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Cunning Folk - A Casual Invocation

  by Kimberly Bright

published: 26 / 11 / 2020

Cunning Folk - A Casual Invocation
Label: Dharma Records
Format: CD


Cunning Folk’s latest album is part prog rock-cosmic acid folk, part pagan sacred music

George Hoyle, who performs as Cunning Folk, is a Dorset-born, London-based neo-pagan singer-songwriter and modern bard. He was formerly in Gay Dad, Circulus, and Erland and the Carnival, and performed with Cage and Aviary. He and his wife, Vanessa Woolf, are storytellers, performers, collaborators, and educators specializing in English folklore, history, and Magick. They do regional storywalks (as London Dreamtime) on topics as diverse as mermaids, draugar, ghosts of the Thames, shapeshifters, vampires, Cernunnos, and Robin Hood. Hoyle runs the South East London Folklore Society, which was founded as a cover for such rituals during the last round of Satanic panic. According to Hoyle, A Casual Invocation is a magical working set to music. Combining paganism and traditional witchcraft with freak folk music is certainly a fascinating artistic niche. 'We Are the Harvest' is a remarkably unpretentious, sincere hymn to the goddess Demeter (Spoiler: "We are the last sheaf of wheat/Ear of corn"), while 'The Goddess' is a simple, joyful, sensuous, love of life and celebration without an inkling of original sin spoiling the party. The wheel of the year’s solstices and equinoxes are the subjects of the cosmic 'Always the Sun', written for a solstice ritual. 'Witches' commemorates the people, mostly women, who were hanged for witchcraft at Tyburn and elsewhere for witchcraft. Specifically it is about the Witch of Wapping, Joan Peterson, who was hanged there in 1652. There’s no feeling of vengeance against these oppressors in the song, but rather triumph that their beliefs and practices still survive. 'Traveller Hide Your Soul' is more practical magic, in this case a protective hex for songwriters against song collectors. Hoyle describes it as “Half prog-folk song, half magic spell to protect my friends who carry song &and story traditions across generations from predatory collectors.” It is a compelling take on the practice of music historians and ethnomusicologists seeking out old folk songs from remote, rural communities. Hoyle views this practice as cultural theft, believing that songs, as heritage, need to be protected, even if that means ultimately hidden from academia, the outside world, and mainstream culture. It is up to the entire community, in this case the Travellers, to keep their songs alive and passed down. Some folk songs could well have disappeared or remained secret if field recordings hadn’t been made by pioneers like Alan Lomax and Cecil Sharp, of course, but this song’s philosophy casts those preservation efforts as selfish commodification. The line “We know his name” is chanted three times, suggesting that nothing good is going to happen to whatever doomed song collector is the unlucky target of this song. Musically Cunning Folk sounds like a swath of acoustic Tyrannosaurus Rex, early Pink Floyd, Roy Harper, Julian Cope, and Donovon, with elements of modern house. The album ends with 'A Song of Low & High Magic', an ambitious piece that includes several discrete movements. It starts out with a slow, dirty blues riff on what sounds like Hoyle’s resonator guitar and eighteen and a half trippy minutes later ends on an ecstatic note, not far off from the effect of Clare Torry’s vocals on 'The Great Gig in the Sky' from 'Dark Side of the Moon'. For fans of early ‘70s folk and anyone called to wander in wild places, whether during the day or a moonlit autumn night, there couldn’t be a better companion than 'A Casual Invocation'.

Track Listing:-
1 Traveller Hide Your Soul
2 We Are the Harvest
3 Pan to Artemis
4 A Quest for the Teacher
5 The Goddess
6 A Casual Invocation
7 Witches
8 Always the Sun
9 A Song of Low & High Magic

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