I predicted a bright future for The Shackleton Trio when they released their memorably titled first full-length album, The Dog Who Would Not Be Washed, back in 2016 (then called the Georgia Shackleton Trio). The follow-up album Fen, Farm & Deadly Water appeared in mid-2018 and further defined and consolidated the Trio’s signature blend of folk and bluegrass stylings within a tried and tested framework that complemented original compositions based on or inspired by local interest or the regional folklore of their native Norfolk with a sprinkling of unassumingly expert instrumental tracks. The Trio, comprising Georgia Shackleton (fiddle, vocals), Nic Zuppardi (mandolin) and Aaren Bennett (guitar, harmony vocals), has remained a stable and consistent unit, both artistically and personnel-wise, since coming together out of the Newcastle University folk degree course around seven years ago. They’ve built a healthy following, fast becoming hot property on the club and festival circuits, with a key pre-Covid appearance at the Cambridge Folk Festival no less.
The Trio’s trademark is its uniquely sparky blend of folk, bluegrass and Americana stylings with an occasional Scandinavian influence. All facets of that description come into play on their new album Mousehold. To these three talented musicians, displaying their chops and intelligence is second nature, and the combination of freshness of execution and excitement in sharing is as ever most persuasive. Mousehold’s three purely instrumental tracks bring Nic’s imaginative approach to tune-writing to the fore: both Mandy Lynn and Hold The Line are taken at a fairly relaxed pace. Their deceptively easy-going demeanour belies the sheer craft in the contouring, the empathic exchanges and extraordinary togetherness. The pace quickens for the third instrumental track, a barnstorming medley of Nic’s tune Byard’s Leap (inspired by the Lincolnshire story of a witch and a blind horse which came to the band’s attention after numerous trips up and down the A17!) and Annbjørg Lien & Bjørn Ole Rash’s 1999 opus Wackidoo (from Annbjørg’s classic Baba Yaga album).
And so on to the vocal tracks. Most of these are inspired retellings of hitherto largely unsung local ballads and broadsides from Norfolk. The album itself is named after Mousehold Heath, an area on the outskirts of Norwich which is now an important area of conservation and part of north Norfolk’s Heathland Heritage Project, but which was once used for Territorial Army firing practice. The album’s sprightly near-title track, No Road Across Mousehold, is based on a 19th-century broadside ballad Crackshots Of Norwich, warning of travelling across the heath during firing practice times. The next track, Little Wooden Shoes, is a song for the working class labourers forced to wear heavy clogs to keep focused on the job while levelling areas of the once sprawling heathland for development.
Local legend Wild Man Peter is the subject of the first of Georgia’s self-penned songs, while group composition Bird’s Nest Bound was inspired by the similarly titled song recorded by Delta bluesman Charley Patton with Willie Brown in 1930.
The album’s final pair of songs is of special importance and is signalled by the front cover artwork – a beautiful linocut by Nic depicting a range of indigenous Norfolk species and including as its central motif the eel. First, the traditional Ballad Of Barton Broad is a tale of eel-baiting originally collected by Peter Kennedy from Norfolk source singer Harry Cox in 1947; the song is sometimes named Barton Broad Babbing Ballad, the term “babbing” referring to an East Anglian method of baiting eels. Second, comes Eel Song, Georgia’s second composition here. Released as a single a couple of months ago (the video for which premiered on Folk Radio), Eel Song sympathetically conveys, in powerfully poetic detail, the eel’s journey, also portraying its life cycle and its threatened status. The gently animated, understated and thoughtful instrumental setting proves an ideal foil, enabling the listener to concentrate on the eel and its plight through the lyrics. Eel Song forms a masterful conclusion to a masterful album.
Mousehold is out now and available via Bandcamp:
The Shackleton Trio are on Tour across the UK now including Sidmouth Folk Festival and Gate To Southwell. For full details and ticket links visit: