As spring flashes in, this album heralds the season with astonishing power. Lisa Knapp has long been a fascinating folk artist: an ex-raver and Radio 2 folk award-winner who makes traditional songs sing, even as she experiments wildly with the sounds and textures around them. On her third album, Knapp takes 12 tracks on dazzling, occasionally frightening journeys. Hooting owls and Radio Ballad-like descriptions of rituals give opener The Night Before May a sinister edge, while Staines Morris’s thundering rhythms are full of lust, earth and glee (aided by a mischievous cameo by Current 93’s David Tibet). A tender, sparse duet with long-time folk-lover Graham Coxon, Searching for Lambs is another highlight, while Knapp’s voice throughout is a relevation, both pure and wild, springing free. Cuckoos, whirring clocks and buzzing flies add extra layers to this fascinating soundworld, on an album overflowing with warmth, light and waywardness.
Lisa Knapp was hailed as one of Brit folk’s brightest new young stars when she appeared as if from nowhere with her stirring, passionate debut album, Wild and Undaunted, in 2007. Yet by then Knapp was already over 30 and married with a small daughter, having discovered folk music relatively late after spending her teenage years going to raves and dancing to hip-hop records. A distant relative of Boris Karloff, she was raised in South London by a single mother, took violin lessons as a child, and played in the school orchestra. She discovered folk music in her early 20s after discovering Steeleye Span, Fairport Convention, Shirley Collins and the Waterboys through a friend’s parents’ record collection, and started attending the Court Sessions folk club in Balham, South London. She also started trawling second-hand record shops for old folk records, dug out her old violin from the loft, had lessons from Peter Cooper and joined the folk club’s local house band. She became immersed in the London-Irish session scene and, inspired by hearing Irish “sean nos” singers, started singing floor spots in folk clubs. Successful spots at Redditch Folk Festival encouraged her to take her music more seriously. She was contemplating a professional career when diagnosed with a non-functioning pituitary adenoma. After various scans, specialists decided only to operate if the tumor grew. Around the same time, Knapp met Gerry Diver, a versatile Irish musician who’d previously played with the band Sin E. Knapp sang two songs, “The Blacksmith” and “Bonnie at Morn” on Diver’s solo album, Diversions, in 2002. They married and in 2003 their daughter Bonnie was born. The combination of motherhood and health worries put her music career on hold again until producer Youth heard her version of “The Blacksmith” and asked if he could remix it to include a compilation album he was working on called What the Folk.
On the back of it Youth asked her to record an album of contemporary songs, but Knapp had been totally immersed in English traditional music since attending a residential course in Gloucestershire run by Chris Wood and had her own ideas: she wanted to make an album of traditional songs. With Gerry Diver as co-producer, engineer, arranger, and multi-instrumentalist, the end result was the Wild and Undaunted album. Predominantly comprising traditional English material, with a couple of original songs of her own, the album had an immediate impact and a series of enthusiastic reviews. Knapp’s unusually charged singing was redolent of old singers like Shirley Collins and Anne Briggs, yet the modern arrangements and subtle use of technology also hit a chord with young audiences. Equally impassioned live performances fronting a trio and switching from fiddle to banjo and autoharp enhanced her reputation further.