(4 / 5)
A quartet of talented young musicians who met at University in Newcastle on the folk degree course six years ago, have committed their musical chemistry to record, with the release of their debut album.
The Rachel Hamer Band make a beautiful sound together on “Hard Ground,” the 10-track album funded by a bursary, after impressing audiences at UK festivals and folk gigs, establishing themselves as a band to watch.
Not afraid to re-interpret traditional music, the album is an insight into the lives that Rachel has come across, her relationship with The North East, her heritage and some material that is just “cracking fun” with the band.
Produced by Ian Stephenson, it is an even-listen with light and shade in the material, and the quality of the main focus of the album; Rachel’s lovely vocal, spot on. Like she’s there in the room with you. The intimacy of the set is not to be taken for granted.
But it is not just about the voice. This is a unit and they have a decent amount of chemistry. Whitley Bay’s Rachel Hamer, guitarist/singer Graeme Armstrong, filddle player and clog dancer Grace Smith and flautist Sam Partridge. They have gained a good following from support gigs to the likes of The Unthanks, The Young ‘Uns and The Wilsons, as well as their own headline shows.
Their sound dips its toes into the deep well of the traditional, while keeping their sound their own. The voice holds the attention across this entire album, and track four sums it up really: the trad’ tune “What A Voice.” That voice is gifted, sensual, calming and sweet.
Graeme Miles’ “Blue Sunset” opens proceedings nicely, then songs from Jean Ritchie, Jim Molyneux, Alan Bell, a very good job on Ewan MacColl’s “School Days Over,” Billy Ed Wheeler’s “Red Winged Blackbird,” and the closer “Will Jobling,” penned by Andy Dutfield; a song about the last man to be gibbeted in the North East for a crime he didn’t actualy commit.
“What A Voice,” and “Gyspy Laddie,” are the two trad’ offerings. Guest musicians on the album are Ian Stephenson on double bass and cello, Richard Hammond (no, not that one!) on percussion and Ken Hamer on vocals. One sole original from within the band, half way through the album, with Rachel Hamer’s “Bevan Boys.” Rachel was inspired to write this song after a conversation with a family friend about his surprising history, and his stories of men he had met when he became the North East’s first Bevin Boy during World War Two.
Bevin Boys were young British men conscripted to work in the UK coal mines between December 1943 and March 1948. Chosen by lot as ten percent of all male conscripts aged 18–25, plus some volunteering as an alternative to military conscription. Nearly 48,000 Bevin Boys performed vital but largely un-recognised service in the mines, many of them not released from service until well over two years after Second World War hostilities ended.
Not sure why this song is called Bevan Boys and not Bevin Boys, as the war-time programme was named after Ernest Bevin, a former trade union official and then British Labour Party politician who was Minister of Labour and National Service in the wartime coalition government. Notable Bevin Boys include football legend Nat Lofthouse, comedian Eric Morecambe and actor and Mencap charity supremo Brian Rix.
The Rachel Hamer band most definitely need to write much more of their own material for that “difficult second album”, if they want this band to progress and develop. But overall a very promising start for a talented young British folk band, with a gorgeous voice out front.
Two previous four-track EPs and now their very pleasing debut full album; surely lots more to come once they start crafting their own material and gain more experience on the road and in the studio. More ‘on solid ground’ than ‘hard ground’ methinks!
By Simon Redley
(1 / 5) ‘Dull Zone’
(2 / 5) ‘OK Zone’
(3 / 5) ‘Decent Zone’
(4 / 5) ‘Super Zone’
(5 / 5) ‘Awesome Zone’