Event Review: Faustus at the Oval Tavern, Tuesday 18th October 2016


By - Wednesday 14th December, 2016

A fine evening of new material from folk moguls, Faustus


Photo author’s own.

My husband Steve and I went along to the Oval Tavern in Croydon a few days ago to see the trio Faustus, who are three of folk music’s leading lights of their generation. Benji Kirkpatrick was at the Oval Tavern in February with his set, ‘Bendrix‘, which I reviewed in the Citizen at the time. Paul Sartin of Belshazzar’s Feast previously entertained us at the Oval Tavern back in December 2014, a gig which I also reviewed for the Citizen. And finally Saul Rose, who has collaborated with many other musicians, including a duo with Eliza Carthy and also with James Delarre. In 2011 he performed the role of the songman in the West End play War Horse, playing, singing and acting. Faustus came together in 2006 as an evolution of the award-winning band Dr. Faustus, and their resumé includes an artistry-in-residence at Halsway Manor. Based in Somerset, this National Centre for Folk Arts houses treasures such as the text manuscript archive of folklorist Ruth Tongue.

The new album, Death and Other Animals, is a record themed on victimhood

They performed some tunes including songs from their new album, Death and Other Animals, which is a record themed on victimhood. The first one was simply called ‘Slaves’. I loved this one, because it starts with the lyrics, “men of England you are slaves”, but it then gives us hope in the last verse, with “Europe’s people one and all, / Rise up at your brethren’s call. / Shouting loud from sea to sea / Ours shall be the victory”. This song was written in 1840 and then disappeared until 1956. Another song was about hunting the hare: ‘While Gamekeepers Lie Sleeping’, a traditional song about a man who goes out at night with his dog and hunts a hare whilst gamekeepers slumber. ‘The Deadly Sands’ (formerly known as ‘The Wrecker’s Song’) is all about tall ships being cast aground and swallowed up by the deadly sand. ‘Wrecking’ is the practice of taking valuables from a shipwreck which has foundered, but in the song the ships go down before they can remove any valuables. This came from Ruth Tongue’s manuscripts.

‘The Death of the Hart Royal’ is a ballad from the nineteenth century or before, from Ruth Tongue’s manuscripts. ‘Hart’ is an archaic word for ‘stag’ and this one is being hunted by King John’s men. He is determined that they will not kill him, as his preference is to die at the hands of Robin Hood. To Robin alone will the Hart Royal bow. Good for him.

‘Gurt Dog’ is about the great dog of Somerset, a benevolent variety of the black dog archetype in folklore; a guardian who watches over lost travellers, women and children, and brings them home. I loved this one… A child goes out at night. The rain lashes down and lightning cracks. He cannot run or hide. Then the gurt dog appears and guides him safely home. He wants to go out again, though, to give that dog a bone. We need one of these dogs here, to guide any lost and frightened children back home!

So popular was Faustus that night that there were not one, not two, but three encores!

Another song we can relate to is ‘Oh, To Be a King’, written by Bill Caddick. This is about life’s unfairness, and the longing to live a better life: “Oh to be a king and life be kind, / While poor folks need to rise and grimly toil”.

A rather ghostly song is ‘Death Goes A-Walking’. According to Ruth Tongue, the song is possibly based on an earlier tune about the medieval dance of death. Conversations between Death and his victims, known broadly as the “Dance of Death” or the “Dance Macabre”, abounded in medieval texts, and arguably still continues in popular culture. In ‘Death Goes a-Walking’, Death meets a poor, crippled old lady. He promises to make her as spry as she was when she was young if she will join him in the dance of death. Then he comes across a rich young farmer, whom he invites to leave all his orchards and gold to join in the dance before he gets old. After that he meets three little babies and promises that they will never know grief if they dance with him. He does not, however, go to the poor victim in a jail loaded with chains, who would have welcomed him.

All in all, the gig made for a really wonderful evening and the Oval Tavern was absolutely full, with people standing at the back. So popular was Faustus that night that there were not one, not two, but three encores! We bought the new album, of course. I would urge you all to look out for them. Not to be missed!

Anne Giles

Anne Giles

I grew up in Buenos Aires, Argentina, the daughter of an Anglo-Argentine mother and English father. I went to an English school and worked for a British company out there before coming to live in the U.K. I spent many years teaching Spanish in adult education in various centres in Croydon Borough and have got to know so many different areas – North and South. We have been living in Selsdon since 1989 and I love it. I feel passionately about Croydon and have spent many years writing blogs – firstly for the Croydon Advertiser, then the Croydon Guardian, and eventually my own blog entitled “The Good Life in Croydon”. I am very much involved in the community, attending regular meetings with the Croydon Community Police Consultative Group and am also a member of the British Transport Police PACT (Police & Community Together) Team.

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