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A longtime champion of English music, songwriter, composer, raconteur, thinker, musician, and outstanding singer Chris Wood was rather aptly described by The Irish Times as "the renaissance man of English folk." While widely admired and respected by his peers on the U.K. folk scene, he was for many years largely unknown by the folk-loving public at large. That all changed with his landmark album The Lark Descending in 2005, an entirely solo acoustic collection released on his own label, RUF Records, which marked him not only as one of England's most important and influential folksingers with a uniquely subtle approach to performance, but also an immensely gifted songwriter. His song "One in a Million," a warm parable about love in a fish-and-chips shop written with storyteller Hugh Lupton, won Best Original Song at the 2006 BBC Folk Awards. "Hard," a tough yet tender song for his daughter, couldn't have been far behind it.
Wood is from Kent in the southeast of England, and his early initiation was through church music. He joined the Royal Shakespeare Company, composing music at London's National Theatre and also becoming active with projects promoting folk music in the schools. Wood also spent time in Canada studying Quebecois music. A onetime electric bassist with the Oyster Ceilidh Band (featured on their Jack's Alive album in 1980), he made his first solo record, Ever Simpler, on his return from Canada, but only began making serious inroads into the U.K. folk circuit in 1989 when he established a partnership with the melodeon virtuoso Andy Cutting. The mixture of Wood's fiddle, guitar, cello, and thoughtful singing with Cutting's instrumental brilliance proved a success and the duo went on tour all over the world, making four strong albums together, with Wood setting up the RUF label to release them. He also forged a significant friendship and musical relationship with one of the giants of the British folk revival, Martin Carthy, a man he regarded as a mentor and a kindred spirit. In 1999 he joined Carthy and Roger Wilson in the trio Wood, Wilson & Carthy, who released an acclaimed album together, which not only included a remake of one of Carthy's most celebrated songs, "Scarborough Fair," but the first airing of Wood's celebrated and influential arrangement of the ballad "Lord Bateman."
Wood balanced his own performing career with his work as a tutor, teaching at the annual Folkworks Summer School as well as the folk degree course at the University of Newcastle. In 1999 he formed the English Acoustic Collective as an umbrella for his music-teaching projects, triggering a regular summer school in Gloucestershire in which Wood's ethos is to encourage the unique qualities of young musicians, rather than simply borrowing from other people. "What makes music special is people telling their own stories," he says. In 2002 he wrote "Listening to the River," a musical exploration of the links between music and geography, which was not only used as a teaching tool, but also broadcast on BBC Radio 3. The English Acoustic Collective also became an occasional performing outfit in their own right, Wood linking up with Robert Harbron and John Dipper for gigs and to release their own album, Ghosts, in 2004.
Involved in all aspects of the folk tradition, Wood also collaborated with Laurel Swift and the young Morris Offspring dance troupe in On English Ground, an ambitious show of rich potential setting morris dancing in a dramatic new context with the potential to become England's answer to Riverdance. Other major projects include England in Ribbons and Christmas Champions, both musical documentaries on English traditions commissioned by BBC Radio 3. He also played on the 2007 album Imagined Village and its subsequent live tour while continuing his summer-school teaching and working on his next solo album, Trespasser.
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