Reg Meuross goes traditional: ‘These songs were in my DNA’

Reg Meuross with Harbottle and Jonas
Reg Meuross with Harbottle and Jonas at the Gate to Southwell Festival in September 2021. Photo: Hugh Miller

Described as “a mighty songwriter” by Martin Carthy, Reg Meuross has been a constant presence in the nation’s folk clubs and venues throughout his 30-year career.

With 13 solo albums to his name, songs such as England Green & England Grey and And Jesus Wept have entered the folk canon, but he had never delved into the traditional songs that have so influenced his writing.

Reg explains: “Over the years I’ve played and worked with some of the finest folk musicians in Britain – Karen Tweed, Phil Beer, Jackie Oates, Martin Carthy and the like – yet I’d never considered doing an album of traditional songs before. But during lockdown I began to look more closely at the songs of these islands, songs that were ever-present at clubs that I play regularly.

“Songs I knew so well, like they were in my DNA. Although these songs inhabited me, I realised I’d never inhabited them and I took the chance to explore, eventually settling on 10 songs, and the idea of recording an album started to form in my mind.

“In the middle of that thought process I got a call from Harbottle & Jonas asking if I was interested in a collaboration for their weekly Saving The Good Stuff video series. My first thought was one of my favourite folk songs, Lord Franklin, which I’d loved since hearing John Renbourn’s version when I was 15 or so and first learning to play guitar. I loved what we did together so much that we decided to continue work on all 10 songs.”

When asked how he chose the other songs on the album, Reg was clear: “Adieu Sweet Lovely Nancy from playing with and listening to the singing of Phil Beer; Barbary Allen, a song I knew from school but adapted slightly to fit with something Martin Carthy told me about her maybe coming from the Barbary coast; Oxford Girl I knew from the American duo, the Louvin Brothers’ version, Knoxville Girl; Lord Randall from Dylan’s A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall.

“In every case I chose songs which, in spite of their antiquity, I could play and sing as if they were my own. The working title was Ten Folk Songs because that’s what they were; the title of the collection is Songs of Love and Death because that’s what they are. But there is so much more too. I hope you find it as we did.”

Harbottle & Jonas, the husband and wife duo David and Freya, are “one of the finest folk duos in the country” according to Folking.com, and have made an impressive mark on the UK’s folk and roots scene in a short period of time – their most recent album, The Beacon, went straight into the official folk charts upon release.

Matching Reg’s talent for conveying the true meaning behind a song in his delivery with David and Freya’s exceptional arrangement and accompaniment skills, Songs of Love & Death tackles some of the most enduring songs from the English tradition, beautifully recorded by Josh Best-Shaw in a 15th-century church that sits on the edge of Dartmoor.

The album was released on 29 October 2021, the launch gig being in that very church, St Petroc’s. The trio will tour in April and September 2022 and are interested in festival bookings, having gone down a storm at the Gate to Southwell Festival.

See regmeuross.com and harbottleandjonas.com for more details. For bookings contact katie@fromthewhitehouse.com. This article appeared in Folk London 315, October-November 2021