Well, it’s getting near that time of year again, so it is inevitable that I should have a seasonal album to review. This is the first in a set of four volumes of songs of the season from Broceliande, but I understand they have not yet completed the project. Christmas time conjures up lots of different feelings and emotions for people depending on their situations and where the live. For me, a Christian living in the Northern Hemisphere, it is a time of the year pervaded with a feeling of good will to all men and which brightens up your spirits, in an otherwise cold and dreary winter. Broceliande are four people from California, (where Christmas can be a little bit warmer) but they have chosen songs, carols and tunes from England, Ireland, France, Spain, Germany and America.
Broceliande are Margaret Davies (vocals, Celtic harp, flute, and recorders), Kris Yenney (vocals, and cello), Karl Franzen (vocals, guitar, octave mandolin, melodeon and whistles), and Kristoph Klover (vocals, guitar, octave mandolin, oboe, and English horn). If, after listening to the album, you thought the band has been classically trained, you would be one half right. The tempo, playing and singing are absolutely note perfect. In fact for some of the folk music buffs it might be just a little clinical, but it was okay by me, and it is pleasant enough. It was, however, just a little strange to hear the song ‘Gloucester Wassail’ sung in a mid-Atlantic accent instead of a Gloucestershire dialect. A similar comment might be directed to the tune ‘Abbots Bromley Horn Dance’ as this is the tune that is played as team of Morris Dancers re-enact the old custom of holding reindeer antlers above their heads, to bring in the luck, as they dance through the village.
The songs include ‘Gaudete’, which was made famous by Steeleye Span, but in this version Broceliande have added instruments to good effect. Other songs included are the medieval Spanish ‘Yo Me Soy La Modenica’, the English ‘Shoot The Wren’ (aka Hunt the Wren), ‘The Boars Head Carol’, ‘Away in a Manger’, ‘The Holly and the Ivy’, and the French ‘Entre Le Boeuf/Noel Nouvelet and ‘Un Flambeau, Jeanette Isabelle’, two noels. Even if, like me, you don’t speak French, the tunes are good and the music is pleasant to listen to. The gem on the album for me is the Spanish Cantiga ‘Yo Me Soy La Modenica’. This is cleverly paired with the tune ‘Tres Hermanicas Eran’. The album takes its title from a song I have not heard before: ‘Sir Christmas’, a 15th Century English song attributed to Richard Smart, vicar of the village of Plymtree in Devon.
As a folkie I was just a little disappointed that Broceliande used the church tune for the carol ‘The Holly and the Ivy’ instead of the one usually associated with traditional folk singers. But hey, nothing in life is perfect, so I will forgive them!
If you are looking for something to give to your nearest and dearest for Christmas, this might be the ideal present.
(Flowinglass Music, 2001)