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Reviews of Raising The Fires - debut album

FOLK WORDS - see article

Tim Carrol, Nov 2016

A while ago now, FolkWords described the output from Heg & the Wolf Chorus as ‘surreal spectrum of fascination-filled sound’ ... listening to the long-awaited debut album ‘Raising The Fires’, there’s no impetus to alter that view. Their propensity for expansive, mysterious narrative, amplified in this instance by constructing a concept album, remains as strong as ever. With an allegorical, pagan feel ‘Raising The Fires’ is a tale of world-ending cataclysm engendered by a white witch cursing those that burn her to death. Threatening and ominous, the narratives explore calamity and upheaval before morphing like the witch’s spirit, into the resurgence of myth, arrival of magical creatures and their reclamation of the land they once inhabited.

The haunting piano, singularly distinctive vocals, harmony-rich delivery and deeply emotive music combine to create a window into realms replete with shadows. The fear and darkness through ‘Hide! The Storm is Coming’, a sense of apocalypse revealed in ‘Praise the Storm’, thirst for revenge ‘The White Witch’ to sensations of shared beliefs with ‘Giant’ and ‘Fairy Hill’ into the recognition of ‘Dance of the Starlings’. Closing with convictions that allow the lucky few to ‘see’ the places uncanny creatures remain, ‘When it all Ends’ reveals the otherworld and touches its fragile dream.

‘Raising The Fires’ from Heg and The Wolf Chorus fulfils the promise of the preceding flurry of EPs and opens a door to imagined places and delivers ‘theatre for you ears’.

fROOTS MAGAZINE - see article (issue 403/404)

Steve Hunt, Nov 2016

This, at first glance, looks suspiciously like: The King Of Elfland’s Daughter – the 1977 concept album by Steeleye Span’s Bob Johnson and Peter Knight, which set Lord Unsay’s 1924 fantasy novel to music with every conceivable bell and whistle and a cast including Christopher Lee, Mary Hopkin and PP Arnold. Released around the same time as Joey Ramone was adenoidally scolding: “No more of your fairy stories, ’cause I got my other worries!” it was subsequently summarised in era-bible Galactic Ramble as: “absolutely hilarious, but perversely rather good too…”

Based on a traditional witch tale from the Isle of Skye, Raising The Fires turns out to be something far more nuanced and intriguing. From the grand piano flourish that introduces the opening track Hide, The Storm Is Coming! it’s an overtly and unapologetically theatrical work in which fairy tales, folk ballads, ancient mythology and natural history weave together in layers of meaning and metaphor. Familiar archetypal characters feature, such as the Maiden who spins straw into gold and the Giant who smells the blood of an Englishman, while the central witch figure brings about the destruction of the world in revenge for her at-the-stake burning, before finally becoming a bird and attaining a kind of redemption in flight.

There’s no narration or prog instrumental showboating, so each of the ten songs is given the space to make its own statement in arrangements which maximise the impact of the Wolf Chorus’s multiple vocalists and percussionists. While it’s safe to assume that Heg Brignall has more than a passing familiarity with the recorded works of Kate Bush, the collective sound probably owes at least as much to contemporary influences like Arcade Fire, while the unaccompanied Fairy Hill – with its ‘diddle dum, diddle dee’ refrains, will resonate immediately with admirers of Lady Maisery.

Already given a “special theatrical album launch” in Bristol, Raising The Fires has the potential to mutate and exist in forms as-yet un-envisaged. In the meantime, this highly accomplished and idiosyncratic album provides a cogent argument that “spells told in truth can always be told.” Hear a track on fRoots 62.

FATEA MAGAZINE - see article 

David Kidman, Jan 2017

Raising The Fires is Bristol band H&WC’s long-awaited debut full-length record, the entirely logical successor to a tantalising string of EPs and associated singles which have appeared at roughly six-month intervals over the past three years as the band has built up a healthy following with several high-profile festival appearances and support slots. But this album proves they’re already a major act in their own right.

Fittingly, Raising The Fires is a good old-fashioned concept album, relating the story (inspired, we’re told, by Scottish folklore) of a white witch who, wrongly burned at the stake, then casts a spell, ending the world as we know it and conjuring all the mythological creatures back to roam the earth. To realise the tale, H&WC bring music of a distinctive presence and character, such that they’re able to bring it all off without a hint of pretentiousness. The magical quality of the storytelling is brought out in Heg’s arresting, drama-filled singing, naturally conceived and cushioned within a vivid, richly scored musical landscape of piano, violin, double bass and accordion, augmented at times by stirring percussion gestures (although, it must be said, the various choral/vocal contributions of other group members and hangers-on are no less accomplished).

This is epic, visionary writing, set to music that matches brilliantly in both scope and scale. We’re talking the classical-prog end of the folk spectrum here, with a blend of telling intimacy and unashamed grandiosity that gives unavoidable resonances of Kate Bush (without the histrionics) amidst the Gothic-romanticism, offset with overtones of chamber-folk and Schubertian ornamentation and strikingly well recorded with a fulsome sense of presence. The dramatic momentum and progression of the central concept is maintained through clever pacing of action portraits and pensive moments, where (without resorting to intrusive narrative or lengthy instrumental solos) the listener is considerately afforded sufficient time to appreciate each successive panel within the gallery, to assimilate and savour its essence and ponder on its allegorical implications.

The story begins at the end, so to speak, with the dark incantation and ominous prophecy of Hide! The Storm Is Coming, where “The sky’s an opera, eruptions building into song, Mountains and orchestra crescendo us along”, and we learn to praise the storm in a jubilant gypsy rondo (and Bohemian rhapsody?). The White Witch herself sings as she raises the storm, in sympathetic music that enables us to understand her rage. Myths become reality, as the maiden sits spinning in the tower and the Giant’s heavy tread stalks the land to its pounding “fee, fi, fo, fum” mantra, in contrast to the cheeky a cappella diddling refrains heard walking past Fairy Hill (shades of Lady Maisery here, perhaps?). Unearthly forces are invoked, and the souls of starlings swoop in euphoric murmuration before the witch pauses to reflect, lamenting on the dwindling power of her spell and her spirit transcends the shackles of her fury, finding otherworldly peace in the body of a bird.

Heg’s highly accomplished “theatre for the mind and ears” is supplemented by a package that’s similarly bewitching, containing exquisite lino prints by Karen Dickinson and booklet containing lyrics and supporting text.

FOLK PHENOMENA - see article

Jan 2016

"The Grand Entrance" award winner. 

Heg and the Wolf Chorus remind me somewhat of all the elements of music I enjoy outside folk (except maybe Reggae and Ska).

They appeared from the edges much like the dry ice you see in 1980’s fantasy films and before you know it you are not sure where you are. There are elements of dark cabaret here (e.g. Amanda Palmer/Emilie Autumn), cello rock, Kate Bush, and a hint of Tori Amos. It is all of this and also none of this. The broad, powerful ensemble of musicians is like a beating heart which pulsates stronger and stronger with the best sensibilities of supernatural folk.

Be it the shrill, piano marching warnings of “Hide! The Storm is Coming”, the theatrical and fun “White Witch”, or the more medieval styling of “Fairy Hill” there is an unfettered, confident collection of songs here that is brought to life. It could have stepped straight out of a HBO fairytale programme. If you like a touch of fantasy in your listening cave, I heartily recommend.

Reviews of The White Witch single

FOLK RADIO - see article

Alex Gallacher, Sept 2015

We have an exclusive video premiere from Heg & The Wolf Chorus for The White Witch, the the first single to be taken from their debut album “Raising the Fires”. The video (filmed by Camilla Adams) is incredibly cinematic and calls to mind Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights video. It has, not surprisingly, a wonderful pagan feel, enhanced by the incredible scenery and the beautiful choreography as she dances in front of the sun and amongst the trees. The video and song is simply stunning and it left me wanting more.

FOLKING.COM - see article

Oct 2015

Heg & The Wolf Chorus are a band showing the world of folk that they are one of the best narrators around. Approaching songs like aural fairytales, the exciting avant-garde four-piece entices and entertains the listener as storytellers of old.

The enchantingly mythical single ‘The White Witch’ out 26th October, tells the awe-inspiring story of a witch who was wrongfully burnt at the stake and casts her spell that brings the world, as we know it, to its demise. The scale and grandeur of the mythological sites of the Isle of Skye, Scotland that inspired Heg’s song writing can be heard in every breath-taking musical flourish.

The folk rhapsodist’s showcase their beautiful and distinctly different sound on ‘The White Witch’, set for release 26th October. As epic and dramatic as the landscapes that inspired it, Raising The Fires is set for release in 2016.

FATEA Magazine- see article

David Kidman, 2015

I'm getting impatient! For after releasing three stormingly tantalising EPs/singles over the past 18 months, the Bristol four-piece is here serving up one more taster for its upcoming full-lengther Raising The Fires, which I gather is finally destined for release in 2016. It's another demonstration of the sheer power and drama of songwriter Heg Brignall's music and the uniqueness of her vision. The White Witch is a characteristically majestic Heg mythical ballad cast in the form of a dark, disturbing fairytale, which builds from a deceptively quiet opening to a grand, controlled crescendo of luscious string tones, piano and pounding, battering tympani. And it's brilliantly recorded too.

The single's companion track is billed as a Jilk Remix (by Jon Worsley), and turns out to be an even more intriguing, extraordinary excursion into ear-stimulating, shimmering, jittery electronica that charms and bewitches and bewilders; and yet it's almost unrecognisable as the same piece! Yeah, I'm sure getting impatient - roll on 2016!

 

Reviews of Rain EP

FOLKING.COM - see article

Dai Jefferies

While we still wait for their debut album, promised for 2016, the rather wonderful Heg & The Wolf Chorus bring us the third of their “hand-crafted” EPs with matching artwork by Heg Brignall – a future collector’s item if you have the set, I have no doubt.

After the boisterous A Tale Of Sailors these three songs seem rather more considered. The

 first track, ‘Song For Home’, begins with the sound of a distant storm – synthesised, I think – and the rumbling of Joe Kelly’s double bass. The theme and style are continued with ‘Rain’. In both, we are exposed to the elements, travelling and changing as we go – “nothing will feel the same”. ‘Sail On’ is the perfect place to leave us wanting more as they return explicitly to the maritime theme which runs throughout their music. “I’m stepping into the unknown”, sings Heg, “I’m reaching out” and indeed they are.

The arrangements are as complex and detailed as ever with Heg’s keyboards and Vince Martin’s violin providing the leads over the bass and percussion. There are some glorious harmonies, sometimes churchy, sometimes pastoral, sometimes with the backing voices singing alternate lines with Heg, particularly effective on the title track. Producer Gareth James Bailey deserves praise for his work on all three EPs but particularly on this one which shows off the band’s musical ingenuity to best effect.

And now we wait.

fROOTS MAGAZINE

Issue 384, June 2015 

Ian Anderson
A third EP, and three new memorably melodic songs by the rapidly-ascending Bristol quintet features inventive piano and string arrangements and exquisite vocal harmonies. Full album release planned for 2016. See them in our folkadelic cellar at Sidmouth FolkWeek. 

RINGMASTER REVIEWS - see article

14th May 2015

A rare beauty has blossomed in the Bristol area of the UK, and it comes as the sound of folk/dramatic pop band Heg & The Wolf Chorus and their new EP Rain. The three track release is a mesmeric and fascinating embrace of seductive vocals, similarly enchanting melodies, and a lyrical theatre which revels in inspirations from “traditional fairy tales and the twisted roots of her own family tree”, the ’her’ in question being songwriter Heg Brignall. It is a bewitching encounter reinforcing a belief already cultured here by the likes of Lizzyspit, Little Lapin, and the UK based Roxanne De Bastion to name three, that the British music scene is blessed with the finest folk inspired revelry in a long time.

Heg & The Wolf Chorus has been exciting ears and imaginations for a while now to be fair, their acclaimed two-song release Boat and I in 2013 the first spark to keen attention. Last year was another potent time for the band too; the release of the Giant single and the following A Tale of Sailors EP reinforcing their emergence whilst igniting even hungrier appetites for their music. It also saw the band nominated for the Isambard Folk Award, have Giant nominated for Song of the Year in the Fatea Magazine Awards, and Three Sailors declared Single of the Year by the Folkscene show BBC Merseyside. Rain is sure to emulate that success for the quintet of Brignall, Stephanie Taylor, Richie Dobson, Vince Martin, and Joe Kelly, or at the very least awaken another healthy parade of eager fans.

     Song For Home is the first kiss on the imagination, an instantly atmospheric enticing as a cold wind blows in the distance behind the dark seducing of cello strings and the warm caress of Brignall’s vocals. Smouldering harmonies swiftly add to the persuasion as the song’s lyrical narrative casts an entrancing romance for thoughts to equally embrace and explore. It is a union which never expands further in sound but casts with its slim line collection of textures, a full and mesmeric temptation.

The exceptional start is potently backed by the following EP title track, piano and violin offering the first melodic hug before being joined by the siren-esque tones of Brignall and accompanying band harmonies. Flirting with fresh twists and invention along the way, the song creates a web of creative infectiousness and emotional reflection captured perfectly in the tantalising warmth and poetic lure of the melodies which grace every sun lit and shadow kissed texture.

The release is completed by Sail On, a captivating stroll of emotive keys and feistily alluring strings coloured further by the richly hued vocals, bracing harmonies, and an intimate stroking of half melancholic/ half wistful violin endeavour. As the other pair, the track is a spellbinding caress of ears and thoughts, one full of adventure and mystery but encased in a folk serenade luring the listener into compelling landscapes well away from their physical reality.

From presence to songwriting, sound to storytelling, Heg & The Wolf Chorus is a delightful and mesmeric escape from the grey of day into at times just as shadowed but much more exciting and irresistible exploits as found upon Rain.

 

Reviews of A Tale of Sailors EP

FATEA MAGAZINE - see article

David Kidman

I was very excited by this Bristol four-piece's mini-EP Giant, which arrived for review barely six months ago and heralded a distinctive and exceedingly unusual new talent. Since that release, of course, the band has gained even more followers, not least due to being consistently championed by the BBC's Introducing strand, while they're continuing to faithfully support Moulettes, Bridie Jackson & The Arbour and Arthur Brown on tour.

 

This followup EP is if anything an even more confident offering than Giant, proudly unveiling for our delectation Heg's latest brainchild, a kind of folk-concept-album in four tableaux, each of which draws inspiration from maritime-themed British folklore. Three Sailors is the stirring tale of a ship's crew battling a serpent - the high drama on the high seas is conveyed by its throbbing double bass ostinati and chilling top-register violin counterpoint (and yet more than an ironic hint of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen in the melody line!). The second tableau is a portrait of the tormented but doughty Annie Of The Atlantic, while Boat And I is a fuller-textured reworking of the memorable lead track of the band's debut single of something over a year ago. The rousing finale Sea Shanty For Bessie Harker tells of the fate of this eponymous factory-girl-turned-sailor, its narrative set to the compelling, pulsing rhythm of a traditional shanty (albeit with a slightly more irregular beat!).

The dramatic, brilliantly recorded sound-world of this EP is as fierce and storm-tossed as the sea itself, dominated by crashing, dashing piano waves lashed by moody, forcefully brooding string quartet textures and insistent, driving percussion. Casting my mind back a few decades, I'm finding myself comparing the aural impact of Heg and her band with that of the early incarnation of Renaissance - here producing a distinctly original (and refreshingly guitar-less) musical experience that works its magic in a very special way.

 

BRIGHT YOUNG FOLK see article

Will Wilkins

A Tale of Sailors is the debut EP from Heg & the Wolf Chorus, a Bristol-based five piece who, in their own words “love to tell a story”. They certainly achieve that on this interesting and enjoyable recording.

From the sinister opening chords of Three Sailors, it is obvious that they have mastered the art of being unusual without being too esoteric. The instrumentation in this song is understated, but a perfect accompaniment to the beautiful harmonies created by the group.

This is followed by the brilliant Annie of the Atlantic, which is the highlight of the EP. It is a fine mix of an engaging melody, clever accompaniments and perfectly-executed harmony which could hardly fail to impress. The melody shows off Helen Brignall’s fine voice, which is beautifully clear throughout the register, and perfectly suited to this song.

The remaining two tracks continue the winning formula, with equal success, and they only further the impression of a very tight and proficient ensemble. In conclusion, anyone hearing this group for the first time can only be excited to hear more of their work in the future.

FOLK WORDSsee article

Tim Carroll

Replete with echoes of unearthly atmospheres suspended through wavering mists, the music of Heg & The Wolf Chorus creates a surreal spectrum of fascination-filled sound. They take folk music into mysterious realms of unexpected drama through multi-layered ‘choralesque’ narratives that evoke primeval gyres. Join them on their journeying and you’ll wheel down avenues of tangled tales, populated by shadowy figures and strange places suffused with shades of faerie tale. Beware though, these are not delicate gossamer-winged denizens of children's stories, the inhabitants of these dark worlds preach ominous murmurings and sing siren songs to seduce the unsuspecting.

The latest offering from Heg and The Wolf Chorus, ‘A Tale of Sailors’ overflows with theatrically expressive lyrics and sonorous instrumentation. There’s never a moment when your attention wanders - they progress their lyrical roaming to explore the powerful ‘Three Sailors’ led in by resonant bowed bass and delivered by evocative vocals, with ‘Annie of the Atlantic’ pouring in oceans of presence and majesty driven by careering keys and roaring percussion. Reprised from their debut EP, ‘Boat & I’returns with ever more power, again with singularly distinctive vocals mixed with ominous percussion, keys and strings to create a maelstrom of sensation, while the sepulchral chanting of ‘Sea Shanty for Bessie Harker’ reflects the portents of its tale.

The band is Heg Taylor-Brignall, Stephanie Taylor-Brignall, Richie Dobson and Vince Martin – dramatically dynamic purveyors of unconventional English folk. ‘A Tale of Sailors’ releases on 24 November. That makes three vivid yet short EPs – and like many others I’m thinking ‘surely an album must follow’.

Reviews of Giant Single

FATEA MAGAZINE - see article

David Kidman

Brainchild of songwriter Heg Brignall, Bristol's Heg & The Wolf Chorus is an unusual and exciting group indeed, an avant-garde four-piece with a uniquely theatrical sound, approaching the songs like aural fairytales, wringing the last ounce of drama from their dark and twisted meanderings. The title song of their latest calling-card single is presented here in two versions.

 

The first is a hard-hitting (and surprisingly radio-friendly) tango built around the "fee, fi, fo, fum" mantra to pounding drum beats, flamboyant classical-style violin and piano figures, a giant's musical theme song, a self-portrait that Kate Bush would've been proud of. The second Giant is an extended Jilk Remix, and this proves a truly weird concoction, full of indescribable sounds that only grim(m) nightmares are made of: horrible slithery sloppy rustlings, eldritch looped voices, chattery rhythms, insistent repeated violin, electronic percussive pulsings, fragmented vocals; imaginative, extraordinary, unforgettable - and unrecognisable from the first Giant.

The middle track of the single is a forcefully plaintive piano ballad Fire And Snow, though musically the most orthodox and least experimental, makes its impact through conveying an atmosphere of heady passion and romance.

It's no wonder the band have made quite already impression so far when supporting Moulettes, Bridie Jackson & The Arbour and Arthur Brown on tour dates. And the recording is every bit as strong as the ideas and the musical delivery, too: excellent and full-bodied.

FOR FOLK'S SAKE - Song of the Day 30/04/14 see article

Helen True

If Jack and the Beanstalk had featured a crazed-eyed angry woman and the threat of being locked away to dance for eternity in a picture frame, I suspect we’d all have been significantly more terrified as wee children.

Heg and the Wolf Chorus have taken this ubiquitous English fairytale and made it sing, with the roaring pace of some big bass drums, a lyrical reworking of the giant’s threat with a clear-cut, crisp delivery. It’s a bit mad, a bit fun, and really very good folk.