FolkWorld #75 07/2021
© Jane Brace PR

Songs of Suffolk… and Survival

East Anglian-based duo Lucy and Jon Hart have always had a strong sense of place. Performing as Honey and The Bear, the multi-instrumental songwriters live in coastal Suffolk and draw huge inspiration from the county in all its moods and guises, unearthing its past and looking into its future – Suffolk runs through their innovative songs like lettering in a stick of seaside rock.

Honey and The Bear

The husband and wife duo have been writing and performing together at gigs and festivals in the UK and Europe since 2014 having met at a songwriting event two years earlier. Summer 2019 saw them deliver an acclaimed debut album, Made in the Aker, (Aker is local dialect for a turbulent current) setting out songs inspired by both local history and their modern-day surroundings.

After five years touring the folk circuit, the pair, like all other musicians, found themselves grounded by COVID in 2020. But out of adversity comes this new album. Says Jon: “We decided to start writing new material during the first lockdown – with the advent of live streaming we found we could connect with our audience in a new, unexpected and very positive way.” Lucy added: “We started writing new songs as a way of challenging ourselves on a weekly basis, putting out live streamed gigs every Sunday evening – that is how Journey Through the Roke came into being, with the help of generous crowdfunder supporters.”

As many have said, lockdown also brought the couple a newfound appreciation of nature and the great outdoors. “Daily walks from our doorstep became a lifeline for inspiration”, says Jon. “We also had the time to explore the enduring stories of local Suffolk characters and, on a bigger level, to properly reflect on human impact on the planet and soon realised there was a common elemental theme to the songs that were being triggered – survival. Sometimes last year felt like driving through endless fog so Journey Through the Roke seemed an apt title – a journey through uncharted territory, digging deep and bringing stories of survival to the surface.”

What has emerged is an engaging smorgasbord of songs, mixing tempos and textures, light and shade- a fine genre-hopping mix rooted in folk but branching into Americana, country, rock and mainstream-nudging numbers - all co-existing seamlessly. With beautiful artwork designed by Lucy the 12-track album is a strong showcase of original songwriting, with just one traditional number in the mix. Nothing if not versatile the duo fuse fine vocals and play a plethora of stringed instruments between them. Unusually they both play double bass (and guitar) while Lucy also plays banjo, mandolin and ukulele and Jon is the man behind effortless electric guitar and bouzouki. Guesting on the album are no less than four abundantly-talented ‘Lost Boys’ (all members of Sam Kelly and The Lost Boys) – multi instrumental genius Toby Shaer on whistle, flute, harmonium, double bass, cittern and fiddle, in-demand Evan Carson on bodhran, drums and percussion, Archie Churchill-Moss on melodeon and Graham Coe, delivering a beautifully judged cello throughout.

Honey and The Bear

Artist Video

Produced by Lucy and Jon, the album opens with the crash of the sea and the driving rhythms of 3 Miles Out – a narrative song about the North Sea Flood of 1953 which devastated the eastern coast – Suffolk resident Frank Upcraft lost his boat Ivy while trying to help his elderly neighbours. Ivy was dredged up 28 years later three miles off the coast of Southwold. It’s an arresting opener with Shaer’s ebbing and flowing whistles weaving through the salty tale. It slides into Buried in Ivy, one of the stand-out numbers on the album, which fast-forwards a century and continues the ‘ivy’ theme – this time the plant’s surgically accurate strangling action.

Inspired by thoughts of waste pollution and its choking effect on health, wildlife and the natural world Lucy’s vocal is set against a tranquil, dreamy soundscape, the song’s poignancy and ruefulness emphasised by Jon’s sublime electric guitar. It asks the question any right-thinking person must be asking “What will happen to us and our descendants in years to come?” with the refrain “Just 100 years -where are our daughters, where are our sons?” Further into the album the flute-edged Unless We Start It is a more hopeful song on the same theme – disquieting but buoyed by the thought that it’s not too late to put things right for future generations.

The music moves up a gear for the jaunty and percussive Freddie Cooper which brings the listener back to the Suffolk shoreline. Inspired by the 1996 twelve-hour rescue of the Red House Lugger by the Aldeburgh ‘Freddie Cooper’ lifeboat crew in storm force winds, it’s a ‘folk’ song with a happy ending. The operation saw all lives on the Netherlands-bound ship saved and a bronze medal for the Freddie Cooper coxswain. Lucy’s strong and distinctive voice does justice to the only traditional song on the album. She gives a measured and haunting reading to the Irish ballad My Lagan Love, a song about the power and beauty of love which has been sung by many – Margaret Barry to The Chieftains, Dusty Springfield to Kate Bush.

Honey and The Bear

Roke: An old East Anglian word describing the smoke-like mist that rises in the evening off marshes and water meadows

Honey and The Bear "Journey Through the Roke", Own label, 2021

Banjo opens the bright and breezy Life on Earth – the illustrious life’s work of Sir David Attenborough is its inspiration and all the knowledge he has bestowed on us through the ‘window’ of our TV screens. Jon and Lucy’s voices blend perfectly and Shaer’s whistles dance joyously through this homage to a true legend of our times. The man himself, on hearing the song, said he was ‘greatly complimented’ that he had inspired it. Syncopated, industrial rhythms punctuated by soaring fiddle thread through The Flowline, inspired by Richard Garrett who pioneered an early form of production line at his Suffolk engineering works in Leiston (part of which survives as The Long Shop Museum).

The tight line-up somehow conjures the sound of a trilling, birdsong-filled garden in The Swallow while Sweet Honey is another mellow number - a track described as “A song for the Cuban families we met on our travels and their unfailing ability to live life to the full.” It’s back to the coast for Hungry Sea – an emotive, rippling number loosely based on the incredible story of Argentine-born ship’s nurse Violet Jessop who lived her later years in Great Ashfield, Suffolk having survived no less than three ocean liner disasters – the Olympic (1911), Titanic (1912) and Titanic’s sister ship Britannic (1916).

There’s a funky feel to The Miller – the riff-rich track inspired by Suffolk’s Woodbridge Tide Mill where the wheels of human engineering and Mother Nature turn together in perfect neo-friendly harmony. The duo bring the music even closer to home for the final number. Your Blood is a tender song for their adopted nephews, akin to a soothing lullaby with all musicians on board – a sugar-free sentiment about the strength of family bonds. This carefully-crafted second album leaves no doubt that the Honey and The Bear sound is a classy one, adroit and atmospheric. When the ‘roke’ lifts it’s clear to see this is a partnership brimming with talent and full of eastern promise.

Photo Credits: (1)-(3) Honey and The Bear (unknown/website).

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