Rob St. John – Charcoal Black & the Bonny Grey/Shallow Brown

On Mayday (yes, tomorrow) we shall be celebrating the release of the new Rob St. John double A-side single Charcoal Black and the Bonny Grey/Shallow Brown which you can buy from Song, by Toad Records here.

Both of these tunes have been staples of Rob’s live set for quite a while now, and last year he assembled a Coven Choir of his regular associates and we recorded versions of these songs live in the main studio* here at Toad Hall. It was all pretty live and creaky, with the cracks and groans of our decrepit old floorboards and wooden furniture rather prominent in the recordings. The percussion on Charcoal Black was even played on an old vaulting horse which we use as a bench in the living room, but overall I think the effect works really well. After two rather guitary Split 12″s I think this is the first acoustic recording I have made to which we’ve given a formal release.

The songs themselves are rather interesting too, and follow recent work on Lancastrian history, myth and folklore with the Folklore Tapes label in Manchester, curating the successful Pendle, 1612 project (in collaboration with Dylan Carlson, Dean McPhee, David A Jaycock and others). Charcoal Black and the Bonny Grey is a Lancastrian song originally sung to Cecil Sharp by J Collinson of Casterton, Lancashire in 1905.  A song of the Industrial Revolution: crumbling mill towns butting up against moorland and trees growing out of chimneys.

Shallow Brown is a West Indian sea shanty collected by H.E. Piggott and Percy Grainger from the singing of John Perring in Dartmouth, Devon in 1908.  The spirit of this version traces an imaginary line to Sunderland Point on the tip of the Lune estuary in Lancashire, a thriving port for slave ships and press gangs until siltation forced a steady decline in the late 1700s.

The artwork is really nice as well, and was done by David Barker who runs Folklore Tapes. And look how pretty the vinyl is…!

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*Alright, alright, I mean our living room.