Caught by the River

A Hymn for Ancient Land

Ian Preece | 6th March 2018

Ian Preece mulls over A Hymn for Anicent Land – the new album from Sheffield-based fingerpickin’ guitarist Jim Ghedi (out now on Basin Rock).

When I was growing up my mum and dad’s idea of travel often involved crossing the border into Derbyshire – well-dressing in Pleasley and Disley; the Blue John mines in Castleton; a picnic at Creswell Crags. I remember being both terrified and mesmerised by a gang of bikers revving through Matlock Bath one May bank holiday in the mid-1970s. Another afternoon involved mucking around with my brother, lobbing stones at a derelict outbuilding of the Stanton and Staveley Ironworks near Ilkeston, where my mum’s cousin Mick used to work. I wish I could drive around there now, Jim Ghedi’s new album, A Hymn for Ancient Land, turned up loud on the car stereo.

Music and place, it’s that ineffable thing. I’ve been listening to a lot of Second Language and Clay Pipe records recently – Oliver Cherer, Michael Tanner and Sharron Kraus, concept albums about lighthouses, Green Line buses and vaguely sinister Welsh folk customs; Tyneham House; Vic Mars’ The Land and the Garden; Frances Castle’s own terrific paean to lost London Through Passages of Time – as well as some of Laura Barton’s Radio 4 documentaries about music and landscape: the Unthanks and the bleak hinterland of Northumberland; raves in caves in Devon and Cornwall and the Aphex Twin. To this fine lineage I think we can now add A Hymn for Ancient Land.

Caught by the River readers will have already clocked ‘Phoenix Works’, based on an ancient scrap of a scythe-factory worker’s poem found at the old sickle manufacturer’s premises, the video featuring terrific archive footage from the late 1960s: washing flapping on a line, terraced brick houses bordered by muddy fields; all polo-neck jumpers and flat caps and smoking a pipe with your pint of best down the working men’s club, the past filtered through cigarette smoke and the rhythmic beat of the drum hammering out molten ore on the anvil.

Moss Valley, lying to the north-east of Derbyshire by the border with South Yorkshire, looks too picturesque for all this – plenty of bluebell woods and a burbling stream (the Moss); hares, badgers and butterflies apparently in abundance – but the area has a heavy industrial past: dotted in amongst the woods and mill ponds are disused quarries, mines and the remnants of the former scythe and sickle works. ‘Home for Moss Valley’ is named after the community where Ghedi has now settled after sojourns in remote parts of Scotland, Ireland and Europe. It’s got a lovely expansive, widescreen feel – the track slowly opens out and takes a while to get into gear, before violins swoop as sunny fields flicker by, a rushing stream of guitar.

There’s a faint twang of Daniel Bachman about Sheffield-born Ghedi’s faster and more furious guitar parts – but a greater similarity lies in the sense of the past weighing heavily on their young shoulders. There’s also just a waft of Robbie Basho circa Visions of the Country about the vocal on ‘Phoenix Works’ (not the voice itself – no smiling moonbeams, blue crystal fire or deer with silver antlers here; Ghedi is, after all, singing about the scythe works and a blacksmith’s forge in north-east Derbyshire – more the way it floats above the music, like an eagle high above the valley on a pocket of air), and ‘Bramley Moor’ feels like a sped-up version of Glen Jones’ ‘Fahey’s Car’. But, while tradition has its place, Ghedi has been developing his own style over a number years now – his previous solo guitar album Home is Where I Exist, Now to Live and Die features finely woven field recordings of European railway journeys, everyday conversations and birdsong in amongst the studious fingerpicking – and what really lifts A Hymn . . . is the beautiful orchestration: double bass, cello, violin, piano, accordion and trumpet all spaciously arranged, and, on ‘Cwm Elan’ and (I think) ‘Fortingall Yew’, dreamy harp.

The deep melancholy of time having passed unfurls in the lonesome piano that opens ‘Banks of Mulroy Bay’, before Ghedi sings an Irish lament found on an old cassette of folk songs given to him by his grandfather but adapted to fit the story of his own family’s past, farming the land in the west of Ireland – longing for Mary, County Mayo, and the reaper mowing down the yellow corn by the banks of Mulroy Bay, from where the traveller was born but has roamed far and wide. As the silver moon rises over the water, strings and accordion coalesce with the grandeur of an old Bill Fay song. In a similar airy manner, mournful trumpet suffuses the beautiful closing track, ‘Sloade Lane’.

Jim Ghedi may be currently happy down the local in Moss Valley, sharing a pint with a poetry-loving blacksmith, but my guess is this troubadour will be off again before long with his 6-string and his tape recorder. This pair of ears is really looking forward to his next melding of music and landscape.


A Hymn for Ancient Land is out now and available here.

Jim Ghedi plays our next Caught by the River Social Club, which takes place at London’s Horse Hospital on Tuesday 13 March. More info/tickets here.