NICK WYKE & BECKI DRISCOLL
The Songs Of Edward Capern The Postman Poet

Joyous is the only way to describe this masterful CD! I was instantly transported back into a half-forgotten world before the ravages and consequences of the First World War tore the very fabric of the English countryman’s way of life into shreds forever. In many ways, I felt as if I was listening to an imaginary act three of Flora Thompson’s Lark Rise. The whole gamut of human existence - joy, pain, loss and death - is displayed with such alacrity in both the writing and the music. This is even more remarkable as the work spans across two centuries.

Edward Capern, the source of the material, was born in Tiverton in 1819. After working in a lace factory from an early age he was forced to find alternative employment due to failing eyesight. Edward secured a job as a postman in Bideford and successfully published several volumes of poetry during his lifetime, all composed whilst trudging through the Devon countryside delivering the mail. The style, content and scope of the work provide an extraordinary window into a way of life and times gone by.

Skipping forward nearly 200 years from Edward’s humble beginnings, Nick Wyke and Becki Driscoll have endowed his discerning poetry with equally exciting punchy contemporary folk music. As a singer songwriter myself, I am always drawn to the music first and the words second. If the tune is weak or derivative, that is enough to dissuade me from pursuing the song further. As a wordsmith, the content must be as good as the music, and what a symbiotic marriage of words and music we have here. The inclusion of old folk tunes, played with such a surety of touch is a masterful stroke of genius that raises the whole work to a much greater level. Nick and Becki have really delved into the inner workings of the poetry and created arrangements of great understanding and beauty, an accolade rarely given or deserved.

There is so much great music on this CD it is hard to single out any one song in particular, however Song Of The Keeper is interesting as it is unusually written from the point of view of the life of a gamekeeper. The Old-Fashioned Plough is a great chorus song which I shall be adding to my repertoire as soon as time allows. Kitty Lile has a sympathetic tune equal to the sadness of the loss of her fisherman husband, Billy. Perhaps the combined song and reading that tugs at the heart strings the most is the allegorical Epitaph / A Song In Sorrow.

If you admire great songwriting, inspired insightful singing, fantastic arrangements, or simply enjoy listening to folk music at its best, then I cannot recommend this album highly enough - pure joy from start to finish.

Edward Capern was a Victorian poet, writing in the mid-19th century. The album of “The Postman Poet” is the result of a collaboration between Liz Shakespeare, who wrote a novel of that name based on Capern’s life, and Devon musicians Nick Wyke and Becki Driscoll.

Capern intended for some of his poems to be sung, and as he composed many while walking, they have a natural rhythm which makes them most suitable for being set to music. The album contains a selection of Capern’s poems, mainly sung but with some spoken by Chris Braund. The songs are punctuated by traditional tunes.

Nick Wyke and Becki Driscoll are accomplished musicians. well as fiddles, they can also be heard playing viola, guitar, mandolin, ukulele, piano, tin whistle and glockenspiel. Ellen Driscoll adds French horn to the final track, while James Budden’s double bass adds depth to four.

As Edward Capern meant for many of his poems to be sung they certainly make the transition from spoken to sung word well. From the first notes, the songs have a familiar feel to them, demonstrating how well the poems work as songs.

One could say that all Devon life is here. Many of the songs are in praise of country life and traditional ways. The Old-Fashioned Plough champions the traditional horse-drawn plough, as being far preferable to the new-fangled steam version. With its strings and tin whistle accompaniment, it sounds like a traditional folk song.

The simple pleasures in life, like a good hearty meal after a long day’s work are celebrated in The Dinner Bell, which has an almost nursery-rhyme like quality.

Nature, and especially the birdlife, is lauded in The Spring o’ the Dawn. Wyke sings in praise of the joys of early morning and the wildlife one can see at that time of day to a suitably joyful tune. In contrast to the other tracks on the album, The Song of the Keeper is a striking a capella duet.

Of course, any community will experience heartbreak and tragedy. Kitty Lile; or, Mazed Kate of Clovelley is beautifully poignant. It begins and ends with the sound of the sea and gulls. It is one of those stories so common in folk song, of a love lost at sea.

Driscoll sings The Robin as Weeping to a piano accompaniment which imitates the tolling of a bell. It is the heart-breaking song of the death of a child, a subject also covered in the part-sung, part-spoken Epitaph/A Song in Sorrow which also uses piano and strings.

It is perhaps appropriate for the album to end at Christmas with the glorious lilting waltz Christmas Bells. This has the glockenspiel imitating a chiming bell while the fiddles imitate a peals of bells. Here we also hear the French horn and double bass.

This album is a delight from start to finish.

The Willows Folk Club, Kirkham
15th April 2015

Nick Wyke & Becki Driscoll are a duo based in North Devon, with a vibrant take on English Folk music. They treated the audience at The Willows Folk Club to a spectacular display of seamless harmony and complex rhythms played out on various combinations of violin and viola.
Their repertoire was very much tied to their Devon roots taking many traditional songs and giving them a new lease of life, as well as showcasing original material. I particularly enjoyed ‘Rambleaway’ with Nick’s strong vocals accompanied by the melodic conversation of the two violins.
The material was not limited to the West Country; they seemed to tae inspiration from many different sounds from around the world. In particular Becki’s instrumental ‘Terra da Lua’ transports the listener to the majestic beaches of Brazil, which is then blended perfectly into an English Country Dancing standard ‘John of Paris. I found this eclectic approach extremely exciting to the ears.
Not only was the quality of the music astounding but the performance was filled with humorous anecdotes, the two managing to weave almost a comedy double act into their set. The audience very much enjoyed several opportunities to sing along in songs like ‘The Exmoor Ram’ and ‘The Torrington Ringers’…
Overall Nick & Becki managed to deliver to the audience filled folk club an evening that mixed dark historic tales with upbeat laughter, and soaring musicality.

Beneath the Black Tree Review
"Nick Wyke and Becki Driscoll are both virtuoso fiddlers and with their new album they have succeeded a masterpiece of English folk music. Their playing together is awesome and with three first class guest musicians they have created an innovative and exceptional sound."

Beneath The Black Tree succeeds by presenting traditional music through confident and considerate arrangements that avoid ramshackle pastiche, by opting for a refined performance that owes as much to chamber music as it might to folk music. The recording is beautifully open, allowing you to savour each subtle cadence and appreciate the uncluttered interplay between the instruments.

Fiddle players, composers and workshop leaders Nick and Becki hail from North Devon and produce top drawer music that's gaining them a nationwide reputation as true keepers of the flame. Nick's solo experience and his time with Cornish band Sacred Turf, plus Becki's career as part of the ceilidh group Sundance and with the Angel Brothers, has combined with their passion for the southwest's traditional songs and airs, to produce an album that's simply bursting with vitality and freshness. Barnstaple to Umberleigh is a particular delight, with its light-as-air feel, and this is followed by the old tale of Benjamin Bowmaneer, featuring Nick's strong, deep vocals. Great stuff.

Beneath the Black Tree' isn't played exclusively on fiddles but this is where you'll find the album's heartbeat. It's the thrill of wood and string and the glory of acoustic instruments that is on show here. Two fiddles played with a recorded clarity that lets you follow each microtonal shift as they work in complimentary patterns - akin to a strand of DNA spiralling off in search of a natural conclusion.

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