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Review: The Furrow Collective's bewitching take on folk music

The Furrow Collective is a gathering of folk talent from England and Scotland composed of Emily Portman, Alasdair Roberts, Lucy Farrell and Rachel Newton. All four are established performers with distinct voices and styles, but together their differing approaches blend into something quite special.

This is folk music at its most darkly haunting. Tales of misery, heartbreak and crime abound, and there’s an unsettling, slightly off-key edge to the music that could be straight out of The Wicker Man. This isn’t a criticism – in fact, it’s precisely the opposite.

The Furrow Collective

Rachel Newton, Lucy Farrell, Emily Portman and Alasdair Roberts make up the Furrow Collective

In an age of high musical production values and studio trickery The Furrow Collective stand completely apart. Theirs is a bleak but nevertheless bewitching glimpse into a half-remembered past composed of communal story telling and shared mythologies – a musical ode to life’s blacker, weirder moments.

And the musicianship on display is first-rate, if often a little odd. As well as the usual fiddle and acoustic guitar, Lucy Farrell draws ethereal sounds from the musical saw and Roberts utilises a wine glass as a guitar capo.

The songs themselves, meanwhile, are steeped in the wild, oral history of the folk tradition. And while most are soaked in melancholy, the themes demonstrate enough variety to keep things interesting.


The Furrow Collective have a distinct approach to folk music

Skippin’ Barfit through the Heather evokes the blustery mountainsides of the Scottish highlands, while King Henry tells the grisly story of an insatiable ogress. Rachel Newton, meanwhile, performs two stunning songs in Gaelic based on traditional pibroch compositions.

Alasdair Roberts’s voice can admittedly take a bit of getting used to: it’s a strange, warbling, high-pitched whine that seems to spout forth from somewhere near the back of his throat. But it’s also oddly beautiful and heartfelt, and his gentle Scottish accent lends the music a rustic charm purpose-built for folk balladry.

Not many of the songs performed are original compositions, but each possesses its own distinctive spark of raw talent and creativity. For the folk-lovers out there, The Furrow Collective will be a welcome addition to the family.

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