Harp & a Monkey…
SONGS about cuckolded molecatchers, a lone English oak tree that grows at Gallipoli, care in the community, medieval pilgrims and Victorian bare-knuckle boxers … we can only be talking about the acclaimed song and storytelling trio Harp & a Monkey.
The work of Martin Purdy (vocals, glockenspiel, accordion, harmonica and keyboards), Simon Jones (harp, guitar, viola) and Andy Smith (banjo, melodica, guitar and programming) is imbued with a deep Lancashire sensibility that shines through in their beautifully crafted and sometimes spooky vignettes of life, love and remembrance. From original compositions to traditional songs, their approach is rooted in integrity.
The outfit, who have been friends for more than 20 years, channel the ghosts of summers spent in municipal parks and winters walking on the moors. Ask them about their influences and they are as likely to cite Ordnance Survey maps and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission as they are Chris Wood, Bjork, Ewan MacColl or The Oldham Tinkers.
Formed in 2008, Harp & a Monkey have established a loyal following via the old fashioned practice of relentless gigging. Regulars on the national circuit, the band have gained an enviable reputation for the excellent rapport they establish with their live audiences. Such is the strength of their reputation as a quality live act, they have twice been asked to perform at the English Folk Expo; the annual international showcase of the best of English folk and roots music.
The outfit’s melodic and hauntological storytelling, which is always underpinned by a firm commitment to classic songsmithery, has caught the attention and support of the likes of Steve Lamacq, Mark Radcliffe, Clare Balding, Kathryn Tickell and Mike Harding on BBC Radio 2, Lopa Kothari and Nick Luscombe on BBC Radio 3, Folk Radio UK and many more international, national and regional broadcasters.
The band’s self-titled debut album received critical acclaim on its release in late 2011 on the cult Folk Police label and they collected excellent reviews for their contribution to the 2012 ‘Weirdlore’ compilation which highlighted Britain’s most promising practitioners of alternative folk. Their second album, All Life Is Here, was released in April 2014 and again received outstanding reviews, with the likes of fRoots magazine describing them as “undoubtedly one of the most vital and charismatic things happening in English folk music right now”.
The band’s third album, War Stories, was released in July, 2016, as part of a project (part-sponsored by Arts Council England and The Western Front Association) to mark the centenary of the First World War. The band performed new material and re-worked traditional songs (which challenged stereotypes of the conflict) in unusual venues related to the war on British shores. The album received outstanding reviews, with the likes of The Observer describing it as “bold and brilliant”. Support from BBC Radio 2 was substantive, including live sessions and interviews with the likes of Clare Balding (Good Morning Sunday) and Mark Radcliffe (The Folk Show).
Album number four, The Victorians, was released in November 2019 and features a collection of street, parlour, work, popular and rural songs from the Victorian era that the trio reworked for contemporary ears. Mixed by Darren Jones – the go-to studio engineer for the likes of Stormzy – it provides stimulating insights into the period and was again met with huge critical acclaim, with the band once again in demand for live sessions with the likes of the BBC Radio 2 Folk Show.