‘For the People’ – Rupert Wates

4 stars (out of 5)


There’s a play on words in the title of this album; you can exchange the word “people” for “folk” and the literal meaning doesn’t change, but some new layers are added. Rupert Wates recognises this in a press release quote where he describes folk music as: “music of the people, by the people, for the people”. The album is a return to Rupert’s English folk roots, a celebration of his supporters and a celebration of the themes and traditional tales that run through the history of the genre. The celebration takes the form of a set of songs created in the folk idiom, using familiar themes and delivered with acoustic guitar backing and very little else apart from a bit of fiddle and some additional vocals.

The stripped-back delivery affects the structure of the songs as well. The guitar playing, accomplished as it is, isn’t there to bedazzle; it’s there to underpin and counterpoint the melody and enhance the message of the song. Without guitar solos or instrumental breaks, there’s room for the lyrics to take as long as it needs to get to the end of the story, while including traditional elements such as line repetition and call and response.

There’s a feeling that the album isn’t so much about the individual songs, but more about using the building blocks of the genre (the powerful narratives, the murder ballads, smuggling, stories of war and the mythical to create authentic but completely new songs in the folk idiom. This project in other hands could have become a pastiche, but Rupert Wates is much too good a writer and performer for that. He expertly marries intricate guitar parts to beguiling melodies to create a fascinating collection of songs that pays tribute to his folk roots.

The album’s ten songs (twelve if you split the two medleys into their component songs) are all well-crafted pieces of work but you can pick out two or three to represent the overall feel of the album. The high register picking on the ‘All the Fair Ladies’ leads into a wooing song with an additional call and response female vocal. After a short instrumental bridge, it’s straight into another call and response song on the theme of the spurned lover with some additional vocal harmonies. ‘Oh Captain’ is the mythological song of the bunch telling the story of a captured mermaid despite to return to her family, while ‘The North Road’ is a murder ballad relentlessly pushed on by a relentless fast finger-picked rhythm as it tells the story of the murder of a drummer boy and its inevitable outcome.

‘For the People’ is a neat celebration of the Engish folk style, created by a singer-songwriter with a huge knowledge of that genre. Rupert Wates is a master of his craft and he’s produced a lovely tribute to the genre and his fans.

‘For the People’ is out now on Bite Music (BR12116).

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