The Bells of Paradise


CD only BEJOCD-45


'Early music with a difference...' the Early Music Show, BBC Radio 3

The repertoire of The Bells of Paradise was performed by Alva at the York Early Music Festival 2003, broadcast on BBC Radio 3's Early Music Show, Saturday 17 January 2004. You can hear the programme on the BBC website.

'I'm absolutely bowled over by the simplicity and clarity of Vivien Ellis's singing. Her voice is beautiful and true and most importantly just right for the music. And a word about Giles too. I've always admired his creativity as a musician but in this concert he showed us that he too has just the right voice for the music'.
Catherine Bott, The Early Music Show, BBC Radio 3

'I have not been so moved by a folk programme in years... Vivien Ellis is a singer with a sweet, pure, ENCHANTING voice that never resorts to mannerisms. No affectation. Pitch perfect. Singing these songs to Giles's spare - but telling - accompaniment. (Giles too can handle a lyric). Above all she has the most wondrous diction one could imagine. But that in itself is not what made this programme special. The real factor that made it so memorable was her introductions... Before every song Ms Ellis spoke for a couple of minutes on the song to come. Songs that we had taken for granted all of our lives she FRAMED for us and put the song into the whole picture... And so the wonderful concert continued... Surely this is the very concert - and I mean the total thing, including the introductions - that folk clubs and festivals the length and breadth of the land should be booking, instead of occasionally hiring those singer-songwriters whose desperately inept lyrics beggar belief. So note that name ALVA you bookers out there. Truly fine.'
Dai Woosnam, The Living Tradition

Album reviews...
'Lewin is excellent form with the fiddle break on Lark in the Morning and the hornpipes that flow on from The Bitter Withy... Ellis turns in a flawless unaccompanied rendition of Bushes and Briars and the duo hit a highpoint on Hush Little Babbie, beautifully sung over pizzicato fiddle strings.'
Nick Beale, fROOTS

'Ellis's voice is clear and beautiful and Giles Lewin's fiddling strong and rhythmic, and the other instrumnents are played tastefully and with obvious understanding of folk music... this is an excellent folk record'
Steve Winick, Dirty Linen (USA)

'Their voices have a certain warmth and they harmonize beautifully. Lewin and Ellis are both fine solo singers as well. They shine both in a cappella settings and when backed by a fiddle or hurdy gurdy'
Sing Out! (USA)

'The vocals throughout are lovely: I've rarely heard a voice as pure, clear and expressive as Vivien's, and the harmony work is faultless... The whole album sounds stunning - but so do many other traditional albums. What's really special about The Bells of Paradise is the musical intelligence, both in performance and in the arrangements themselves. The feeling of ensemble - of communication between the performers - is outstanding, and the musical arrangements are understated and show a grasp of counterpoint and an innate sophistication that's truly rare in any genre. The album deserves to become a classic: I recommend that any aspiring artistes study it closely'
Jill Fisher, Shire Folk

'English music seemed to lose a generation around the Eighties and early Nineties, and without that injection of youthful fire it became, broadly speaking, a little stodgy, a little over-elaborated. One of the things the New Wave has brought to the music is a renewed celebration of simplicity. Alva, an Essex duo comprising singer Vivien Ellis and fiddler Giles Lewin, are a case in point. Does an album's worth of just fiddle and voice sound a bit hard going? Think again: it's a killer combination, and Alva make the most of it.
I confess I was initially uninflamed. Vivien and Giles come from the conservatoire wing of Eng Trad, via early music, and it shows in a certain formalism, a certain cleanliness in timbre and tone—particularly in Vivien's singing: you can almost imagine her clasping her hands beneath her bosom as she sings. But after a while you cease to notice this, and simply luxuriate in the interplay of voice and instrument. The more I played this album, the better I liked it.
The Bells Of Paradise is a beautifully balanced collection of well-known and less-familiar songs, mostly from Southern England and many collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams (the album's release was timed to coincide with the centenary of his first collecting trip). The title track—which RVW jotted down in Castleton, Derbyshire—is a powerful opener, underscored by a spooky hurdy-gurdy drone. Other highlights include the perennial A Blacksmith Courted Me This is the tune RVW collected from Mrs Verral of Monksgate in Sussex, but the text is an unusual one, and seems to have sucked in lines and even whole stanzas from Our Captain Cried, a song often sung to the same tune. Another effective composite is the duo's version of Long Lankin, which weaves together two separate (but related) tunes, including the singularly weird one RVW collected from a nun in Berkshire. Why Sister Emma took such relish in singing this grisly tale of child-torture and gynocide has never been satisfactorily explained...
Towards the end the album takes in a couple of songs of Irish provenance and an American Sacred Harp hymn, but mostly it's a showcase of top-class English material performed with flair and feeling. And it has the further distinction of featuring a naked male torso on the front cover. Back, ladies, back! (Actually, that's all you get. The male nipple remains one of the last taboos of folk CD packaging.)
Raymond Greenoaken, Stirrings

'What a lovely surprise this was... Vivien's voice is beautiful; her diction is clear; the accompaniments are interesting without being intrusive - all round good stuff... This woman lets you hear the full beauty of the words and tunes of these wonderful songs.'
Chris Bartram, Shreds and Patches

'The word from our esteemed editor as I was given this assignment was 'lovely'. Yes indeed, lovely it is. Ellis has a beautiful, clear voice and sings with great sympathy and eloquence. The accompaniment is sparse and elegant. No wall of sound here; the songs and tunes are allowed to speak for themselves... Highly recommended'
Elaine Bradtke, Folk London

English folk songs

'The best folk tunes are dateless - they belong to every age, they exist for all time' wrote Ralph Vaughan Williams. 2003 marked the centenary of the composer's first bicycle ride to the village of Ingrave, Essex in December 1903, to collect folk songs. A hundred years after that first bicycle trip Alva recorded some of their favourite songs, many collected by Vaughan Williams in their own native county of Essex.

The 14 tracks include the exquisite beauty of Bushes and Briars and A Blacksmith Courted Me, the dark drama of Long Lankin, and the hymnal passion of Pilgrim. With additional hornpipes and street cries, this is a richly textured album.

Track listing

1 The Bells of Paradise
2 The Lark in the Morning
3 Bushes and Briars
4 The Bitter Withy
5 Hornpipes
6 The Golden Glove
7 A Blacksmith Courted Me
8 The Nightingale
9 Higher Germanie
10 Street Cries
11 Madam Catbrin's Hornpipe/ The Doffing Mistress
12 Pilgrim
13 Long Lankin
14 Hush Little Babbie

Total playing time 52.17


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