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 featured 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. BBC New Traditions summed up the views of the majority with the following description: “Remarkable storytelling, remarkably unique band – innovative and different!”
Including international award-winning artists, animators and storytellers in their ranks, this versatile collective has been commissioned to undertake bespoke song-writing, soundtrack, film and public/community art projects for leading universities, museums and TV companies, as well as bodies like Arts Council England, The Heritage Lottery, The Department of Sport, Media and Culture, Western Front Association, and many more.
As I said last night ‘AMAZING voice’. History told from a perspective of an individual. Came to Great Britain first Ireland then Scotland thought England didn’t have ‘a soul’. Glad u proved me wrong. Such a deep emotion. Genuinely thrilled Martin Beata.
So glad you enjoyed it Beata. It was a really interesting place to host a performance and had a great natural acoustic in the building. We really enjoyed it ourselves. It was lovely to chat, and a shame we rarely get the time to talk for as long as we might like to people – especially as they often, like yourself, have such interesting stories to tell of their own experiences/travels. Very glad to have restored a little faith in ‘the soul’ of England; something that definitely seems hard to locate in these often small-minded, bigoted and nationalistic times. Hope to see you at a show again in the future. All the very best to you and yours, Martin
Andy, Martin and Simon,
What a stunning two sets of your music at the Commonwealth War Graves concert last night in the atmospheric surroundings of Brookwood Military Cemetery in Surrey. Songs interwoven with real life stories of the folks who were there and spoke to us through historical recordings interweaved into song. The Postie’s song was particularly poignant for me – just imaging having to deliver bad news on an almost daily basis to families on your round, many of whom you would have known over many years.