This must be the first time that ‘Dives and Lazurus’ [Roud 477] was presented with such frolicsome abandon, but this is what we’re coming to expect from Nick Hart, one of the most idiosyncratic and skilful interpreters of traditional song on the scene today, and a man with a very particular, thankfully irrepressible, sense of humour (spend time on his Instagram channel if you’d like to find out more).
Traditional folk fans will know ‘Dives and Lazarus’ from countless versions and arrangements recorded over the years, not least ‘Five Variants of Dives and Lazarus’, composed by Ralph Vaughan-Williams in 1939. Others that have turned their attentions to this tale of biblical proportions include Martin Simpson, The Young Tradition, Bert Lloyd, and Nic Jones (which is where Nick Hart first came across the song). There’s a solemnity common to each version, something which Hart seems to have done away with.
Not that this is a bad thing at all. In fact, it’s an incredibly refreshing take, produced by a man, “deprived of a sound engineer and locked away in a house full of strange instruments” (see the pic at the top of this page). Given plenty of lockdown time to work on tweaking his usually paired-down approach to traditional music, he appears to have plumped for something that sounds like a desert tribe arriving at a Medieval English village, expecting a party.
It’s a strident, gritty sound, achieved through the overdubbing of lyre, bowed banjo (both homemade), viola da gamba, whistles, and percussion, all performed by the man himself. It’ll please and surprise anyone who bought either of his previous albums, and prompt other musicians playing English traditional music to note this rare and enthralling approach.
Hart’s forthcoming album, Nick Hart Sings 10 English Folk Songs, has been in gestation for some time now, but good things come to those who wait. We were lucky enough to hear it being mixed in the studio way back in October 2020, and he sang ‘Dives and Lazarus’ unaccompanied on episode seven of our Old Songs Podcast (where you can hear him discussing the song at length). The pandemic slowed things down for many musicians, so it’s great to finally see that something of this new record is finally seeing the light of day.
Having had the time to bask in his latest collection, we can tell you to expect more of the same on April 29th, when it hits the shelves (pre-order it from this link). However, we’ll hold back for now. Look out for our review of Nick Hart Sings 10 English Folk Songs in the weeks to come.
In the meantime, get stuck into the track on Bandcamp and all the usual streaming places, and revel in the glorious ridiculousness of the official promo video, created by Polyrock Films with a vibe not dissimilar to Nick Cave’s ‘Fifteen Feet of Pure White Snow‘, minus (more’s the pity) an out-of-his-gourd Jason Donovan. Next time, eh, Nick H?
Nick Hart on tour
Nick Hart hits the road in support of his forthcoming album this Spring. The dates are as follows. Clicking on each link will take you to the ticketing pages.
- March 4th: Wildlife Trust, Norfolk
- March 10th: Chapel Arts Centre, Bath
- April 2nd: The Fleece Inn, Bretforton
- April 22nd: Oxford Folk Weekend
- April 23rd: Ashburton Arts, Dartmoor
- April 24th: The Cornish Bank, Falmouth
- May 7th: The Muse, Brecon
- May 8th: The Prince Albert, Stroud
- May 16th: Tom Thumb Theatre, Margate
- May 19th: Cafe #9, Sheffield
- May 20th: Temperance, Lemington Spa
- May 21st: The Globe, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne
- May 22nd: The Old Bell, Derby
- May 25th: Jam Jar, Bristol
- May 28th: The Grit, Lowestoft
- May 29th: Black Fen Folk Club, Cambridge
- June 1st: Gullivers, Manchester
- June 5th: Fire in the Mountain, Aberystwyth
- June 11th: Whitchurch Folk Club, Hampshire
- June 12th: Green Sythe Fair, Langport
- June15th: The Folklore Rooms, Brighton
- June 17th: Hermon Chapel Arts, Oswestry
- June 18th: Bishop’s Castle Town Hall, Shropshire
Plus more dates to be announced. Keep up to date on nickhartmusic.com.