Peter Bellamy Merlin’s Isle of Gramarye Review

Album. Released 2011.  

BBC Review

Debuting on CD, this is a marvellous marriage of Bellamy’s music and Kipling’s poetry.

Patrick Humphries 2011

Merlin’s Isle of Gramarye is the second collection of the late Peter Bellamy’s settings of the poems of Rudyard Kipling. Originally released in 1972, two years on from Bellamy’s first stab at Kipling on 1970’s Oak, Ash & Thorn, it is here making its debut on CD.

At the time of its release, the idea of one of the most venerated figures of the folk revival tackling the work of the poet regarded as a jingoistic defender of Empire raised the odd eyebrow. But Bellamy saw beneath the surface, and appreciated not only the value of Kipling as a poet, but made a direct connection with his love of England and the English countryside. In his sleeve notes, Bellamy cites the Nobel Prize winner’s fascination with the folk heritage and tradition, demonstrating it on his settings such as Puck’s Song and The Run of the Downs.

Taking as its source Kipling’s children’s books, notably Puck of Pook’s Hill, the music on this set is more varied than its thematic predecessor. Bellamy, never the strongest of singers, is joined by Nic Jones and Dolly Collins, while his enthusiasm for his subject transcends any reservations. 

Bellamy relies not on scholastic interpretation, but rather marries Kipling’s marvellous rhymes with all manner of musical settings – Harp Song of the Dane Women has a world music sound to it; The Queen’s Men is a "quasi-Tudor piece"; St Helena, a rumination on Napoleon, is a lullaby. Elsewhere he applies the words to traditional pieces – A Smuggler’s Song is derived from The White Cockade, Harp Song… from The Lyke Wake Dirge, The Run of the Downs from Morris On (itself from The Cornish Floral Dance…), and so on.

On Merlin’s Isle of Gramarye, Bellamy stands in proud line from Vaughan Williams, Percy Grainger and the Copper Family. His own tragically early death in 1991 robbed English folk music, quite literally, of a voice; but also of a curator blessed with an enthusiasm and a passion who correctly pointed audiences towards the work of a great poet who had gone before.

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