The journey into folk music stardom hasn’t been an easy one for Jim Moray. Since he arrived on the British folk scene back in 2003 with his debut home-produced album Sweet William, Moray has polarised the folk community. Trad-folk purists were quick to dismiss his daring arrangements, pop-punk vibes and electronic revamps of classic ballads, whilst liberal new-wave folkists applauded his innovative interpretations. His new album Upcetera, which he performed in front of a highly appreciative Cambridge Junction audience last week, does not attempt to be any less divisive than his previous work and, if anything, is as bold and brave as ever.
Gusty wind-swept percussion, clattering minimalist piano and honey-coated violin strings injected with urgent galloping beats and epic electronica marks Upcetera as a sound shift from Moray’s usual techno-twists, to a more sweeping orchestral soundscape. Opening with the traditional ballad Fair Margaret and Sweet William, a smiley poppy-piano spin with feel good breezey strings that are startlingly reminiscent of Patrick Wolf, and continuing with trad-ballads such as Edward of the Lowlands and Eppie Moray, with their yawning, lilting minor melodies carried by swirling pools of electric guitar, Moray and his eight-piece band showcased what he does best: updating outdated modes of musical storytelling by deconstructing the genre of folk music and piecing it back together with a modernist spin.
Moray is constantly questioning the traditional folk tradition as much as he is challenging his own work too. In Upcetera, he not only revamps old classics but invents new ones too. Sounds of the Earth, for example, is a modern love story about Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan who fell in love whilst compiling the ultimate mixtape – recordings of sounds from earth designed to survive in space for a billion years – and, perhaps ironically, with its simple acoustic guitar and lyrical folk tropes, Moray renders this new song as the most traditional-sounding and recognisably ‘folk’ of them all. Once again, Moray continues to surprise and revive the British folk scene, and watching him perform is a delight. Massive credit also needs to go to the band-member who completely rocked out on the bagpipes – she came out of nowhere with Jimmi Hendrix gusto and single-handedly took the performance to whole new level of rock.
Words from Anna Millward