Lady Diamond review in Folker Magazine by Mike Kamp
(Thanks to friends for the translation!)
“For twenty years they have been playing together, ten of those with the Demon Barbers, and now comes their debut as a duo. And what a debut it is! He plays melodeon, she plays fiddle and sings, all with unbelievable energy. The songs and tunes are traditional, from the North of England and it is Griffith’s powerful singing, rich in variation, that transforms the material. Fantastic!”
By Mike Kamp
The works of this fine duo have surfaced and continue to surface in many different and diverse forms with The Witches of Elswick, Bedlam and, of course, The Demon Barbers amongst many others. On this CD, however, their own individual talents combine to form a thoroughly listenable experience….no bells, no whistles, no overdubbing (I suspect) and no guest musicians. One gets the impression that what you hear is exactly what you would get if you saw them in live performance…which unfortunately I haven’t (an omission I hope to put right very soon). A post review visit to the video section of their website reveals that the album is missing the humorous banter between husband and wife which, I imagine, makes the live experience even better.
Given that this husband and wife team have been playing together for some twenty years it is amazing that this is their debut album as a duo and for those for whom it has been “long awaited” it will not be a disappointment.
I have heard Bryony’s fine voice compared to that of a young Norma Waterson although I think that this is unfair. True, like all performers, she will have had her influences and I have no doubt that Norma Waterson has figured in her experience, but the voice and what she does with it, how she uses it to tell the stories she tells are all her own. Her fiddle playing like her voice ranges between sweet and soulful to gritty and up front in equal measures. Will’s an obvious master of his instrument too, using reeds and bellows to provide tune and rhythm to living, breathing, dynamic effect.
I have no favourite tracks amongst the traditional tunes, child ballads and chorus songs and I suspect that, even if I had, other listeners would disagree with my choice. It is that kind of album….simple in its presentation yet, if you really want to go down that route, complex enough for the most discerning ear. The tracks are well researched and the sleeve notes give the reader/listener the chance to follow up that research by stating the source. The duos web site www.bryonyandwill.co.uk gives sound clips of all the tracks and a couple of excellent videos which I have no doubt will tempt you to buy the album even if I haven’t convinced you to.
Definitely an album that will be at the front of my collection for a long time to come.
Bob Bignell – Bromsgrove Folk Club for Folk Monthly
Lady Diamond review in Stirrings by Jerry Simon
From the slightly beyond part of “South Yorks and beyond” (though no strangers to these parts), comes Lady Diamond, the first album as a duo by Bryony Griffith and Will Hampson. If this album is anything to go by, there will be more – and it’ll be eagerly awaited too.
Well-known as members of the hyperactive, brash, adrenalined up to the eyeballs Demon Barbers, Will and (ex-Witch of Elswick) Bryony have been performing together since their early teens – for nearly twenty years – and it shows in the way they play almost as one.
Bryony sings, and plays sumptuous dark-chocolate-with-crunchy-bits fiddle and viola (and occasional piano), and Will is an utterly reliable foil to whatever she’s doing with his strong, deft and subtle melodeon playing: as rhythmically choppy, melodically skipping, or stately on the left hand as need be. A fiddle/melodeon duo playing in such a seamless blend that it’s not always easy to be sure which instrument’s playing which line. With no guests joining them in the studio, no bass player putting in a boost or a grounding down below, they are well able to produce a full sound rich in texture, variety, and ornament – as they do when playing the same material live. A spell is cast.
Recorded and mixed by Andy Stephenson in Newcastle, the instrumentation is crystal clear in this collection of Bryony and Will’s arrangements and adaptations of traditional songs and old tunes. Ten of the twelve tracks are songs. As so many duos and bands re-presenting traditional songs do, they will often twin a dance tune with a song: so here they use the hornpipe Iron Legs to enhance the heartbreakingly cruel tale of a father’s vengeance on his errant daughter Lady Diamond – she loved entirely the wrong sort of man, and dad went a leedle bit farther than he might have done in response to her misdemeanour. A shatteringly powerful old ballad, to a tune I’d not heard before. I several times heard a woman singing it to a different tune many years ago, possibly Frankie Armstrong, and was nailed to the back of my seat by Hugh Waller doing the same version at The Robbers’ Dog a wee while ago. Bryony and Will make a very good job of it, and I think they do with every song and tune they present here. Bryony can certainly sing a song to tell a tale, and enhanced by the superb instrumental treatment, every track is worthy of repeated listening.
I know some people can initially find the sound of Bryony’s strong and distinctive voice a challenge, but I’ve found it’s just a question of getting used to it, because her singing is tremendous. I find singing along to the CD very pleasurable because she really does do her phrasing “just right” – join in and you become aware of how accurate her rhythm and pitch are, and how tasty the arrangements. Singing along to Bryony could make you a better singer than you might have been before – does it for me anyway.
Lady Diamond review in Mardles Magazine by Colin Cater at Hedingham Fair
Fabulous or any other superlative in the lexicon – any could describe this truly wonderful debut collection. Bryony and Will have been playing together over a decade, learning their craft in the ceilidh band Bedlam, in Dog Rose Morris, the Witches of Elswick, Newcastle Kingsmen and the Demon Barber Roadshow, so that they bring real maturity and knowledge to this piece. Bryony has vocal strength and depth in both her lower and upper registers, enabling her to interpret a wide range of songs. Though she isn’t the easiest singer to listen to, she conveys real atmosphere as in The Lady of York (Cruel Mother) or Faithful Johnny. Unusually amongst modern young women singers she has not drunk long at the well of pubescent misery, and she brings unsentimental character to each song she attempts: ‘William Gower’, ‘Lady Diamond’, ‘Constant Lovers’,’ Arise, arise’ .. one could go on.
Will is a master melodeon player, with a range of instruments offering differing sounds, which he uses for harmony, cross rhythms, accent and articulation. The two instrumental tracks with Bryony playing fiddle: ‘Laudanum Bunches’ and ‘Come up the Stairs with me’ are simply breathtaking, both traditional in origin and modern and exciting in execution. As with her singing, Bryony’s fiddling is sensitive, tight and entirely complementary both to songs and tunes and to Will’s melodeon playing. This compilation deserves to win every award going when the next season comes round and in an age in which some of us struggle to maintain performance standards and originality, new talent of quality as high as this should be celebrated long and unreservedly.
***** 5 Stars
“Whether weaving perfect patterns through The Witches Of Elswick’s harmonies or soaring majestically over The Demon Barbers’ roar and clatter, Bryony Griffith has established herself as one of the most powerful and distinctive vocalists to emerge in the past decade.
Here she’s taking time out from the latter, along with melodeon master Will Hampson, to form a duo that will undoubtedly give the usual suspects a run for their money next time the awards season rolls around. There’s none of the winsome folk-lite that dogs up the racks in HMV here; no, this is full-blooded, elemental and passionate, whether on the aching ‘Faithful Johnny’ or the snappy ‘Heysham Peace-Egging Song’.
Arrangements are as sharp as you’d expect from players of this rare calibre – check out the exquisite ‘William Gower – The Tankard Of Ale’ and the Oxfordshire Morris tune ‘Laudnam Bunches’ will have you whipping out your hankies before you even know you’re doing it.
With a crisp production that allows both voice and instruments room to breathe and talk to each other – catch those breaths on The Ringers Of Egloshayle’ – this is English folk at its absolute best.”
Lady Diamond review – The Telegraph
“Another new folk album worth noting is Lady Diamond by husband and wife Bryony Griffith and Will Hampson (Selwyn Music) which has some elegant, unflinchingly pure folk instrumentals. And Griffith’s stirring folk voice is absolutely lovely on the first rate Constant Lovers.”
Lady Diamond Review – Around Kent Folk
“We dearly love Bryony’s distinctive strong womanly voice and with Will’s wonderful virtuoso melodeon playing lends an added depth to the songs. They have developed their musical partnership over 18 years and this CD embodies the mutual growth of their style and repertoire. Add to this Bryony’s fiddle, viola and piano playing and you have the perfect folk music/song CD. From ‘Martinmas Time’, laudnam Bunches/The Miller of Mansfield’, The Murdered Servant Man’, ‘William Gower/the Tankard of Ale’, The Ringers of Egloshayie/The Rose Hill’ to ‘Faithful Johnny’ and ‘Constant Lovers’. This starts unaccompanied for the first verse and then with piano – the best we’ve ever heard. This duo have a deep respect for traditional ballads with a forceful approach which commands attention.”
Kathy & Bob Drage
Lady Diamond Review – Songlines
“English folk pair shine on belated debut” ***
“Surprisingly, this is the debut album by a duo that already has a long pedigree. Griffith and Hampson have been playing together since their days in the ceilidh band Bedlam in the mid 90s, and have since been part of boisterous folk-meets-morris outfit the Demon Barbers and accompanied the Newcastle Kingsmen Sword Dancers, as well as playing with Bellowhead and Kate Rusby. Griffith was also a member of the a capella group the Witches of Elswick, and it is her talents that are to the fore on this debut.
The album comprises traditional songs and tunes arranged by the pair, and there is a sombre, austere quality to the recordings. The tempo of the ballads is generally mournful, with Griffith’s aching, stylised vocals backed by Hampson’s melodeon. This is a very pure and honest presentation of the traditional English folk sound though, for my ears, Griffith’s vocal style can at times get in the way of the story and the overall sound. When she plays however, the recording comes to life, with beautiful
fiddle, viola and piano work that send a shiver down the spine. Though the dirge-like atmosphere of much of this record could become rather weighty on repeated listening, there are several standout tracks, perhaps best heard in isolation. The pick of the bunch is ‘William Gower — The Tankard of Ale’, a song from the Cecil Sharp collection sung by Tony Rose, followed by a tune from North Yorkshire miller and musician Joshua Jackson.”
Lady Diamond Review – folking.com – Dai Jefferies
Bryony Griffith and Will Hampson have been working together for nearly twenty years, most recently in The Demon Barbers. I take this on trust since the photograph on the cover suggests that they began making music together as children. This is their recording debut as a duo.
All the music on Lady Diamond is traditional and as an old git I find it fascinating to see Anne Briggs and Tony Rose cited as sources – a sign of the times, I suppose, and a recognition of all that has gone before. Bryony does all the singing and plays fiddle, viola and piano; Will plays a variety of melodeons and they often add a tune to a song so the title song is paired with ‘Iron Legs’, a tune I hadn’t heard before. Additionally, there are two instrumental sets mixing sources and styles with great aplomb. Best of all is their robust and definitely northern approach to their material. The best female singers, in whatever genre, stamp their own authority on their songs and Bryony Griffith does just that while Will has some very individual rhythmic tricks on melodeon that make their sound so distinctive.
The best tracks, to my mind, are the opening ‘Martinmas Time’, ‘The Heysham Peace-Egging Song’, a stark ‘The Constant Lovers’ with its mournful piano accompaniment and the jolly ‘The Ringers Of Egloshayle/The Rose Hill’. To be honest, though, there’s never a dull moment. Dai Jeffries
Lady Diamond Review – Shreds and Patches
Bryony and Will have been performing on the folk scene since their teens, over 18 years in one guise or another, I can remember being impressed by the young Bedlam Ceili Band at Chester Folk Festival near the start of their folk progress. They are now a long standing part of the Demon Barbers and Bryony was also part of the much missed ‘Witches of Elswick1. So after more than an apprenticeship they now have set sail under their own names with this CD.
Ten songs, two instrumental tracks and with few extra tunes tagged onto the end of songs. All the songs are traditional, mostly an interesting selection of ballads. Bryony’s singing is strong and vibrant, my first thought of style was similar to Peter Bellamy having a slight nasal overtone. She accompanies herself on fiddle on a lot of the songs, together with Will’s melodeon on most. Constant Lovers is the one track that starts unaccompanied, then with a little piano and shows of Bryony’s voice to the best. The standard of playing is very professional as you might expect and the tunes are arranged in almost a classic baroque style without losing their rhythm.
The overall sound is a beautiful reverberant sound scape, which can just wash over you on first listening. It takes a little careful listening to follow the lyrics as the vocals interweave with the instruments. A very interesting and sensual sound which is well worth the repeat listening. You can get a full taste of this recording for yourselves on Spotify.
Lady Diamond Review – Bright Young Folk
Although this is their first album together as a duo, it’s no surprise that espoused duo Bryony Griffith and Will Hampson have been playing music together for nearly 20 years.
The pair, both key Demon Barbers, display a keen musical understanding on Lady Diamond, which is naturally a bit less frantic than their drums-and-bass-busy band.
Anyone familiar with a capella quartet The Witches of Elswick will be aware of Griffith’s strong, lusty voice. She imbues the songs here with a characterful, distinctive feel. Opener Martinmas Time shows off her versatility nicely – sensitive and ornamented in the verse, hearty and uplifting in the chorus. Her fiddle accompaniment is impressive too.
Hampson is an impressive melodeon player, and The Ringers of Egloshayle highlights his breathy, lyrical style nicely. He and Griffith link beautifully on morris classic Laudnam Bunches, which segues neatly into another toe-tapper, The Miller of Mansfield.
The Lady of York, The Murdered Servant Man and William Gower provide the album with a dark centre, while another highlight is heartbreaker The Constant Lovers. Griffith’s voice has something of June Tabor about it here, and she provides a subtle piano accompaniment too – all the song needs to make it deeply moving.
The songs and tunes come thick and fast, originally and distinctively arranged. Let’s hope, as uplifting final track Faithful Johnny suggests, they “come again” and make more music as a duo.
Lady Diamond review – by Alan Rose - Tykes News
There can’t be many folk, especially in this neck of the woods, who don’t know Bryony and Will as 40% of the musicians in award-winning folk-rock behemoth The Demon Barbers. However, on Lady Diamond they have stepped away from all that electrically enhanced hurly-burly and delivered an album which revels in its acoustic beauty. Will plays three melodeons (consecutively not simultaneously), while Bryony plays fiddle, viola and piano (see previous bracket). Oh, yes, and she sings too. Extremely well.
The 12 tracks on the album are a very satisfying mixture of songs and tunes, all definitely traditional and impeccably credited to their sources, which explore in depth the various emotions and textures that bow, bellows and voice box can produce – with an added bonus of Bryony accompanying her exquisite “Constant Lovers” on what I fervently hope is a proper pianoforte. Other songs include the title track (and epic ballad), a Brenda Wooton bell-ringing song (we can’t have too many!), a pace-egg calling-on song (ditto) and our particular favorite – “Faithful Johnny” from the redoubtable Graham Metcalfe, who probably also gave it to those young Dransfield boys in the dawn of time. There’s some morris tunes (obviously, given Will’s serial convictions for breaking the Law of Gravity) some Joshua Jackson tunes (hurrah for Bowen & Shepherd) and a whole bunch of other instrumentals, either standing alone or attached with unerring appropriateness to Bryony’s wonderful song interpretations.
Do I like it? Yes, I like it very much indeed.
Lady Diamond review – English Dance and Song Magazine
The long-awaited debut album of Bryony Griffith and Will Hampson has been released after many, many years of playing together. In various guises they have been a cornerstone of the folk scene, in more bands, teams and events than most manage in a
lifetime. With a good cross-section of traditional songs and a smattering of tune sets, Bryony’s powerful voice and stirring fiddle style is complemented by Will’s bright and beautifully harmonious melodeon playing.
It opens with a stirring version of ‘Martinmas Time’, which both respects Anne Brigg’s classical recording from 1966 and at the same time promotes a completely new and legendary-to-be approach. Bryony’s open-throated singing, which flips in and out of a soft high melodic register, is so amazingly different that you cannot help being drawn under her spell.
The striking vocals excel particularly on the more fast-paced songs such as ‘The Heysham
Peace-Egging Song’ and ‘The Murdered Servant Man’. Both are highly personalised and appealing versions of traditional songs with superb accompaniment that rolls from dark and expressive to light and fizzy music as the mood changes.
Tune sets are played with all the fire and enthusiasm of true dance musicians as heard in
‘Laudnam Bunches’ and ‘Come Up The Stairs With Me’. Other well-matched tunes like the joyful ‘Iron Legs’ and the lovely, slow ‘The Tankard of Ale’ are carefully intertwined with the songs.
As a debut album, this is a fantastic start. For the future, perhaps a little more fluidity in the vocal decoration and phasing to match with the dancing style of the instruments would make these songs even more stunning. Look out for them at festivals and on tour, they have much to offer.
Sometimes you really don’t need fancy adornments, less really can be more. Husband and wife duo Bryony Griffith and Will Hampson have delivered an album that is so sparse, it’s almost raw. The whole album feels studio live and in many ways it’s the perfect medium to present English traditional music. Folk music may have been collected by the likes of Vaughan Williams and Cecil Sharp, but it wasn’t really performed by them. “Lady Diamond” is as hard and beautiful a release as the name might suggest, simply cut and absolutely sharp.
There’s always a slight concern when reviewing music, whether it be for a new record or a live gig, that you might write something that at some later stage you might disagree with. The passage of time can often change your opinion or maybe in hindsight, reveal a moment of over-zealous enthusiasm. When I last wrote about Bryony Griffith I waxed lyrically, claiming I had just heard a young Norma Waterson (with the poise and attitude of the late Sandy Denny and with the stage presence of Janis Joplin – yes I said this). Lofty comparisons you might say, but upon hearing LADY DIAMOND I’m sticking to my guns.
This eagerly anticipated debut from husband and wife team Bryony Griffith and Will Hampson is made up entirely of traditional songs and tunes delicately arranged by the duo themselves and presented as a ‘live’ studio record with no embellishments or studio trickery. This is a true reflection of what you might get from the duo at a festival, concert or in the back room of a pub.
Bryony’s inimitable voice dominates the songs here, sung with equal dollops of fire, grace and passion. There’s nothing sweet or fanciful in Bryony’s singing, it’s right there in your face, an earthy gritty no-nonsense approach to storytelling, and by, do you believe every word. There is the one exception here, when Bryony turns in a gorgeous interpretation of The Constant Lovers, accompanying herself on piano. It’s not just Bryony’s voice that impresses upon hearing this debut, there’s also the fine fiddle playing, which she handles like a demon, a Demon Barber to be precise. Her work over the last few years with a ceilidh band aptly called Bedlam, a certain coven from Elswick and of course the Demon Barbers, has provided the experience and apprenticeship that has now come to fruition, providing the traditional folk world with another distinctive voice.
Will Hampson provides the perfect accompaniment to all this singing and fiddle playing with an intuitive ear and flair in his melodeon playing. Providing the melodies and rhythms for Morris dancing from an early age allows a musician time to develop a personal style, which comes over on this album. The ‘bottom end’ is clear in the mix as are all the squeaks and creeks of a living breathing instrument. On a couple of occasions Will allows his instrument to ‘breathe’ on such songs as The Murdered Servant Man for instance, all of which brings character to the playing and life to the songs.
Starting with some pizzicato fiddle plucking on the traditional Martinmas Time, familiar to either Ann Briggs or Andy Irvine fans equally, the song blooms before our very ears into something quite extraordinary. Likewise the duo’s almost chamber version of Child Ballad 269 Lady Diamond, the title song, which encompasses everything we love in traditional ballads from love and pregnancy to royalty and murder, all the ingredients necessary for a good meaty folk song. The Lady of York, learned from the singing of Jim Eldon, has more death and cruelty, beautifully retold here by a duo unafraid to venture right into the nitty gritty of a song. Eldon claims he learned this from the singing of gypsy children, which kind of sends shivers as does Bryony and Will’s performance of the song here.
Bryony and Will were but children themselves when they first started playing together and LADY DIAMOND takes its place as one of the duo’s rites of passage, their status changing from important musicians in their many collaborative endeavours to a perfectly formed entity in their own right. I look forward with keen interest to their further development.