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Album Reviews In a different league

Grace Petrie's outstanding new album propels her into the top rank of British folk, says BOB ORAM

Grace Petrie
Queer as Folk
(gracepetrie.com)

 

TURNING 30 has benefits when it nurtures an album as good as Grace Petrie's Queer as Folk. Imbued with confidence and a sense of purpose after eight years of touring, refining her craft and releasing five great DIY albums, this is her best yet.

 

Crowdfunded by her fans, Petrie's first full studio album is exceptional and propels her into a different league. It's an exquisite collection of 11 beautifully recorded tracks — some old, some new — and they are, she says, “a celebration and step beyond protest singer, offering some of the most urgent and honest songwriting I have put in the world.”

 

Black Tie is a perfect example. A postcard to her 11-year-old self, it displays a moving, inspirational awareness that “the images that fucked ya, were a patriarchal structure.”

 

Rejecting the imposition of gender norms, Petrie sings about her experiences and the need for solidarity, especially with trans people who are suffering today like gays and bisexuals did previously. The song has the same anthemic power that Tom Robinson's Glad to be Gay had 40 years ago.

 

The opener, the superb a cappella A Young Woman’s Tale, reworks a traditional Nicky Tams tune to topically remind us that, “while we got mass austerity, the rich got let off tax.” Tom Paine’s Bones gets a new life as a rollicking stomping workout to great effect and the lyrical ambiguity of This House paints a poignant picture, reflecting on how gay couples living in past times had to behave.

 

Baby Blue, from 2010’s Tell Me a Story, sounds totally reinvigorated by the masterfully melancholic strings of Nancy Kerr and Miranda Sykes, while Pride — written following the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting in Florida — stresses why everyone coming together against prejudice is so important and this band version gives it a depth and character it lacked before.

 

Departures is a beautiful love song for any couple who are often separated by work, while live favourite Farewell to Welfare is still so despairingly relevant and this full band version will never be bettered.

 

Another 2010 song, Iago, uses the evil persona who plagued Othello as a foil to tackle insecurity and this version, with the benefit of time and Sykes and Kerr’s bass and fiddle, becomes the definitive one. Having driven all over the country to gigs over the last eight years, Northbound is Petrie’s road song. Fuelled by producer Matt Daly’s drums and Hannah James's accordion, it looks forward to the loving warmth of a welcome home, while a delicate cover of Richard Thompson's Beeswing evokes the raw essence of heartbreak which Petrie again makes her own.

 

Smart, funny and a hugely talented songwriter influenced by her life as an LGBTQ+ activist and her socialist politics, Petrie has delivered a personal and political statement of the highest quality in a magnificent tradition.

 

Folk music should be hugely proud of her.

 

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