Most Truly Yours, Aunt Anne

Anne Gilchrist was one of the Edwardian folk song collectors who preserved the rural songs of England. Unlike most of the others, she collected songs extensively (but not exclusively) in the North West where she lived, and in particular from Sunderland Point where she holidayed regularly.

Peter Snape’s scholarly interest in Anne Gilchrist’s folk song search led to the formation of The Gilchrist Collective (Barbara & Peter Snape, Brian Peters, Sue Burgess and Poppy Weatherall), who have been bringing new life and voice to Anne Gilchrist’s songs for two years. For this evening they brought these songs back to Lancaster, with the help and support of several members of Anne’s family.

There was a full house waiting at the Duke’s Theatre in Lancaster, with the audience including Anne’s great-nephew, great-great nieces and nephews, and great-great-great nieces.

The evening began with a three-song set from the duo Lunetide, Jo and Scotty who live on Sunderland Point. They sang self-penned songs accompanied by accordion, guitar and banjo. All three songs were written about their home area and were thoughtful, varied and well-presented.

Peter then introduced Heather, Anne’s great-great niece and her daughters, Annie, and Esther, who sang three songs from the Gilchrist collection. It is such a pity that Heather had lost her voice due to a throat infection and was unable to sing, but she contributed a guitar accompaniment and whistling. Her daughters sang their three songs in harmony; they had clear melodious voices and sang with spirit and good humour, with a cohesion that only family members singing together can achieve.

For those who haven’t seen them, The Gilchrist Collective’s performances partly take the form of a presentation, in which the members of the band read excerpts from Anne’s writings and those of her colleagues and collaborators, very well illustrated on the screen. I found the descriptions of some of her singers fascinating, in particular William Bolton, a retired sailor whom Anne met in Southport.

The band members contribute in different ways, and not all at the same time, which makes for a good variety for the listener. Peter plays a steady melodeon very sensitively (it is not often you say that about a melodeon player) so that it complements rather than dominates the singing, though he took a strong lead on the tune set. Poppy’s contribution on the fiddle is subtle and fluid, weaving harmonies around the singers' melody. Sue and Barbara take most of the vocal leads, either solo or singing together in harmony. Both have beautiful strong voices, which they manage to blend when they sing together so neither melody or harmony lines dominates. As an old traditional folkie, I was glad to hear them sing two songs unaccompanied: Barbara Allen and Mother, Mother Make My Bed. I would have liked to hear Brian sing unaccompanied too, but he showed, as ever, on guitar, mandolin and concertina what a very skilled instrumentalist he is. It was great to hear every song sung so clearly so that their stories came through to the fore.

They sang eighteen songs and played one set of tunes. All of these came from Anne Gilchrist’s collection, largely from the North West. There was an excellent variety of songs, mostly fairly upbeat, with some parts for the audience to join in. It is a shame in a way to choose favourites, but I particularly enjoyed Brian’s understated and beautifully accompanied Rounding The Horn, so different to the usual folk club bawl, Barbara & Sue’s Barbara Allen, giving the song’s story its full value, and Sue, Poppy, and Brian’s Green Bed with its marvellous tune.

One thing I appreciated, being old-fashioned, was the amplification, which was provided by just two microphones. For me, this gave a more honest mellow sound than the usual voice and instrument mikes.

This was an excellent evening of music, in a good venue, and it was great to see Anne Gilchrist’s family there, together with a full house of appreciative audience. Unfortunately, it was a one-off (you should have been there), but if you get a chance to see The Gilchrist Collective live, I would strongly recommend you do. If not, their CD is excellent as well.

Visit the collectives website Visit the venue website Visit the Sunderland Point website