“I thought that if you had an acoustic guitar it meant that you were a protest singer” sang Morrissey on The Smiths’ 1985 single ‘Shakespeare’s Sister.’ I reference this because it seems that ‘folk music’ is far too often a term used in staggeringly lazy ways. See, Stick In The Wheel do come from a folk tradition – but it’s one that’s very much alive, and has absolutely nothing to do with *insert irritating run of the mill mostly acoustic faux-indiecum faux-folk band of your choice here.*
Hailing from East London, and lead by singer Nicola Kearey and guitarist Ian Carter, this is the second album from Stick In The Wheel. Their debut, 2015’s From Here was a critical success, picking up end of year best of awards. On the strength of this album, it’s likely the same thing is going to happen all over again.
‘The Abbots Bromley Horn Dance’ is a fascinating example of why Stick In The Wheel are so vital. The idea of a ‘dance tune’ is so often tied to EDM – but the point about dance music is that people should be able to like, y’know, dance to it? It originates from the thirteenth century in a Staffordshire village, still being performed every year (you can read more about it here) even in the twenty-first century. Over the course of three and a half minutes, this dance starts off slight before picking up pace and getting more and more urgent. Stick In The Wheel argue that as one of the oldest surviving English dance tunes, people should be aware of this as part of their heritage. If listeners (misguidedly) wonder what relevance this should have to music in the 21st century, it’s because human beings are still human beings, still getting to grips with and being alienated by technology, and dealing with the reality of day to day living. This informs much of the music they make.
What it doesn’t have is the voice of Nicola Kearey. On the rest of the album’s tracks she is there, singing unapologetically in her own East London accent. It can be an acquired taste – but well worth acquiring. So whether on the band’s originals like the title track or the stunning opening ‘Over Again,’ the latter sounding both modern and centuries old at the same time, there’s links with the older, traditional material that they visit. One of the standout tracks is ‘The Blind Beggar Of Bethnal Green’ which is routed in the legend of Simon de Montfort from the 13th Century. Like Fairport Convention’s take on ‘Matty Groves’ it’s a song centuries old that becomes itself in this recorded version.
Stick In The Wheel are an astonishingly easy band to love. If you’re a fan already, you know this. If your view of folk music is that it’s worthy but dull stuff for real ale bores in hideous jumpers, let this put you right. Not a ‘hey nonny no in sight (or hearing)’, and delivered with an attitude if not sound that’s far more ‘hey ho let’s go.’