Sid Long


On the Doorstep

From Baz Parkes, English Dance and Song, Jan 14

Something I noticed at last year’s festivals was the increasing number of young people in various combinations singing unaccompanied songs, all making a more than fine job of it. Some are even studying it at university, rather than, say, History, Geography, or Very Hard Sums. This can only be a very good thing, but we must never lose sight of those who’ve been doing it for a very long time. Notts Alliance have been going since 1972, although the current line-up only came into existence in 1989... positively youngsters!

On the Doorstep is an object lesson in how a recording of unaccompanied singing should sound. There’s a nice mixture of traditional and contemporary songs, both humorous and serious, and the harmonies are stunning. Each member of the trio has a strong individual voice, and these blend with the ease and assurity that long-standing singing together brings. No shred of contempt in this familiarity.

Of the recent songs, Charles Causley’s ‘A Ballad for Katherine of Aragon’ and the inspired pairing of ‘Cannily, Cannily/Little Piecer’ are particularly strong, while ‘The Belper Ferret’ is a fine showcase for the trio’s wit and vocal dexterity... ‘When you’re a bright young ferret/It’s a thing that surely rankles/When your sights are on the gusset/but you can’t get past the ankles.’ On the Trad arr. front, the opening version of ‘Poor Old Horse’ (collected by Jim Eldon) sets a high standard for the rest of the collection, which is easily maintained by a wonderful ‘Two Sisters’ and ‘John Barleycorn’, both in versions satisfyingly different from those usually heard. John Adams’ production and Jon Loomes’ engineering also deserve a mention... there’s a clarity and warmth about this recording that I’ve not heard for a long time.

And, as if all that were not enough, they’ve also been imbued with the gift of prophecy if their inspired re-writing of Dave Goulder’s ‘The January Man’ is anything to go by: ‘The poor November man sees rain and mist/And mist and rain and yet more rain...’ Indeed.

Baz Parkes

From Bob Taberner, Folk Monthly Dec 13

It’s always a good sign when you find yourself joining in with the choruses on the CD you’re reviewing or recalling bits of the songs at odd moments later. That was my experience with this CD from Notts Alliance. The other immediate thought was how underrated they are. There can’t be many better three part harmony groups.

There are seventeen tracks, mostly close harmony, with a wide range of variety from a couple of songs that date from the Renaissance period, a couple of hymns/carols, shanties and just incredibly good versions of well known and not so well-known straight folk songs. There’s even an amusing rewrite (with Dave Goulder’s permission) of his song The January Man. Only one song was disappointing. The late Alex Atterson was a great enthusiast for the poetry of Charles Causley, but I don’t think his tune for A Ballad of Katherine of Aragon quite matches Causley’s verse.

But that’s just nit picking. What you’ve got here is three strong singers who’ve been together for years, whose voices blend well, and they’ve produced an album full of entertaining stuff. You can’t ask for better than that. Long may they continue.

Bob Taberner

From David Kidman, Living Tradition

"Well done I say"

See full review here

From Dave Sutherland, Tatters Newsletter

The title comes from Sydney Carter’s haunting “Putting out the Dustbin” which is just one of a number of intriguing songs contained on this, the fourth, album from Notts Alliance and their second as a trio. As expected of the lads we have another collection of high quality, well thought out close harmonies applied to an array of songs, some well known others that will be new to many listeners.

Although I say well known songs some of them such as “John Barleycorn”, Two Sisters” , “Poor Old Horse” or “A Jug of This” are certainly less familiar versions while “Bushes and Briars” and “Malt is Come Down” are exactly as you would expect to find them.

Two of the standout tracks for me are both more recently composed items, as opposed to the traditional material that I have mentioned, the first being their arrangement of the Charles Causley anti – war poem, set to music by Alex Atterson, “A Ballad of Katherine of Aragon” while the other is the song to which I alluded at the beginning, “Putting out the Dustbin” which I first heard in my very early days on the folk scene and its stark imagery has remained with me since; so it was a pleasure to hear the group bring it to life again.

There are two humorous songs present, the group’s re – working of Dave Goulder’s “New January Man” and “The Belper Ferret” however for me they both appear to be strangely out of place in the company of the other songs on the CD especially as the latter is followed by a masterful rendering of the heart wrenching “Banks of the Bann” a song that fits the same description as the Carter piece mentioned before.

The album concludes in joyful fashion with their arrangement of “Second Carol” one of two of the Britford Carols collected by Rev Geoffry Hill and is guaranteed to encourage the listener to seek out the next live performance of Notts Alliance to experience these tracks in a live environment.

Faithful Heart

From Dave Eyre, EDS - English Dance and Song, Spring 09

Faithful Heart is a welcome addition to the discography of Notts Alliance, who have continued singing despite the loss of Sid Long. They seem to have swapped around the lines they take, but the overall effect is still that trademark sound of carefully-crafted harmonies and well-chosen unaccompanied material.

The first track of the album is the song ‘To Althea, from Prison’, a poem by Richard Lovelace from the seventeenth century with a setting by Dave Swarbrick, and a well-known phrase or saying in the final verse. It sets the tone for the rest of the album. Other songs come from songwriters Richard Thompson (‘Al Bowlly’s in Heaven’ and ‘Wall of Death’), Michael Marra (‘Frida’s Kahlo’s Visit to the Taybridge Bar’) and there’s an intriguing song by Sydney Carter (‘Port Mahon’). One of the songs that I particularly enjoyed when sung by Martin Carthy is in there (‘The Wife of the Soldier’ by Berthold Brecht), but there is a lot of traditional music as well. Listen to ‘The Brown and Yellow Ale’, a very misleading title if ever there was one!

Individual members of the group also take one solo song each, Stephen sings ‘Virginia Lodge’, Phil sings ‘Hostess’s Daughter’, the song collected by Baring-Gould and sung with echoes of Cyril Tawney, and finally Chris makes a fine solo job of ‘Tom Paget’.
Notts Alliance always seem to bring a particular distinction to each track, whether by an individual or by the group. They are happy to engage with well-known songs, some of which have been sung and recorded by others. There is a knack to doing this that Notts Alliance pull off with composure and style. The songs seem to dovetail neatly together, the group is subdued on some, and quite boisterous on others. An outstanding album performed by a talented group.

Dave Eyre

From Tony Hendry at The Living Tradition

Notts Alliance is a group of unaccompanied harmony singers who emerged from the Nottingham Traditional Musical Club in the 70s and 80s. Away from their day jobs, they have built a lasting reputation at clubs and festivals as engaging performers of diverse material. They are Old Labour with a smile on its face, and grand lads all. This 46-minute CD is their first since the death of Sid Long and is dedicated to him. Their fans will be delighted that Stephen Bailey, Chris Orme and Phil Hardcastle have decided to continue. Chris has taken on the bass line; with Stephen and Phil continuing with top line and tune respectively.

The title comes from Fare Thee Well My Dearest Dear. A clutch of other songs touch on faithfulness in love, or it's selfish opposite. To Althea from Prison is Richard Lovelace's poem set to music by Dave Swarbrick. The Wife Of The Soldier is a reworked version of a song by Berthold Brecht. Hostess's Daughter, sung solo by Phil, is from the Sabine Baring Gould collection. I Was A Young Man, popularised by Martin Carthy, is a candid tale of marital disharmony. The Brown and Yellow Ale, also recorded by The Voice Squad, is a dark, sparse mystery translated from a Gaelic ballad - don't lend your wife to another man, is the nub of it.

Outside this central theme, the pleasures include songs from Richard Thompson (Al Bowlly's In Heaven, and Wall Of Death) and Michael Marra (Frida Kahlo's Visit To The Taybridge Bar), a Kipling/Bellamy collaboration (Oak And Ash And Thorn), adventures on the high seas (Coasts Of High Barbary) and a Christmas wassail song.

Good taste abounds on this album. The arrangements always engage the listener's interest without distracting from the stories. The singing is warm and clear, and hasn't been smoothed away to blandness. Purists would prefer a bit more delving into original sources for the traditional songs, but this is an honest and enjoyable collection.

From David Kidman at

Since Notts Alliance last produced a CD (2003's Nothing Spoken), the untimely death of key member Sid Long has necessarily reduced the lineup to a three-piece. All credit to the trio (Stephen Bailey, Chris Orme and Phil Hardcastle) for continuing to perform, and for steadfastly adhering to their artistic principles while so doing. First and foremost, they still only sing songs which they like (a wholly admirable policy, which more performers ought to adopt IMHO!), with the result that the selection of material is genuinely open-minded and refreshingly eclectic. Well, perhaps not quite as much so this time round, although the trio can still move convincingly between traditional song, Brecht, Kipling/Bellamy, Michael Marra and Sydney Carter. There's more traditional material on this disc than on its predecessor - just over half, to my reckoning - against which one or two of the contemporary choices can seem a mite uninvolved, even stilted (I'm thinking especially of the two Richard Thompson songs, Wall Of Death and Al Bowlly's In Heaven: both great songs, but neither of them entirely convince in an acappella setting to my mind. Additionally, these tracks, along with a few others, seem to have been recorded a touch more distantly and with less bloom on the voices.) The Notts Alliance sound still has a lot to offer however, provided you accept the inevitable limitations of an all-male ensemble which, notwithstanding the fine quality of the individual voices and their command of register and line, can initially give an impression of a certain flatness, a quality which can be accentuated by the ensemble's commendable evenness of tone and attack. It's when Notts Alliance are at their most harmonically beguiling (as on Port Mahon, The Brown And Yellow Ale and Fare Thee Well My Dearest Dear), and on the solo performances - Virginia Lags (Stephen), Tom Paget (Chris) and Hostess's Daughter (Phil) - that the highest degree of listener satisfaction is obtained. Having said that, the CD as a whole repays careful listening, for the vocal arrangements are not merely efficient and well-coordinated but also often surprisingly idiosyncratic, enough so to hold interest and jolt the listener out of his/her preconceived notions about which harmonies should work (or not!). Heard live, Notts Alliance harmonies can sometimes be quite spinechilling, but this quality doesn't necessarily wholly translate to the medium of CD; that's an observation rather than a criticism, I hasten to add... I do have one minus point to make however, which concerns the presentation: the actual tracklist is confusingly laid out on both box and booklet, so that the order/numerical sequence of songs is not readily discernible at a glance.

David Kidman October 2008

From Dave Sutherland, Nottingham Evening Post and Traditions at the Tiger

This is the first album from Notts Alliance in their current format as a three piece harmony group however I’m sure that the end result would have made Sid feel proud.

As with more recent Notts Alliance recordings we are treated to the usual high quality mix of traditional and contemporary songs, the latter featuring the works of Michael Marra, Richard Thompson and Sydney Carter. The new CD also allows each member a solo song apiece with Stephen Bailey’s MacColl influenced “Virginia Lags”, Phil Harcastle performing the lesser known “Hostess’s Daughter” while Chris Orme weighs in with the irascible “Tom Paget” (just mention “doldrums” and you know the song to which I refer!).
One endearing feature of the album is that the group are not afraid to revisit some songs that were immensely popular on the folk scene a lot of years ago and breathe fresh life into them. Among these are the Brecht – Weill piece “The Wife of the Soldier”, the tragic “Brown and the Yellow Ale”, the haunting “Port Mahon” plus Dave Swarbrick’s arrangement of the Richard Lovelace poem “To Althea, From Prison”

In short it is everything that we have come to expect from a Notts Alliance recoding and it sends out a timely reminder to both the local and national folk scene that the group are very much active and deserved of our attention.

From Derby Heritage Folk Club

"Notts Alliance have a new CD out…
And I have to say 'get your money out folks' because 'Faithful Heart' is superb from the wonderful opener 'To Althea from Prison' through the reworkings of the Richard Thompson songs 'Al Bowlly's in Heaven' and (my personal favourite) 'Wall of Death' all the way through to the festive(!) 'We've Been a While a-Wandering'.

Wonderful harmonies abound (as you'd expect) and the three solo spots (one each) add an interesting variety with every track having a rich and full sound.

If you've seen Notts Alliance perform lately you'll be familiar with most of the tracks on the CD and I really don't think you'll be disappointed when (not if) you buy a copy. "

Nothing Spoken

"This new CD by the four-man team puts them up there with the likes of Coope, Boyes and Simpson - it's that good! The production by John Adams is top notch, too, and a special mention must go to the sound engineer, Matt Bernard, who manages to capture the group's "live" sound perfectly. They could almost be there with you in your own front room.

It's the singing though, by Sid Long, Chris Orme, Phil Hardcastle and Stephen Bailey, which is so outstanding, helped by a wonderfully eclectic choice of materal."
(JM, Folk Diary October & November 2003) Full Review

So well chosen is their material and so unpredictable yet well worked are their harmonies that they imbue the song rather than swamp it and that allows the song to reach the listener unhindered.
Dave Sutherland, Nottingham Evening Pos Full Review

Ewan MacColl, Billy Bragg, Maggie Holland, Michael Marra and Pete Morton are just a few of the names on offer and the interpretations of their songs are excellent. Their arrangements are cleverly structured and totally unpredictable which is why they are at the forefront of this country’s a-capella harmony outfits.
Dave Sutherland, Nottingham Evening Post

"it is the juxtaposition of old and new; funny and angry; happy and sad that makes the CD interesting and different.

The singing is clear and tuneful with precise diction and some very pleasant harmonies. ... this CD will appeal to anyone that likes good harmony singing. I would place them somewhere between Coope, Boyes and Simpson and an English Barbershop style.
Chris (Yorke) Bartram, Shreds and Patches, Autumn 2003 Full Review

Notts Alliance have a policy of doing "songs which we like", taking in the works of Pete Morton, Billy Bragg, Maggie Holland, Les Barker and traditional stuff as well. I particularly like Michael Marra's tale of a relationship sundered and a record collection divided, Beefheart and Bones, with the line "We are as alike as Gladys Knight and Doris Day". Impeccable as the harmonies are, attack is not their thing. Whether it's John Tams' Scarecrow or Pete Morton's soothing title track, they keep to pretty much the same, even level. Fine singing throughout, an open minded approach to repertoire, but moments of intensity are in short supply.
(Nick Beale, Folk Roots October 2003)

"..if you appreciate the idiom of unaccompanied singing being stretched intuitively over a wide span of interesting repertoire, then you’re likely to find much to enjoy in this release."
(David Kidman, Stirrings Magazine, Autumn 2003) Full Review

Out of the Darkness

"All in all, a very enjoyable album, greatly helped, I feel sure, by Barry Coope's sensitive production. The recent advent of Coope, Boyes, and Simpson and the Voice Squad have put unaccompanied harmony singing back in the public eye, and Notts Alliance, though lacking the perfection of finish of the other two groups, are continuing that process. I know people who say that CBS are too "smooth", and the Voice Squad too "churchy" Well, I think they'll like this."
(Peter Wood, English Dance & Song Magazine Summer 1997)

"Notts Alliance may follow the well trodden English folk route of four blokes singing harmony but are open to making modern songs work in their style. Aside from traditional stuff, there’s two by Pete Morton, ditto Richard Thompson and John Kirkpatrick’s Old King Coal (a carbonised John Barleycorn). You’d expect a group of their collective experience to turn in a decent Derby Ram, as they certainly do, but even better are two of the contemporary tracks. Jez Lowe’s breezy Durham Gaol ("…I never was a thief until they caught me") is at the far end of the personal responsibility acceptance scale from Maggie Holland’s beautifully written story of guilt by association, Perfumes of Arabia, but both are sung to maximum effect."
(Nick BealeFolk Roots Review Aug/Sept 1997)

Reviews from the Clubs

Potteries Folk Club 2013

Friday (the night with more going on in the area than any other so far this year), we went to the Potteries Folk Club to see Notts Alliance.  I hope all those who made different choices had half as good a time as we did, but I doubt it, we came out on such a complete high, that we both chattered on and on about it all the way home.  The songs were so diverse, the arrangements so varied, that each song sounded so very different.  The harmonies were spine tinglingly tight.  The jokes were so bad, that the barracking from the audience became yet another entertaining feature of the night!  The fact that they had a good relationship with each other was apparent and their rapport with the audience was a joy.  As would be expected by all who know me, I especially enjoyed “Oak and Ash and Thorn” and “Rolling Down to Old Maui”, but I will surprise you all by saying that I really enjoyed their opening song “Wall of Death” which takes on a totally different feel in three part harmony, it was terrific.  As I have said before, each time I see Notts Alliance, they are stronger than before, this time is no exception.

Bedworth Festival 2012

"Notts Alliance .. were sending shivers down my back – I can’t wait to see them again at the Potteries club early next year" Staffs Folk Magazine

Warwick Folk Club 2012

"I really enjoyed the selection of songs - excellent harmonies throughout. " Norman Wheatley, organiser

Somers Folk Club, Worcester 2012

"Just what we wanted for a harvest supper" said our MC for the night. And the room full of satisfied diners and singers heartily agreed.

Notts Alliance gave us two well balanced sets of tightly delivered harmony singing with plently of opportunity for chorus singing and sponatneous harmony from the members ("You know you're good, I don't need to tell you that" quipped Chris Orme), and band performance pieces. The trio delivered some little known traditional and modern material, all of it excellent, as well as familar classics and a positively quirky and very entertaining closer.

Plenty of good humour and audience engagement rounded out a polished and popular performance. Add to that lashings of excellent home cooked food, plenty of good beer and other beverages, and of course, passtime with good company, and it all added up to another successful Somers Harvest Supper.

Grand Union Club

Well, who can forget the heady days of NTMC, and the sill squad? They were a motley crew of individual performers of great skill and dedication, who sometimes sang as a group. There were recordings under the name of Notts Alliance, (I once borrowed The Cheerful ‘Orn from West Bridgford Library - how sad is that?) and they toured and performed as well. I think the line up of Notts Alliance changed from time to time, and not all members of the sill squad were in Notts Alliance. I never followed the details, but I know they were all good, individually and collectively. Well, they’re still at it. They are a little depleted - particularly by the untimely death of former Dolphin, Sid Long - but they retain three of the line up I remember. I used to see them every week for about ten bob, and now it’s six quid!

Notts Alliance are now: Chris Orme, former Deputy Squire of Dolphin. In the 1980s, Chris was a handsome, quiet young man with long flowing locks, a promising career ahead of him, and a penchant for morbid songs of death and dismay. He is still a man who sings. Chris is now pretty much the front man of the group, in that he does most of the talking. The others keep his more extreme meanderings in check with the occasional deflatory barb.
Stephen Bailey (not to be confused with Steve Bailey, who is strikingly similar, but subtly different) is the posh intellectual one. I remember him being quiet, moderately slim, and with fine voice and a dry sense of humour. The fine voice and the dry sense of humour remain unchanged.
And Phil Hardcastle, complete with soup-strainer moustache, mop of distinguished silver hair, and a hammered dulcimer. Well, the dulcimer now languishes mainly in his back room at home. The moustache has gone, although he still strokes where it was when he is trying to appear thoughful. The silver hair is now a whiter shade of pale. Uniquely among folkies of his generation, he is slim, fit, and could be mistaken for fairly normal (oh man - what intelligence, what discernment! - ed)

Put together, they are Notts Alliance. And where ageing rock stars become parodies of their former selves, and attract cruel jokes about Zimmer frames, folk singers mature, like fine whines.The performace between songs was excellent, occasionally very serious, usually gently self-deprecating. The singing was always good and sometimes spectacularly so. They’ve been singing together a long time, and their voices blend naturally. Their choice of songs was eclectic, ranging from the poignant to the weird to the plain daft, with many shades in between. I remember one strange one about some dead foreign woman walking into a Scottish bar; what was that all about? Nice song, but I didn’t understand a word.

They were bloody good. They were so good in fact that during the interval, Andy and Dave each bought a round so that neither of them would have to miss any of the second - as a result of which I had a hangover the next day.

The support was a chap called Kai Dase. Kai is a fine guitarist, and a pretty good singer. His selection of songs was a little earnest and monotone for my taste, but I couldn’t fault his performance.The rest of the evening was typically excellent GUF, with about half a dozen floor spots of high standard. No Dolphins sang.

I had been a little cautious about going to see Notts Alliance again after nearly a twenty year break. Sometimes it’s better just to keep the memories. I needn’t have worried. They’re even better than they used to be. And the ghost of Sid was always present.

Mike Wilkinson
Dolphin Morris

Woodlark Folk Club

What a way to start 2008!

Word of mouth clearly has it's uses as the only time we've seen Notts Alliance was a few years ago in a singaround at Homefirth Folk Festival, but we've heard so many good things about them over the years that not booking them was out of the question!
And they didn't disappoint!

Their fine choice of song and the obvious comeraderie that exists between the three gentlemen, made for a brilliant night's entertainment, with songs from old times and new, near and far and various stories that kept the audience hanging on their every word, Notts Alliance are a true class act!

Swan Folk Club, Loughborough

Not having seen them before, I didn't quite know what to expect. Their songs were a mix of traditional - 'Blackwaterside' - and contemporary ('Nothing Spoken', 'Salt of the Earth', 'Can't take it with you', 'Another train') to mention a few. There were also comical songs such as 'Everything Glows' (Les Barker/Cole Porter), 'Hard Cheese of Old England', Micheal Marra's 'Splitting up' * and a couple of seasonal Xmas songs. Their performance was both faultless and professional, and I enjoyed every minute of it. ... Definitely worth seeing them in 2004.
(John Preston, Dec 2003)

* Micheal Marra's song is 'Beefheart and Bones'

Chesterfield Attic Club

If you have not seen this act then make sure you see them at your next opportunity - their experience shows, and their two sets were a moving mixture of traditional and modern protest songs by singer/songwriters from the US and UK. Each song was a skillful arrangement of individual voices adding depth, colour and meaning to the words and music.

Chesterfield Advertiser 19th Jan 2001

Traditions at the Tiger

Notts Alliance's performance, in my opinion, outshone any previous times they've been up in the 'top room', and that takes some doing - honestly what excellence! A load of new material dovetailing with some familiar favourites - 'A Sailor's Life', 'Blackwater Side', 'Searching for Lambs' ... I shan't go on, but I did not notice any weak spot. When I've said before that Notts Alliance are the top a cappella group in the country, it is no idle praising. Judging by these sets, and opinion from many of the audience, I've not witnessed any who can touch 'em.

Members Newsletter February 2001

Bingham Folk Club

There have been various permutations of Notts Alliance since the old days of the Nottingham Traditional Music Club but the present edition have certainly been together for a lot of years now. Well accepted as being among the country`s higher echelon of close harmony groups there skill is recognised far wider than the East Midlands through their appearances at festivals, concerts and clubs throughout the country. Their last album ”Out Of The Darkness” released about three years ago showed how comfortable they are with both traditional and contemporary songs and you can expect this sort of mix at any club appearance.
Dave Sutherland, Nottingham Evening Post


Photos by Andy Basford: