The Wilderness Yet : The Wilderness Yet24 July 2020
In April, in a moment of skittering pandemic anxiety, The Wilderness Yet shared a video heralding their debut album, an a capella reading of Gerard Manley Hopkins's evocative poem about untamed nature, Inversnaid.
The film shows the trio stood in a glade at the side of a brook, sympathetic to each other and at ease in the setting, making stilling, exalted music with three part vocal harmonies.
The album itself, now released, is as rich in natural imagery as the video - starting with the autumnal details of its enchanting cover (illustrated by Adam Oehlers) - the whole a breathtaking celebration of nature and traditional music.
The trio's undoubted magic is rooted in the relationship between simple elements - Rosie Hodgsons' lilting and emotive vocals, Rowan Piggott's vibrant fiddle and the masterly guitar and flute of Philippe Barnes.
Former BBC Young Folk Award finalist Rosie Hodgson is a fine folksinger. She glides and swoops with palpable delight through the songs almost as if intoxicated by them. Rosie grew up in West Sussex surrounded by traditional songs, and talks about them as her 'musical home'. You can hear that depth of attachment in her voice.
Galway-raised Rowan Piggott comes from celebrated musical stock (his father, Charlie, was a founding member of De Dannan) and his childhood featured a similar close relationship to the natural world as Rosie's.
Rosie and Rowan have both released accomplished solo albums. They have toured as a duo; Philippe Barnes joined them after recording a collaborative song for Rowan's 2018 Songhive project.
Philippe has an eclectic background. He studied Irish music at the University of Limerick, and has performed with The David Munnelly Band, Celtic band All Jigged Out and hip-hop exponents Dizraeli & The Small Gods. His musicianship lights up the recordings.
The lyrical prominence of the environment through the songs recorded is no accident, nor mere aesthetic preoccupation, the flow of pastoral poetry makes a point and that is deliberate - as Rosie states,
"We have such a platform doing what we do - folk music is revolutionary music, and it has always had its toes in the water of big changes and it also has the potential to help people see the importance in the small things that might otherwise be disregarded as unimportant."
"We feel very connected to songs that have change to drive. We want to do good - and bringing messages through the songs is our way of doing that, Songs that want to take people with them."
The album fits as much with contemporary Irish folk as English. It is crammed with highlights and delightful moments as mice fill a farmyard, but six compositions stand out.
Rosie's The Beauties of Autumn opens the proceedings - lyrical, sunlit and evocative, detailed by Rowan’s vivid fiddle.
The a capella In a Fair Country, again from Rosie's pen, is a magical three minute celebration of, and plea for an environment fit for, England's trees.
Queen and Country is a beatific bees eye view of the world, written by Rowan.
Philippe's whistle illuminates a tune he wrote on a mediation retreat in Glastonbury, Chalice Well, which is paired with the verve of Rowan's The Welcombe Hills.
The Wilderness Yet take inspiration and sources from England, Ireland and Sweden, but it is with Gerard Manley Hopkins' homily to a Highland stream, Inversnaid, that the album reaches a quiet emotional crescendo, with three verses added by Rowan to underline the poem's original final verse:
What would the world be, once bereft
Of wet and of wildness?
Let them be left, O let them be left, wildness and wet;
Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.
The last three words give The Wilderness Yet their name. Inversnaid is a glorious poem and, in this arrangement, a magnificent song.
And the last one listed too - but slightly in the shadows, there is one joy left, a hidden 13th track. Seán Ó Duíbhír a'Ghleanna is a lamenting song again rich in natural imagery about a rebel leader at the time of Cromwell's brutal suppression of Ireland. Rowan’s father Charlie and De Dannan band mate Johnny 'Ringo' McDonagh, guest.
This album is one of the finest folk recordings released this year - spun from existing elements interwoven with new inspiration, a necessary balance perfectly expressed by Rosie,
"I feel connected to traditional songs by their handed down-ness - they have all been worn in beautifully by other people - and you have the sense they are not yours, you are just keeping them for a little while, and you will pass them on. You have to take care of them."
"But folk music is also a living, evolving tradition - there are very important people who are more like archivists - who sing songs exactly as they have been recorded in the source material - but if the music will be an important vehicle for messages in the modern world, it has to be adapted too."
The Wilderness Yet's debut slowly weaves a spell of folk rapture. In dismal times, a musical gift for downcast human hearts.