Caught by the River

Stick In The Wheel: Follow Them True

Andy Childs | 25th January 2018

(From Here, out 26th January)

Review by Andy Childs:

In a relatively short period of time it seems, Stick In The Wheel have emerged as vital, exhilarating and highly accomplished advocates for the very soul of folk music and the qualities that preserve and enhance its vigour and continued relevance.

Their previous project, From Here, which encompassed collaborations with other folk musicians, was a delight and a revelation; a portrayal of traditional folk music re-interpreted and refreshed with additional lyrics and contemporary instrumentation. It demonstrated in a highly accessible manner how the subject matter and content of the most enduring folk songs have culture and time-spanning themes and threads that connect to the common man everywhere and at any time.

This process of re-discovering and showcasing traditional songs that talk to us today has been refined and expanded on their new album, Follow Them True. The thirteen tracks here are a seamless mixture of old and new, lyrical and candid, urgent and reflective. The opening cut, ‘Over Again’, grabs your attention immediately and the rest of the album leads you through a repertoire that encompasses the atmospheric beauty of ‘Witch Bottle’, the haunting ‘100,000 Years’ and ‘Unquiet Grave’, the infectious, stirring harmony singing of ‘Poor Old Horse’ and the vaguely Bjork-ish, effects-laden ‘As I Roved Out’, which closes the album. Perhaps the most distinctive elements of the record, however, are the vocals of Nicola Kearey, who delivers ‘White Copper Alley’ and the memorable ‘Blind Beggar Of Bethnal Green’ in particular in a broad cockney accent – that in any other context and in another group could be seen as an unnecessary affectation. Here though, it is most definitely an authentic and totally satisfying declaration of their roots and of their commitment to the unadorned aggrandizement of working-class culture. However, their obdurate pledge to expound on the socially-conscious and mobilizing aspects of folk music in no way detracts from the overall impact and excellence of their music. On the contrary, with a bagful of noteworthy tunes, bold arrangements, the imaginative use of found sounds, the most nuanced electronica, and an array of instrumentation not normally found on a folk record, the music enhances and compliments the arresting effect of the lyrics beautifully. With a line-up that includes a classical violinist (Ellie Wilson), a ‘stoner’ rock band drummer (Simon Foote) and Ian Carter – who makes electronic music under the name EAN – this is fertile ground for explorative, genre-stretching music-making. A word for the production as well, which is always finely balanced and, in turn, sparse and lush, exactly when it needs to be. Just listen to ‘Witch Bottle’ and ‘Red Carnation’ to hear what a modern folk record should sound like.

Follow Them True has already received abundant and justified praise throughout the music press and I can only add my voice to those who have already highlighted this record as important and outstanding.

In their own words, Stick In The Wheel have made a record that is a “statement of commitment, a threat, and a promise”. It is also a rallying cry, a work of musical virtuosity and, to borrow the phrase that will hopefully lend appeal to Caught by the River readers, a powerful antidote to indifference.

Pre-order Follow Them True or listen to ‘Over Again’ here

Andy Childs on Caught by the River/on Twitter