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Friday 19 July 2024

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Howay the Lasses. Vol 1.

Jun 10, 2023


‘Howay the Lasses’, you might think, is a rallying cry for a Tees/Tyne ladies football team. Well, you’re right, it is, but much else besides. The songs in this collection, penned by Annie Ball and Bronwen and Gareth Davis-Jones are the result of research into the remarkable yet uncelebrated lives of women from the North-east, in various strands of life and across many centuries. These include a mathematician, an engineer, an animator, and champions of industry and social reform. No A-listers but significant and intriguing nonetheless.

‘The Female Muffin Man’ brings to life Emma – a ‘poor girl, wrongly used’ – from a Newcastle broadsheet of the early 19th century.  Her tale of marrying for love in the face of an inflexible father is given a shantyesque duet treatment driven along in fine style by the musicians (accordion, cello, guitar and whistle), and a simple, fetching tune. A spot-on, foot-tapping, happy-ending piece.

Away from tavern folk-tales and into real life, ‘Claudia Severa’ nods to the first known example of a Roman woman writing in Latin – a birthday party invitation written not in sunnier climes but sent from Vindolanda Fort on Hadrian’s Wall. For me though, the most impressive song portrait is ‘Fiona Hill’, the tale of a miner’s daughter from Bishop Auckland whose journey ‘from the coalhouse to the White House’ ended with her becoming the U.S. Presidential adviser in International Relations. This is also the most immediate song, touching on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Katie Tertell’s lowering cello sets the perfect tone for this fine piece.

In the wide arc of north-east female echoes, from Roman Britain to 2022 America, the stories are told plainly, with well-crafted words and music ranging from lullaby-lyrical (‘Sheila Graber’)  to dark and stark (‘Lady Mary Eleanor Bowes’).

Anonymous heroines finally documented in song.


Bob Langstaff.

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