tue 21/11/2017

Sam Lee & Friends: Temples Tour | reviews, news & interviews

Sam Lee & Friends: Temples Tour

Sam Lee & Friends: Temples Tour

A triumphant end to a tour of ancient songs sung in sacred places

Love is the lore: singer, song collector Sam Lee

Sam Lee launched his second album this week, the eagerly anticipated follow-up to his Mercury-nominated debut, A Ground of it Own. The Fade In Time has been garnering five-star reviews like poesies in May, and for good reason – Lee is a distinctly 21st-century artist, collecting new versions of old songs on his iPhone and laptop, while his repertoire is steeped in the reek and smoke of folk history and lore, its tales of love, parting, exile and murder bound by a sympathetic magic still resonant today, parting the veil on vivid scenes from our islands’ deep history.

There had been concerts through the week at his local church in Dalston, at Pancras Old Church – built on the site of a temple to Mithras – at Sandy's Row synagogue, a former Huguenot church in Bishopsgate, and at the Quaker Meeting House in Westminster, amidst the noise and illumination of the West End on a Friday night, and just a few steps from one of the finest old alleys in London: Goodwin's Court, a perfectly-preserved Georgian thoroughfare dating, like some of the night's songs, from the 1690s.

Her voice was lyrical, frail and quiet and yet with a quite extraordinary authority

For their final Temples gig, Lee's band was stripped back to a four-piece – violin, dulcimer, ukulele, shruti box, Jew's harp, percussion – but, more significantly, the evening began with three source singers from whom Lee had learned many of the songs that appear on The Fade In Time – Scottish Traveller Anthony Robertson, son of Lee's mentor Stanley, from Aberdeenshire; Freda Black, an 87-year-old Romany from the Sussex-Hampshire border; and Irish Traveller singer Thomas McCarthy, whose second album, Herself and Myself, is highly recommended.

Their performances, one following the other, were compelling. They included glorious variants of "Claudy Banks" and "Barbara Allen" – Mrs Black's version includes a golden bowl of tears under the bed, and the latter is a song Pepys would have first heard in this very same spot of London, some four centuries before. Then there were the likes of  "Johnny O The Brine", "Lord Gregory", and "Blackbird", the original ancient ballads from which Lee has grown his own 21st-century versions.

Freda Black couldn't always find her place in these ancient songs, but the songs always find their place in her – the very act of remembering and singing was a potent reminder for us in the audience of both the fragility and incredible tenacity of these national treasures of folklore, held for centuries in the keeping of Britain's marginalised communities.

Some of Ms Black's family were in the audience, calling out with the occasional prompt, and her voice was lyrical, frail and quiet and yet with a quite extraordinary authority – one of knowledge and familiarity with a world most of us think of as long-lost and long-ago. One comic song with a strong sexual undertow dated from the 1690s – like Goodwin's Court – and she is only the second documented singer of that song, Lee told us, in all the centuries since. That's treasure you can't sell off, but only pass on, and this evening with Sam Lee and Friends  in the truest sense  was a potent and unforgettable act of passing on treasures that will still be quietly spinning their wonders and magic in our heads and hearts long after the lights in the West End have gone out.

His repertoire is steeped in the reek and smoke of folk history and lore

rating

Editor Rating: 
5
Average: 5 (1 vote)

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