A Cockatrice Hast Thou Hatched to the World

English player Jacken Elswyth continues to carve out her furrow and hoe her own row on the Betwixt & Between series of cassettes / CDR releases which she curates, where the general plan is to showcase her own banjo playing (solo or in a group / collaboration) and also the music of someone new to the label. Elswyth’s work occupies some curious location between traditional folk music and free improvisation, and purists or die-hards had better beware, or at least loosen up their corsets by one or two notches. Betwixt & Between 8 follows the expected split format…on the A side we have seven short-ish tunes played by Sullow, a trio featuring Jacken Elswyth teamed up with guitarist Daniel S. Evans and drummer Joshua Barfoot. Incidentally, both these fellows play in Shovel Dance Collective (as does Elswyth), a radical English folk combo who I never heard, but it seems they’re experimenting with notions of politics, feminism, and gender.

With Sullow, the trio are self-consciously aiming at some form of “guerilla attack”, where they play and record very short and fast-moving improvisations, diving in at the deep end in the first five seconds of performing, then turning off the tape recorder before things start to get too meandery. Seems like it might be a good strategy, and very much goes against the grain of more established old-school improv, where some players need the long-form workout just to build up a rapport among the team. I’m all for hearing a free-form outburst reduced to pop-song length by dint of short phrases and compacted shorthand, and these Sullow types certainly do much to wrong-foot any expectations we may have; for one thing, it feels odd to have a Fairport Convention guitar shape jockeying for position alongside Han Bennink-styled drumming. Even so, the music fails to satisfy at some level; the threesome can’t engage for long enough to establish a theme, or build a chain of musical thought, sticking around just long enough to dazzle for a moment or two before vanishing. Sullow would doubtless disagree; they’re certain that playing in this slightly urgent manner has  proven a good discipline for them, and on this recording the acoustic sounds ring bright and true and the instruments blend well.

The flipside is quite different to the above…The Silver Field are presented to us as “lush dream-psych” and “dreamy ambient psych-folk”, and the group is mostly Coral Rose Kindred-Boothby though I think she’s joined by drummer Kiran Bhatt when she does it live. Tape loops, bass guitar, vocals, stringed instruments, and lots of percussion are the tools in her box of delights, and you can spin this side to enjoy about 15 mins of her very distinctive sound. Coral Rose has an unusual nasal singing voice, perhaps slightly mannered, and an endearingly odd way of enunciating the phrases in her weird mystical lyrics, but it’s unforced and evidently comes naturally to her, not afraid to let some of her regional accent show through. The musical backdrop is pretty terrific too; through a mixture of rough-hewn DIY techniques and a real gift for melody, The Silver Field comes up with something innovative that might just appeal to fans of contemporary electronica as much as reborn English folkies following in the wake of Sharon Kraus. I’m sensing something genuine in the grain of her singing voice here, a real sense of conviction, even as she wails her possibly neo-pagan songs with titles such as ‘Dawn’, ‘Chase’ and ‘Nomoon’. On her website she tells a touching story about acquiring her reel-to-reel tape recorder at a boot sale for just £1.00, hopefully on a drizzly day when she had to pick it up from a rain-sodden tarpaulin as the smell of greasy hamburgers wafted past. Fans who are intrigued by this side of the tape should investigate the two previous albums from The Silver Field, Rooms and Sing High! Sing Low!. From 24th January 2022.