Folk North-West – Rob Dunford

I was privileged to receive a pre-release copy of this their debut album, earlier this year at Lymm Folk Club, prior to its launch and I am pleased to say it backs up the host of favourable impressions their live performances have left me with.  As Lymm’s publicity told us, the Hayes Sisters have been singing together “since they were knee high to tuneful grasshoppers” and have recorded, after, as they relate, the interval of “serious grown up stuff of careers, marriages and families.

We open with ” The Wrong Way” and to use an old-fashioned term, a “catchy” tune for this track. Their harmonies – which feature so much throughout the album – relate to the tale of a wandering and philandering seafarer it would seem.  A good introduction to the range of instrumentation from the sisters themselves and studio musicians.

The second track brings us “The New Ballad of John Axon”, recounting a rail disaster in Derbyshire and the compact harmonies echoing the lonesome locomotives call in this tragic account.  Mere ” poignancy” does not do this tale’s narrative descriptive justice.  Next “Victor” relates by name a lament for unrequited love in the hills, in a community of sheep farmers.  The rhythm rolls and, given the story, almost a touch too jolly by instrumentation some may feel.

“Work” wow!  At first hearing it just as background and not tuned in to the lyrics,  it could simply be a melancholy song from America’s rural heartlands, thanks to a bold banjo. But no – it takes one straight to that American corner of Cuba and broader undertones of an outlook of authoritarian policies.  Following this is an endearingly romantic story “Dieter and Marie-Pierre ” set in occupied Paris in World War II and so well illustrating the considered attention Cath Hayes brings to her lyrics.  Fiona Landers clarinet here helps to endorse a gentle “Parisian” sound overall. We have here commenced on a mid-album segment of four gentler paced songs and with “The Mistress” comes, for this reviewer, the most powerful and impressively lasting number on the album.  A tale of the bitter and heart-rending consequences of addictive obsession.  The haunting, plaintive refrain within, by “I Can’t Love You” as Jen Hayes voice mournfully rings out like the call of an evening bird.  Sadness and regret ooze out both from the lyrics and backing arrangements.  Track 7 “Heading for the Hills” sums up how many of us feel and undertake, at every opportunity, to escape from the daily grind and give us some cleansing of the soul.  “I will wear green” a line repeats:  I for one certainly hope so, as so many popular paths parade the latest luminous fashions!  The final song in this gentler episode tells of “The Woman Who Walked”, a further spotlight on the role of the dutiful woman it strongly suggests.  Having the added impact of changing pace and arrangement midway through projects the boldness of the lyrics – ” The women who walks into doors”.

Into the subsequent song and “A Lifetime Freeze” ups the pace once more and running beat.  Yet again an examination of the role of individuals over time in a relationship and within contemporary society and today’s world.  Herein, a distinctively transatlantic sound to the Sisters harmonious voices and music.  Then with “Sweet Dreams” optimism shines through and, as befits the title, the rhythm drops once more.  It certainly enables the vocal balance to come to the fore in a song of humanity’s universal dynamism and endeavours.  “Saints and Sinners” in some ways does likewise lyrically but with The Hayes Sisters’ rollercoaster of styles and formats we take another turn, guiding us towards a touch of Dixieland.  A child’s point of view observes parental disharmony but is able to conclude with hope for, by persistence, eventually their “getting on”.

The penultimate offering ” You Are The One” is simply a paean of emotional devotion from one person to the love of their life.  Poetry plus music, with a soft country feel; a fitting composition all round.  We end with Track 13 and “Another Man’s Shoes” , the album’s title.  Here the sweetness of unaccompanied voices in peak-perfect harmony, the prime presentation of Cath, Ange and Jen Hayes’  vocal talent.  Life’s paths take us to where “bigger picture” promises entice father’s, mothers, breadwinners yet without guarantee of contentment …. “Never to walk in another man’s shoes.

So, as fine a debut album as one might wish for, and, not to be unexpected given that it is produced by the renowned Clive Gregson.  Indeed Clive plays on the album along with a host of other musicians including the All Ireland  champion fiddler Andy Dinan.  A commendable first CD, fully representative of the different and contrasting styles of material the Hayes Sisters carry in the pace and presentation of their songs and musicianship.  On a purely personal taste basis I’m still not sure if the slower-paced mid album is maybe a track too much hereabouts and on occasions I  find the overlay of wind instruments a touch distracting.  On behalf of radio presenters too, I note the absence of individual and cumulative track timings anywhere in the package details.

Nevertheless, these points aside I am pleased also have confirmed, those impressions made at their live gigs of sounds suggestive of, variously, The Roaches, The Rankin Family, Scolds Bridle even.  With folk club, concert and festival bookings growing they are expanding their geographical range of appreciation far beyond their southern Greater Manchester heartlands.  So every opportunity to go out and sample both album and live performances.  Well done you three!


Rob Dunford