Since the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, British folk music has generally fallen into one of two categories. There are the traditionalists—people like Ewan MacColl, Martin Carthy and Dolly Collins—whose musical instincts steer towards the purity of the original sources without diluting them for the sake of commerciality. Then there are those who have upped the ante and added a concession to rock ‘n’ roll via electric guitars, steadfast rhythms and darker designs. The latter includes bands like Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span and a host of modern artists who are members of today’s so-called nu-folk brigade.
Back in the day, Trader Horne fit neatly in-between these two regimens. Formed by Judy Dyble, Fairport’s original singer prior to the arrival of Sandy Denny (she also served a stint in an original incarnation of King Crimson) and Jackie McAuley, fresh from the band Them and early servitude with Van Morrison, the group tread softly between Dyble’s overly genteel melodies and various tunes of earlier origin. Hence, there was a dainty yet desirable feel to the album, neither unobtrusive or tremendously imposing, but rather sweetly poised in a melodic middle ground in-between. Dyble’s singing had significantly strengthened since her days with the Fairports; no longer laconic, she rises to the fore and even makes a tired standard like “Nobody Knows When You’re Down and Out” (retitled here as “Down and Out Blues”) manage to sound fresh and recharged. As for McAuley, he clearly had left the dark, deliberate stance purveyed by Them far behind him. In its place he developed a multi-textured approach that enhanced the lilt in these melodies and sound so deft that it appeared he had some sort of folk finesse in his genes all along.
Other than a final single, “Here Comes the Rain” / “Goodbye Mercy Kelly”—included on the reissue offered herein—Morning Way was the band’s sole offering. Prior to a very public launch which was planned to give them some mainstream exposure, Dyble decided to opt out instead, the result of a tough tour schedule and an apparent desire for further domesticity.
The band attempted to soldier on, but it was clearly obvious they had run out of steam early on. McAuley continued to record with varying degrees of success while Dyble did the same with an on again, off again solo career that’s made her a quasi presence within the Fairport family.
As for the album itself, it remains a pleasant one-off curiosity, full of cheery tunes well worth a belated listen. “Jenny May”, “The Mixed Up Kind”, “Sheena”, and “Better Than Today” are the best of these, all breezy, unaffected songs with a fairy-like stance. Even the snippets of sound that fill the space between songs add to the appeal. Naturally, all this seems rather lighthearted for our heady times, but 45 years ago there was every reason to expect that harpsichord, celeste, flute, auto-harp and an innocent attitude would be enough to gain headway. Sadly, that was not to be, but regardless Morning Way still offers a quaint optimism that’s remarkably refreshing even now.
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