Cider and Bread and Cheese

Sproatly Smith

Cider and Bread and Cheese
Performed By Sproatly Smith
Album UPC 888174125046
CD Baby Track ID 12309592
Label Sproatly Smith
Released 2013-07-04
BPM 133
Rated 0
ISRC ushm21393227
Year 2013
Spotify Plays 536
Writer Ian Christopher Smith
Pub Co Ian Smith
Composer Ian Christopher Smith
Clearance Sync & All Media Uses
Rights Controlled Master and Publishing Grant
Rights One-Stop: Master + 100% Pub Grant
Original/Cover/Public Domain original
Country Great Britain / UK


rural-core, agri-folk, psych folk, weirdlore,


Two albums in one year? What year do you think this is, 1967? Hereford’s elusive conglomerate centred around Ian Smith have pretty much become the shining stars of weirdlore, agri-psych, or whatever else you want to pin on them in the past year, and they’re obviously on a creative roll – this is easily the best of their four albums to date and (coincidentally?) their most deeply rooted in tradition and the English landscape with its focus on songs of farming and labouring in the countryside.
Layered with field recordings, found sounds, spoken word, birdsong, treated instruments and fragile (mostly) female vocals, it meanders like an unhurried farm cart along hedgerows on a mellow late summer’s evening, completely drawing you into its ambience. It’s a musical sepia print with an electronic shimmer: electric folk in the very best sense of the term, without any clodhopping folk-rockisms.
Traditional songs like The Jolly Ploughboy (heard on this issue’s fRoots 42 compilation), We Plough And Sow, Rosebud In June (reprised from its appearance on the Weirdlore compilation), the Coppers’ Come All You Bold Britons and Lal Waterson’s Fine Horseman are interspersed with original whimsical instrumentals and soundscapes that gently bind it all together in audio cobwebs, and occasionally up pops a surprise like the morris tune Reaphook And Sickle with its gently rippling guitar layers. You get the feeling that the Sproatlies can barely contain the ideas that are bursting to get out.

Now then: the ultra-enigmatic nature of the Sproatly Smith "band" I can cope with - the deliberate cultivation of the anonymity status of the personnel, the unexplained (=let the music speak for itself) nature of their creations. But I don't see the sense of the gimmick of releasing (at least for the time being) their latest artefact in what I feel are the least-friendly of formats - download via Bandcamp and shortly vinyl via Folk Police. The download instruction specifically states "if you are putting this download onto CD, please put no pauses between tracks", and this gives an important clue to the artistic nature of the beast, for it's a continuous and coherent sequence with its own logic, one that just has to be listened to in that way, even though several of the tracks undeniably take the form of self-contained re-interpretations-cum-radical-reworkings of individual traditional songs from the folk corpus.
I might say the Sproatly approach to folk music culture approximates a parallel-universe variant of The Electric Muse concept, delivering the experience of suddenly finding the road not taken, the path never trod at the point of the late-60s when folk music blundered onward (and blindly) into folk-rock, seeing that as the only possible way forward; now the undergrowth has been parted and trampled, and this hitherto-unseen path has been revealed in all its alluring, beautiful - and logical - glory.
I've been told that someone recently coined the term "agri-psych" for the Sproatly experience, and this is ever more apt on Times Is 'n' Times Was, which focuses squarely on our deep traditional roots, in particular country matters: labouring (farming, ploughing), landscape, and the romance (of both kinds) to be found therein. Arising out of a welter of birdsong and sampled voice recollections, The Smithy takes the form of a pastoral, if mildly bucolic instrumental meditation (Be Glad For The Song Has No Ending crossed with Harry Partch?), where industrious forge activity is recalled in passages of memories of the Flowerpot Men distorted by the shimmering heat haze of electronica and adorned with primal keening fiddle. The Sproatly take on The Jolly Ploughboy is built around insistent though suitably horsey clippety-cloppy rhythms (rather an obvious gambit, but…); the ruminative Cider And Bread And Cheese takes in The Barley Mow; and the delicate chiming glocks and guitars of We Plough And Sow tread rather gingerly across their own rhythmic furrow in support of an unexpectedly frail female vocal line - that is, until the arrival of a spacey prog electric guitar coda.
An epic treatment of Rosebud In June makes a compelling and disquieting centrepiece to the Times Is… suite (its only element of familiarity stemming from its sneak-preview appearance on last year's celebrated Weirdlore compilation). Of the album's interspersed non-traditional items, those bookending Rosebud In June - the ambient Changes, and most especially Bartonsham Meadows - rather put me in mind of some of the acoustic-based Pink Floyd tracks circa the More film soundtrack and Ummagumma. And then comes a curveball with the jolly Reaphook And Sickle clash of morris sticks and bells that ushers in a chunky Tyger-some bass and Oldfield-esque guitar and synthery, before the voices of Coppers down the ages reverberate through static against the walls of the edifice intoning Come All Ye Bold Britons. Against which, the Sproatly rendition of Lal Waterson's Fine Horseman almost constitutes a straight stand-alone cover (and a fine, respectable one at that); it's followed by the concluding commentary of The Farmers Have Gone East, whose extended lament dissolves into the field-recorded birdsong soundscape which began the suite.
This is another of those visionary projects that quickly prove essential experiences - and compelling fixtures on your listening facility. For the deeper you listen to the overbrimmingly inventive creations of the twisted brethren of Herefordshire, the more layers are revealed, and the more you appreciate the intense communicative power of our folk music heritage.
David Kidman

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