sproatly smith

Sproatly Smith – The Minstrel’s Grave (Folk Police Recordings)

sproatly smith


Escaping my attention until now, the psychogeography folk troupe from Hereford, Sproatly Smith, have, to my delight, surfaced on my radar with this, their third full-length album, The Minstrel’s Grave. Loosely bound together in a concatenate, suffused fashion, the intricately hallowed songbook encapsulates the esoteric pastoral spirit of a mystical pagan world.  Mixing foley and environmental sounds with Mediaeval and traditional texts from an expense of time, Sproatly Smith draw inspiration and influence from some surprising sources to produce their own Wicker Man meets Canterbury Tales vision.


Hauntingly beguiling with a fascination for the cycle of life, The Minstrel’s Grave places appropriated covers  alongside their own original songs. Traversing the sound of Pentangle, Fairport Convention, Trees and the Kosmiche transcendence of Ash Ra Tempel (and to a lesser extent, the early vibes of Amon Duul II), Sproatly gently change their style from the bucolic to cosmic throughout the 12-track suite.

The folkloric themes that are brought to life include ominous celebrations of the seasonal changes (Blackthorn Winter); enchanted tales of sad pining Mermaids who refuse to return the lost church bells of Marden (The Mermaid Of Marden); and weepy sonnets for departed love ones under Mother Nature’s gazing eyes (O Willow Waly, made most notably famous by the  Kingston Trio). However, the dramatic subject of death lurks everywhere – though its poetically handled with tender, touching, relevance and care. A reflective trilogy of macabre odes awaits, beginning with the graveyard skulking, echoing spindled guitar grieving, The Blue Flame, followed closely by the quivering bowed-saw, shimmering cymbal trembling, O Death:  which is an Appalachian conversation with death itself; “O death please spare me over for one more year.”  This triumvirate ends on the mournful, dark ages, Death; a looming recital with whistling tube flails and elegiac ponderous backing.

Elsewhere there’s the reworking of the American popular song, Silver Threads among The Gold; a paean to the inevitability of ageing. The classic lines are represented by a cut-up collage of different versions by other artists that includes a Barbershop quartet and scratched cylinder recorded rendition from the Jazz age. Ghostly voices materialise from the evocative ambient exercise, reverberating with a certain sadness that mirrors the sentiment: “Darling, I am growing old/silver threads among the gold/shine upon my brow today/life is fading fast away.”

One of the highlights, and most successful songs is the two-act, The Fabled Hare/Isobel Goudie which cleverly weaves together the original Maddy Prior and Sensational Alex Harvey Band versions. Both laments allude to the 1662 trail of the Scottish women, Isobel Gowdie, who was accused of being a witch. Her confession was made without the use of torture, and whether it was a mental disorder or a clever ruse to escape execution (there is no evidence that she was ever executed for witchcraft), Gowdie took her accusers on a flight of fantasy with tales of meeting the Fairy Queen, and of spells that transformed her into a hare (Prior sews this incantation into The Fabled Hare). Harvey’s showmanship and pomp is downplayed; the troupe sticking closer to Priors diaphanous, angelic traditional tones. The result is a thing of beauty.

The band switch their posture towards lift-off on the accelerating mind-rocker, Elysium. Starting with an escalating acid-coloured dirge of backward piano, tape loops and, God knows what else (that sounds like something from Zardoz and 2001:A Space Odyssey) the band rock-out to break-beat drums and grimy fuzz; enacting the B-movie psychedelia of Goblin and Air.

Exposure to the Sproatly Smith sound couldn’t come soon enough. It’s folk music alright, but not as we know it.






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