REVIEW: Fourum at the Georgian Theatre Royal

Photo: Julian Eckersley.

Fourum are best known for their unique evocative songs, composed by group member Allen Miller, portraying the characters, history and legends of the North Yorkshire Dales.

This popular folk band that started life in 1972 when four teachers from Hummersknott School in Darlington got together for a one-off concert, and showed us last night that their passion for making music and telling stories is undiminished after 46 years of performing together.

Last night the Georgean Theatre Royal was packed to the rafters and an excited buzz hang over the expectant audience.

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The opening song ‘Awake and Arise’ met with an appreciative response from the audience and I soon realised I was surrounded by die-hard Fourum fans who were word- perfect on all the songs. In this first song Snobby the Cobbler, Calvert the Blacksmith and William the Minor passed us by among a parade of characters from Gunnerside’s past, researched by children from Gunnerside School and put to music by Rod Hall, all but twenty years ago.

All four members of the band have a keen interest in local history and have done an enormous amount of research over the years. A rich source of information were the reminiscences of William Wise ‘’An Old Richmond Lad’’, containing priceless anecdotes about life in Richmond in the 1830s.

A fine example is the story of the judge and the drunkard; the wonderfully named Perse Brackenbury and Willy Vitty.

Fourum’s repertoire also includes traditional Scottish, Irish and Tyneside songs, and the North East anthem ‘Meet me at the corner when the lights are coming on’ was greeted with loud cheers from a group of Geordies on the balcony who all happily sang along.

The audience was a bit livelier than I have seen in other concerts and needn’t much persuading from Jim Jack to join in the chorus of the witty song ‘Of all the fish that live in the sea the herring is the one for me.’

Every song was illustrated by a slide show of photographs, painstakingly arranged by Sally Zaranko who is also responsible for the photographs and the beautiful drawings in Fourum’s book Dales Collection. Characters, Legends and Traditions of Swaledale and beyond.

Jim’s humorous anecdotes and introductions to songs made the evening go with a swing. He warned us that Allen had lost his voice last week but that he had made a miraculous recovery. After giving Jim updates on the state of his throat all week,Thursday night Allen announced: ‘I think I can sing!’ Jim’s comment was ‘That is remarkable, because you couldn’t before!

To prove that his voice could pass muster Allen sang the beautiful lead miners song ‘Take a walk up the hill at Gunnerside Ghyll’ , after which Jim sighed: ‘Amazing how he manages to put local history into rhyme and remember all the words.’

Allen’s mother was a GI war bride from Preston, Lancashire. He came to England from San Antonio, Texas in 1959, initially for one year, but when his family returned to Texas he asked if he could stay with his grandma in Preston to complete his English education… He never went back!

For the next song he briefly returned to his roots to tell us the story of the famous train journey that, when it was just about to close down, was made immortal in the popular folk song ‘City of New Orleans’ by Willie Nelson.

Riding on the City of New Orleans

Illinois Central, Monday morning rail

Fifteen cars and fifteen restless riders

Three conductors and twenty-five sacks of mail.

These lyrics reminded me of W.H Auden’s poem Night Mail:

This is the night mail crossing the Border,

Bringing the cheque and the postal order,

Letters for the rich, letters for the poor,

The shop at the corner, the girl next door.

Rod Hall, the quiet bass player in the background, is researching the first world war and wrote the very sobering ‘Song before the Somme’. The concert ended solemnly with the reflective song:

‘Only remembered for what we have done’, recently used in the theatre production War Horse.

Sandy Still is the lead singer of the band as well as playing guitar, banjo and half a dozen instruments, gave us a beautiful French song as an encore to end a very entertaining evening.

Fourum has performed in folk clubs, theatres and village halls at home and abroad and they are regular performers at the Swaledale Festival. They have appeared on radio and on television, notably in the 3rd series of ITV’s The Dales.