Sally Anne Morgan on Mr Fox – S/T
Before she embarked on this solo LP for Thrill Jockey the works of Sally Anne Morgan have found their way onto Raven in many forms. Her work with Black Twig Pickers has long been a favorite around here and both of her albums with Sarah Louise under the name House and Land are underung gems. So, when this solo LP arose I’d thought it was a perfect time to see if Morgan had a gem of her own in mind, given the she’s got such a beguiling handle on the whiles of folk, both modern and traditional. She has not disappointed, turning in a ‘70s Brit Folk gem that’s not often uttered in too many roundups of the form. Check out her take on the eponymous LP from Mr Fox below.
“The hidden gem of an album everyone should know about is the self titled 1970 Mr Fox record. I first heard Mr Fox on a BBC playlist I tuned into a few years ago, for the purpose of hearing previously unreleased Pentangle recordings,” recalls Morgan. “My musical listening preferences for the past decade or so have leaned heavily in the favor of British Folk Rock from the 60s and 70s. I had never encountered the genre at all, until I was in my mid 20s and a friend played a Fairport Convention CD. It blew me away. At the time I was exclusively obsessed with American old time music and daily filled my ears with scratchy field recordings from around the 1930s. But something about Fairport lit up my synapses. I think I needed a new musical routing and this was my next avenue. I still have trouble describing the appeal of the Brit Folk Rock stuff to me, and why it seems fresh while the American equivalent seems played out to my ears. Maybe it’s simply that it came to me at the right time in my life.”
She explains further, “Trying to listen to some Pentangle I stumbled across a Mr Fox song that stole the show for me, and I went down a subsequent rabbit hole. I think it’s a super unique record, and has never gotten its due. The small amount of research I’ve done seems to pan it quite unfairly. Mr Fox verges on experimental and psychedelic in a completely different way than the other Brit Folk Rock of the time, a way that is perhaps more relevant and appealing today. Primarily acoustic, the instruments are played with a strident forcefulness. Carole Pegg’s fiddling is rough hewn and traditional, learned from men in pubs in the Yorkshire countryside. Don’t get me wrong, I love Dave Swarbrick’s fiddling and can get into some fancy violin trills, but the sharp edges and tone of Carole’s playing is my kind of style. I love the slow built, drone rich arrangements for many of the songs. They are eerie, in all the right ways. My favorite song on the record is the “Gay Goshawk,” penned by Carole Pegg, though completely archetypal and emblematic of an ancient ballad, just maybe a little cooler. Carole’s vocals are superb and similar to her fiddling – no punches held, not artificed – straight from the gut, with no diva-ing or attempted gymnastics. Compared unfavorably to the likes of Maddy Prior or Sandy Denny, those comparisons miss the point, and unfairly focuses on a quality Mr Fox just wasn’t going for. (Actually, unfairly focusing solely on a woman’s vocals is a twisted form of twisted misogyny still prevalent in today’s music world, I would argue.)”
— A sidenote from Sally: Carole Pegg released a solo record shortly after Mr Fox broke up in the early 70s, became an esteemed professor of Ethnomusicology at Cambridge University, and in 2014, released Goshawk with Tuvan singer Radik Tülük, which contains an incredible revisitation of her song from the first Mr Fox album. Her voice is rich and rough, gravelly, and proudly crone-ish. She is obviously an amazing person who I had the pleasure of meeting in person at a show in 2018 and, to top it all off, she’s super nice too! —
“Overall,” Sally concludes, “Mr Fox’s best songs are imbued with a warbly kind of mystery, making them transportative and other-worldly. Simultaneously closer to traditional folk music than their 1970s peers, and further away from it, like spiritual folk songs from an alternative reality. This is how I would love to sound. I admire the rawness, the power and the attitude. The truth is not overwrought in conceit, or couched in flawless playing, or learned technique from the academy. It comes from the gut.”
Given the nature of the LP, I thought this might be time for the band news, but it does seem that originals are obtainable if you search, and there’s even a reissue from ’99 that’s still around, though primarily through UK sellers. Morgan recasts this album as the gem it is, and its more than worth seeking out. I’ve said before, I love when this column turns up something I’m wholly unfamiliar with and this album from Mr Fox went straight into the listening pile here. I too am a big Fairport Fan and lover of Brit Folk. Nab this where you can and watch for Sally’s own LP on Thrill Jockey September 11th.
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