Reviews of VT155CD 'Norfolk Bred'
John Howson's Veteran label has a long standing commitment to issuing CDs of traditional performers, past and present. This latest release upholds that commitment and yet is significantly different from previous offerings, Ray Hubbard, now in his 74th year, is one of the latest additions to John and Katie Howson's Old Hat Concert Party. He is a musician, a singer and a storyteller and all these talents are on display here and presented in such a way to provide not simply a selection of tunes, songs and stories but almost a documentary on his life.
The tune sets on his melodeons include voice-overs as Ray chats about his parents and grandparents and their domestic music-making, his regular band gigs in his younger years, the step-dancing and broom dancing in the pubs and about his life as a farm worker. His self-penned recitations reflect his life as a horseman in his native Norfolk.
His songs include traditional items and those that reflect popular music of the 1920s and 30s, and they often offer comical views of aspects of country life such as farm work, holidays and growing old. Some songs he has picked up from other members of his now defunct concert party, also called Norfolk Bred, and there are several intriguing pictures of the company in the excellent booklet which lays out Ray's life story and perfectly complements the CD which offers a sort of serio-comic version of the same. As a local entertainer, he has a well-stocked supply of jokes, usually in the form of imaginary personal experiences and there are four tracks of these included here, adding to the documentary feel of the whole piece. For good measure, there is even a song from the legendary Allan Smethurst who had a couple of hit records in the mid 1960s as The Singing Postman.
This is a very out-of-the-ordinary issue, the CD and booklet combining to give a rounded picture of its subject - sixty minutes or so in the company of Ray Hubbard. I unreservedly enjoyed every minute of it.
English Dance & Song
I'll start with a direct quote from the sleeve notes "Ray Hubbard was born in 1933... a true countryman who has spent his life playing music, singing songs and entertaining across East Anglia." And that "life" has given Ray's singing, playing and ability to work an audience an assured, easy manner that many acts working the club and festival scene today could learn much from. There are three strands to this CD; Ray's playing of (mostly) well-known dance tunes, his singing, and, for want of a better word, his storytelling. This latter may be split into what are called "recitations" on the track list, and extracts from his "stand up" routine recorded in front of a live audience. Ray grew up in a musical family (the usual exemplary Veteran booklet documents this history well, and I loved the story of the mouth organ in the cutlery drawer!) and his easy assured playing of 1 and 2 row melodeon reflects this. The accompanying voice-overs which tell the story of his remarkable life might have distracted from the tunes, but somehow they don't, each brings out the best in the other.
Fittingly, the recording starts with a version of Oh, Joe..., showing Ray's dexterity on the I row, whilst the set of Waltzes (10) proves him equally adept on the two-row instrument. The first of these, Unidentified Waltz certainly deserves to be better known (and identified!). The two recitations Teamwork and Day at the Show reveal Ray's other love, working with horses, and sit well enough in this company. The songs range from the traditional Joe the Carrier Lad (although more often he's employed as a carter) through to the Singing Postman's Has ya fa'r got a dicky, boyl and take in Adge Cutler and Leslie Sarony on the way. All in all, a fair representation of what you might hear in a Saturday night sing somewhere in East Anglia. Ray formed a travelling concert party in the 1950s, and this wealth of experience has given his singing an easy assurance, the singer and the songs working perfectly together. The real joy of this recording though, is in the extracts from what I earlier called his "stand up" routine. Pace of delivery, timing, and interplay with the audience are all exemplary, and the material raised more than a few smiles! Not perhaps what many readers would think of as a "folk" CD, but as a record of what the real "folk" still get up to in many parts of the country it's sublime. And the accompanying booklet (with photographs) maintains Veteran's highest of standards.
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