Galley Beggar
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Galley Beggar

London, England, United Kingdom | SELF

London, England, United Kingdom | SELF
Band Folk Rock

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the bright young folk review
When a new band states in their press release that their major influences are Steeleye Span, Fairport Convention, Jethro Tull, Led Zeppelin and Pentangle, you might think that they are setting themselves a high bar to reach. However, new and unsigned band Galley Beggar are well on their way to emulating the greats of the Folk Rock genre.

Their first released album, Reformation House, is a collection of traditional folk songs with a spattering of self-penned tracks which bring together rich vocal harmonies and traditional folk instrumentation, all backed with a driving electric guitar.

The opening track, a reworking of traditional Ralph Vaughn Williams’ song The Outlandish Knight, showcases vocalist Frances Tye’s superb vocal skills and Mat Fowler’s harmonising, before sliding suddenly into something of an American hoe-down.

Of the self-penned songs Galley Beggar have proved beyond doubt that they can write songs that can easily hold their own against the traditional folk songs included on the album, and indeed they wouldn’t sound out of place on one of their aforementioned influences’ albums.

Whether taking their influence from the true story of a shipwrecked wedding at sea (Shifting Sands), the traditional theme of doomed love between a supernatural being and a mortal (Rowan – the standout track on the album), or an ode to a mystical summer (the beautifully crafted Sun God which features a wonderful introduction of rhythmic handclapping and acapella vocals) the songs fit seamlessly with the traditional offerings.

As well as reworkings of old favourites Restless Sinners and Farewell Nancy, they have also included their take on Sir Richard (now Americana in style, with an infectious country fiddle solo included), Arise Arise and have given False Love an eastern twist, proving that they are not scared to fuse many different musical elements in their attempt to create a vibrant, fresh album.

For any fans of the traditional Folk Rock genre, the addition of Reformation House to your record collection can only be a good thing.

Louise Parmakis - Bright Young Folk


Which band is the quintessentially English act? It is, quite probably, a pointless question. I am no particular great nationalist. To be bluntly honest, my only interest in celebrating St George’s Day would be the prospect of an extra bank holiday.

But maybe on some kind of anthropological/sociological level, it’s still a question worth asking.

Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be:

You might be tempted to point the finger somewhere in the direction of The Jam, Blur, Madness or their progenitors The Kinks. Less imaginative respondents might assume The Beatles deserve the accolade - along with all the rest they have.

Such acts have (or had) a penchant for describing the minutiae of English life: “tea and toasted, buttered currant buns”, “Sunday, Sunday, here we go a walk in the park” and “a hundred lonely housewives clutch[ing] empty milk bottles to their hearts”.

But that would be to ignore whole swathes of heritage and musical influences. There is something more fundamental to Englishness than Britpop nostalgia. Long before Ray Davies waxed lyrical about sunsets in Waterloo, English culture was buzzing with songs and stories that continue to permeate our culture.
Rich heritage:

In America, the heritage of pop and rock music can be traced back through jazz, the blues and spirituals. This is a rich history in itself. But the English can boast an even richer heritage - if only because we’ve been around for a bit longer.

English music can be charted through centuries and centuries of folk music. This is what composers like Vaughan Williams and Cecil Sharp found so appealing about their native country - and what compelled them to create vast libraries of folk songs and use them to inspire their own music.

So it can be of little surprise that English pop and rock musicians have been inspired by their nation’s cultural heritage as well. You’ll find this form of Englishness coming through in folk inspired acts of the 60s and 70s: Steeleye Span, Fairport Convention, Pentangle, Jethro Tull, Nick Drake, Sandy Denny.

A likely contender?:

Which brings us to Galley Beggar. It would be sheer folly to claim this band trump any of the aforementioned acts as the quintessentially English (or any other kind of) act, but they certainly bare many of the characteristics you’d be looking for.

Galley Beggar bring a multi-textured approach to folk music. They hail from Kent and London. As with much folk music, there is a tendency in their songs to look back wistfully to a time of fair maidens and drunken sailors.
The mythical bygone era of yore is an integral part of Galley Beggar’s music - and it may be the only part that the casual listener will notice. However, a closer listen will reveal myriad references to more recent musical history: the Steeleye Spans, the Fairport Conventions and the Pentangles.
The band were first reviewed on these pages in November 2009. Their album, Reformation House, features the five songs reviewed back then. They are accompanied by another four tracks: “Sir Richard”, “Rowan”, “False Love” and “Arise, Arise”, a mixture of traditional and original material.

The result is a consolidation of the band’s sound: a complex tapestry of musical ideas and influences that require repeated listens before the effect can be fully appreciated.

Wider influence:

Galley Beggar do not simply interpret traditional folk through a post-Pentangle lens. Despite the apparent orthodoxy of the act (there is no Bellowhead-ish jazz/funk instrumentals here) you’ll find inspiration from far beyond these shores here. It’s an approach that reflects how English culture has absorbed influences from other countries throughout its history.

“False Love”, a song alternatively known as “The Water Is Wide” or “Waly Waly”, gets given an Eastern make-over on this record. The new arrangement recalls The Beatles’ “Within You Without You”.

Meanwhile, “The Outlandish Knight” and “Sir Richard” lunge into barnstorming hoe sowns. Elsewhere, the introduction to “Rowan” recalls the Prog Rockery of Dutch rockers Focus’ “House of the King” (as featured on the opening credits of Saxondale).

A kind of magic:

To dismiss Galley Beggar as just another folk band would be a sad mistake. Reformation House is a magical blend of musical ideas covering hundred of years and thousands of miles.

Few bands or artists are able to cover such a broad range of styles and ideas. Not only can Galley Beggar do this, they do so in such a seamless fashion you’ll hardly notice.
- BBC Kent Introducing's Blog


Discography

"Galley Beggar" EP
"Reformation House" (2010) - 9 tracks:
The Outlandish Knight
Shifting Sands
Sun God
Restless Sinners
Sir Richard
Farewell Nancy
Rowan
False Love
Arise, Arise!

Photos

Bio

We are Galley Beggar, a folk rock band of six musicians, currently gigging throughout London. Our debut album Reformation House comprises nine tracks; a mixture of original songs, instrumentals and our own arrangements of traditional songs.

Taking inspiration from the likes of Fairport Convention, Pentangle and Led Zeppelin's acoustic explorations our music sets out to imagine the next phase of English Folk Rock.
Our live performances bring the intensity of a rock band to electric folk and include plenty of instrument changes as we move from music found within the collections of Cecil Sharp and Francis Child through to electrified psychedelic freakouts. Harmony vocals, electric and acoustic guitars, mandolin, violin, recorder, bass and drums make up the sound of Galley Beggar.