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Maddy Prior - Forgotten Lands - 18th April 2024


There’s a lot going on in Cumbria, nearly as much as in the East Neuk!

At Cumbria’s Stones Barn, a haven for artistic learning since 2001, Maddy and her daughter Rose-Ellen Kemp offer musical and singing retreats. From singing for the uncertain to advanced techniques, all can benefit from their excellent and formally recognised tutelage. You might run into Martin Carthy, you might run into Karine

Polwart, you might even treat yourself to the family-friendly field music festival that is the Forgotten Lands Festival - that happens in May by the way - so if that’s your cup of tea, get down the A74 where a fine brew awaits.

And it is from this Petri dish of Cumbrian culture that the substance of this evening arises, and that substance is undeniably singing. The art of singing is so at the heart of everything we heard, the rocky core upon which everything rests, singing to tell stories, singing to stir the soul, singing to make you feel good. And it did!

Let’s talk instrumentation. The surprise from the go was Andrew ‘spud’ Sinclair’s guitar. It was electric. Electric and crunchy, I thought we’d be getting delicately plucked acoustic to chum the sangsters, I didn’t expect ROCK! Spud, broadly speaking deployed a restrained palette of overdriven power chords alternated with clean, chorused fingered arpeggios.

And completing the square, Ruth Elder on viola and occasional keys amazed with her musicality. Money very well spent on a classical training; she clearly wasn’t the one looking out the window in class!

All sang, and the four-part harmonies were nothing less than remarkable, their commitment and joy was palpable and powerful. And by powerful I don’t mean ‘belting it out’, I mean a force within, an energy, almost an unarticulated meaning just

carried by the physical act of singing.

Topics leaned a little toward environmental concerns and the standing of women in the world.

Acapella Stella, written in the 70s by Rick Kemp and accompanied by a back projection of suffragettes, women’s lib and not-my-president protesters was light hearted but pointed. ‘Written in the 70s… we didn’t have to change much’ Rose-Ellen wryly observed.

Reclaimed, by Rose-Ellen potently reminds us of our place in ‘this’ and that, indeed,

the grass will grow through the concrete...

It all starts with the weed between the paves

Roots and time will move concrete and iron

And ivy and water will loosen any mortar

All that man has built will crumble down to silt

And all of this will again be green space

This too shall be reclaimed


And the finger flick that is Flawless - not specifically written for the Generation Z malaise, but a good fit - effortlessly shatters the delusion of the Insta-Mirror into a thousand pieces.

And, returning to the stage for the encore, could we expect an obligatory trot out of All Around My Hat? Not a chance. No such laurel-resting token to tuck us into a complacent nostalgia-dwam.

‘Does anyone know what a catch is?’ Rose Ellen asked. Every day being a school day, I learned that a catch is singing in rounds, different singers starting at different times. ‘This is the Mares Nest catch, it’s for a friend of mine, he used to shout ‘kiss

the big ugly shark’ and his fans would shout it back’.

I don’t think the folk club denizens had ever heard anything so obscure, her comment was as an inscrutable wind, teasing nary a ripple from an uncomprehending pond. I so wanted to put my hand up but fearing a blanket shun for being a big swot I kept it by my side. There was a band called Cardiacs. At its heart was one Tim Smith, guitarist, singer, songwriter and very larger than life

character. Cardiacs were genuinely one of the most unusual, eccentric bands I’ve ever heard, utterly brilliant but to be approached with care. Sadly, Tim passed away in 2020 after a long illness, Rose-Ellen, a fan and a friend contributed a song to a

tribute album to help pay for Tim’s care during his illness.

But... you didn’t need to know any of that to enjoy the final tune, it was a belter in itself.

So, a fascinating, unexpected ear opening evening of layered depths, fabulous musicality and many takeaways to cogitate upon.

Words by Callum MacLeod (, photos by Peter Salkeld

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