Purcell Room, London
Ashley Hutchings, better known in the folk scene simply as the Guv'nor, is one of the great English pioneers. Back in the 1960s and 70s, he was a founding member of Fairport Convention, then Steeleye Span, and then the Albion Band, and in the process introduced the electric bass to traditional music and helped to create a new genre: folk-rock. As the first folk boom began to fade away in the late 70s, he was involved in new experiments, working as music director at the National Theatre, matching traditional music with drama in two productions based around Flora Thompson's trilogy of Victorian country life, Lark Rise to Candleford.
The music from those plays first appeared on a 1980 album. Now, with folk music firmly back in fashion and Lark Rise a popular television series, he has decided to revive those songs. And it actually works, despite Hutchings's lengthy reminiscences about which song came from which production. All that mattered was the music and the stories, and both are revived well in this new setting. The enthusiastic band includes multi-instrumentalists playing violin, melodeon, zither, acoustic guitars and drums, and are at their best with stirring, six-part harmonies. The songs are equally varied, from English dance tunes and Victorian hymns to the traditional Bonny Labouring Boy, used here as a reminder of the way in which the rural England of Thompson's childhood was shattered by the carnage of the first world war, in which many from the countryside lost their loves. Lark Rise is still an impressive folk concept.