Lancastrian Rob St John plays drawn-out and ghostly songs underpinned by the creaks and drones of the harmonium, musical saw, fiddle, skittering drums, analogue synth and field recordings. Backed by a talented cast of collaborators and co-conspirators he released his critically acclaimed first album ‘Weald’ on 12” LP through Edinburgh label Song, By Toad in November 2011, on which kraut, drone and psych influences were held together by peals of British folk guitar and wheeling gusts of rich, cryptic vocals.
After a year and a half away, writing, recording and curating projects, ‘Charcoal Black and the Bonny Grey’ / ‘Shallow Brown’ 7” will be Rob’s first release since ‘Weald’. It follows 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). This release, orchestrated by the Coven Choir of Tom Western, Bart Owl, Malcolm Benzie and Owen Williams, continues in the same exploratory sonic vein.
‘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. Recorded in a north Edinburgh living room, drums pick up a faint motorik beat on a pommel horse and cymbals strewn across the floor; organs wash in a lysergic smear of 60s psych-folk; recorder and fiddle pick a fractured Maher Shalal Hash Baz-esq melody; and a chorus of voices sing together.
‘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 ‘Charcoal Black and the Bonny Grey’ / ‘Shallow Brown’ 7” will be released on 1st May 2013, limited to 250 copies with artwork by David Chatton Barker (Folklore Tapes / Finders Keepers).