On first listening to Henry Parker’s Lammas Fair, it’s hard not to play a game of ‘spot the influence’. Parker, after all, is not someone who wears those influences lightly. However, this is an album that rewards repeat listenings. The further you immerse yourself, the more you realise that you’re in the company of an incredibly gifted guitarist and arranger, and a songwriter who is really starting to find his voice.
While many of the songs here are Parker’s own compositions, his debt to traditional music is constantly clear, most obviously on the two traditional songs, ‘Death and the Lady’ and ‘The Brisk Lad’, which we’ll come to later. What’s interesting about his approach – and what makes him stand out amongst the current crop of young folk musicians – is his entry into the genre. Rather than grow up at folk festivals as many young musicians on the scene seem to, Parker started out in 70s heavy metal, tracing the rock family trees back through folk-rock legends such as Fairport Convention, and down into their inevitable traditional roots.
Subsequently, we get an album that appears to be heavily shaped by his interests in Bert Jansch’s traditional stylings. This is most present on ‘Return to the Sky’, with its circling, descending melody, intricate fingerpicking and pinch harmonics. You hear it again on ‘Traveling for a Living’, although at this point you really start to recognise a construction that is Parker’s alone. Unexpected chord shapes nag the ear and tempt the listener further in, offering an uneasy bedrock that juxtaposes beautifully with Richard Curran’s sweet, folkie fiddle. It’s a definite album highlight.
Of the heavier, full-band tracks, title track ‘Lammas Fair’ is a great workout, reminiscent of Led Zepp’s folkier cuts, even hinting at 90’s band, Ride, in places – although it’s probably fair to say that they were another band that revelled in their influences. The second of the traditional songs, ‘Brisk Lad’, also benefits from an initially-restrained backing before building to a full-on aural assault that allows Parker’s metal alter-ego to fully escape the cage, eventually blowing itself out in a lengthy, 70s fade out – you don’t hear many of those these days. It’s a fantastic, brooding take on Roud 1667, and it’s a great example of how far these old songs can travel stylistically. When Henry Hammond collected the song from Edith Sartin in July, 1906, nobody in the room could’ve imagined the psychedelic lashing that Henry Parker would give it 115 years later. Oh, to be able to take it back to them and blow their startled minds.
‘Death and the Lady’, the other traditional song to appear on Lammas Fair, is another example of Parker’s ability to take that Janschy style and make it entirely his own. Taking a similar structure to the aforementioned ‘Traveling for a Living’, his arrangement allows for gorgeous interplay between Curran’s cello and his own inspired guitar lines. The track cements this as an album of note for any wannabe folk-fingerpicking guitarists out there. Henry Parker has learnt a lot from those he grew up listening to, but he’s pooled those influences, made them his own, and turned out an album that plenty of others could learn from in the future.