Powerful vocals, subtle accompaniments, lively tunes and a broad range of predominantly traditional English material that will have audiences laughing, weeping, tapping their feet, and joining in the choruses. Jess and Richard are available for folk clubs and festivals across the UK and beyond.
For bookings, contact here.
See below for some reviews of our latest album – Customs & Exercise – and order your copy now. ￼￼Customs & Exercise is a collection of English traditional and new songs and tunes using the voice and fiddle of Jess, and the melodeons and voice of Richard. The material spans emotional highs and lows: ballads ancient and modern, laments and lullabies, rousing jigs, stompy morris tunes and haunting Playford airs.
Richard and Jess are also joined by some stunning guest performances from Nancy Kerr (voice), Jo Maher (cor anglais), James Fagan (bouzouki) and Pete Smith (voice).
Click here to hear some sample tracks
The Death of Queen Jane
Jack Lay Back
Mr Collins’ No. 1 & 2
Want to know the lyrics? download them here (customs-and-exercise-sleeve-notes-and-lyrics)
Living Tradition – Issue 93 (Autumn 2012)
The latest album from Sheffield-based pair Jess and Richard, also known for their work with Crucible, presents a well-chosen platter of songs and tunes. Admirably, the track list plucks its fruits from the non-obvious canon, so there are refreshingly few ‘oh, that one again’ moments. Traditional song The Smuggler, for example, previously unknown to me, makes a genial album companion to the Kipling/Bellamy Smuggler’s Song. The Arrowsmiths also prove themselves to be talented in the arts of composition and arrangement, as with Jess’s new tune to The Death Of Queen Jane and her eminently singable original song Jack Lay Back, which had me convinced she’d rustled it up in a jolly yellowing compendium somewhere.
The tunes are a pleasing mix of Playford, morris and contemporary. Jess’s fiddle and Richard’s accordion allow the tunes to speak for themselves whilst still providing enough clout and brawn in the backing to pack a punch, while Jess’s voice, on lead throughout, is strong and full of character. The pair have also resourcefully utilised the proverbially folkie-packed Sheffield phonebook by recruiting the likes of Nancy Kerr and James Fagan on backing. Songwise, one particular highlight is Where The Bee Sucks, words by Shakespeare, tune by Thomas Arne (of Rule Britannia fame), sung as a lullaby in Jess’s family for at least three generations, and a fitting closer to the album.
In short then, to misuse the album’s title, you would do well to get accustomed to exercising your ears on this little belter.
fROOTS, October 2012
Stalwarts of the Sheffield music scene for at least the past 15 years, Jess and Richard have been tirelessly beavering away working in groups (Crucible, Melrose Quartet), dance bands (Hekety, Glorystrokes) and morris (Pecsaetan), while keeping their hands and voices in on the region’s healthy and multifaceted folk session scene. Customs and Exercise, their first duo CD, usefully brings together the various strands of their enviably wide skill-base on a collection of English traditional (and some new) songs and tunes that spans a host of emotional experiences and considerations.
There are broadside ballads (Hanged I Should be, The Death of Queen Jane), done to the pairs’ own melodies and delivered with all Jess’s customary expressive verve; a brace of smuggler’s songs (one’s a reworking of the famous Kipling one, complete with a delicious cor anglais obligato); some typically stompy Cotswold morris tunes including a pair of Jess’s own devising; a nursery tale about the exploits of Jack; and beautifully poised accounts of an air and hornpipe from Playford.
What always comes over in spades from Jess and Richard is their unreserved love for, and total commitment to, the tradition, and their individual and collective expertise across a wide spectrum of musical activity. Both are powerful singers, while Jess’s fiddle and viola and Richard’s assorted melodeons together or separately provide a rich backdrop that’s both genuinely characterful and welcomingly subtle.
The Arrowsmiths are joined at various points on the album by one or other of their guests Nancy Kerr, Jo Maher, Pete Smith and James Fagan; indeed one of the disc’s highlights is when Nancy and Pete combine voices with Jess and Richard to tell Sheldon Currie’s sad tale of Cape Breton miner Charlie David, while another is provided by Nancy’s duet with Jess on Jess’s own supportive Single Girl’s Lament. But in spotlighting those two a capella tracks I mustn’t be seen to undersell the consistently sparkling instrumental playing on display here, nor the equally keen production (Simon Dumpleton).
English Dance & Song magazine, Winter 2012
Jess (vocals, fiddle) and Richard (melodeon, vocals) will be well known to many readers through their work with Crucible and Hekety. This is their second CD as a duo – their first, Off We Go!, was aimed at children, but this one’s for grown-ups. Having said that, one track is duplicated from the earlier release: Peter Bellamy’s setting of Kipling’s poem ‘Smuggler’s Song’ (‘watch the wall me darling while the gentlemen go by’), and a rather good job they make of it.
On this track and several others the duo’s sound is enhanced by some lovely playing by Jo Maher on cor anglais – an instrument I don’t think I’ve previously encountered on a folk record. Elsewhere they are joined (although never tout ensemble) by Nancy Kerr and James Fagan – their partners in a fairly recent venture, the Melrose Quartet. James’ bouzouki certainly enlivens the tune set ‘Mr Collins’ No. 1 & Mr Collins’ No. 2’. Elsewhere Richard’s solo playing on the morris tunes ‘Morning Star/Flowers of Edinburgh’ is very effective; and I was also impressed by ‘Hare’s Maggot’, a Playford tune which sounds like it would pose quite a technical challenge to most players.
The CD has a good balance of songs and tunes, traditional (or anonymous) and composed items. There is a consistent approach to the material, regardless of its provenance (this is a ‘Good Thing’), and all the pieces sit comfortably together. In some cases, such as ‘Hanged I Shall Be’, they have provided their own tunes for traditional words, and Jess has written a couple of the songs in what I think it would be accurate to describe as ‘the traditional idiom’. Of these, ‘Jack Lay Back’ might not have been out of place on their earlier children’s CD – but that’s no reason for adults not to enjoy it too.