Concert Review: Coope, Simpson, Fraser, Freya

Coope, Simpson, Fraser, Freya – To Drive The Cold Winter Away – Lichfield Guildhall – Saturday 7th December 2013

Reviewed by: Ben Macnair with photographs by: Dave Jones

Folk stalwarts Barry Coope and Lester Simpson brought their yuletide project to Lichfield Guildhall for a seasonal smorgasbord of festive delights.

With help from fellow singers and instrumentalists, Fi Frazer and Jo Freya, their two hour concert packed a lot in, from seasonal stories and poems to four part harmony singing and tunes featuring instruments ranging from melodeon to soprano saxophone. There were traditional Christmas songs, wassailing, comedy and songs from more modern times.

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An extract from John Clare’s epic poem, ‘Christmas,’ opened the evening and the music started with a final polyphonic reading of, ‘Hark Good News’. The mood was then lightened by Tom Lehrer’s, ‘A Christmas Carol,’ a wry look at the consumer at Christmas time, whilst the well known wassailing song, ‘Past Three O’clock,’ was another display of the ensemble’s trademark vocal prowess.

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The band showed some of their instrumental mettle with some strong arrangements of, ‘To Drive the Cold Winter Away/ Sussex Carol,’ before returning to more traditional forms with, ‘The Cherry Tree Carol,’ and the tightly sung, ‘Down In You Forest,’ by Amos Curtis. The first half closed with Robbie Robertson’s, ‘Christmas Must Be Tonight’.

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The four-piece started the second half with a well-known festive favourite, ‘While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks By Night,’ with a less than familiar tune. An impromptu rendering of Johnny Cash’s, ‘Riders In The Sky’ proved an amusing interlude as ‘letters’ both to and from Health and Safety about the various issues raised by the song were read out. ‘A Song Of Brotherly Love,’ looked at how brothers, long separated, can be reconnected by the spirit of the season.

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An instrumental medley of ‘Christmas At Sea/He Is Born/Ding Dong Merrily On High’, followed whilst, ‘Fifty Kilowatt Tree,’ was another humorous song, but which contained some of the most technically accomplished polyphonic singing of the whole evening. This was a varied and exciting evening, well conceived and greatly enjoyed by the audience.

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