I've always loved the voices and songs of Richard Thompson and Sandy Denny but my knowledge of more traditional English folk started with the gentle songs of Kate Rusby. This Yorkshire lass charmed me, without embarrassment, into the world of courting Lords and Ladies; here was someone proud of her heritage who understood the need for these songs to speak as historical documents; but also to endure as works of art. They spoke of ordinary people too, commoners with all of the recognizable human strengths and weaknesses; affected by the mundanities and injustices that blight any generation. Rusby guided me with her recommendations; I checked out Nic Jones's 'Peguin Eggs' and found it a lovely thing, was then introduced to the clan of the mighty Martin Carthy.
And yet there was always something about the tone of the voices; an earnest, affected nasal intonation which suggested that the world of our ancestors was a Vic free vicinity. Eventually I found a voice that bridged the hay nonny divide for me. Even though Chris Wood is rooted in the traditionalist fare of folk (he cites his biggest influence as 'Anon') his was an eye that observed both traditional and modern worlds and spoke about them in canny, heavenly yet devilishly conceived, understatements. I was listening to 'The Imagined Village' record and heard Wood singing 'Scarborough Fair'. He invested the old chestnut with such delicate passion that it was re-invented as a modern love song. I sought out an anthology of his stuff; the excellent 'Albion', which includes a song/story 'One in a Million' and wept with Marcus as we listened to it together. Marcus is a bluff Yorkshireman and this was a song set in a fish and chip shop...
I then sought out his latest album. 'Handmade Life' is chock full of wide eyed wonder and intellectual curiosity, chock full of narratives; heartbreaking, historical; there's political comment, there's even a love song to asparagus! Sure, there's mention of Spitfires and allotments but the muse and musicianship is diddly dee free. These are tender tales, tethered by actuality. Wood carves his songs so delicately and presents them so gently that you are often startled by their candor. Witness 'Hollow Point', a deconstruction of the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes.
I've read this dismissed as "music for soppy old gits in semi-retirement" and there is something comforting about the warmth of the delivery, but there's no codgy, cosy contentment here; this is modern music guided by ancient wisdom; sung in a warm and wondrous, all enveloping tenor, that would put a shiver up the stiffest of backs and warm the cockles of the most frigid modernist.
The solo performances below give the impression of a talented folk singer.
You need to hear the album's haunting ambience to gauge the true quality of the man's vision; he has a keen ear; a keener eye.
All life is here in 'Handmade Life'.