The Toronto Consort,
Mariners & Milkmaids
(Dorian, 2002)

Take a step back in time. Join the Toronto Consort as it brings you in a time machine built of music to the world of Shakespeare and Gay.

If you were weaned on the acoustic or folk-rock of Pentangle, Fairport Convention or Maddy Prior, you now have a chance to hear how many of their songs would have been performed when they were written. I was blown away by this CD. In 25 tracks we get a history lesson and a selection of excellent old tunes, as well as a booklet that has more history than many 400-page books.

Opening with "Cut Purse," we hear a song that was around when Elizabeth I was on the throne and, given the Toronto Consort treatment, it sounds as fresh as ever. In fact, if some of these tracks were released and given proper airplay without giving the pedigree, we could see hits for long dead writers.

"The Cries of London" is taken from a six-volume collection published in 1720. Listening to the lyrics we hear a social history of London and the services on offer by itinerant pedlars and craftsmen of the time. The notes tell us that the thousand songs were published with music notation so any budding performer could seek out an excellent sourcebook.

Here you will hear songs of town and country, of life and lore, of love and death as were enjoyed and sung four centuries ago. You will also find seminal sources of songs that have become firm favourites.

A favourite of mine from the CD is "The Recruiting Officer." This was reused, as so many older tunes were, by John Gay in his magnificent "Beggars Opera" -- now there's a CD, the RSC version of the opera, if you like older music. You may know this track as "Over the Hills."

We are transported to the wards of Bedlam or Bethlehem Lunatic Asylum with "Mad Tom."

This is a CD to seek out for lovers of good music but it is also an education in manners, social history and good writing. The insert booklet is a model of what such a publication should be. It has background to the songs, lyrics and notes on the performers. Do not miss it -- I have the other releases by the consort on my Christmas wishlist for 2003, so I hope Santa reads this.

- Rambles
written by Nicky Rossiter
published 12 April 2003