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Tom Moore and Nick Hart stand in woodland clutching their viola and viol de gamba. Nick is looking annoyed with Tom. Tom looks like he doesn't care.

Nick Hart and Tom Moore – The Colour of Amber, a review

Forget the title. Whatever these two turn their hands to turns to gold. An exceptional album from two musicians at the absolute top of their game.

The Colour of Amber album cover features a comical sketch of the two musicians in medieval clothes, drawn by folk artist Alex Merry.
Release Date
22 November 2023
Nick Hart and Tom Moore - The Colour of Amber
The Colour of Amber by Nick Hart and Tom Moore emerges as one of 2023's finest traditional folk albums, offering a bold and vibrant take on classic tunes with exceptional musicianship and warm, honest vocals. Once again, Hart stakes a claim to being his generation's Martin Carthy, while Moore notches up yet another great album for Slow Worm Records as both an inventive musician and quality folk (co)producer.

What do you get when you mix one of the greatest modern interpreters of folk song with one of this country’s finest, most innovative instrumentalists? What if you added a couple of dashes of Morris, a squeeze or two of Playford’s Dancing Master, and a couple of deep cuts from the repertoires of Carthy and Kirkpatrick? If you reached for your palette, what colour would you make? 

Nick Hart and Tom Moore have made The Colour of Amber, an album that is, simply, staggering in its vibrancy.

There are many, many voices that sing the old songs but few of them carry the warm, countryside burr that Nick Hart does. His is a voice that is as unhurried, as natural, as breathing. It is sometimes sleepy-slow, other times authoritative and true. On ‘The Colour of Amber’ [Roud 1716], Hart is magnificent. Singing a familiar song, one sung by Chris Wood and Lady Maisery amongst others, his take has a delightful ambiguity. It’s neither wholly melancholy nor entirely contemplative but somewhere in between. Tom Moore, meanwhile, adds a bee-hive thrum of droning harmonium and viola. It is as gorgeously English – as hazily pastoral as a late August Bramley apple.

Hart says that John Kirkpatrick‘s version of ‘The Jolly Bold Robber’ [Roud 1464] is “unimprovable”, so he just “nicked it”. Typically, Hart’s self-effacing charm hides the fact that he’s turned in a brilliant version himself. This sailor song dips and swells like the ocean, Hart and Moore providing a ceaseless motion to another familiar tale. Where some seem to approach these songs as an almost academic exercise, everything on The Colour of Amber is played with love, care and open-hearted honesty.

It’s not just the songs that make this album special. Moore takes the lead on the tunes, giving each a spring-heeled urgency, the sound of a May Day market square. ‘Flowers of Edinburgh’ has its origins in an eighteenth-century Scottish fiddle tune but Moore leads it by the hand, giving it the flavour of an English country dance. It is lovely – as warm and solid as polished oak paneling. ‘The Child Grove’ (or Childgrove) is one from the Playford collection (1701) and is tinged with sadness. It swoops and swoons as Moore’s viola and Hart’s viol de gamba dance intricate steps around one another. The two instruments work perfectly, again, on ‘Ladies’ Pleasure’, another teasingly slow Morris tune. 

Hart and Moore seem to revel in the unearthing of these tunes, knocking some dust off and giving the old colours a good polish. They’ve given them all a little shake and present them with open palms. This is never more true than in three wonderful songs that Hart covers in a layer of honeyed gold. 

‘Three Jolly Sneaksmen’ [Roud 1652] is a darkly comic song about robbery and, like all of the best songs, treats a serious subject with the lightest of hearts. Martin Carthy recorded a version in 1974 on his Sweet Wivelsfield album, and it makes you realise something. If Carthy is seen as the definitive voice of his era of folk revival, maybe Hart is going to be seen in the same way for us.  

There have been countless versions of ‘Babylon’ [Roud 27], recounting the nasty tale of robbery, butchery and sororicide but, brilliantly, this one has a melody learned from the ex-head teacher at Bristol’s Redland High School for Girls (1907-1920). It’s a perfect, feminine, riposte to the shadow of misogyny that creeps across the song (also known as ‘Banks of Fordie’), Hart’s deflated realisation and Moore’s plucked viola only adding to the desperation. As our unpleasant protagonist realises that he’s done wrong, the tune wheels away, coming slowly unhinged as he does. 

If we see any of these old songs as controversial then, perhaps, ‘Raggle Taggle Gypsies’ [Roud 1] is the one that should worry us the most. Hart nods to it in his sleeve notes, recognising the distaste that the traveler communities show for the song. It is, however, Hart that leaves us in no doubt where our sympathies should lie. Far from being a vehicle for lazy prejudice, he shows us strength and resilience, he shows us tenderness. In that soft, rounded way of his, Hart gently adheres to us, refusing to let go. His voice is the reason that you’ll want to return to The Colour of Amber.

Tom Moore’s contribution can’t be overlooked, however. Each tune is as danceable as you’d want it to be, each instrumental passage beautifully complimentary, stretching the canvas for Hart to paint across. He is also the owner of Slow Worm Records, an outfit that is fast becoming one of the most consistently interesting labels around.

Between them, Nick Hart and Tom Moore have made an album filled with the warmest of hues, as bright and golden as amber itself.

The Colour of Amber, by Nick Hart and Tom Moore, is released on November 22nd and can be ordered from the artists’ Bandcamp page.