Album review: Galley Beggar – Heathen Hymns

Track-by-track album review of “Heathen Hymns” by Galley Beggar – released 28/04/17

Psychedelic folk-rock six-piece, Galley Beggar, (named after a mischievous spirit of English folklore) released their fourth album, Heathen Hymns, earlier this year in April. The band, hailing from Kent, features Paul Dadswell on drums, percussion and vocals, David Ellis on guitar and sitar, Mat Fowler on guitar and vocals, Bill Lynn on bass, Celine Marshall on violin, and lead singer Maria O’ Donnel. Released on Rise Above Records, and featuring Celia Drummond from legendary acid-folk band, TreesHeathen Hymns is an exciting exploration of psychedelia, hauntology, and freaky folk-rock.

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Source: Ester Segarra

The album opens with Salome, a harrowingly hypnotic track, with lyrics, “haunted like a fevered dream, selfishly I crave her, come to quench life’s burning stream, I faltered and forgave her” seamlessly sung by Maria O’Donnel, her voice eloquent and otherworldly. The song is a powerful opener, dragging the listener down through the rabbit hole, into the enchanted world of Galley Beggar.

The songwriting on Heathen Hymns has a childlike ‘storybook’ naivety about it, with simple rhyming and old-world messages of love and loss. The second track,  Four Birds, is a fine example of this; if it had not been stated otherwise, one might assume it was a take on a traditional  folk song, with bygone lyrics “among the rushes the blue jay wept and moaned…oh how the robin yearned for passion stole.” Their medieval-style poetic prose and traditional folk influence, mixed with a technologically modern sound, makes Galley Beggar one of the most exciting folk-rock bands today.

Influences from classic folk bands of the 1960’s and 70’s can be heard on the album, most notably Fairport Convention and Pentangle, as well as some early Led Zeppelin – particularly on third track, The Girl I left Behind Me, a downbeat, slower version of the upbeat folk tune from the late 18th century, also known as “Brighton Camp”, and sometimes used for Morris dancing.

If by this point you’re thinking, “this album is incredible, how can it get any better?” Fear not, fourth track, The Lake, holds the answer, a sitar; a classic yet seemingly underrated instrument, used in many albums across the 60’s and 70’s, emphasises that kaleidoscopic feel to the album. The song follows a similar ‘Trees style’ thumping rhythmic pattern as The Girl I left Behind Me, and is almost an extension of that song. From this half way point, the album seems to get better and better.

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Source: Album artwork

Next track, Lorelei, particularly stands out; the song paints prismatic images of midsummer circle dancing, fairies, nymphs, naiads, and all things folkloric and mythical. This makes sense considering “Lorelei” means ‘water spirit.’ The song is an adaptation of a traditional tale that has been altered and changed for thousands of years. The lyrics explore the first person point of view of an innocent passerby beguiled into the water by ‘Lorelei’, a siren who lures the man to his death with the sweetness of her voice. Woeful words, “perished soul am I, Lorelei! Lorelei! With a heavy sigh, going down going under…” are repeated throughout the song. The sixth song on the album, Moon and Tide, holds onto that hypnotic thumping rhythm that is consistent throughout the album. With songs, The Lake, Lorelei, and Moon and Tide, there certainly seems to be an aquatic theme to Heathen Hymns.

Celia Drummond, also a successful voice actor, who is, according to her website able to do “soft and sexy, to in-your-face up front, matter of fact documentary, or informative and professional” voice acting for a number of clients, joins the band on second-to-last track, Let No Man Steal Your Thyme, a modern, and authentic take on the traditional English folk song, most notably covered by Pentangle and Anne Briggs. Celia’s vocals are simply remarkable, and still hold true to that signature haunting and ethereal singing voice on Trees’ albums The Garden Of Jane Delawney and On The Shore, released almost 50 years ago. It’s clear Celia’s influence has been a strong one, many of the songs on the album bear incontestable comparison to the work of Trees, most evident in final track My Return, which could almost be mistaken for a Trees song.

It’s difficult to put a single genre on the album, elements of folk, prog, rock, psychedelia, and metal are all stirred up into one magical elixir that makes for a truly otherworldly album. After listening to Heathen Hymns a few times, it’s pretty obvious Galley Beggar aren’t the kind of band you can simply put into a box, or label with a single genre. An album best listened to while walking through ancient twisted woodland, along steep jagged cliffs, or through forgotten ruins. Alternatively, it also makes a good soundtrack for conjuring up spirits,  making magical potions, or raising a ‘cone of power.’

Galley Beggar will be supporting legendary 1970’s prog-rock pioneers, Curved Air, at the Mick Jagger Centre in Dartford, on the 3rd of November.

Heathen Hymns can be purchased here

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