Review by Colin Hynson

Harrys SeagullAfter a career playing with various groups such as Addison’s Uncle, Cobbler Bob, the Shackleton Trio and, most recently, Kitewing (a merging of the Shackleton Trio with the Alden and Patterson duo) this is the first solo album by Norfolk–based singer and fiddle player Georgia Shackleton.

Harry’s Seagull is a celebration of the often over–looked Norfolk tradition of folk music and song. It draws heavily on the performers and collectors of traditional songs of the county such as Lucy Broadwood, Walter Pardon and most of all Harry Cox. 

The album kicks off with ‘Twenty, Eighteen’, a song collected by Lucy Broadwood, a folk–song collector of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. She was different from many other collectors of the time simply because she was a woman. This meant that whilst her male counterparts were collecting songs from men in male–dominated spaces such as dockyards or the local pub, Broadwood collected songs from women by stepping into their worlds. ‘Twenty, Eighteen’ tells the story of a man attempting to court a woman with promises of wealth. She turns him down by saying that all she wants is “a handsome man”. Georgia performs this song with just her voice and a plucking (pizzicato if you want to get technical) on the fiddle.

Then we come to a couple of songs that also come from East Anglian singers and song collectors. ‘Come, Little Leaves’ was originally performed by Walter Pardon. The lyrics are by a poem by George Cooper and it tells the story of the changing seasons from summer to winter. ‘Rambling Robin’ is an adaptation of a song by Peter Bellamy (a Norfolk man and founder member of ‘The Young Tradition’).

Next up is a medley of three tunes, ‘What Will Become of England / Yarmouth Hornpipe / Harry’s Seagull’. Here is our first meeting with the great Harry Cox – arguably one of Norfolk’s best–known singers and song–writers. ‘What will Become of England’ couldn’t be more relevant to our lives today if it tried. Then one of the Yarmouth Hornpipes (familiar to anybody who takes part in East Anglian step–dancing) before finishing with the only self–penned piece on the album and also the title track. ‘Harry’s Seagull’ is dedicated to Harry Cox. Apparently Cox was an animal lover and kept a wounded seagull as a pet. Throughout the medley it was lovely to hear the background drone of the harmonium – a sound that once would have been common in the chapels of East Anglia.

Dating back to the seventeenth century for the next song. ‘Small Boats Whistle’. The harmonium at the start highlights the melancholy theme of a song about a young woman who finds herself abandoned with a child and the suffering she endures by society’s disapproval. 

‘The Blacksmith’ is probably the most familiar song on the album. It’s more commonly known as ‘The Blacksmith Courted Me’ and has been covered by Shirley Collins, Planxty and Lisa Knapp amongst many others. Georgia’s exquisite fiddle–playing makes this version a worthy addition to that roll of honour.

More gorgeous fiddle–playing and harmonium for ‘Watson’s Hornpipe/Swanton Abbot Hornpipe’ a medley of two tunes from the nineteenth century and transcribed by the East Anglian Traditional Music Trust. 

Back to Harry Cox with the ‘Yarmouth Fisherman’s Song’, which was apparently composed by a shipmate of Harry’s father. It tells the story of the tough lives of those working on Great Yarmouth’s once vast herring–fishing fleet. It was said that once you could walk from one side of the River Yare to the other by stepping from one tightly–packed ship’s deck to another. I wonder what they would make of the wind farm on nearby Scroby Sands.

We end the album with ‘Windy Old Weather’. It’s a last affectionate nod to Harry Cox who sang this song about the Norfolk fishing industry and featuring some talking fishes. 

The real joy of the album is not just the skilful playing brought to all of the songs but that it’s a true solo album in that you hear nothing but Georgia’s voice alongside the fiddle and harmonium. It’s this pared–down approach that gives these old songs a new life and energy. 

You can listen to and buy Harry’s Seagull as a CD or digital download at Bandcamp.

Colin Hynson