Harbottle & Jonas – The Sea is my Brother
Harbottle & Jones - The Sea is My Brother
(Brook View Records)

Release Date: Out Now

Now, I don’t want to scare anyone off but I think it would be remiss of me not to warn you that this might just be a traditional folk concept album. If your immediate reaction is to recoil as though you’ve just smelt the doorway of a health food shop on a warm day then I urge you to take a deep breath and come in on because this is something very, very special.

For the uninitiated, Harbottle and Jonas are a Totnes based duo with a penchant for stirring and beautiful folk music that weaves wonderful stories riding on the air of their melodies. Ready? Then I’ll begin. ‘The Sea is my Brother’ opens up with ‘Was It You?’ which takes a song by Northumberland folk legend Ewen Carruthers and breathes soft, warm light in to it as the gorgeous vocal harmonies of David Harbottle and Freya Jonas wash the stress away and put a comforting arm around you. The majority of these songs on this collection are sea related (hence the concept) and that theme gets underway with ‘Fr. Thomas Byles’. It’s worth Googling Fr. Thomas Byles as he was one brave dude who went down on the Titanic so it is fitting that his life has been immortalised in song and I’m sure he would approve of the gentle melody lovingly played out on guitar and concertina.

For anyone growing up in South Devon and studying History or Geography, you will have learned about the village of ‘Hall Sands’ that disappeared in to the sea after the natural shingle bar that protected it was dredged to help build more of the Devonport dockyard. The bouncing folk romp ode that our dynamic duo have penned brings the words of John Masefield and John Galsworthy to life with an energy and vigour that is infectious. ‘A Lady Awake’ tells the story of Grace Darling, the wife of a lighthouse keeper with a talent for rescuing sailors, set to some rattling but subdued acoustic picking which eventually erupts in to a full band folk stomp worthy of a celebratory jig and reel. Inspired by Jack Kerouac’s lost novel, album title track ‘The Sea is my Brother’ is only missing some seagulls and a salty scent in the air to complete the shanty-esque vibe with Freya Jonas’ vocal ringing out with a timeless quality.

Harbottle & Jonas - wading in their brother
‘Liverpool City’ is a simple tale of love played out against a backdrop of Liver Birds and the sea flowing in and out with dreams, partings, new starts and heartache – played out atop a shuffling beat, perky banjo notes and a lilting violin melody. Harking back to Hall Sands again, ‘Elizabeth Prettejohn’ is a gorgeous instrumental melody that builds to a triumphant finish as a mark of respect for the final resident to leave the now long-abandoned village. The most heart-rending tune on the album is ‘Lost to the Sea’, a lament played out on violin and concertina which tells the tale of the Chinese immigrant workers who were, as the song says, tragically “lost to the sea in the sinking sands of Morecombe Bay”.

On ‘Headscarf Revolutionaries’, the duo pay homage to Lillian Bilocca who successfully lead the fight for better safety measure in the fishing industry with suitably rousing melodies and a thudding beat that mirrors the determination Lillian and her colleagues displayed. ‘The Saucy Sailor Boy’ is a classic nautical folk tune singing of a Jack Tar, “If I’m dirty love, if I’m ragged love and I smell so strong of tar, well I have silver in every pocket love and gold in great store”. The album closes out with the Jonas-penned ‘Saved Alone’, the story of Anna Spafford who was the sole survivor of a shipwreck in which she lost all four of her daughters – a sombre story to which Jonas’ haunting, humble voice is perfectly suited. Harbottle & Jonas have created an album that tells stories of the sea from its devastating and merciless power to its playful, rejoiceful energy. I think 'The Sea is My Brother' is genuinely one of the great modern British folk albums which deserves a wide audience for the music not to mention the stories contained within the songs that need to be told, retold and long remember.

Live Dates:

4th March – Kitchen Garden Café, Birmingham
7th March – The Hyde Tavern, Winchester
9th March – The Green Man Gallery, Buxton
13th April – St James Church Hall, Exeter
20th June – Percy Park Rugby Football Club, North Shields