I must admit to having been surprised by the announcement of this new duo, not least because George Sansome currently seems to be one of the busiest people in traditional folk music. Already known as one-third of Granny’s Attic, a leading figure in the Queer Folk collective, and a talented solo performer in his own right, it’s hard to imagine how he finds the time. Conversely, it’s nice to see Matt Quinn back in the saddle. An engaging and talented performer, it feels like an age since the demise of The Dovetail Trio and his subsequent work with Owen Woods. I look forward to seeing him back at the heart of a talented folk collaboration.
Their debut album, Sheffield Park, was recorded live at The Keystone, Sheffield, by producer Tom A. Wright (Lizzy Hardingham, Rosie Hood, Cohen Braithwaite-Kilcoyne) and immediately feels warm and homely – a collection put together by friends. Wright seems to be at the heart of a number of these albums at the moment, suggesting that the young and oft-touted scene up there is coming of age, and that the South Yorkshire city remains one of the places to be if traditional music is your bag.
The album kicks off with ‘Tyne of Harrow’ [Roud 1553], a popular song at the moment – Martin Simpson is currently performing a glorious fingerpicked version on tour, and Hack-Poets Guild took it as the basis of their recent single, ‘Daring Highwayman’. In the hands of Sansome & Quinn, it is no less determined in its stripped-back presentation – their voices knit together in a strident display of derring-do, as they detail the protagonist’s journey to the gallows. Taken alongside their moving rendition of ‘I Live Not Where I Love‘ [Roud 593], it’s clear these close harmony, unaccompanied arrangements are where their strength lies. It’ll be a thrill to hear them live and in the room.
It’s funny how these songs come around again. You wait years for a version of Roud 570, and then two come along at once. The duo have it here as their second track – a rather jolly outing under the title, ‘Tailor in the Tea Chest’ – while I (apologies, dear reader, for the uncalled-for self-promotion) have it on my new album as the rather down and dirty ‘The Boatswain’. Whichever moniker it takes, it’s a full-on fol-de-rol, and where Sansome & Quinn are concerned, it’s the kind of thing that will have festival and folk club crowds joining in by the second chorus.
So far, so singalong. But as individuals, this pair are known for their musicianship as much as anything else. We get early glimpses of their prowess on the title track, ‘Sheffield Park’ [Roud 860] and ‘I Once Loved a Boy’ [Roud 293]. I’ve long rated George Sansome as a guitarist to admire; he’s not only a supremely clean and accurate fingerpicker, but he also has some rather magical arrangements up his sleeve. His percussive style, reminiscent of both Martin Carthy and Nic Jones, punches a hole right through ‘My Son in Amerikay’ and ‘Thornaby Woods’ [Roud 222] – the latter an absolute gem from the strangely undersung repertoire of Elizabeth Webb, and probably the best track on the album. That’s not to say that this is all down to Sansome, of course. Matt Quinn, known primarily for his wicked way with a squeeze box, seasons his partner’s chords with an impish mandolin, and the chemistry is as natural and affecting as the sound of their combined voices.
All in all, a fine selection of songs and pint-point musicianship make Sheffield Park a good start from this new duo. Wearing their tradfolk hearts firmly on their sleeves, it feels like an album from times past – there are hints of those old Transatlantic Records about it. With an April tour to come, one can imagine these songs taking fresh flight in a live setting – there are so many opportunities for a rousing chorus. I look forward to hearing more.
Sheffield Park by George Sansome and Matt Quinn is out on Grimdon Records on April 28th. It can be ordered from the Sansome & Quinn Bandcamp page.