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MEARCSTAPA
MATS022

Pete Castle with Lucy Castle, fiddle; Bing Lyle, accordion; Trevor James, whistles, pipes; Frank Stubbs, flugelhorn; Jon Hodkin, tuba; Rod Masters, snare

Buckworth May Song
Through Lonesome Woods
The Cuckoo
Birth of Robin Hood
Maramures Lullaby
Venezuela
The Irish Girl
Fanny Blair
The Rogues March
Bitter Withy
Bruton Town
The Rosebud In June
The Trees They Grow So High
Flash Company
Buckworth May Song (reprise)

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“It's been a while since I listened to traditional folk and I'd forgotten how wickedly dry and unsentimental these songs can be. The revelation on this album is Fanny Blair, a lean, angry piece of early 19th century tabloid journalism which deals with the case of a young man hanged for raping a child. The balladeer takes the side of the accused and threatens vigilante justice on the "perjuring little whore" who sent him to the gallows. It's fearsome and troubling and Castle ends it with a series of isolated chords that sound like question marks. Was Henry Higgins really innocent? How do his protestations weigh against the vivid image of the eleven year old Fanny stood on a table to deliver her damning testimony to the court? It's a mighty piece of work, as timeless as the Oresteia and as up to date as this Sunday's News of the World.
Other pieces are more familiar. The Trees That (sic) Grow so High is a classic — bawdy, blackly humorous and full of pathos. The Cuckoo, which has one of the loveliest melodies in the repertoire, appears here in a version freshened up with extra lyrics.
Castle has a warm, open voice — and his treatment of the songs is listener-friendly but doesn't muffle the jagged edges. He cares deeply for the stories they tell and makes sure that all the words can be heard. Certain tracks, notably The Buckworth May Song, are heavily influenced by Romanian folk music — an influence imported into the mix by fiddle-player Lucy Castle-Hotea.
MEARCSTAPA is an old English word for boundary stone. Castle and his band beat the bounds of the tradition and occasionally step outside it into the territory of world music. It's a CD I'll be listening to again and again for its lucid treatment of some very great songs."
Reviewer: Tony Grist.

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