Reviews of VT161CD 'It's gritstone for me!'
There may be some folk who would look upon three
quarters of an hour of unaccompanied singing as a chore. To them I would say,
”Listen to Grltstone, and chore no more…”
Will has made a wide and sometimes surprising sweep through his gargantuan repertoire, and for my money, this CD could be at least twice as long without any problem. The notes (by John Howson and Brian Peters) state delightfully ”his son Cuthbert and daughter Lydia … can be heard on several tracks providing vocal encouragement”, while elsewhere giving details of sources and background to these fourteen excellent songs. The recording was done at Park Head by Brian Bedford - as safe a pair of ears as ever can be found — and the CD is released under the safe Veteran umbrella which has brought us so much magnificent music.
I earlier used the ‘surprlsing” word — we love to hear Will singing of hunting, farming and walling, and delight in his wealth of gently comic songs (usually described by him as “daft”). Herein we have fine examples of all these, but we also (praise be) get his unique take on such classics as “Little Musgrave” and “Female Cabin Boy”. And as the crowning glory of an already wonderful CD, we have his tribute, in every sense of the word, to the late, great Fred Jordan. WilI heard Fred sing “The Outlandish Knight” … so many times that I found I knew it”.
There are many great recordings of Fred Jordan, and now we have a great recording of Will Noble. In common with Fred’s records, ‘ It’s Gritstone For Me’
goes a long way towards catching the skill, the elegance and the downright humanity of the singer, and makes the listener more determined than ever to be in the audience and hear The Real Thing. There are many worse ways of spending ten quid.
Will Noble is one of the folk scene’s most straightforwardly likeable people both as a performer and as a friend so these uncomplicated, unaccompanied performances come as a delight, especially when repeated listening reveals hidden emotional depths and his involvement with his songs. Occasional support from his fine-voiced children Lydia and Cuthbert are the only addition to Will’s sure singing.
For those of us who have known and admired his singing since the long-ago days of the Holme Valley Tradition, there are some surprises here. We know what to expect from one of his performances; there will be some hunting songs and others local to his own South Yorkshire area. The love of dry stone walling is acknowledged in settings of two of Keith Scowcrofts poems on the subject.
What we might not expect so readily are ballads but there are four here. One comes from a local contact, Frank Hinchcliffe, two others from people he met through traditional song and folk festival events from Fred Jordan and George Fradley, the sort of singers that you would expect him to be impressed by. Rather more unexpected would be Little Musgrave in a version “probably derived from that put together and recorded by Nic Jones in 1970”. His wonderful way of putting this over is one of the highest of quite a number of the album’s delights. Another comment brought a grin of familiarity – “I decided to learn it and I found that I more or less know it already.” Why does this happen? It is almost as if ballads have an addictive quality; as if they creep up on you unnoticed and you can do very little about it.
During the last War, the BBC frequently broadcast programmes on rural life delivered by a (Dorset) farmer, Ralph Wightman, whose deep, sonorous tones gave a sense of reassurance to the listening nation. The comparison with Will Noble is not an idle one – he also conveys that feeling of continuity and values that his Yorkshire singing tradition engenders, and this recording has some notably good examples.
Many of the songs here have been learned over the years from some of that fine bunch of singers who lived in the hills above Sheffield, some of whom I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and hearing on occasions. In particular, Will credits Frank Hinchliffe and Arthur Howard with providing a number of the songs, and these are names that will be familiar and welcome to many people reading this.
Not that all the songs are from Yorkshire – I was delighted to hear Fred Jordan’s version of the Outlandish Knight given a fresh lease of life in Will’s capable hands; one of three Child ballads making a very welcome appearance. There are also a couple of “Scowie’s” excellent poems (on dry stone walling – what else for Will?) put to music, as well as a couple of humorous pieces – in fact all the elements that are indispensable to a traditional singer’s repertoire are here.
As an added bonus, Will is joined on some tracks by his two children, Lydia and Cuthbert, giving a bit of variety to the sound. If you enjoy good singing in the traditional style, and a broad range of songs delivered in a relaxed and confident manner, then you should go out and get this one.
The Living Tradition
Ballads of the dry stone wallers - William Noble has always had one foot in the past. He comes from a long line of master craftsmen and has spent a lifetime keeping the art of dry stone walling alive.However, the 73-year-old has recently embarked on a mission to preserve another of the county’s ancient traditions. Along with his son and daughter, Cuthbert and Lydia, who are also dry stone wallers, Mr Noble has recorded an album of Yorkshire folk songs whose roots can be traced back centuries.
He said: “I grew up in the Holme Valley in the 1950s and back then everyone knew the words to a dozen or more traditional tunes. From quite an early age I would go to folk festivals and I learnt so much just by listening to the various musicians and singers. “Folk music has a story to tell about the landscape and the people who live there. It tells us about our past and over the last few years it occurred to me that some of the songs I first learnt as a child would be unfamiliar to many youngsters now. “In another few years there might not be anyone to pass the lyrics and music down the generations and that’s when I had the idea of recording them for posterity. Once I had decided that, I knew I wanted Lydia and Cuthbert to be involved. “Not only are they blessed with lovely voices, but folk singing is about the family and it felt right that the three of us embark on this project together.”
There are a dozen songs on the CD, including Watter Rattle, The Outlandish Night, Boys of Marsden and The Brown Hare at Whitebrook, and Mr Noble hopes that it will prove to people that there is more to Yorkshire’s folk heritage than On Ilkla Moor Baht’At. He added: “This county is blessed with a rich heritage of traditional music, some of which dates back to the 1600s. The Brown Hare at Whitebrook is probably my favourite – it has a great story and a great tune which is everything a good folk song should be. “It’s about a group of huntsmen setting off to catch their prey, but they return empty handed. Like the very best folk songs it tells a great story. “During the 1970s, I would regularly sing at the hunt suppers of the Holme Valley Beagles, but while I might have been born and bred in the countryside I hate the idea of anything being killed. There is something that appeals about the hare getting away for once.”
The CD, ‘It’s gritstone for me’, which takes its name from one of the tracks, is now available for both sale and download and if his singing career is as successful as his dry stone walling, Mr Noble could well be heading for the big time. “People look at a dry stone wall and think, ‘that must be easy to do’, but it isn’t. There are certain techniques you can teach people, but to be really good you just have to have an eye for it. “When I was younger I won lots of competitions for dry stone walling. It is an art form and it is enjoying a bit of a renaissance. When I was first starting out, the bulk of the work was repairing farm walls, but now it’s much more design-led. “I still keep my hand in, but it’s nice to have passed the mantel over to my son and daughter. Lydia recently won a top award for shelter she built in the shape of a beehive, so I have no doubt the family craft is in safe hands.”
The Yorkshire Post
Will Noble is part of a dying breed, an authentic
traditional singer from the South Pennines, who is prepared to sing anything
without getting precious. Don’t be alarmed, there’re no Elvis covers here, but
Will does switch from old ballads to songs learned from other trad singers to
music hall songs and even a couple of relevant modern compositions. He has a
fine voice, replete with West Yorkshire vowels, and gets vocal support from
son Cuthbert and daughter Lydia.
There are old ballads like ‘The Outlandish Knight’ and ‘Two Sisters’, in a Derbyshire version learned from George Fradley. He picked up ‘Little Musg rave’ in a folk club from someone covering the Nic Jones version. There’s a variant of the well-known ‘Hear The Nightingales Sing’ called ‘Wailer Rattle’, relaying what the lovers hear as they sit by the stream, Two pieces written by poet Keith Scowcroh tell of dry-stone walling, another part of Will’s family tradition, including some tips on technique for the uninitiated.
‘It’s Grit stone For Me’ is a very good album with fourteen unaccompanied songs (which will not be to everyone’s Taste) but Will maintains a lightness of touch that makes it worth a listen for anyone who enjoys unadorned traditional song.
RnR (Rock & Reel)
It certainly is gritstone for Will Noble. A highly
regarded dry stone wailer by trade. Will is very well known among the
hunting-inclined rural community of which he’s been a part since he was a
young member of foot-borne hunt the Holme Valley Beagles in the 1970s. Over
the years his reputation as a singer has grown mightily. today, there are
probably more people than ever for whom Christmas isn’t Christmas until
they’ve heard him sing ‘The Mistletoe Bough’.
This CD benefits from Will’s baritone voice and delivery, which is as bold and direct as you might imagine a singer of his background might have, and strong sense of identity and community. He’s also supported here by his daughter and son, Lydia and Cuthbert.
For example, two of the songs are about the craft of walling, while two others are about hunting. One of these is perhaps particularly striking: a setting of the poem The Brown Hare of Whitebrook by Ammon Wrigley of Denshaw, is about a hunting expedition where the hare manages to escape and so earns the respect and love of the hunters, who vow never to trouble it again. I wonder how often that happens.
There is also gentle humour here In the form of two Music Hall songs sung in Will’s area, the wry Nothing Else to Do and a nicely different version of The Female Cabin Boy. But we should not forget Will also has an excellent great line In traditional songs. which he performs with clarity in the understated, well paced style of the best old fashioned singers. As much as I enjoy the rest of his material, it’s these songs that I look forward to most when listening to Will, and this CD includes four cracking ballads: Edward, Little Musgrave, The OutlandishKnight and The Two Sisters. I’d buy the CD just
for them alone...