There’s a tendency for ‘concept albums’ to have a short life, they stand a few ‘repeats’ but as their originality fades, the story once told, often becomes tedious in the re-telling. Then along comes the powerful ‘Esteesee’, the fourth studio album from folk singer and composer par excellence Ange Hardy. Although more of a project than a concept, its songs draw inspiration from the life, experiences, anecdotes, relationships and work of the Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge (who disliked his name so much he would write it phonetically as ‘Esteesee’). In many ways ‘Esteesee’ departs from the intensely personal and sometimes autobiographical songs of her previous landmark albums ‘Barefoot Folk’ and ‘Lament of the Black Sheep’ to an observational place that takes a blend of poetry, lyric and music somewhere essentially wonderful … and in doing so makes ‘Esteesee’ a powerful piece of work.
"‘Esteesee’, the fourth studio album from folk singer and composer par excellence Ange Hardy"
To lovers of Ange’s work, the musical ground is familiar yet different, marrying written fragments, extracts of verse and complete poems with her striking voice and outstanding ability to entrance the listener with lyric and music. Coleridge was a mercurial character suffering anxiety and depression augmented by poor health and a chronic opium addiction. Ange takes the listener through narrative songs that observe his changing life - the sorrowing story of ‘The Foster Mother’s Tale’, the exploration of the lighter ‘My Captain’ and the hope of ‘William Frend’, before the harrowing ‘Curse of a Dead Man’s Eye’returns to the dark side once more. The delicious interpretation of ‘Friends Of Three’ creates a dream-quality song that takes the listener deeper into Coleridge’s confused world, while her ability to touch the human condition forges the profound pain of ‘Epitaph On An Infant’ and the heartrending ‘Mother You Will Rue Me’, given an added edge by Steve Knightley’s vocals. And if ‘Kubla Khan’ has ever experienced a better delivery with Ange’s evocative arrangement and Tamsin Rosewell’s expressive reading then you’ll have to go a long way to hear it.
"this work deserves a definite five-star rating, no question"
With ‘Esteesee’, Ange Hardy delivers an outstanding album, and along the way, changes forever the jaded view of the concept album. Although not given to awarding star ratings as such, this work deserves a definite five-star rating, no question. And to complete the ‘concept’ there’s an inlay booklet with lyrics and luscious photographs
- Reviewer: Tim Carroll, FolkWords
Ange Hardy is a bold music maker and her latest album, Esteesee, is a moving celebration of Lakes Poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Hardy's expressive voice can move from sorrowful (The Foster-Mother's Tale) to upbeat (The Curse of the Dead Man's Eye). Hardy, who also plays guitar, traditional whistle and harp, has done a lot of research into Coleridge’s writing, and among the songs is one based on a fragment from a little known play called Osorio. Kubla Khan captures the wonder of Coleridge’s poetry (with a fine rendition from Tamsin Rosewell) and the guest musicians - who include Lukas Drinkwater (Double bass and vocals), Patsy Reid (Fiddle, viola, cello, vocals), Jo May (Rope tension snare drum, triangle and spoons) and Archie Churchill-Moss - add to an evocative album. One highlight is the song Mother You Will Rue Me, a re-imagining of Coleridge’s own weird satisfaction at the pain he caused his mother, on which Steve Knightley takes lead vocals as Coleridge. The title Esteesee, incidentally, is a phonetic version of the initials STC, which the poet used to sign his name.
- Reviewer: The Telegraph
Based on the life of romantic poet and troubled opium addict Samuel Taylor Coleridge (whose innitials form the album's title), this is an enthralling and beautifully sung song cycle. The stand out tracks are the fragile 'Epitaph on an Infant. and The Foster Mother's Tale, both written to Coleridge's words. The latter features the intricate harmonies that have become the Somerset folk-singer's trade mark and which she reproduces onstage using a live tape loop.
The first thing I should say is that this record sounds lovely - a beautifully balanced collection of story and melody, perfectly played and produced; tunes that stick in your head and won’t let go sung by one of the finest folk voices. But that’s not the whole point by any means - what makes this album more important is its narrative, its reason for being. A story worth telling, an attempt to marry history, culture, and song; a celebration of live.
"perfectly played and produced... one of the finest folk voices."
The life belonged to Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and it’s his poetry and his personality that Hardy is capturing and retelling here. Featuring Lukas Drinkwater and Steve Knightley amongst her solid band of musicians, Esteesee (Coleridge’s initials) works on repeat play, weaving Coleridge’s own words (sometime spoken) with Ange’s story-telling of a life full of adventure, passion, and notoriety.
"a remarkable record"
This really is a remarkable record - wonderfully informative, and just plain wonderful.
- Reviewer: Boff Whalley, R2 Magazine
The one thing that can't be denied is that over the cultivation of four albums in a relatively short space of time, Ange Hardy has become the owner of an instantly recognisable sound, a sound that usually takes time to grow and develop in order to take a meaningful place on the constantly changing folk music scene. Once ESTEESEE (think of the initials of the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge) begins, with The Foster-Mother's Tale, we are immediately in a certain place, the same place we were in upon hearing Ange's previous album and the one before that etc. For those who have managed to hear Ange perform live, you will probably agree that the singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist makes damn good records to go with those performances.
"Ange Hardy is one of our finest writers and performers"
There's a lot of TLC evident in Ange's fervent pursuit of getting it right and with this album, Ange gets it right. Avoiding the term 'concept album', I have to concede that this is very much a themed album, with each of the 14 songs based on either Samuel Taylor Coleridge's work directly, or based on certain aspects of the poet's life, or even songs based on dinner conversations collected from the body of work surrounding the Poet's life. This is an album to get lost in; gentle, informed, literate, emotive, mature and above all, delivered with an almost tangible passion. Ange Hardy is one of our finest writers and performers and it's probably time to acknowledge it. ESTEESEE is another milestone in that growing and impressive musical output.
- Reviewer: Allan Wilkinson, Northern Sky
BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards nominee and 2014 winner of the FATEA album of the year and their 2013 female vocalist of the year, Ange Hardy immerses herself in the works and life of Samuel Taylor Coleridge for this, her fourth album. Hailing from Somerset, Hardy became aware of Coleridge when she realised that a 51 mile footpath that passes her home was actually The Coleridge Way. Intrigued she delved into the poet, best known for his works The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner and Kubla Khan and eventually came up with this album, a collection of songs inspired by his writings and his biography. It's a gorgeous listen garlanded with a lissom folkiness that recalls past triumphs from traditional artists as well as that strain of "progressive" folk that forged new paths from old byways back in the seventies. Indeed part of the attractiveness here is the variety of styles on the 14 songs here, elements of sea shanty, hints of baroque, bucolic meanderings are all present as Hardy surrounds herself with an excellent troupe of players.
"Indeed part of the attractiveness here is the variety of styles on the 14 songs here, elements of sea shanty, hints of baroque, bucolic meanderings are all present as Hardy surrounds herself with an excellent troupe of players."
The album title is a phonetic expression of Coleridge's initials, STC, which apparently he preferred to use; explained in the album's excellent liner notes (which offer Hardy's reasoning behind the songs and are illustrated with extracts from his journals and contemporary reports) it's the first of many nuggets of information about the poet. The disc packaging is in itself worthy of admiration, an embossed cover and 36 page booklet perhaps the result of lottery funding via the arts Council. If so then we can be reassured, that on this occasion at least the money went to a worthy cause. As for the songs, Hardy avoids the easy route of simply adding music to Coleridge's words apart from two instances. "Kubla Khan" is spoken by Tamsin Rosewell with Hardy playing guitar and whistle and Kate Rouse on hammered dulcimer. It's here that the ghost of the seventies raises its head as one can easily imagine hearing John Peel play this back then before moving on to Lady June. It's actually quite wonderful, the words and music tied together in a hallucinogenic fug. A lesser known poem, "Epitaph On An Infant," is cloaked in a reverential and moving air with harp and whistle evoking a possible Heaven. For the remainder Hardy selects specific events in the poet's life or writes inspired by specific passages from his oeuvre. As might be expected The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner looms large with two songs representing Coleridge's epic work, "My Captain" a sprightly work capturing the enthusiasm of the crew as they set sail before the dread sets in on "The Curse Of A Dead Man's Eye." Here Hardy adds a theatrical touch as Coleridge's famous stanza "Water, Water, everywhere nor any drop to drink" is delivered by the town crier of Watchet, allegedly the harbour where Coleridge was first inspired to write the poem.
"An album that might bear comparison to Anthems In Eden or Rise Up Like the Sun."
Hardy celebrates Coleridge's rustic romanticism (shared with the Wordsworth's), his radicalism and his celebrity before ending the album with a song that encapsulates some of his self written epitaph and it's fair to say that the album is an elegy, not only to Coleridge but to folk music itself. An album that might bear comparison to Anthems In Eden or Rise Up Like the Sun.
- Reviewer: Paul Kerr, AmericanaUK
Ange Hardy's last work was without doubt outstanding, this release is a masterpiece. Not many people have the gift that she has, a lot of people work hard to attain it, I know she works very hard but her genius shines through and lifts her above the rest, like Rembrandt, Mozart, Burns and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. This is not a throw away statement, I truly believe that within the next few years her name will be amongst the greats.
- Reviewer: Stevie Connor , CEO Blues & Roots Radio
West Somerset-based singer and songwriter Ange Hardy has been featuring prominently on my personal radar ever since I became enchanted by her second CD, Bare Foot Folk, which appeared just over two years ago; the album (deservedly) quickly garnered plenty of critical praise – and, crucially, the support of Mike Harding – and Ange has never looked back since. I backtracked as soon as I could, keen to learn more about Ange and her earlier back-story as a wild-child who eventually made good through meeting her husband Rob and finding her songwriting voice, this initially leading to the cathartic experience of writing and performing the sequence of largely autobiographical songs that formed her debut release, the pop-folk-flavoured Windmills And Wishes. The immeasurable boost in confidence Ange experienced from the reception accorded to Bare Foot Folk enabled her to develop her songcraft in leaps and bounds, leading uncommonly swiftly to album number three, The Lament Of The Black Sheep, which gave a brilliant sense of artistic development and promise being rapidly fulfilled. This magnificent album was a featured Album of the Month on Folk Radio UK and also received a BBC Radio 2 Folk Award nomination.
Not one to let the grass grow under her feet, Ange quickly launched into her next project, which stretched her newly-acquired songwriting comfort-zone even further, away from the direct personal experiences that had hitherto formed the basis of her writing, albeit viewed through, and informed by, the often unforgiving lens of folk tradition. Buoyed by the support of public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England, Ange was empowered to research and write a suite of 14 songs for what she describes as “a project album based on the life and work of romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge”, a writer whose work she had (incredibly) not previously encountered. Ange has also received grant funding to present the music at 14 rural venues (following the route of the Coleridge Way in Somerset and Devon) during the first half of October this year.
"Seductive vocal harmonies beckon the listener to the storyteller’s fireside"
The CD that represents the fruit of this project, Esteesee (Ange’s fourth studio album), can thus be counted a concept album. Its unusual title stems from its being a phonetic version of the initials STC by which Coleridge himself signed his name, and the album track bearing that name is a setting of the prayer Matthew, Mark, Luke and John (also known as The Black Paternoster, or Roud 1704) which Coleridge used to intone nightly. It builds compellingly from a simple, childlike harp-accompanied opening verse to a fully-fledged orchestral-style string section with drumbeat. This catechism had a life-long impact on Coleridge, and its mantra is here bound into the album, capturing the “half-awake and half-asleep vision of a fevered imagination”. In this respect, perhaps Esteessee might have had even more impact if it had been placed as the album’s opening track; but instead the album kicks off with a charming song based on what turns out to have been the first piece of Coleridge’s writing that Ange read: a fragment from the play Osorio that was published in the collection Lyrical Ballads. Seductive vocal harmonies beckon the listener to the storyteller’s fireside for Ange’s lovely rendition of The Foster-Mother’s Tale, with flowing instrumental accompaniment from Patsy Reid, Lukas Drinkwater and Archie Churchill-Moss and Steve Knightley on supporting vocal. This sets the bar for the rest of the project, where these and other excellent musician-collaborators (Jonny Dyer, Steve Pledger, Jo May, Andrew Pearce and Kate Rouse) help to create a uniquely elegant and atmospheric backdrop for Ange’s creative distillation of the essence of Coleridge and his writings.
Following the opening tale, we embark on a short sequence based around aspects of Coleridge’s most well-known work The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner. Ange readily admits that she could have written an entire album based on that epic (and everyone from David Bedford to Iron Maiden has!), but instead chose to highlight two very contrasted sections. The breezy start to the voyage, in which “the ship was cheered”, forms the gangplank from which the jolly dance of My Captain is sprung, while the terrifying predicament of the sailors is conveyed through The Curse Of A Dead Man’s Eye, which is prefaced by eight lines of the original poem given a suitably sepulchral reading by David Milton (Watchet’s Town Crier). After this dose of horror, Ange guides us through a portrait-gallery of Coleridge’s acquaintances, beginning with William Frend, a tutor at Coleridge’s Cambridge college who was put on trial for publishing a leaflet condemning much of the liturgy of the Church (Coleridge shared some of William’s beliefs for a time, and Ange allocates his “song” a catchy and accessible melody). Coleridge’s relationship with fellow-poet William Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy is the focus of the gaily-tripping, jig-rhythmed Friends Of Three, during whose closing reel-postlude Ange also invokes the landscape of the Quantock Hills where the three friends used to wander (she was inspired to write the song standing on Beacon Hill, in fact). Letters between Coleridge and his friends and family form the basis of George, a song concerning Coleridge’s older brother whom he considered almost a father-figure. The fancifully-titled Pantisocracy (“equal or level government for all”) concerns an intentionally utopian arrangement entered into – but never consummated – between Coleridge and his friends Robert Southey and Robert Lovell, to marry three sisters and form a close community. Sandwiched in amidst these portraits we find a curiosity: Ange’s vision of Kubla Khan, given in the form of a reading of the poem by Radio Warwickshire folk show presenter and artist Tamsin Rosewell, backed by “the music of the damsel with the dulcimer”, hammered dulcimer, guitar and whistle together conveying the slightly exotic and other-worldly medievalism of the immeasurable setting.
Ange then reverts to direct poem-setting for Epitaph On An Infant, a curious mixture of optimism and prescience that Coleridge himself apparently never rated among his own words but to whose sentiments Ange herself has clearly responded. This brief homily is followed by Might Is In The Mind, a cautionary tale inspired by a specimen of Coleridge’s table-talk and retold with relish by a harmonised Ange to Patsy’s cheeky viola syncopations. In a masterstroke of casting, Steve Knightley takes the lead vocal (in the role of Coleridge himself) on Mother You Will Rue Me, a re-imagining of Coleridge’s own gloomy satisfaction at the misery he caused his mother, in a chilling reminiscence of an episode where, at the age of eight, he argued with his brother Frank and fled from home (this memory clearly had strong resonances for Ange herself, who had undergone a similar experience during her runaway childhood). There’s some speculation that it was this night Coleridge had spent out in the cold field that led to pneumonia, which in turn led to him being given laudanum for the first time – an addiction to which (and to opium) was to plague his later life. On the album’s final pair of songs, Ange pays tribute to the memory of Coleridge. Firstly, the delightful Along The Coleridge Way is Ange’s “small way of saying thank-you to Coleridge” by using her own words in homage and tribute as she walks the path. And finally, Ange celebrates Coleridge’s legacy in the form of a triumphant Elegy For Coleridge, an upbeat little piece based on the epitaph which he himself wrote.
"Ange avoids hanging those veritable albatrosses around her neck in hackneyed posturing; instead, by coming fresh to the poems, she provides her own distillation of their essence as informed by the life and concerns of the man who composed the texts."
With Esteesee, to an extent, Ange can be seen to be continuing the thesis she began on The Young Librarian (from Lament Of The Black Sheep), in that creative souls like Coleridge live on through their writing. Ange is able to both serve and draw on the storytelling and ballad traditions of folksong; thus, rather than attempting to pictorially or programmatically depict scenes or strands of narrative from Coleridge’s poetry, Ange is able to present an altogether more rounded portrait of the writer than might be gained from delivering a mere digest of the poet’s “greatest hits”, which, though such an approach might seem superficially beneficial since it’s both more selective and more detailed, is likely to fall short of gaining us a true appreciation of the man’s measure. This project couldn’t fail to include something of the poet’s acknowledged masterworks (Kubla Khan and The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner), but Ange avoids hanging those veritable albatrosses around her neck in hackneyed posturing; instead, by coming fresh to the poems, she provides her own distillation of their essence as informed by the life and concerns of the man who composed the texts. And this then applies across the span of Coleridge’s œuvre.
"Ange’s musicality is exquisite; knowing and yet unassuming; her settings without exception finely crafted"
Ange’s musicality is exquisite; knowing and yet unassuming; her settings without exception finely crafted; over the years she has developed a really special gift for finding and voicing vocal harmonies that suit the melody lines, often almost imperceptibly but always ideally. She also has a gift for deploying the most sympathetic of musicians to help her realise her artistic vision, and they do so more than willingly.
"Esteesee will doubtless also prove every bit as addictive as the opium and laudanum on which Coleridge himself dosed."
Esteesee conforms to the exceptionally high standard of presentation of Ange’s previous albums; having already, long ago and from the start, set herself such a benchmark, she simply cannot depart from it. The disc is impeccably packaged, with a copiously illustrated inlay booklet, beautifully photographed, with full lyrics and descriptive notes on all the tracks, and full performer credits and all credit given where due. And beyond the packaging, into the disc itself, Esteesee will doubtless also prove every bit as addictive as the opium and laudanum on which Coleridge himself dosed. (For a further fix, I’d refer you to Ange’s continuing guest blog on Folk Radio UK giving insights into the creation and gestation of specific album tracks.)
- Reviewer: David Kidman, Folk Radio UK
Somerset, England based singer-songwriter Ange Hardy has just released “Esteesee” (2015, Story Records), a great new album of songs inspired by the life and work of English romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge (21 October 1772 – 25 July 1834) – the ‘Esteesee’ in the title (pronounced Ess-Tee-See), or as he preferred to refer to himself S.T.C. A follow up to the critically-acclaimed “The Lament of the Black Sheep” (2014, Story Records), Esteesee finds Ange Hardy stretching herself by taking on specific source material but coming up trumps with a stellar set of wonderfully arranged songs.
Best known for writing “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” and “Kubla Khan”, Coleridge will be familiar to many who, like myself, grew up in the UK in the 70s when his poetry was an essential part of your GCE O-Level English Literature education. But these songs take more than the poetry as their inspiration, also focusing on Coleridge’s relationships with friends and family, as well as characters and stories from his life, and even tales based on his dinner table conversation.
"each track, providing an insight into Coleridge – the man and poet, and the story behind each song."
The album features guest vocals and tenor guitar from Steve Knightley(Show of Hands), Patsy Reid on fiddle, viola and cello, Lukas Drinkwateron double bass, Archie Churchill-Moss on diatonic accordion, Jonny Dyeron piano, Jo May (percussion), Andrew Pearce (drums), Kate Rouse as the damsel with the hammered dulcimer (Kubla Khan) and Steve Pledger on backing vocals with poetry readings from David Milton (the Watchet Town Crier) and fellow broadcaster Tamsin Rosewell. The packaging is first rate and clearly lovingly put together. Excellent liner notes from Ange accompany each track, providing an insight into Coleridge – the man and poet, and the story behind each song.
"A joy for the ears – I honestly wish I’d been introduced to Coleridge this way when I was at school."
It’s a fabulous album featuring great musicianship, gorgeous vocals, and great use of Coleridge’s life and poetry to create songs that playfully come to life in front of you. A joy for the ears – I honestly wish I’d been introduced to Coleridge this way when I was at school. There are really too many fine songs to single out just one, a beautifully tracked album that will definitely be around at awards time, a fine introduction to the life and work of Coleridge and a great advert for Somerset and Exmoor tourism. Who’s joining me on the Coleridge Way?
- Reviewer: Jan Hall, Folk Roots Radio
Some music you can take at face value, while other demands that little more attention. Approach the new album from Ange Hardy from the first angle and a fabulous eclectic mix of sound variety will thoroughly enchant you. Dig deeper into the background of this project and further riches will emerge in a dazzle of romanticist enlightenment. Of course the recommendation is to fully embrace all aspects of ESTEESEE and absorb your mind into the magnificent detail of Ange’s valued attempt to revive the words of Samuel Taylor Coleridge to a contemporary audience.
"absorb your mind into the magnificent detail of Ange’s valued attempt to revive the words of Samuel Taylor Coleridge to a contemporary audience."
Taking inspiration from poems, stories, epitaphs, events and wider environmental context, Ange has conjured up a fourteen-track adulation to the life and work of this lauded English historical literary figure from the late eighteenth century. The album’s title is taken from initials of the subject’s name and through what is a fairly slick thirty-seven minute duration, it is difficult not to be smitten by Ange’s passion and creative nous for committing this project to song, verse and musical arrangement. Not surprisingly, funding was available from arts sources for this key project, and Ange has recruited well to formulate the album’s sonic appeal. The guest vocals of Steve Knightly and the various string accompaniments from Patsy Reid are the two names to leap out from the list of players, with perhaps the starkest contribution being the reading of Coleridge’s famous poem by broadcaster and artist Tamsin Rosewell. The emotive reading of ‘Kubla Khan’almost anchors the record with its central position in the track list and is just one of several spoken parts to heap further focus on the lyrical content. Ange is credited with writing and arranging all the tracks and liberally references the lifting of many snippets from the works of Coleridge.
"there is little doubt that ESTEESEE will be lapped up by folk traditionalists and historians alike. This is by no means the limit of the appeal evidenced by the gorgeous presentation and allure to educate where perhaps many intriguing minds have not been before."
Among the many fascinating facets of this album, the sheer elegance of the standard three minute ballads all sung beautifully and decorating the message that Ange wants to get over, which is no more or less than modern day recognition of the subject’s life. Her previous work has courted honours both for album content and vocal ability, and there is little doubt that ESTEESEE will be lapped up by folk traditionalists and historians alike. This is by no means the limit of the appeal evidenced by the gorgeous presentation and allure to educate where perhaps many intriguing minds have not been before. To maximise the immense pleasure from plunging into the depth of this record, exposure to the concise and informative insert sleeve is recommended and certainly the insight is better explained through Ange’s words than review regurgitation.
If you want to learn more about Coleridge’s links to the philosophical term pantisocracy, his self-penned epitaph, the trail in Somerset and Devon named in his honour and deeper analysis of his relationships, Ange has provided a super source via her imaginative writing. Numerous candidates for radio play to at least showcase the unrelenting appeal of Ange’s vocal ability can be found in ‘My Captain’, ‘Friends of Three’ and the title track ‘Esteesee’. While Ange is keen on vocal collaboration and harmony, her own skills reach unsurpassable peaks when left alone to flourish on the open stage.
"just marvelling in the magnitude of this project will broaden your mind, engage your listening senses and add immense value to your overall enjoyment of music."
ESTEESEE is pure archetypical folk music, dark in places, explicit in narrative and wonderfully packaged. The jolly and jaunty persona to this album gives it a sense of renewal and if the ubiquitous revival of romantic poetry is once again in our midst, then Ange Hardy can be a chief protagonist. Otherwise just marvelling in the magnitude of this project will broaden your mind, engage your listening senses and add immense value to your overall enjoyment of music.
- Reviewer: Three Chords and the Truth UK
How often do music reviews reference TV’s Great British Bake Off (or Cake Off as it’s known in our house)? Inspired by Paul Hollywood’s particular brand of plain speaking and brutally frank feedback to the show’s victims/contestants, when it comes to Esteesee it’s so very tempting to quote Paul and say “I don’t like it.” Then, wait a few moments with that teasing look on the face before adding “I love it.”
“I love it.”
Almost exactly a year on from the Bright Young Folk review of Lament Of The Black Sheep Ange returns with a project and album, part-funded by the National Lottery through the Arts Council England.
Anyone fortunate enough to have received a pre-release bundle would have seen it appear in the form of a bespoke package which was more than worth the time and patience it must have taken to put together. Along with the actual album, including an acknowledgement in the album credits for pledgers to the album, came all manner of Esteesee-related goodies along with Ange’s personal thanks and of course a plug for the short tour which will see the album come to life in venues along the Coleridge Way (more of which later). Even the mailing envelope is a work of art and there will be those who didn’t want to play but simply look at it.
"Even the mailing envelope is a work of art"
Unlike some, the folk tradition isn’t steeped in Ange’s blood. She has come to the folk party only reasonably recently, although with several acclaimed releases now behind her, and as such her unprejudiced yet committed vision of what she sees as folk music brings an invigorating freshness to the genre. She’s joined on this album by various collaborators, adding some deft touches to her own musicianship, including Show Of Hands’ Steve Knightley, Patsy Reid on fiddles, cello and viola, Lukas Drinkwater on double bass and local buddy Steve Pledger to name a few. A few spoken word passages from David Milton and Tamsin Rosewell add to the variety of the material.
Written, arranged and produced by Ange, it’s Drinkwater and Reid who bring some considerable musical weight to the material adding splashes of colour and depth, but it’s Ange Hardy through and through. Within 15 seconds of the opening you’ll recognise those faraway vocal loops and what is gradually becoming the familiar Hardy voice. Like a pink stick of minty Blackpool rock, this has Ange Hardy stamped all the way through.
"Like a pink stick of minty Blackpool rock, this has Ange Hardy stamped all the way through."
In advance of the release Ange has also premiered some of the songs live and there’s been a radio treasure hunt campaign where you can catch each of the songs on local independent radio shows. The opening track, The Foster-Mother’s Tale, is one of those which fans at recent gigs will have heard, and from that lyrically harsh and bleak beginning, all the way through to Elegy For Coleridge, a triumphant closure based on aspects of the poet’s self-penned epitaph, it’s an enthralling journey, relatively progressive in its concept as the labours of the romantic poet and Ange’s musical vision become one.
Obviously there’s the Coleridge thread running through the songs, yet each stands alone with its own story to reveal. Some might scoff under the false belief that the words were essentially in place yet it’s far from the case as Ange has been able to unearth the treasures, form them into telling narratives and coat them in a musical dressing which showcases them in song. She has talked of weaving Coleridge’s words around her own and has similarly merged those words of his which resonate most deeply with her own life experience.
"you’d be pushed to hear a finer folk song this year."
It’s difficult to review this album without spoiling the surprises and revealing too much about the songs, their origins and their journey to the musical form, all of which are detailed in the liner notes. In My Captain and William Frend you’d be pushed to hear a finer folk song this year. Try to listen just the once without pressing the repeat button. Oh - and add Friends Of Three to the list. All wonderful examples of the emotive effect that a simple tune and melody can have. The sweeping title track sees Ange at her most achingly emotive and pushing herself almost in desperation at the words - essentially a prayer in folk song.
There’s also the intriguing concept (and resulting song) Pantisocracy - one for the googlers - and Mother You Will Rue Me, where Steve Knightley takes up the words in the first person of a young Coleridge. Kubla Khan sits as a spoken word narrative of Coleridge’s classic words against a medieval/Eastern-sounding accompaniment enhanced by Kate Rouse’s hammered dulcimer. Maybe one on which the jury might be out a while - especially those with a wider rock taste who will inevitably have Canadian power trio Rush’s Xanadu brought to mind.
Ending with the company coming together in what Ange has called a “triumphant elegy” based around the elegy Coleridge actually wrote for himself, the real tribute comes in the penultimate track - Along The Coleridge Way - after long and careful consideration, perhaps the pick of several gems which are the cream of the album. Also a song which will be the perfect finale to the ’Along the Coleridge Way Tour’ which takes in series of gigs in early October.
"With Esteesee, Ange’s own brand of bare foot folk takes a massive leap forward."
There’s a clarity and confidence in the concept and execution in which Ange has brought the material to life, reinforcing her particular aptitude for blending a narrative into musical form. With Esteesee, Ange’s own brand of bare foot folk takes a massive leap forward.
- Reviewer: Mike Ainscoe, Bright Young Folk
I first met Ange Hardy at Exeter Oxjam last year (see my review #28), where she gave me a copy of her then current album, The Lament Of The Black Sheep to review (see entry #32). That was a fine album indeed (as I said at the time); so I was pleased when she kindly sent me a copy of her latest album Esteesee (her fourth) for review.
Esteesee is a concept album (Ange refers to it as a ‘project album’); ie, one in which all the tracks follow a chosen theme. I’ve been rather partial to concept albums since their heyday back in the ’70s. (Showing my age here!) This collection is based on the life and work of the noted English Romantic poet, Samuel Taylor Coleridge. The title Esteesee is a phonetic neologism apparently coined by Coleridge himself; and based on his initials, STC. I do not have a great deal of knowledge about Coleridge, but I’ve long been familiar with some of his more famous poems – The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner and Kubla Khan, for example; and I’ve always enjoyed them. I was therefore very keen to hear Ange’s interpretation of the great writer’s life and work.
"The CD arrived as part of a charming and remarkable promo package"
The CD arrived as part of a charming and remarkable promo package, which consisted of: the CD itself, in a deluxe, embossed card, gate-fold cover, and including a large booklet with much useful information about the songs, as well as the lyrics. Also within the package was one of Ange’s hand-made quills (very appropriate for myself, I think!); a bookmark; a blank greetings card; factsheets; and one of Ange’s new calling cards – all wrapped in a specially designed jiffy bag! All this must have cost a pretty penny, and there is no doubt that Ange is going for a high profile promotion (with support from Arts Council England); but its the songs that she has written that are ultimately going to make this album a great one.
"14 songs in one month is quite astounding – especially as the quality of her work does not diminish with its quantity! Far from it; as in my opinion, this album outshines even the wonderful Black Sheep album."
It is a collection of fourteen original songs; all apparently penned in January this year! I knew her to be an incredibly prolific and inspired writer, but 14 songs in one month is quite astounding – especially as the quality of her work does not diminish with its quantity! Far from it; as in my opinion, this album outshines even the wonderful Black Sheep album. It is, in short, a magnum opus in every respect! The difference between this work and her earlier albums, is that whereas the previous recordings were very personal, this one shows her capable of empathising with; and interpreting; another’s mind: ie, Coleridge’s.
Listening to the album, it is unmistakably ‘Ange’ in style, yet explores fresh musical pastures too. Her distinctive trade-marks of mature song construction; thoughtful lyrics; beautifully clear singing and wonderful vocal harmonies, are all there to hear and enjoy as usual. But with these strengths, she has created a masterpiece of interwoven textures throughout the album that demands listening to it as a single work of art, rather than as a collection of individual songs.
"she has created a masterpiece"
Having said that, there are in my opinion, some points that stand out, even when considered amongst the high quality of the album in general. Certain songs I like very much indeed: ‘William Frend’; ‘George’; and the title track ‘Esteesee’. Also I like the various narrated parts throughout the work (ever a useful tool for those making a concept album!) But my personal highlight of all is the spoken poem ‘Kubla Khan’. Ange, on guitar, is joined in this remarkable rendition by the reader, Tamsin Rosewell; and the ‘…damsel with a dulcimer’ Kate Rouse (whose impressive work I know from her association with Daria Kulesh and Kara).
The album was recorded at Beehive Studios; and there were twelve notable session musicians employed by Ange – herself, an accomplished multi-instrumentalist – in the making of this album (too many for me to name here; but I’d refer the reader to the album sleeve notes for details).
In listening to this album, I have not only experienced some wonderful songs; but in so doing I have also learnt a lot about Coleridge too. This is yet another brilliant Folk album that this year has produced. I’m still awaiting a couple of others, but not much will surpass this collection, I’d say; and I recommend it highly – I’d say its a must!
- Reviewer: PTMQ (Phil The Music Quill)
Anticipation and a stunning line-up of musicians doth not a great album make. Back in 2012, I awaited with baited breath a collaboration by two of the biggest names in Progressive Rock and Metal, Steven Wilson and Mikael Akerfeldt under the moniker, ‘Storm Corrosion,’ convinced the record had to be a masterpiece of its kind, how could it not? Very easily it seems, instead of a prog classic, an ill-conceived totally tedious work of self-indulgence appeared, disappointing at every turn. Therefore, when I heard of a new project by one of the folk worlds brightest new lights, which involved a concept based on the life and works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, (has Ange gone prog?). While my interest certainly pricked, a nagging doubt about the validity of such a potentially pretentious venture lay in my subconscious. Thankfully, rather than disappoint, ‘Esteesee’ (the phonetic sounds of Coleridge initials S.T.C) delights, Hardy producing a striking collection of songs, which unlike many concept albums, stands alone as individual pieces rather than requiring a necessity to be heard in a single sitting.
"a striking collection of songs, which unlike many concept albums, stands alone as individual pieces rather than requiring a necessity to be heard in a single sitting."
The secret is twofold, an undoubted passion for the subject matter, using the life, works, words and influence of Coleridge to meld gorgeous melodies with impeccable wordplay, which even in the darkest instances, exude a serene splendour. Furthermore, instead of concentrating wholly on her own delightfully controlled vocals, Ange includes spoken word from David Milton (Town Crier for Watchet, purportedly the town which inspired Coleridge to write ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’) who quotes verse from the literary epic around ‘The Curse of the Dead Man’s Eye.’ Tamsin Rosewell also reads from ‘Kubla Khan’ in tone which could reside perfectly in a cauldron scene from Shakespeare’s Macbeth, and additional lead vocals from Steve Knightly are used contrastingly during ‘Mother You Will Rue Me,’ one of my highlights within this exceptional thirty eight minute anthology.
"one of the great traditional folk albums of the 21st century."
As someone who feasts sonically upon a wide variety of musical styles, very rarely does a single genre album hold my attention throughout. Ange Hardy’s fourth offering is one such album. From ‘The Foster-Mother’s tale’ through ‘Elegy for Coleridge’ I find myself enrapt in the unfolding beauty, tenderness and even horror within this homage to the great romantic poet. The amalgamation of music and verse, sublimely played, exquisitely sung, ensures the conceptual ‘Esteesee’ one of the great traditional folk albums of the 21st century.
- Reviewer: Andy Barnes, Sonic Bandwagon
For her fourth album, the Somerset-born folk singer-songwriter has turned to Romantic poet and druggie Samuel Taylor Coleridge for inspiration, the album featuring settings of his verses, songs inspired by his friends and family and even some based on his dinner table conversations. Joined by, amongst others, Breabach’s Patsy Reid on fiddle, viola and cello, Kate Rouse on hammered dulcimer, Archie Churchill-Moss on a diatonic accordion and Steve Knightley from Show of Hands providing lead vocals (Hardy interweaving behind him) on the Mother You Will Rue Me (a song about when Coleridge ran away from home after an argument with his brother when he was eight and later admitted a sense of satisfaction on making his mother miserable). Opening with the intricate circling melody of The Foster Mother’s Tale, the tale of an abandoned baby and his subsequent fate (that also has Knightley on harmonies) and slipping into the shanty-flavoured My Shanty (inspired by The Ancient Mariner, as is slow march The Curse of the Dead Man’s Eye which has Watchet town crier David Milton reciting the famous water water everywhere lines) with Hardy on whistle and Jo May on spoons, it’s a fabulous album, Hardy again proving she’s as adept at crafting authentically traditional sounding song as she is singing them.
"Hardy again proving she’s as adept at crafting authentically traditional sounding song as she is singing them."
There’s not an even remotely weak number here, though particular note to should be made of the light, skipping Friends of Three relating to ST’s hill-roaming friendship with the Wordsworths, the moodier, sparser George (about his older brother), the harp-accompanied medieval style setting of Epitaph On An Infant and the jazzy viola-plucked Might is in The Mind drawn from an anecdote about then poets table talk.
Naturally, you can’t make an album about Coleridge without at least one number about his legendary opium trip vision, Kubla Khan, but rather than try and weave it into a song, Hardy has called on Tamsin Rosewell to recite the poem in full with herself and Rouse providing the musical accompaniment. Works a treat.
"this is without question one of the folk albums of the year."
The album closes with two songs named for the poet himself, Along The Coleridge Way, Hardy playing harp as she talks of the 51-mile footpath from Nether Stowey to Lynmouth that led to her discovery of his work, and Elegy for Coleridge, a military-like snare-drum and whistle arrangement of extracts from his self-written epitaph. Coming complete with a booklet containing the lyrics and notes, this is without question one of the folk albums of the year.
- Reviewer: Mike Davies, Roots and Branches
Ange Hardy is a quite extraordinary artist, she has the wonderful gift of writing songs which sound like they have been part of the classic folk music cannon for centuries. They have a mark of real quality, depth and permenance. Ange's new project 'Esteesee' has taken everything that was brilliant about her last five-star rated album 'The Lament of the Black Sheep' and then taken it to a completely new level. It would't surprise us if 'Esteesee' was included at the very top of the 2015 Folk Album of the Year lists or that Ange received further commissions on the strength of this album. Ange and the new album are also our firm favourites to be nominated in next year's BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards. We love the subtle touches in the production and orchestration of this album, which you only really appreciate on multiple plays. It reminds us of slowly turning a diamond to reveal yet another stunning facet. Simply put 'Esteesee' is a highly original, beautifully produced and seminal UK folk album, which will be treasured for years to come.
"Simply put 'Esteesee' is a highly original, beautifully produced and seminal UK folk album, which will be treasured for years to come."
The new album 'Esteesee' is inspired by the life and works of the great English poet and writer Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834). Samuel Coleridge disliked his name, so by the age of 16 he had starred referring to himself using his intials S.T.C. and would often write them phonetically as 'Esteesee'. Coleridge is perhaps best know for writing the poems 'The Rime of the Ancient Marnier' and 'Kubla Khan'. He was also friends with William Wordworth and the pair are credited as being the founders of Romanticism.
Ange is joined on the album by a host of great other musicians including Steve Knightley (Show of Hands), Patsy Reid, Lukas Drinkwater, Steve Pledger, Jonny Dyer, Jo May, Andrew Pearce, Archie Churchill-Moss (Moore Moss Rutter) and Kate Rouse (Kara). There is spoken word on the album too and this is provided by Tamsin Rosewell and David Milton (Wachet Town Crier).
The album opens with the sublimely beautiful The Foster-Mother's Tale. It is a tale of a baby found in the woods by woodman Leoni. The story continues with this baby growing up into his youth, his corruption and imprisonment, his escape and then ultimate decline.
My Captain is based on the beginning of one of Coleridge's famous poems 'The Rime of the Ancient Mariner'. The song starts with the excitement of the start of the voyage. Once the ship had left the harbour in the Ancient Mariner it seemed though their fate was sealed and everything that followed was inevitable. With an excellent use of instrumentation on this song (including the whistle), it paints a vivid picture of the ship preparing for the voyager at the harbour.
The Curse of the Dead Man's Eye sets the tone of the mixed fortunes of life at sea. The horrific imagery of being reduced to the desperate state of drinking your own blood to quench your own thirst, as the ship is becalmed in the Doldrums. The original Ancient Marnier poem contains some great visual imagery including the ships voyage to the Antartic, the shooting of the Albatross, the encounter with the ghostly hulk and the eventual sinking of the ship. As Ange says in the sleeve notes she could have written an entire album on this great poem. The small harbour town at Wachet allegedly inspired Coleridge to write the 'Ancient Mariner'. There is some great moody percussion from Jo on the song, which really sets the tone.
William Frend was one of Coleridge's tutors at Cambridge who was put on trial for publishing a leaflet condeming much of the liturgy of the Church. Both Coleridge and Frend believed in equality of man and were very interested in the legacy and liberty of the French Revolution. This song will be Ange's first single from the album.
Friends of Three is based on the close relationship Coleridge had with William and Dorothy Wordsworth. They would often walk in the Quantock Hills around Exmoor together.
Another of Coleridge's famous poems is Kubla Khan and for the album it is recited by Tamsin Rosewell. This is backed by Ange on Guitar/Whistle and Kate Rouse on Hammered Dulcimer, which cleverly adds a new layer to the atmosphere of the poem.
George was Coleridge's older brother and one who he constantly relied on. Much of the sentiment of this song is based on letters between Coleridge and his friends and family.
Pantisocracy means 'equal or level government for all'. The idea was friends Robert Southey, Robert Lovell and Coleridge would move to the banks of the Susquehanna in America to start a new and better life. Like many of Coleridge's scheme's it was full of hope and optimism but often impractical.
Epitaph of an Infant is based on the second verse of Coleridge's poem of the same name. This touching song of hope and optimism works perfecty with the harp.
Might is in the Mind is a very interesting 'ghost' story. As we don't want to spoil the ending, you need to listen very carefully to the lyrics.
Mother You Will Rue Me (Ft. Steve Knightley) is based on the true story of Coleridge running away from home at the age of 8 and thinking with inward and gloomy satifaction how misable it must have made his mother.
Esteesee the title track is based on a childhood prayer 'Matthew, Mark, Luke and John' (or 'The Black Paternoster'). Coleridge wrote in a letter 'This prayer I said nightly and most firmly believe the truth of it. Frequently have I half-awake. half-asleep, my body diseased and feavered by my imagination, seen armies of ugly things bursting in upon me, and these four angels keeping them off'
The Coleridge Way is the 51 mile footpath from Nether Stowey to Lynmouth, which lead Ange to discover Coleridge. It passes Ange's front door and the church in which she was married. Along The Coleridge Way is Ange's tribute and thank you to Coleridge.
The final song on the album Elegy For Coleridge is fittingly based on elements of Coleridge's own epitaph. Coleridge rests in St. Michael's Church, Highgate
Stop, Christian passer-by! - Stop, child of God,
And read with gentle breast. Beneath this sod
A poet lies, or that which once seemed he
O, lift one thought in prayer for S.T.C.,
That he who many a year with toil of breath
Found death in life, may he find life in death
Mercy for praise - to be forgiven for fame
He asked and hoped through Christ
Do thou the same!
- Reviewer: Laurel Canyon Music
Before you start listening to this album, take the time to look at the artwork and the extensive sleeve notes, there has been a lot of thought, understanding, work and passion put into this disc.
Just looking at the sleeve you see a style which is part art deco and part Bauhaus and it tells you this is not just folk music but folk art, close to a library on disc.
Perhaps the only person who looks deeper into the music she produces is the incredible Fay Hield who drags history along in the wake of every song she lays down.
"this is not just folk music but folk art"
There is a single strand which unites all the tracks on Ange Hardy's latest offering, Samuel Taylor Coleridge from where the title comes, avoiding a spoiler, you will see the connection when you buy the album.
This said you can then enjoy the simply fact that Hardy is a damn fine musician and knows how to combine folk culture and music in a way which makes you want to understand more of the feast she has lain before you.
Even with all the tradition and history Hardy does have a knack of putting a contemporary feel onto the familiar.
The Somerset born artist opens with The Foster-Mother's-Tale which is the first offering from Coleridge she ever read. It is a narrative of the life of one boy and is very close to a shanty and features the immense talents of Steve Knightley and Lukas Drinkwater alongside Hardy's silken and emotive tones. My Captain is the start of Hardy squeezing every ounce of understanding from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. It's a light, almost hornpipe tune that is fast-paced and hopes to express the initial excitement of a new project. Hardy admits she could have produced an entire album based upon the poem and she isn't far off with this one. The Curse Of A Dead Man's Eye begins with David Milton dramatically reading the beginning of The Rime. Hardy's voice comes in with the cadence of the oars being pulled across the water as a human engine moving a ship. You can almost feel the beat that could be of the slave master on the drum. With a change of pace Hardy brings in a beautiful ballad, William Frend, based upon a court incident involving Coleridge and Frend. This is without doubt one of the best songs on an album of seriously impressive tunes. It's not so much Coleridge but nature itself which inspires Friends of Three. It's an undulating and light ballad which has a touch of the renaissance about it. Patsy Reid's violin playing is particularly worthy of note on this floating song. Tamsin Rosewell orates Kubla Khan with the atmospheric music added by Hardy and Kate Rouse on dulcimer. Roswell produces a really effective narration which conjures up visions of sitting around her feet in a darkened room with only an open fire to half illuminate the scene. Within her voice, though smoky and feminine, there is a certain menace which keeps your attention as she executes the poem.
"Hardy's voice comes in with the cadence of the oars being pulled across the water as a human engine moving a ship. You can almost feel the beat that could be of the slave master on the drum"
The track, George, delves further into Coleridge's life and is inspired by his older brother. This is a deep and robust ballad but Hardy's light singing manages to keep it the right side of darkness. Pantisocracy, not the catchiest of titles, but relevant to Coleridge is a lovely traditional ballad. If it only had a tragedy it would be a wonderful murder ballad, but with Reid and Archie Churchill-Moss working under Hardy's voice it is just one of the many class tracks on this album. Epitaph On An Infant is among the most atmospheric songs on the album and Hardy gets a chance to show off her skills as a harpist too. The tune to Might Is In The Mind has a definite cheeky nature and tells the story of a ghostly prank which goes wrong ending with the death of the victim, so Youtubers take note! Knightley's voice is unmistakable on Mother You Will Rue Me where Hardy takes a back seat and contents herself with backing vocals. The haunting harmonies sound very similar to Clannad and the slight edginess of Knightley's singing mirrors the emotions Coleridge was going through during this childhood episode. The title track is a remarkably atmospheric song, based upon a nightly prayer of Coleridge and Hardy gives it the full treatment, using just enough vocals to tie the strands of music together. It seems Hardy's life is more intertwined with Coleridge's beyond her interest in the poet and this album. Along The Coleridge Way is a simple ballad and a simple homage to the man and, like all the tracks on this album, is impeccably executed. When you have pretty much dedicated an album to one poet what could be more fitting to go out with than Elegy For Coleridge. The lyrics are based upon the epitaph found on the poet's gravestone and Hardy gives it a medieval almost festive feel as she takes out what is surely one of the most original and notable albums of 2015.
"one of the most original and notable albums of 2015"
If folk singers were to make the old-style concept album then this is probably as close as you will get to it anywhere. To produce an entire set of songs inspired and using the works of a singular poet sounds like something bordering on the obsessive, but Hardy pulls it off. What she has put together is a fascinating, original and intriguing piece of work which is both contemporary and rooted in tradition and she has done it without getting mired down in self indulgence. It will be a big surprise if Esteesee doesn't figure in the rounds of annual folk awards purely for the amount of work, time and effort Hardy has obviously put into this project and this is before you even get to the quality of her singing and songwriting.
- Reviewer: Danny Farragher, FolkAll
"An album of introversion, romantic celebration and diversity of form."
With Ange Hardy's nomination in the BBC 2 Radio Awards and the fantastic reviews she has received across the board for her last album, The Lament of the Black Sheep (see my review here, or the more prestigious five-star Telegraph review here); she goes from strength to strength carving an individual niche within British Folk.
Her latest album, "Esteesee" draws a deep and central celebration of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, a member of the Lake Poets who alongside Wordsworth was influential in brought us the beginnings of the "Romanticism" movement in the 18th Century. His works contributed to form the feel and style of what we identify in Romanticism by means of imagination, freedom and the re-spinning of old medieval myths in the face of frightening industrialisation and creeping scientific rationalism.
Choices and Concepts
The choice of Coleridge is a natural one for folk music as the genre itself is quite tightly woven alongside "Romanticism". Folk music transmits humane personal understanding though emotion and literary exploration in a time different to ours, where there were more mysteries and wonders. But the mysteries and wonders of the heart have only cosmetically changed through history, in a sense our struggles are and much as they were then which is why folk music is still such a powerful force.
Through a a series of different moods and exciting integration of poetry, music and history we get a well-researched concept album with both the traditional English folk approach and authenticity within "The Lament of the Black Sheep" as well as the primal urgency and power of "Bare Foot Folk" present in the album. Ange Hardy accomplishes this by bringing in extra voices throughout the repertoire which lend itself to a natural diversity in the songs presented. In certain songs you feel the pull of history and warm community, in others the delivery is akin to a Lovercraftian horror of old curses and secrets whispered on the decks of doomed galleons.
The CD inlay contains a bold and crisp cover which deceives you that there are any lavish contents within, but like a treasure chest the wonder lies within. The photography, historical artwork and lyrics are set against cut-outs of the reference material of Mr Coleridge's poetry with added personal insights from the singer into the meanings of songs. The clean and bold writing is evident throughout, it is well constructed and the album cover is both both resourceful and stylish (by Michael Cook from Hallowed Art).
The atmosphere begins with the attention to detail of the packaging and accompanying materials but now we turn to my selection of tracks that define the strengths of this multi-faceted, literary album.
"The Foster-Mother's Tale" (1) is described as being the "ultimate decline to savagery" of a baby found within the woods. It is a sorrowful song of abandonment and ill fortune with a child at the heart who is rescued but with a terrible inevitability of returning to the nature in which he is found, lawless and uncivilised, a boy who,"Would not learn, would not come in. For out in the woods did play". The accordion weeps and the lyrics fall again and again sung with an almost legal rhythm that urges the child's expulsion like a law of the country.
"My Captain" (2) is a joyful and optimistic jig of exploration which is sung with clarity and youthful excitement which looks at Coleridge's idealism during his expedition on the Ancient Mariner. The warm tones clearly communicate Coleridge's enthusiasm and idealism to start projects without clear thought of the commitment and consequences; a sentiment I can appreciate in it's entirety.
On "The Curse of the Dead Man's Eye" (3), Ange Hardy's voice and superb accompaniment moves like a regiment of Ray Harryhausen's skeletons. The creeping woe, depravity and undying as the "rotting flesh did reek awry" combine with a shrill, ghostly and faithful telling of the source material. It is a favourite, folk songs should contain more references to "slimy things", and this has more than one. For the introduction "David Milton", a town crier, reads the first poetic verse with the glee of an experienced storyteller and is a wise addition.
The fourth track, "William Frend" (4) is a heart-filled, political yet quiet call for equality from a time Coleridge applauded the actions of William Frend who was condemning Church liturgy in pursuit of of liberty. The harmony from Steve Pledger, Steve Knightley, and Lukas Drinkwater portrays the ideological kinship between the gentleman convincingly. It is a song of camaraderie and friendly pride. Track 8, Pantisocracy" shares the traditional folk feel of track 2 without the sailing themes but with the political good cheer and thoughts of "William Frend". Coleridge's characteristic of dreaming and wishing for a better life is shown by Hardy's buyont lyrical stylings.
"Kubla Khan" (6) is a marvellous feat of evocative poetry told with an unparallelled, mystical wonder and intrigue; the artist made the right choice in leaving the poem as it is without interpretation. This talented rendition of the poem by Tamsin Rosewell accentuates the air, the mystery and unknowingness of the sea, and the lightness of circular shapes and movement in human architecture. It is a singular track and poem, and worth the purchase alone.
The two final tracks I wish to talk about are "Might is in the Mind" (10) and track 12, "Eteesee". "Might is in the Mind" is a fragment of one of Coleridge's table stories at the height of his celebrity. The story itself talks of a prank that was played on friend with sceptical thoughts about ghosts. The song is almost vaudeville cabaret with it's pleasant backing and the viola is omnipresent bringing a sweet, perky accompaniment to Ange Hardy's cheeky rendition. "Eteesee" proves a theme I find with Ange Hardy's albums; that the final few of tracks tend to be my favourite. If Ange Hardy wasn't a folk singer she would be singing the equivalent of this in the 1980s with big hair, it is the folk equivalent of a power ballad. "Esteesee" is a beautiful, metaphysical and rousing number foreshadowing an epic struggle for Coleridge's soul. Half delirious and half defiant to invisible spirits, the song is poignant in that it is both conciseness and rousing.
As I previously mentioned, it is introvert or maybe "thinking" folk. It celebrates the foundational aspects of all folk music by honouring romanticism, the politics of equality, and both the beauties and mysteries of nature. It has the depth of being light and breezy but counterbalances this with a cerebral, brooding underbelly.
Ange Hardy has assembled a talented group of musicians that all bring a sense of magic and discovery to this historical album. These include: Patsy Reid (Fiddle, viola, cello, vocals), Lukas Drinkwater (Double bass and vocals), Steve Pledge (vocals), Jonny Dyer (Piano and vocals), Jo May (Rope tension snare drum, triangle and spoons), Andrew Pearce (Drums), Archie Churchill-Moss (Diatonic accordion), Kate Rouse (Hammered dulcimer), and of course the poetic input of Tamsin Rosewell and David Milton.
Any fan of history, particularly of Coleridge and the region should check this album out it is an accomplished piece of multi-textual work.
- Reviewer: Peter Taranaski, She Dances In The Mind
Some reviews are harder to write than others, particularly if you're in the fortunate position to count the creator of the album as a friend and have been named in the thank you notes of said album. Two critical values that need to be retained as a critic are objectivity and perspective. I feel that I have retained both, but feel the need to caveat this review, lest anyone feels the need to say, well he would say that wouldn't he.
"Esteesee" is not just an album you see, it's a concept album and that means that not only does it have to be full of rich songs and entertaining it has to deliver the spirit of the subject that it's written around, something that a songbook album doesn't have to.
In selecting the poet, writer, philosopher, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, as the subject of the album there is an immediate affinity with a protagonist that shares Ange's love and passion for words. If Samuel Taylor Coleridge was reborn today, would he be a singer-songwriter and screenwriter as a different avenue for his obvious creative talents? Discuss.
Naturally "Esteesee", the album named, incidentally in the phonetic way Coleridge often signed himself as he disliked his own name, incorporates the two hits, "Rime Of The Ancient Mariner" and "Kubla Khan", but like Coleridge himself, this is so much more than that.
Coleridge was a complex individual and trying to capture the man who invented the phrase 'suspension of disbelief' and spent a lot of his creative life under the influence of laudanum and opium, in just fourteen songs is no mean task. If the review sounds a bit like a history lesson thus far, maybe it is, but then again the role of a good concept album is to educate and without a doubt "Esteesee", puts a massive tick in that box. 'Ahh yes' I can hear you say, 'but does it entertain, does it make you feel?' I was coming to that.
"the role of a good concept album is to educate and without a doubt "Esteesee", puts a massive tick in that box"
"Esteesee" is an album that makes you feel, takes you through the thrashes you against the rocks, drags you through the mangle and delivers you at the end well pressed, sharp around the edges and with an addictive desire to have those endorphins kick against the synapses again.
Ange Hardy has had some of life's great battles and whilst not the same as those experienced by Coleridge, they have helped her get under his skin and bring something tangible to a man that we only know from books, something that takes no small effort and the thing I like about it is there are times where I feel he was a jerk and sometimes I feel he was a saviour.
You can really feel the heart and soul put into "Esteesee" because you can feel it all coming back out again. This is not an album that tries to shoehorn a life into song, this is an album that takes the essence of a life and celebrates it, the good with the bad, the young with the old.
"this is an album that takes the essence of a life and celebrates it, the good with the bad, the young with the old"
Ange is joined in her task, by the likes of Steve Knightly, Patsy Reid, Lukas Drinkwater, Steve Pledger and Jo May, as well as spoken word exponents Tamsin Rosewell and David Milton. I should also mention Jonny Dyer, Andrew Pearce, Archie Churchill-Moss and Kate Rouse, all of whom contribute their own piece of magic and sparkle. The musicianship, singing and performance on this album, hits the marks time and time again. Each song delivering its own vignette
Coleridge is not just a man, he's one of my favourite poets and the thing is, as the final notes of "Elegy For Coleridge" fade into the hall, I can't help but get the impression of a wan, slightly hung over man in a frock coat, getting up on stage, strapping on a guitar and shouting, "ONCE AGAIN FROM THE TOP!"
"The musicianship, singing and performance on this album, hits the marks time and time again"
Ultimately if you've read Coleridge you can't help hearing "Esteesee" and Ange Hardy's wonderful songs, partly through his ears and from where I'm sitting it's sounding exceptionally good and if you haven't yet read Coleridge, why not hear "Esteesee" first and partly see his words, through Ange Hardy's eyes. Ultimately that choice is yours, my recommendation is let "Esteesee" open the doors to your personal Xanadu, it's a well worthy pleasure dome.
- Reviewer: Neil King, FATEA
“Why Esteesee” asks Ange Hardy in her notes and it was a question I had asked myself in anticipation. The explanation is actually very simple. Esteesee or S.T.C. is Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the subject of Ange’s fourth album.
That Coleridge was what we might now call “a character” quickly becomes apparent as Ange picks out incidents from his life. ‘William Frend’ tells of Coleridge applauding during the trial of one of his college tutors who published a pamphlet condemning the Church liturgy. STC got away with it by blaming a one-armed man standing near him! His friendship with William and Dorothy Wordsworth is recounted in ‘Friends Of Three’; his relationship with his brother is explored in ‘George’ and a failed attempt to found a better life in America is examined in ‘Pantisocracy’.
"It’s rare that I’ll play a CD twice through without a break even for the purposes of a review. Esteesee is an exception."
Of course, Coleridge’s own writing plays a large part. The opening song, ‘The Foster-Mother’s Tale’, comes from a play and then we’re into The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner with two songs. The first, ‘My Captain’, is based on one of the few happy bits of the poem and will be claimed as traditional before long. It’s a song full of optimism and enthusiasm – complete with spoons by Jo May – and is in stark contrast to ‘The Curse Of A Dead Man’s Eye’. This is clever programming; the poem would be the elephant in room otherwise as would ‘Kubla Khan’ which is read by Tamsin Rosewell with accompaniment by Ange on guitar and whistle and Kate Rouse’s hammered dulcimer.
Other musical support comes from Steve Knightley, who takes lead vocals on ‘Mother You Will Rue Me’, Patsy Reid, Archie Churchill-Moss (of Moore Moss Rutter), Lukas Drinkwater (of Three Daft Monkeys), Jonny Dyer, Andrew Pearce and Steve Pledger. In her music Ange cleverly employs the rhythms and cadences of English traditional music, particularly apparent in ‘Along The Coleridge Way’ and the final ‘Elegy For Coleridge’. The packaging is equally good with excerpts from STC’s writing alongside Ange’s words. I’m not sure that every copy goes out with a greetings card, bookmark and “quill” pen but there have to be some perks in this job.
This is an excellent album. It’s rare that I’ll play a CD twice through without a break even for the purposes of a review. Esteesee is an exception.
- Reviewer: Dai Jeffries, Folking
The outstanding Esteeseeby Ange Hardy. Released this very day but as I pre-ordered it I have been in the wondrous vividly painted world of Coleridge for a few weeks already. Indeed, I am still struggling to find words appropriate to express just how incredible, beautiful, evocative and wonderful this collection of songs and music are. None I find do justice to the immaculate end result of this project. Curated and created by Ange with a suite of other top musicians and guests lending their artistic skills to produce a true dynamic masterpiece.
As Ange explains in the inlay: Esteesee is an album inspired by, and indeed it celebrates, the life and work of poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834) who was so utterly “disgusted by the dull and vile plumpness of his own Christian names”, by the time he was 16 years old he was referring to himself as S.T.C often spelling this as Esteesee.
For those unfamiliar with his work, he is perhaps best known for the The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Kubla Khan, counted William Wordsworth as a friend and with whom he is credited as founding Romanticism. Through the songs on this record, Ange shines a light on the fascinating and complex poems and on the areas of the poet’s life that resonated most strongly with her, thus representing a snapshot of his life through her eyes.
The huge level of respect and admiration with which she manages to weave Coleridge’s words around and through her own is something one appreciates almost instantly. As an artist, musician and creative herself, the way this amalgamation has worked is nothing short of divine. It is as though destiny has aligned them so this work could result. Furthermore it has encouraged me to seek out some of the original works of Coleridge as it will many others who hear this work of magic.
Trying in vain to narrow down songs for a podcast playlist I’ve had to settle on sharing four. I often bang on about how it is always hard to select single tracks to play from albums that are of epic quality but seriously this time I have been well and truly beaten. As The Foster-Mother’s Tale is such a stunning and beautiful way to be greeted when hitting play on a brand new album for the first time (and every time thereafter for that matter), I settled on this opening track as the first. However, I then hit the wall of NEEDING to play them all. Every. Single. One. And thus opted for title track Esteesee as the second of four. The other two I am still to pick so the podcast that follows my first new one in a while may be postponed until that is done. When a record touches me such as this one has, though, you must appreciate it feels like a betrayal to leave any out at all.
The arrangements, the additions, the layers that build up around your ears breathe singing, talking, walking, moving pictures into the mind. Some play about you while you feel completely immersed in all the surrounding splendour. My Captain for instance, possesses me so forcefully that I find myself having just finished some kind of traditional folk-dance come the end. Even when sitting down I can’t be tamed to stillness.
Title track Esteesee itself I have perhaps listened to the most as it is, as mentioned on my next podcast playlist (but be under no illusion I have been playing the album in full on endless repeat) but also it was featured prior to release on Folk Radio UK. The heavenly depths conjured up by the lyrics, Ange’s serene vocals, the heavenly harmonies, the music, the angels, the EVERYTHING! Those four angels reveal themselves through the song in all their angelic glory touching every fibre of your being. As I am a total music geek (no surprise there), I am left with goosebumps from music on a regular basis but once again with this single song, those goosebumps rippling over and through me reach an entirely new level while experiencing Esteesee. Yes, I say experience because the entire album is something you don’t just listen to but these songs constitute an experience. And a divine one at that.
One more thing about it both astounds and confounds me (in very good ways). Even though the music and style are inherently very traditional folk in nature, the skill and creativity poured into them and thus the resulting output breaks down ALL walls of genre, transcending far beyond so that whether your usual preference is folk (of whatever sub-genre) or anything else right across the entire music spectrum, Esteesee is a record your life cannot and should not be without. Do yourselves a HUGE favour and BUY IT NOW! This is not only some of the best folk music out there, it is some of the best music overall!
There is also the Along The Coleridge Way tour kicking off October 3rd running right about The Coleridge Way. If you are in the area DO NOT MISSit! http://www.alongthecoleridgeway.co.uk/
Finally, and this is completely selfish on my part but with the formidable level of quality Ange Hardy has reached with Esteesee I would love to see and hear what she would create on a similar project concerning Tolkien’s The Silmarillion. An album like Esteesee put to that world would for me, be akin to me reaching those white shores of Valinor in the uttermost West. In fact, listening to Esteesee takes me right there anyway. http://www.angehardy.com/
- Reviewer: Band of Badgers