Reviews of VT147CD 'Yon Green Banks'
lt's twenty years now since john and will started singing together and 'Yon Green banks' is a fitting milestone, made up from 15 of their favourite songs and a monologue from John, a discipline he excels in.
Unaccompanied to the last, they rely on their fine sturdy voices in unison to resolve their songs. and with the likes of Jolly Waggoner , A Man Like Thee, Young Banker and Echoing Horn they have no trouble engaging the audience, and there is an audience here. They are well behaved and allowed into the songs during the chorus and of course, for the applause, not too long and at the correct volume... nice. The 'no frills' delivery marks them out as unusual in today's folk scene where every harmonic nuance, every rare instrumental pairing and ryhthmic juxtaposition is sought. It's honest, plain fare, free from ostentation.
I look forward to the next mile stone and I hope they are still as comfortable with their songs as they currently are.
Will Noble and John Cocking are living proof that the English folk tradition has survived side-by-side with the revival. Although they are about the same age as many promi≠nent revivalists - in the same generation as Martin Carthy, for example - their singing has generally been in different contexts: the home rather than the folk club, and the hunt supper rather than the festival. In keeping with their south Pennines upbringing, they have led mostly rural lives, making their living by farming, building, and dry-stone walling, and singing old songs in their spare time. In the hunting-song tradition of this region, it's common for groups of men to sing together, and that's essentially how Noble and Cocking approach their songs. Sometimes they sing the whole thing together, other times one takes the verses, and the other chimes in on the choruses, and sometimes they swap verse for verse. Occasionally, for effect, they'll even switch back and forth rapidly during a song, but rarely on this album does either sing alone. Both men are possessed of deep, dark, and rich voices, and they use them to fine effect, lingering lovingly over every phrase. Yet, as with all true "singers' singers," they don't become tedious or torpid, instead, they manage to produce a very convivial-sounding disc that makes you want to sing along. The songs are mostly well-known ones, but in unusual local versions learned from such source singers as Arthur Howard and Frank Hinchliffe: title include hunt songs like Old Sowball, Echoing Horn and Gossip John; drinking songs, such as Drink Old England Dry and Friezland Ale and country pastorals like The Nutting Girl and Lish Young Buy-a-Broom. For fans of traditional group singing like the Copper family, or of revivalists like the Watersons or Coope, Boyes and Simpson, this duo provides another plunge into the deep well of English traditions.
Dirty Linen (USA)
Although Will and John have been singing together for over twenty years and have appeared on various compilation recordings this seems to be their first joint CD and it really is a cracker!
Will and John hail from the South Pennine area where they both started singing at Hunt Suppers and Shepherds' Meetings and their repertoire has been built up from songs performed at such 'make your own entertainment' events. In addition, John started learning comic monologues from local performer Arthur Howard (who also influenced Will). One of his large collection, 'Renshaw's Mule' can be heard on this recording and a whole CD's worth can be found on VT143CD (reviewed in Autumn 2003 edition of Puddingstone).
The rest of this album comprises 15 songs, ranging from nationally known ones: 'Drink Old England Dry', 'Jolly Waggoner*, 'the Nutting girl' and their traditional finishing song 'Gossip John', to more local numbers: 'Merry Mountain Child', 'Friezland Ale', 'Mrs Oldroyd', 'A Man Like thee'. Two other tracks worth a special mention are 'Young Banker* (a banker in this context being a skilled stonemason) - both singers are skilled drystone wallers -and 'Over the Mountain' - a beautiful night visiting song, sung by Will, which I have not come across before.
The recordings were made at two live events in Holmfirth and Essex and are of the usual Veteran high quality. The very informative booklet includes the Roud catalogue numbers and words to all the songs can be found on the veteran website www.veteran.co.uk An excellent CD - I defy anyone to resist singing along with the choruses.
It is rare with any album, particularly with one of unaccompanied singing, where one would want to play it three times straight off on first hearing, but thatís just what happened with this CD. Partly, this was the programming: this is one of those albums that just goes on getting better track by track, but also this listener was trying to discover why this singing has such an enormous appeal. It is plain, undecorated unison singing of a repertoire that will be well-known to the traditional song enthusiast, but why is it so compelling? There must be several reasons.
Well, for one thing, it is such a treat to hear authentic traditional English singing from voices that are still in their prime. There is the absolute certainty of their pitch and timing, and the pleasing way in which two very different and distinctive voices blend so well. Then, thereís the vast experience Ė many years with the Holme Valley Tradition and as Sheffield carollers Ė that help them to bring an easy confidence to their performance.
You could probably count on one hand the number of English singers that could match the majesty of Willís Over the Mountain and their joint Young Banker. Even slight pieces like Gossip Joan add to the albumís overall sense of delight and well-being.
Widely considered to be the greatest exponents in their fields, Will Noble and John Cocking are well known for unforgettable solo renderings of Yorkshire songs and monologues respectively, rousing choruses in after-hunt style, and tales of farming and dry-stone-walling. On this CD are many of the songs for which they are renowned and one of John's favourite monologues (the hilarious Renshaw's Mule) - in tremendous live recordings at the Three Horsehoes, Dutton Hill, Essex and the Huntsman, Holmfirth, Yorkshire.
Considering their history, it is remarkable that this is their first CD together. Having sung together for twenty-one years they share not only much of their repertoire but also the cultural background from which this repertoire derives. More remarkable still is that, although he appears on various compilations, this is Will's first full-length recording (VT143CD Uppards! is devoted to John's monologues).
For these reasons, and more, this is a unique and very special collection.
Here are fifteen songs and a monologue learned mainly in their native S. Pennines and delivered by kings of their fields with pride, gusto and dignity. Some songs come from their families while others have been handed down by the older generation of traditional singers, particularly at gatherings with the Holme Valley Beagles.
Distinctly local songs of particular note are Merry Mountain Child - an 1857 choir-master's composition on the joys of being Homlfirth born and bred - which had already passed into the repertoire of the young Haydn Thorp (1976-1999) (Folk Music Journal 2003), and the hilarious Mrs Oldroyd, a Music Hall style song, in which Mrs O's arthritis is used as the village barometer. Songs from further afield include Drink Old England Dry learned from the Lincolnshire Haxey Hood singers, and Lish Young Buy-A-Broom from the Lake District. Rather more universal are The Jolly Waggoner noted by Sharp, Baring-Gould and Kidson in various parts of the country, saucy songs such as The Nutting Girl (sung verse and verse about to accommodate their slightly different versions) and The Muffin Man, the beautiful Over the Mountain and the touching A Man Like Thee.
As usual with Veteran, detailed waffle-free sleeve notes include singers' biographies, song sources and pointers to other recordings. The song words are available on the Veteran website.
English Dance & Song
And now for something completely different.
At it's best, folk music touches something deep within us, some inherited memory of working hard on the land. living in harmony with nature and the changing of the seasons.
Yorkshire chaps Will Noble and John Cocking have been singing traditional songs together for twenty one years, songs passed on from generation to generation. 'Yon Green Banks' comprises something of a best of.
This is hardcore folk music with no airs and graces, and there's no accompaniment other than from the irrepressible audience. For aficionados this stout set will get the blood coursing and may well give you the urge to get up into the Dales and hike up a hill until you've worked up the thirst for a pint of foaming ale.
Yorkshire Evening Post
The front cover, capturing Will and John in song, was enough to tell me that
this was likely to be a CD I would enjoy and I was soon proved right. I have
to confess that this is the first time I have heard them both, despite the
fact that they have been on the folk scene for many years. It is a CD with
many fine tracks to savour. Recorded as a live session, this, I am happy to
say, did not intrude on my listening pleasure as the audience responses were
Their voices reminded me of many other fine traditional folk singers such as Fred Jordan, Bob Copper and Walter Pardon. As you close your eyes to soak up the fine singing of Will and John, you can picture them fully at ease in
their local Holme Valley pub, entertaining friends with popular and well-known songs, sung richly, powerfully and so firmly entrenched in the countryside.
I have to confess that I do enjoy fine unaccompanied singers, especially duos. I was soon relishing their renditions of old favourites such as Old Snowball (aka Bold Reynard) and Lish Young Buy-A-Broom - wonderful versions that I defy anyone not to join in with. With a great monologue from John called Renshaw's Mule and plenty of songs linked to their roots in the North, there is much to engage the listener. My personal favourite? Young Banker. I've heard it sung many times before but it was John and Will's singing that had me hooked and wanting to learn it for myself.
I particularly welcomed the accompanying booklet that told the story behind Will and John, as well as providing much entertaining information about each of the 16 tracks. I have no hesitation in recommending this CD. It will be worn out before I stop playing it and I know that anyone else purchasing it will consider it money well spent.
The Folk Mag
Recorded live in The Three Horseshoes, Dutton Green and The Huntsman, Holmfirth, this is a collection of interest to anyone who wonders where the traditional singers have gone. Singing in unison with no instrumentation, a little harmony added by the audience. Will Noble and John Cocking do a sturdy job, as befits a pair of established dry-stone wallers from the South Pennines. Drink Old England Dry, The Echoing Horn, The Nutting Girl, The Muffin Man, Young Banker, all are performed with vigour. Rarer songs from the collections of Arthur Howard and the Holme Valley Beagles add interest. Renshaw's Mule is a pithy monologue, once published in the Huddersfield Examiner. Gossip John provides the humorous ending, complete with visiting cow. My favourite track was Tell Me Mrs Olroyd, the tale of a merry widow weather forecaster.
Will Noble and John Cocking treat their songs with respect, yet the sense of friends gathering is well captured. It's a CD which has no frills, just the sense of a good sing after a hard day's work. The notes, as usual from Veteran, are informative. Recommended to all who prefer their songs as they come.
Folk in Kent
When the Editor asked me whether I would like to review this CD of Will Noble
and John Cocking, I agreed, for Veteran have never produced a dud. I have to
confess that I know nothing of the Yorkshire tradition and suffer from a very
severe allergic reaction to "duos".
I had not heard the singing of Will and John before and somehow managed to miss them last time they came south. I think the allergy had something to do with it.. It was a mistake, for I was impressed, and won't miss them next time round. They are a very fine pair of singers with rich resonant voices and sing in a quiet understated style with no gimmicks. Their songs have immediate appeal and are easy listening. The depth to the songs emerges as you become accustomed to the rhythms of the Yorkshire dialect. Their performances are measured and polished.
Many of the songs were learnt from the singing at Hunt Suppers and Shepherds Meetings, half a dozen or so from Arthur Howard. I have only heard one of Arthur's recordings and am, therefore, unable to make comparisons.
On playing the first track "Merry Mountain Child" you immediately realise that these boys come from the same neck of the woods as these glorious Christmas carols. Will attends the sessions at Ingbirchworth and Dungworth. The similarity in style on this CD is unmistakable, especially in "Drink Old England Dry" and "Gossip John", but the similarity is there to some extent in other songs. I do not know to what extent the carolling influences the local tradition in general or the local tradition the carolling. I turned to the booklet for enlightenment, but it was silent. (How did Ernest Austin get in there?) The biographies and notes to the songs and sources are excellent as you would expect from Veteran, but there was not the overview of the local tradition that I was looking for.
I thoroughly enjoyed all of the songs and the one monologue "Renshaw's Mule" : Some of the songs are sentimental, others jovial and convivial: good drinking songs. Earthy songs and those depicting the rougher side of life are absent. About half of the songs were new to me, the freshness being an added bonus. One of these is "Old Snowball" : This is a fine hunting song, a proper song with a stronger narrative than some of the other tracks. It was apparently a particular favourite of the Holme Valley Beagles: good taste those Beagle boys. This is not to belittle the other tracks, which are all excellent in their own way, whether jovial or droll. Will and John sing alternative verses on "The Nutting Girl", which is sung to a good catchy tune with a relaxed easy swing. It has a quite different feel to the more energetic versions, even though the words are basically standard. (Do hunting songs really seduce young maidens?). Four or five of the songs are common in folk singers' repertoires. I had always considered them rather dull songs, but Will and John on this CD lift them into an altogether different league. Doubtless you have to be Yorkshire. It would be good to hear Will and John leading a lively company in full cry. I suspect they are brilliant at that, but although these recordings are live, the company is subdued, even when on their own turf at Holmfirth.
Will and John are obviously enjoying themselves singing these songs and that enjoyment is infectious. The pair sparkle throughout, sixteen faultless performances. For a full track listing and for the words of the songs visit Veteran's website. Their current catalogue consists of some thirty superb CD's and double cassettes, mostly English. It is no wonder that people sign up to their subscriber scheme whereby regular purchasers receive a
15% discount. Veteran also sell more than two dozen other labels, books and videos covering the various traditions of these islands.
Surrey Folk News
Fifteen songs and a monologue make up this superb CD of South Yorkshire songs by two fine unaccompanied singers. Recorded live in front of audiences in Essex and Holmfirth, the repertoire of songs is varied and all performed in majestic style. A mixture of drinking and hunting songs, familiar variants and distinctly local songs, the recording is a pleasure, from the opening `Merry Mountain Child' a song peculiar to Holmfirth, through rousing choruses `Drink Old England Dry' and `Young Banker' the humour of `Mrs Oldroyd', `The Muffin Man' and 'Renshaw's Mule' a North Country monologue delivered faultlessly by John, the beauty of `Over the Mountain' to `Gossip John' which traditionally rounds off their performances and this C.D. Will and John have been singing together for some twenty one years, and although Will has released a solo recording of songs, `In That Beautiful Dale' a Veteran tape no longer available, and a C. D. Of John's monologues `Uppards' is currently available, this is surprisingly the first time the two have been recorded as a duo. I have been privileged to see Will and John and thoroughly enjoyed their performances at `The National' and `Sidmouth' and John Howson has managed to capture something of the pleasure they engender, on this recording.
Yet another wonderful CD from the Veteran label - and, amazingly, the first full CD from Will Noble and John Cocking. They have been singing together for over twenty years and contributed tracks to lots of compilations but this is the first recording to give a fair taste of their live performances. It puts together songs recorded live in Holmfirth and at a concert in Essex. The audience noise is not obtrusive and helps to encourage participation - but it would be hard not to sing along with performers like these. They are so grounded in tradition and so full of enthusiasm that I even join in on the hunting songs (and I don't usually like hunting songs - or sea shanties for that matter!) Many of these songs come from around the Holme Valley but, strangely, this collection does not include the well-known Holmfirth Anthem (Abroad for Pleasure) even though the CD title appears to be a quote from itl
Unfortunately, the very first track is my least favourite. It is a rather self-conscious, literary piece called Merry Mountain Child and not a bad song if it was somewhere in the middle of the set. But the second track, Drink Old England Dry really gets things moving and the rest of the CD rattles along very nicely. There's light relief in the form of one of John's trade-mark monologues (Renshaw's Mule) and a music-hall song that I've never heard elsewhere (Mrs Oldroyd). There's several well-known songs (Lish Young Buy-a-Broom, The Jolly Waggoner, Nutting Girt, Young Banker) in versions which stand comparison with any other on record. The whole thing finishes with their famous -fabulous - version of Gossip John.
As usual with Veteran products, the booklet of notes is very interesting and informative giving brief biographies of the singers and details of sources and other recordings of the songs in case you want to compare and contrast. But, if you just want to learn the words that Will and John sing, you don't even have to buy the CD - the lyrics are freely available on the Veteran website. (However, I strongly recommend that you DO BUY the CD so you can hear how to sing 'em right!!)
Shreds & Patches
If you remember the group The Holme Valley Tradition' then the names on this CD will be already familiar to you: Will and John were members of that renowned foursome who sang their way around the folk clubs and festivals during the 1980s. Since the demise of 'Holme Valley' Will and John have continued to sing together and this CD is a celebration of their repertoire.
Some songs come from their families and some have been handed down by traditional singers from the gatherings with the Holme Valley Beagles (I didn't know Beagles could sing!) Naturally a number of songs such as Old Snowball, Echoing Horn and Gossip John have a hunting background while Drink Old England Dry and Friezland Ale are closer to Will and John's hearts and minds!
The Yorkshire traditional singer Arthur Howard was also a source of songs and two of them Little Jack (a Poor Chimney Sweep-boy) and Over the Mountain are quite new to me, and both a delight. The music hall doesn't escape as a source of songs and the well known Mrs Oldroyd ('can you feel owt like rain?') is well performed here, as is a version of the traditional song The Muffin Man - also known in some traditions as the Ding Dong Song. (I'll say no more on that one!)
John manages to get one of his fine comic monologues in too: called Renshaw's Mule. Other classic songs included here are Lish Young Briar Broom, Jolly Waggoner, The Nutting Girl, and Young Banker all sung in their melodic laid-back Yorkshire style accompanied, in the choruses and refrains, by the audiences of the two folk clubs where the recordings were made.
There is but one interloper in this album - A Man Like Thee. "Whhaaat" I hear you say, "it's 'Mon' surely?" Well, yes I know that, but it's all right because although the song was originally written in Lancashire by Edmund Hill, this is obviously a genuine Yorkshire version - Jack goes to hell in this one! This album, however, is bound for the CD archives in the heavenly host - but don't miss out on it while you are still on earth!
Veteran, a small Suffolk-based label, exists to document British and Irish rural music at its most authentic-sounding, and mostly by local artists who have grown up within the respective traditions. In that vein, Yon Green Banks gives us two unaccompanied voices, one recitation and 15 pub songs of the sort one can hear in the more rustic drinking establishments of South Yorkshire. Will Noble and John Cocking, two Yorkshire men who in their day jobs are craftsmen in the building trade, draw the bulk of their repertoire from families, friends and area singers.
Having listened to a fair amount of English folk music over the years, I was pleased to learn that for all that has passed through my ears, these would be fresh to my hearing (yours, too, I suspect). The jolly erotic ballad "Lish Young Buy-A-Broom" is familiar from the revival recordings by Clannad and Tim Hart & Maddy Prior, but that's about it; most of the rest weren't even names to me before I played the CD -- to which, I might add, I have returned frequently and happily since that initial venture.
The contents of Yon Green Banks are as rich and pleasurable as fine English ale, which I imagine has fueled many a performance of these songs in many a community watering hole over the decades. "Drink Old England Dry," dating from the early 19th century and the Napoleonic wars, pretty much exposes the ambition behind the tunes, though frisky young women are never far from the singers' thoughts either. Noble & Cocking's unadorned yet full-bodied approach conjures up a lost, green country of good times, good drink, good friends and good sex. There is a whole other universe of English folk song, of course -- of violence, tragedy, cruel kings, unfaithful lovers and vengeful ghosts -- but that's outside. You won't find it here inside the public house's cozy and welcoming confines.
Until this CD arrived in the mail, this American listener had not heard of the Veteran label. A view of its website (www.veteran.co.uk) puts a dark cloud into an otherwise sunny sky as I ruefully reflect that no, it will never come to pass that I own every recording in Veteran's absurdly alluring catalogue. Of great traditional music, even of the great traditional music of one great island, there is -- such things remind us -- no conclusion. Not, of course, that we would ever want one.
Two fine singers performing fifteen of their favourite songs. One half in front of their home crowd in Holmfirth, the other half before a bunch of Essex folk to prove that they go down just as well outside, as inside Yorkshire! Anyone with any experience of this pair will know just what to expect - two voices, sometimes in unison, sometimes verse and verse about, singing traditional songs with straightforward honesty.
Although they don't include it on the album, the title comes from 'The Holmfirth Anthem (Pratty Flowers)', a song they own so conclusively that they maybe don't feel the need to record it. Instead, they mix such well-known items as. 'The Jolly Waggoner', 'Young Banker' and 'The Nutting Girl' with songs particular their repertoire, such as, 'Friezland Ale', Mrs Oldroyd' and the outrageous, 'Gossip Joan'. There is also a recitation from John (Renshaw's Mule'), while the album opens with my particular favourite, 'Merry Mountain Child'.
The insert notes are as we have come to expect from Veteran - well-drawn biographies and comprehensive information on each song that is always informative and never dull. 'Yon Green Bank' is undoubtedly a true record of what took place at these two gigs in particular, and Will and John gigs in general - what is known locally as a "reet good do".
The Living Tradition
Reviewed with MTCD333
These two recordings of what, for lack of a better term, we generally call traditional singing, form a striking contrast. The first is by a pair of seasoned performers, well used to getting up in front of an audience, entertaining, and projecting their voices. The second is an anthology, a mixed bag in terms of performers, styles, and musicality.
The Noble-Cocking release is easy to deal with. It represents these singers performing items from their regular repertory. Their style is a forthright, unadorned and projected unison. They are performers who have sung together regularly in different contexts, including shepherds' meets, hunt suppers, carol sessions, folk clubs, and festivals, for a good number of years. Their professionalism (for that is what it is) in no way puts a limit on the integrity of their music or the excitement they generate in performance. Their repertory consists of the typical archaeological layers of popular song that have become traditional, ranging from the boisterous 'Gossip Joan', a pop song of Shakespeare's time, to Victorian pieces such as 'Merry Mountain Child', the composition of a local choirmaster whose song has obviously retained a hold on popular memory; there are songs popular on broadsides and various songs learned from other singers. Quite a number of the songs have a local provenance or association. This is the eclectic repertory of generations of singers, changing over time, yet maintaining the old as well as absorbing the new.
The CD proclaims itself a celebration of live music: 'If you have seen Will and John perform, then you will find all your old favourites here.' Happily, the songs are recorded live. All singers respond to the situation in which they sing; and when I have been able to compare performances of a singer in front of an audience and at home, the latter are almost invariably inferior performances. Here the songs are performed with energy and enthusiasm; the only thing better than this recording is to see Noble and Cocking appear live.
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