27 September 2018, Sitting Room Session, Napier By Rachel Chapman
The Yorkshire girl in me was stirred out of my winter hibernation to venture to my first Sitting Room Session. After Jamie described Richard Grainger’s folk genre as a centuries-old Yorkshire tradition, I needed to hear this music, and the songs of a landscape and cultural identity I resonate deeply with.
In his opening spiel Richard describes himself as a product of North Yorkshire, born in Middlesborough and currently living in the small fishing town of Whitby. His concert weaves these landscapes throughout, the first half more focused on the industrialised area around Middlesborough, with ballards such as his opening song, ‘The Steel Man’, about life around the steelworks of this town on the river Tees. Despite its gritty context, it’s a warm opening. Richard gently encourages the small but enthusiastic audience to join in with a chorus that is peppered with Yorkshire and Teeside slang; we sing about Yorkshire Tykes and Geordie Hinnybirds (lads and lasses for those not up with the lingo).
A master of craft, with three decades under his belt playing traditional and contemporary folk music across the globe, Richard’s lilting northern eastern twang and skilful strumming on the guitar takes us through a number of captivating ballads. He describes these as “lyrical story songs” that affectionately express the livelihood of the working class folk of this part of the English coastline. We are enchanted as we move between being drawn in close with each story and blasting out the chorus, like family sitting round the hearth. Richard has created such storied richness in every song, each a part of his whakapapa, the whole concert a Yorkshire version of his pepeha, his landscape, his people; his ancestry connected through these tight-knit rural communities of Yorkshire and Teeside.
My particular favourite is a song about the Rohilla, a liner that crashed in a storm off the Whitby coastline. The material for this song came about from one of the crew of this liner, a typically aloof Yorkshire man who had written a letter to his lass, signing off, “Well Mabel, I suppose I’ll see you soon, Fred”. Richard found the letter in a museum and felt Mabel was short changed, and so created a love song for Mabel from Fred. It made my heart soar for every Yorkshireman who has been unable to find ‘the words’.
My cup overflowed with the many Yorkshire yarns that Richard spun and wove for us in a land on the other side of the world, yet connected to this whenua through Captain Cook and the Endeavour, which was built in Whitby before voyaging to New Zealand and Hawke Bay. I felt I came home for the night – the part of my heart that I left in Yorkshire skipped a beat or two.