Tracks: Ring in the shortest day with the fine English folk of Craig Fortnam’s ‘Witchy Grid’/’God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’

IT’S BEEN a productive and busy year all round for Craig Fortnam, the man known best perhaps for his role in the English contemporary music ensemble, North Sea Radio Orchestra; he’s been on sabbatical from that fine outfit all year but so very busy in other musical guisings.

If you’ll permit me to track back a little further so as to begin, the very end of last summer brought us The Bitter Lay, his tale of the English chalk downlands in partnership with multi-instrumentalist James Larcombe as Arch Garrison, his occasional other aesthetic venting of song, and that project’s third album over the past decade or so. We noted of it that it that:”It’s an album that knows that as soon as the hum of traffic is at your back, the land is unchanging, and it will bring its melodies to you as much as you bring your tread to it.”

In 2021 Craig has very much been of a solo direction – an album, his first under his own name alone, Ark, came as as a response to personal loss and an articulation of the darker world in which we find ourselves snared and thicketed these days; it is, we wrote,”absolutely located within the English folk tradition, [although] you never get the sense of too-hallowed curation, the precious object handled delicately in lab gloves; yet it remains so wholly of it, but alive and vivacious, able to speak to us of our time but with roots curling deep within the soul and soil of the island.”

Lit upon by the need to express and with a bagful of tunes, Craig has begun releasing a download-only digital single each month in accordance with the full moon; collectively it’s called the Lunar One series and it began in October with “Peter Roy And Ron Are Gone” and the excellent blur of “Green Lane Ambient”, a tune infused with big skies and hares and eyebright.

The third instalment, Lunar One Dec 21, drops this very morn, the solstice, from which (we hope; and we still have hope), the days begin to brighten once more. And a fine pairing of songs he presents: the mystery and the moss of “Witchy Grid”, rolling like those scarps and bowers in intricate arpeggio and an impressionistic tale of life lived shoulder to shoulder with folklore; and, as tis the season to be jolly, an instrumental take on “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” which arrives gently folktronic, any over-cheery Victorian nostalgic warmth daubed and scumbled with a deeper, more pagan merrymaking and modern sonic glimmer.

Craig’s Bandcamp page announces the project’s manifesto: “Each month Craig will write and record that month’s release; expect songs, instrumentals, guitar pieces, soundscapes, ambient works etc etc. Wherever the Muse goes, Craig will follow… .

“After a year (Oct 21 to Sept 22), Lunar One ‘A sides’ will be released on limited edition vinyl LP. During all this Craig will continue with his own album releases, musical activities and the like.” So you already know what one of next year’s best folk records is likely to be, then.

Craig Fortnam’s Ark is out now digitally, on CD and on limited aquamarine vinyl from Onomatopoeia Records; get yours and collect your pasturage of this and the previous months’ download-only singles at Bandcamp now.

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