Brighton-based folk duo Hickory Signals are a band operating in folk’s traditional vein. Both multi-instrumentalists, Adam Ronchetti and Laura Ward flesh out the classic sound of guitar/vocal harmonies with flute, glockenspiel, shruti and a variety of percussion, keeping the arrangements simple so as to weave the different sounds into evocative, atmospheric tracks with a timeless edge.
Indeed, the origin of the band’s sound can be traced back to Ward’s childhood. “Folk music, particularly that of the ‘folk revival’ period during the 60s, is the music my Dad played me as a kid… It was the only music I ever wanted to make.” Rising from the ashes of folk-rock cover band Laura Ward and the Risen Road, the duo decided to add original songs to their set and turned to traditional music as inspiration, finding their classic themes as relevant as ever. “The stories these songs carry, of the human experience of love and war and poverty and loss, mean just as much today as they ever did before.”
Today sees the release of Hickory Signals’ second EP, Noise of the Waters (produced by Ian Carter from Stick In The Wheel), and we’re delighted to share the title title track. The song takes James Joyce’s ‘All day I hear the noise of waters’ and builds upon its imagery, using a slow, sparse melody and plaintive instrumentation to conjure the monochrome ocean. Upon first listen it becomes clear why the poem held such appeal, with the band proving to be the perfect custodians for Joyce’s words, elevating already poignant, sensuous verses to a point where you can almost taste the salt in the air. Ward elaborates: “In a sum total of two short stanzas, you’re transported to the edge of a huge, grey sea under a wide, flat sky and you can hear the mournful birds and you can feel wind and wet on your face and there’s this sense of melancholic calm. And we thought ‘well, we couldn’t put it better ourselves’.”
The track highlights two important strands of the Hickory Signals aesthetic. Firstly, the significance of literature and books. “Literature is a massive influence on us,” Ward says. “Much of what we enjoy is exploring others’ words with our music.” The idea was made clear on their self-titled debut, the track ‘Zelda’ inspired by a book of correspondence between Zelda Fitzgerald and her husband F. Scott. The song is another example of how the classic and traditional rarely loses it’s relevance, Zelda’s words as touching and sincere now as when they appeared in Jazz Age love letters.
The second theme is that of the water. Both Ward and Ronchetti grew up near the Sussex coast, meaning “swimming in/looking at/surfing the sea” has always been a significant part of life, and they now live together on a houseboat, meaning the rhythm of the tides has an intrinsic presence. “The sea/rivers/water in general feature so heavily in traditional material,” Ward explains. “[It’s] a very natural vehicle for conveying emotion. Sadness, love, wonder…” Indeed, that final triplet provides a neat summation of ‘Noise of the Waters’ and Hickory Signals in general, a band keyed in to the wistful passing of time and the melancholic awe of the natural world.
Photo by Pat Blann