and by a wide margin! Their approach may be serious in intent, always according the songs their due respect, but the end result is always magic, so very warm and involving. That trait applies also to the three "solo" tracks - which are only solo in the sense that there's just one singer featured on each. Moira gets to sing Kilkerran Shepherd (Sarah's own setting of a version of the 23rd Psalm) - quite logically, in view of the Lowland Scots dialect! - accompanied by Andy Johnson's piano; Andy also accompanies Carolyn on a rendition of Blow The Wind Southerly that (although beautifully sung) can't ever efface one's childhood memories of Kathleen Ferrier. Sarah then sings a wonderful Hampshire version of Low Down In The Broom to the accompaniment of her own concertina and Anna Tabbush's fiddle; this is a highlight of the CD.
Two other highlights come earlier on, in the form of the title track (that superb Ralph McTell composition) and Graeme Miles' lovely When The Snows Of Winter Fall, whereas a third - an intriguingly-harmonised new "slight reconstruction" of the Laily Worm ballad - just before halfway through the programme. For the finale, a passionately reverential yet ultimately peaceful rendition of the hymn Only Remembered (recorded in the soft sympathetic acoustic bloom of a Farnham church), CMR bring in a seven-piece chorus of "mostly family" (including the ladies' respective husbands/partners and Carolyn's daughter Nonny); so now I realise why Sarah's simple, inspirational Keep You In Peace was placed at track 11 instead of right at the end of the CD (which would be its logical place in any other circumstances!) ...
Well perhaps I found the opening track, an unexpectedly jaunty treatment of Bannero (a sort of variant of the Reynardine tale), almost too Artisan-like in its air of mildly studied theatricality, but I admit I appreciated CMR's interpretative subtleties much better from second time round. One oh-so-tiny technical glitch here (the abrupt cropping of the initial consonant of track 8, a beautifully poised account of Fare Thee Well My Dearest Dear) is unfortunate, and it proves to be the only aural blemish on a very fine CD (though some listeners won't even notice it I suspect). Whatever, the standard of actual singing remains unflinchingly high throughout the CD's 57 minutes, matched by its excellent production, and the ladies have every reason to be very proud indeed of this long-overdue excursion into the recording studio.
CD Review by Mary Humphreys for "Mardles" (Suffolk Folk Magazine)
I am in awe of the musical expertise of the three singers on this CD. Moira Craig, Sarah Morgan and Carolyn Robson together have mastered the art of singing in close harmony without obscuring the essential line of a song. They have a wonderful precision of pitch and clarity of diction which, allied to a sweetness of tone makes this CD a delight from start to finish. Every word can be heard, and every tune distinguished through the inventive weaving of harmony. The recording engineer Nick Sowden deserves a pat on the back for that too.Back to top
Each member of the trio is a distinguished solo performer in her own right and brings her own tradition with her to the group. Sarah is Southern English, Moira is Scots and Carolyn is North Eastern English. To add to the wide variety of ensemble songs their individual roots are each displayed in solo items on the record, - a great idea. Carolyn's 'Blow the wind Southerly' is a refreshing rendition of a traditional song that has languished in classical concert halls for too long. The selection of tracks is carefully considered. There is something here for everyone. Traditional song with sing-along chorus - 'Farewell he' from Cecil Sharp's collection recently published by EFDSS in 'Still Growing', Ralph McTell's chillingly relevant 'Peppers and Tomatoes' and the hauntingly peaceful Graham Miles song 'The Snows of Winter'. Tops for me though is the exquisitely tender lullaby from Shetland, 'Minnie of Shirva's Cradle Song' sent to Moira by one of her friends and performed with Moira taking the lead. I reckon this will be the definitive recording of this song - and what a tribute to a generous friend!
Having seen the trio perform live at many festivals, concerts and clubs I can vouch for the fact that the CD is an accurate representation of their live performances, though a smidgeon more restrained, as is always the case with recordings. I would recommend that you see them live. They are great fun and wonderful entertainment. And if you want the take-home version, this is definitely it. Buy it. You won't be disappointed.
Reviewed by Jacqueline Patten for "What's Afoot"
Moira Craig, Sarah Morgan and Carolyn Robson are each highly regarded as talented singers with much musical experience. When, in 2003, they decided to form a trio they were bringing together this wealth of talent and a wide repertoire that was to please audiences around the country from the first performance they gave and will do so, hopefully, for many years to come. They have, deservedly, earned such accolades as "a joy to the ear" and "a harmony master-class".Back to top
With knowledge of such a wide range of songs it must have been difficult to make choices. Whatever the criteria for those choices Peppers & Tomatoes is perfect as a debut album. There are ten traditional songs including a Child ballad, The Laily Worm, to which Sarah has put her own tune and songs from the collecting of Sharp, Gardiner and Vaughan Williams. Of the remaining items, the title track was written by Ralph McTell, When the Snows of Winter Fall by Graeme Miles, the final track Only Remembered is an excellent rendition of a Sankey and Moody hymn, while Keep You in Peace and Kilkerran Shepherd were composed by Sarah: the lyrics of the former were inspired by a Celtic blessing and those for the latter by a version of the twenty-third psalm.
Most songs are arranged for three-part harmony within which there is a variety and depth not often achieved by trios. At times one part has the tune, at others the three parts blend as one. Good use is made of a lone voice leading before the other parts enter. In all instances the combination and harmony is sympathetic to the tune and a joy to the listener. The intonation, dynamics and diction cannot be faulted, the perfection gives added thrill and 'excitement' to the ear. With Moira's Scottish roots, Carolyn's Northumberland background and Sarah's southern origins, the influences are diverse: brought together by three excellent singers these influences enhance each other. Each artist sings one accompanied solo, Moira, Kilkerran Shepherd, accompanied by a piano, Sarah, Low Down in the Broom, on which she plays the concertina and Carolyn, Blow the Wind Southerly, with piano accompaniment. Of the gentler tracks When the Snows of Winter Fall, Keep You in Peace and Leaves of Life linger in the mind, while the up-beat versions of The Besom Maker and Rob 'em All keep turning over in the mind for days. On Only Remember, the final song, the trio are joined by a chorus of family and friends, a fitting ending and tribute to those who have helped.
Having said that Craig, Morgan and Robson are all singers of renown experience and that this is an asset, it could have also been an obstacle: three strong singers do not always blend harmoniously. This trio had no such problems and this album is an exemplar of what can be done with three first-rate female voices, whether solo, in duet or trio, in unison or harmony.
This debut CD from Moira Craig, Sarah Morgan and Carolyn Robson has harmonies which make the hair stand up on the back of your neck. Singing in unison, canon and three part harmony they demonstrate an effortless range and variety unheard in folk music for many years. Three solo singers from different part of the country came together to sing solos, duets and occasional ensemble and bring their regional roots to the mix. This is not one lead and two backing singers, each one makes their distinctive contribution to the shape of each song. The rich, chordal sound of "When the Snows of Winter Fall" by Graeme Miles makes it a particular favourite of mine, celebrating the simplest joys of life. "Peppers and Tomatoes" by Ralph McTell has the awful story of man's inhumanity to man. "The Laily Worm" revenge, magic evil stepmother, all the ingredients of a great ballad beautifully sung. The CD finishes with a lovely hymn "Only Remembered". There is not a poor note in the whole tremendous variety of this album. You don't have a collection of harmony singing if you don't have this one.Back to top
Carolyn Robson may not think kindly of me when I call to mind the days in the late seventies when she and I were both regular performers at the Wessex Traditional Folk Club in the Pembroke Arms, Bournemouth. She had a fine voice then and it is even better now. Some or her repertoire from those days ('The Besom Maker') has stood the test of time as well. Sarah Morgan will be well remembered for her work with Bread and Roses and Hen Party, and has a thirty-year reputation for "unaccompanied harmony at its best". Moira Craig is less well known to me, but all that need be said about her has been said in an earlier issue of Living Tradition by Roy Harris, and after listening to this, I'd say that goes double for me.
When three such strong voices as these come together, it can sometimes be a little like a competitive sport. Not so here. Just fine unadorned singing done as well as it can be. Their version of Ralph McTell's song from which the album takes its title is positively chilling, and I agree with the girls that 'Only Remembered' is a terrific closing song. I have yet to hear them live but I look forward to it. These ladies are true tradition bearers. Listen to this if you get the chance.
I was already a big fan of Carolyn Robson, an admirer of what I'd heard of Sarah Morgan's work; Moira Craig's voice is new to me, a revelation in its clear sweetness. Three very different voices, and together they are glorious.
We get to enjoy fifteen songs on this CD: most feature all three singers, but each provides a solo. All but three tracks are sung unaccompanied, but such is the range of material and treatment, there is never any danger of an unvaried sound. The first track hits you in the face (or do I mean the ear?): a version of `Reynardine'. In the version she recorded all those years ago, June Tabor was eerie and mysterious; CMR take a very different approach, telling the fox's tale in swashbuckling style, singing in joyous harmony until a solo line or two from Carolyn Robson introduces a more pensive mood. The power of their voices almost leaves one reeling at the end.
The next track, Ralph McTell's `Peppers and Tomatoes', creates a very different feeling. This is one of the outstanding tracks on the CD; subtly, ominously building up the tension - can't imagine this terrific song of cultural harmony broken by time and chance being done better. My other favourites are a Shetland lullaby, introduced by Moira Craig and ended with a most exquisite round, the voices sounding like bells, and - a complete contrast - a Second World War song to the tune of `Bless `em all', in which they sing of the cheating ways of the `NAAFI girls' with great gusto in those unerring, glorious voices. Not all of the songs might be to my taste, but the singing makes each one a joy to listen to.
Yes, that's another word that occurs to me when I listen to Craig; Morgan; Robson: `Glorious'.
Back to top
PUT THE STARS TO FLIGHT
ISBN 1 903963 16 8
What pleasure this book has given and will give in the future. When I opened it for the first time, I planned to play and sing one or two of the songs as a prelude to going through it gradually song by song. Instead I did not move from my seat until I had looked at every item. Since then I have sung all of the songs several times and learnt four by heart. Books of new songs do not appear frequently enough for me, books in which I like all the songs so much, seldom.
Of the seventeen songs both the lyrics and tune of many have been written by Sarah Morgan. Of the remainder for several she has set other people's words to her own composition, while for others she has put her own words to a familiar tune. Most of the songs reflect rural life, for example, Another Harvest, Farm Dog, and Sheepdog Glory. As well as Another Harvest, other seasonal songs include Sing Out, Sarah's words set to the tune Russia, from the Sacred Harp tradition of America, perfect for raising the temperature in winter, and Solstice Carol, the tune of which is another familiar Sacred Harp tune, Jerusalem. Reading the lyrics two items in particular evoke sentiments that many will relate to, Room at the Top, a reflection of the high expectations of modern society, and View the Land, about the consequences of not appreciating the value of the countryside. Having talked about a book of songs, there are two instrumental items included: Muir Towers, a hauntingly beautiful slow air written for Alison Muir with whom Sarah used to sing, and Sloe Season, a gentle tune which she describes as "a sloe air, to play while under the influence of sloe gin . . ."
The publication is excellent for several reasons: the music and words are clearly laid out and the format of the book makes it a joy to handle. At the foot of each item are one or two sentences giving the background to the song, something that enhanced each one for me. From this recommendation you may want to order a copy of Put the Stars to Flight immediately.
Within this book there are thirteen songs arranged in harmony plus two rounds. At the beginning there is an introduction by Sarah followed by a section entitled Learning and Singing the Songs in which Sarah gives advice about 'naming the parts', timing and rhythm, and dynamics. In the introduction Sarah writes of her involvement with harmony singing from the age of seven years old when she was in a Junior Choir, of her experience with folk harmony groups, of the workshops on harmony that she runs and of the community and village choirs that she leads or has help start. She gives credit to Roger Watson, director of TAPS, himself a noted choir leader, for his encouragement and advice.
All the arrangements are by Sarah: most are traditional songs familiar to people with knowledge of the genre, such as The Blacksmith, The Cruel Mother, and The Water is Wide. In each case there is a note to explain the source from which she took the song. There are some from the research of Bob Copper or the repertoire of the Copper family: Blow the Winds O, O Good Ale, some collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams, some by Percy Grainger, some by Cicely Fox Smith, one by Peter Kennedy and another by Gardiner. The title song and the rounds are Sarah's compositions. In the introduction Sarah explains the methodology behind her arrangements. They are for three or four voices. Of those in three parts some are all written in the treble clef which allows for a variety of combinations, while in others there is a bass part in the bass clef. The melody or air is in the top part. In the introduction Sarah explains that for the four part items she has adopted a convention sometimes used in 'West Gallery' compositions of SATB with the tune in the tenor part. At the foot of most items there are suggestions for adapting the arrangements to add variation of performance.
As with other publications from Lyngham House, the format is clear and attractive, a fact that enhances the pleasure of using the book. It will please singers who enjoy singing with others, whether in small groups or larger choirs, and choir leaders who are seeking new material. Many of the arrangements lend themselves to one voice to each part as well as appealing to the increasing number of community choirs.
View the Land is available from Sarah Morgan, 2 South View Terrace, St Mary Bourne, Andover, Hants SP11 6BZ. If you are thinking of starting a community choir, would like to join one but want some initial tuition or would like to improve you're a capella singing, try to attend one of Sarah's workshops or organise one yourself.
A SCoFF web page, © SCoFF 2005/6
Trevor Gilson, SCoFF Webmaster
Back to CMR Home Page