The folk music scene of the British Isles showed great resilience during the pandemic period and is now going through a new blossoming phase. Among the newly formed bands on the circuit there is a West Country-based trio of young musicians embodying the best that English folk music has to offer.
Tarren is Alex Garden, Sid Goldsmith and Danny Pedler, three artists who, despite their young age, can already boast an astonishing career, but also three friends who really enjoy making music together. Just after the toughest months of the pandemic, they decided to team up to create something unique, and the result of their endeavour is a fresh sound, skilfully combining the rich and varied traditions of their home country with elements from other cultures and different genres like minimalism and cinematic music.
Their debut album Revel, released on 29 August 2022, is a celebration of brotherhood and togetherness, a much-needed message in these troubled times.
Garden is one of the most accomplished fiddlers on the folk scene of the British Isles. Their passion for traditional music has brought them to craft their idiosyncratic style, a recognisable touch influenced by great names such as Aidan O’Rourke and Sam Sweeney. They have become famous for their project Sonder, a collaboration with vibraphone player Harriet Riley, with whom they recorded more than one album of newly self-penned tunes played on these two very different instruments – the good old fiddle, one of the most distinctive voices of the traditional music of these isles, and the much more modern vibraphone, invented in the USA in 1927.
This unusual combination and their talent and versatility enchanted many listeners around the world as their recordings were broadcast live not only in the UK, but also in other countries such as Italy, Albania, Belgium and the United States.
Goldsmith is an acclaimed singer and multi-instrumentalist. He has played guitar, cittern, bass and concertina in a number of projects and collaborations with artists such as Leo James, Tamsin Elliott and Ed Williams. His most famous works are arguably the ones with Jamie Aldridge, and the duo’s sensitive instrumentation, fitting social commentary and refined vocal harmonies have received unanimous praise from both the specialist and the general press.
Pedler is an accordion and hurdy-gurdy virtuoso and prolific composer who has toured England from east to west for his musical studies and career. He is actively involved in many projects, including one to take music and art to the most remote and secluded corners of Somerset. He has also released a highly original album called Field and Dyke with Sheffield guitarist and singer-songwriter Greg Russell, a work centred on the stories and the landscapes of the Lincolnshire fens.
Revel contains both original compositions and traditional pieces. Explaining the title, the band describe their album as “Revelling at times in exuberant playful celebration and at others in a slow relished tenderness”.
It opens in style with the syncopated and catchy Hardwood, followed by Salt and Sweet, a lively set of jigs. Morris dancing tunes, hornpipes, jigs and reels follow each other, sometimes alternating with tracks including self-penned compositions based on continental European dances such as Bourées (France) and the Stray Polska (Sweden/Norway). The album also includes three songs: an old English love song called Searching for Lambs, arranged in a very personal way; the always relevant Riggs of the Time; and the heartfelt You to Me, written by Pedler to celebrate everything good in our lives and the inevitability of love.
Despite the large number of traditional style pieces, the album has a distinctly modern folk flavour and incorporates many elements of minimalistic music. Take for example the delicate Orange in Bloom, a 19th-century tune that the band play more slowly than is usual, giving it a sparse and tantalisingly tender feel. Or the majestic set of Hornpipes, characterized by an impressionistic and well-calibrated intro which comes back to close the track for a grand finale.
The enjoyment these three artists feel when playing music together is palpable, not only from their debut album, but also from the energy and the atmosphere of their live gigs. In spring 2023 they embarked on a tour that includes 15 different locations across the UK, from Newcastle to London, from Lincoln to Stroud, from South Wales to Cornwall.
The future is here
German composer Gustav Mahler once said that “tradition is not the worship of ashes, but the preservation of fire”. In other words, to keep an art form alive, it has to evolve. Tarren are on the same page. Their music shows respect for folk music’s origins but at the same time takes it forward, showing it can still be at the heart of our society, both for the sense of delight it provides to the careful listener with its instrumental passages and for the themes it explores with its lyrics.
Folk musicians are important: they hand down a shared cultural core that, far from being associated with nationalism, unites people and nations. These three artists can be seen as key contributors to the future of folk music in these isles, the natural heirs of milestone bands such as Leveret and the Old Blind Dogs. They are taking folk music’s genres on an innovative journey that can only enrich the traditional music scene and everyone who comes across their works.