A mix of music, history and legend, Hobson’s Voice transform the stories of Cambridgeshire into community folk with heart.
John Rees is the founder of Hobson’s Voice, a folk group made up of singers and musicians largely from Over, just on the edge of the Fens.
They began to emerge as a group more than ten years ago, and today's line up of group members play a range of instruments, from folk staples like guitar and violin to harmonicas, mandolins, ukuleles, accordions, flutes and kazoos.
It all began when John, who has been a bit of a 'folkster' since the sixties, began singing lessons with professional soprano and teacher Kate Woolf, after joining a male voice choir.
“One day, I don’t know how or why, a song came into my head and I said to Kate can I sing this song? Can you help me improve to sing? Because I’d like to go and sing it in a local pub on one of the open evenings, and that’s how it all started,” John explains.
He began looking for more ideas for songs, but already had some stored up thanks to a rather extensive interest in local history.
“I knew there were already some stories that I wanted from Cambridge and Cambridgeshire and the Fenlands to make into songs at some point. Particularly one about an event in 1943, December 16, when, from Bourn Airfield and around here, a lot of aeroplanes left from the Pathfinder’s Squadron – it was a foggy night – and when they came back eight aircraft from Bourn were lost on trying to land. “During the war of course nothing was said about this because everything was kept silent, it’s one of those moving, silent things in local history.”
As a memorial, John penned 'The Fields of Cambridgeshire', a haunting commemorative piece.
That triggered a desire to form a collective singing group that would preserve some of Cambridgeshire’s forgotten stories.
"The songs we perform swerve from nostalgic and commemorative to satirical and jaunty, with some that are quite amusing" explains John.
Almost all of the songs on the album are written by John, although the stories and many of the tunes have been “collected in the folk tradition, from other people.”
This includes older members of the Over community who offered tales of farm labourers renting out chairs when the lake between Swavesey and Over would freeze over ('Skating Blades'), and of rabbit stew sandwiches made by German prisoners of war who were put to work draining the Fen for farmland ('Grey Feather').
There are also snippets of ancient folk songs given a Cambridgeshire or Fenland twist: “In the folk tradition you hear a song and you localise it,” ('Tunes for Molly Dances', 'Alice Crutchfield' and 'My Johnny Was A Shoemaker').
The true heart of Hobson’s Voice is the communal side of performing. - “ with a lot of these songs, when you are singing them, you find people are singing them with you, and you’re like: that’s it! That’s exactly the point!”
“Although, this may sound strange,” John continues. “Although I wrote them, although we’ve done this – these are not my songs, these are not our songs, these are Cambridgeshire songs, they belong to everybody.
“Heritage is for sharing.”
The communal aspect of the group’s music makes it a perfect fit for WI meetings, local heritage groups etc, but they’ll play for anyone who really wants to hear what they do. “It’s not bang-thump-thump-thump and chat-chat smoke-drink blah,” says John animatedly. “It’s for people who want to listen. People who want to be entertained by something intelligent.”
“ I call what we do ‘concert-party folk’.
The group are not interested in making money. The cost of producing their CD's has been sponsored by a generous benefactor, meaning that all proceeds from the sale of their CD's goes directly to local charities, namely the Friends of St Mary’s Church, Over and Cambridge’s young carers charity, Centre 33.