The Young Tradition - Oberlin 1968 (4 stars)

The oral folk trio tackle the genre's major themes with a youthful exuberance in this live recording

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The Young Tradition - Oberlin 1968

(Fledg’ling Records)

Fledg'ling Records have long provided a valuable public service with their ongoing reissue program of compulsory and obscure folk albums. Restored from reel-to-reel tape recordings made by an audience member on the Ohio university campus, Oberlin 1968 is the only known example of The Young Tradition recorded live that year and captures the group at their eccentric best.

With his shock of blonde hair, dandyish attire and bleating tenor, Peter Bellamy cut a flamboyant figure on the folk revival scene of the 1960s. Up until his tragic suicide in 1991 he had made some of the movement's most weird and wonderful contributions, the most fully realised of these being with his vocal trio, The Young Tradition. Later in life his output would become more specialised – immersing himself in the work of Rudyard Kipling and the songs of his adopted home county, Norfolk – but here Bellamy and band members Royston and Heather Wood (no relation) tackle folk music's major themes with a youthful exuberance. These include homicidal love as the ultimate act of possession (‘The Prentice Boy’), joyful reproaches on the foibles of social snobbery (The Husbandman and the Servingman') and meditations on the souls passage through purgatory ('Lyke Wake Dirge' and 'Idumea').

‘Lyke Wake Dirge’ is a particular highlight and it showcases the groups strong medieval harmonic strain. With its interrogational, question-and-answer format, the song runs through a series of infernal temptations that man must resist in order for 'Christ (to) receive thy soul'. ‘Wondrous Love’ is another contemplation on the measure of man's worth in the face of eternal damnation. Taken from the American Sacred Harp tradition, it allows Royston and Heather Wood to step away from each other in angular, minor key counterpoint with Bellamy whinnying over the top. 

But it’s not all Dantean warnings of hellfire and moral rectitude on this excellent album, as the group perform a rousing medley of sea shanties including ‘Hanging Johnny’ and ‘Blow the Man Down’ taken from an early EP. There's also a handful of songs learnt from dynastic English folk group, The Copper Family – with Bellamy, Royston and Heather teasing all of the romance out of broken-token ballads like ‘The Banks of Claudy’ and ‘The Bold Fisherman’.

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