Mid-March saw Mercury Prize nominee and London-born folk artist Sam Lee released his critically-acclaimed second album The Fade In Time. As the primary driving force behind The Nest Collective, Lee has already done a brilliant job of getting his name out there, with his first album winning the 2011 Arts Foundation prize. This new record – inspired by (and in some cases, learnt from) Scottish Traveller singer Stanley Robertson – draws in influences from what is being described as “an extraordinary four-year apprenticeship into the arcane, living world of traditional song that few outside the Traveller and Gypsy communities have ever experienced”.
Sam Lee and his band comprise cellist Francesca Ter-Berg, trumpeter Steve Chadwick, violinist Flora Curzon, percussionist Josh Green and koto player Jonah Brody and Dulcimer player Jon Whitten. They entered Imogen Heap’s Hideaway Studio in Essex with Penguin Cafe’s Arthur Jeffes and Jamie Orchard-Lisle as co-producers, and spent three months laying down tracks and layering music for The Fade In Time.
Opening with Jonny O’ the Brine, the record begins with the sound of hunting horns and soft tribe-esque drum beats before Lee proceeds to hypnotically share the story of ‘hunting, poaching, slaughter and magic’. His voice is interesting – there’s no specific element to it that makes it stand out, but for some reason, whether you’re a fan of folk music or not, Lee’s vocals just seem to draw you in.
Quite possibly, the most stand out track from this record is Blackbird. There’s an eerie feel in the background, with strong, fast piano and just enough brass. “This is one of two songs on the album that I didn’t collect,” Lee expains. “It comes from May Bradley, a gypsy singer from Shropshire who was recorded in the 1950s. “Lyrically, hers is so much more punchy and tenacious – about loving this soldier, being pregnant, being cast out by her community – ‘Let them go talking say what they will, while there’s breath in my body I’ll love my lad still’ – I just love that conviction.”
This one’s shortly followed by a somewhat romantic, magical rendition of Robertson’s Lord Gregory. It’s emotional, to say the least, emphasised by the sounds of soft piano and heartbreaking violin. It’s nothing less than beautiful. “Stanley learnt it from his mother, who recited it as a poem,” says Lee. “He’s condensed it with absolutely everything there is about rejection, love, conviction, forgiveness, empathy and compassion. It’s the song I’m most proud of, singing-wise. That’s the one I’m emotionally most connected to. It’s the centre of the album.”
Moorlough Maggie is a little more uplifting, as is Phoenix Island and Willie O, while Airdog and Lovely Molly bring the record back to a slow, almost sad atmostphere before the album draws to a close with The Moss House. This record is definitely something interesting, and with Lee drawing on his traveller experiences, it’s an enlightening experience to listen to and hear the stories in his songs -perhaps not your thing, but definitely worth listening to.
Words by Kelly Ronaldson