Reviews of VTC1CD 'Stepping it out!'


 

"There are no true traditional singers left", is a despairing adage thatís been voiced by self-conscious folk revivalists ever since Cecil Sharpís heyday. Thank goodness for Veteran who delight in proving it wrong again and again.

 

Veteranís first CD is a compilation culled from their cassette catalogue. 25 tracks leaning heavily toward unaccompanied song, but with several instrumental, dance and choral tracks to give a pleasing variety. The picture is predominantly a rural English one, with collectorís traditional hunting grounds of Sussex and East Anglia well represented. You also get fine Irish from London and Liverpool (Lucy Farr and Sean MacNamara respectively) and contributions from Cornwall (Charlotte Renals) to Lancashire (Sam Sherry) and Cleveland (Staithes Fishermanís Choir). The late Bob Cann leads the Dartmoor Pixie Band with his bouncy melodeon and stepdances to grandson Mark Bazeleyís concertina. Bampton Morris dance Cotswold, while traditional carol from Padstow provides lump-in-the-throat harmonies. Singers range from the twinkling roguishness of George Fradley to the accuracy and vibrato of Johnny Doughty, the earthy warmth of Walter Pardon, the drama of Gordon Hall and the pastoral gentleness of Bob Lewis, all displaying the deliberate pacing and clear diction that traditional singers hold up as beacon. The art of storytelling in fact.

 

The image of the traditional singer all too often conveys old age, infirmity and bumpkinry, but while many great singers have produced superb performances at advanced ages, itís god to hear younger, vigorous men like Jeff Wesley, Will noble, Hall and Lewis, who can be seen regularly around the folk scene. This CD is clearly marketed at the general public, too, packaged with a joyful cover showing fifties hop-pickers having a knees-up Ė a telling shot in an age where people seem to have forgotten how to have fun together. Let hope the retail outlets of the mighty heritage industry will take on board some genuine heritage for once. As for you, dear reader and folk music fan, you should buy this. Itís the real thing.

The Living Tradition

 

This compilation celebrates the first 25 releases from the Veteran Tapes label, with one track from each. This is genuine English roots music, which 99.9% of the populace don't realise exists; it's full of fun and vitality and evokes the lost innocence of a bygone age. the performers are not the people you see at folk clubs and festivals; they are the ones the 'big names' go to for their material (which is why they referred to as source singers). The songs range from agricultural celebrations, through Victorian melodrama and Music Hall, to rousing carols from the People of Padstow and the Saithes Fishermen's choir. The tunes include a (very live) set from Bampton Morris, a stepdance from Dartmoor (feet and concertina), and various jigs and reels form Liverpool-Irish musicians. The recordings were all made 'in the field' rather than in the studio but the sound quality is excellent. Here's Veteran and the next 25 albums!

Shire Folk

 

This is an important, entertaining and highly enjoyable set of field recordings celebrating the first 25 releases from Veteran Tapes and featuring one track from each of the 25 tapes. Veteran Tapes, based in Suffolk, has quietly been building an enviable reputation as the major label recording the Tradition with a capital 'T'. On this outstanding 71.5 minute compilation are items from every corner of the country covering practically every aspect of traditional folk activity. So different are they that all comparisons would be invidious, and a choice of favourites must always be entirely personal. Humorous, whimsical, nostalgic, rousing, sentimental or erotic; songs of work, of relaxation and celebration, of sorrow and regret. An essential purchase, not to be missed at any price.

Folk Buzz

 

Will 1993 be the year of the traditional music compilation on CD? John Howson and Rod Stradling have plans for an English compilation. Greentrax are issuing the old Tangent School of Scottish Studies material and Saydisc are hoping to re-release the Kennedy recordings of the 50s and 60s. However, in this instance it is that man Howson again with a compilation of favourites from his own Veteran Tapes label. Can it really only have been 1987 when John issued the first Songs Sung in Suffolk cassette? What seems even more improbable is that between then and now he's released 25 titles! At a time when Topic was forced to stop producing traditional records for economic reasons: with little in the way of professional qualifications or financial backing, fuelled only by enthusiasm and determination, John has almost single-handedly produced this astonishing crop of generally superb records of our musical culture. He has my heartfelt admiration - and thanks.

What's Afoot

 

I wonder if any more "mature" readers remember the Topic Records' samplers of the late 60's - early 70's? These gave the listener and insight into particular singers' and musicians' styles before choosing a full album of their work. Well, although this isn't the reason for the production of this CD, it has very similar connotation to the "Sampler" style.

In fact this disc is a compilation of the first 25 releases from Veteran Tapes, who specialise in music, songs and dances from the English tradition. All of the 25 tracks are field recordings, the quality the quality of which are a credit to both modern recording equipment and to John Howson's production team. It is quite amazing that John issued his first "Songs Sung in Sussex" cassette tape in 1985 and in the space of eight years has produced 25 cassettes on the Veteran label representing an impressive piece of collecting and researching, let alone the recording production.

 

There are some real gems amongst the selection including my good friend Jeff Wesley (a "young" man in terms of traditional singers) who sings "Brisk and Bonny Lad" and our own Lancashire man, Sam Sherry with the hilarious "I want to be a Sausage". The latter reminds me vividly of the time he sang at Lancaster Maritime Festival precariously perched on a stool in the bar of the George and Dragon!. Also among my favourites is Will Noble's "Swaledale". Dancers and dance musicians will, I'm sure, appreciate the tunes of Sean McNamara and Peggy Peakin of Liverpool; Bob Cann's Pixie Band with a step dance; Lucy Farr's "Pat Burke's Jig" and Bampton Morris, bells and all, dancing to "Old Tom of Oxford".
 

This CD has also solved a minor mystery for me in that, some years ago I heard a traditional singer perform at the National Folk Festival at Sutton Bonnington, who had an idiosyncratic style but whose name I could not remember or retrace. As soon as track 14 "In Horsham Town" began I immediately recognised the style and the mystery was solved - it was Gordon Hall from Sussex!

 

There is something for everyone here - "music of the people" personified, and the extensive sleeve notes give full details of the original cassettes from which the tracks have been taken. Thus a particular performer's fuller repertoire can be obtained from Veteran. This is our living tradition, we should cherish it.

Lancashire Wakes & Folk North-West

 

This CD is a celebration. In the first place it commemorates the twenty-fifth tape from a splendid record company, but secondly, and most importantly, it is a jubilant compilation of traditional music and song taken from its source. Seventy-three minutes and twenty-five tracks, each taken from a different album. It is a distillation of the best traditional performances from the British isles, each specially selected to represent the original tape. Here we have, among many others, Walter Pardon, Sam Sherry, the Staithes Fishermen's Choir, Lucy Farr, Bob Cann & Mark Bazeley, Will Noble, Bampton Morris Dancers, and, by the sound of it, the entire population of Padstow. Ballads, morris dances, carols, Music Hall songs, jigs, reels and country dances tumble one upon another. It is difficult to imagine a better catalogue for the younger generation who aspire to keep the tradition alive.

 

I particularly liked Jeff Wesley singing "Brisk And Bonny Lad" and Charlotte Renals version of "Ball Of Yarn", but strangely, my favourite track is probably Bampton Traditional Morris Dancers panting their way through "Old Tom Of Oxford". Shades of "Morris On"! '

 

Full credit must be given to those who, since 1973, have carefully collected these field recordings. Roly Brow, Pete Coe, Mike Yates, Doc Rowe, Geoff Speed, and, above all, John Howson who also produced the album. Following in the footsteps of Bill Leader, who produced such collector's items as "Unto Brigg Fair" and "Cecilia Costello" more than twenty years ago, this will serve as a library for today's performers. It even includes a complete listing of the original tapes and an address for enquiries. Give the team all the support you can.

EFN (Essex Folk News)

 

Stepping Out is a new CD release by Veteran Tapes which celebrates the fact that the company now has twenty five cassettes of traditional song on its books. All the tracks are field recordings made in front rooms, pubs and village halls across the country. In past centuries antiquarians set out to collect what they could of our folk song tradition because they thought it was dying out. The work being carried out by John Howson of Veteran Tapes and others now proves how wrong all those collectors of bygone days were. The tradition was not dying, it was then, and still is in a state of flux.

 

Now that popular music making is so dominated by the powerful electronic media motivated by ambitions of stardom and riches, this CD that proves that even now the tradition of singing for it's own sake is still alive and well.

 

Veteran Tapes provides one of the very few ways of hearing traditional singers and the tracks on this compilation are drawn from albums currently on their catalogue celebrating English folk song in all of its glorious diversity. Comic songs from the music halls and squaddies ditties from the last war take their rightful place alongside compositions with considerably longer pedigrees. Space prevents me from listing all of the contributors, but they include such notables as Jeff Wesley, Bob Cann, Johnny Doughty, the Padstow Carol Singers and the Staithes Fishermans Choir, to find out what other delights it holds, you will have to buy your own copy!!

Folk in Kent

 

This CD was, for me, an excellent introduction to the work of John Howson at Veteran Tapes. As a folk dancer, with limited knowledge of folk music and still less of song, I found this an interesting CD. It is a compilation of 25 tracks: one from each of the 25 Veteran tapes produced so far. As such, it serves to whet the appetite to sample some of the original tapes.
 

'Stepping It Out' has a preponderance of solo unaccompanied songs but some Irish fiddle music, the Fishermen's Choir and the Christmas Carol from Padstow making a pleasing contrast and three dance tracks add further variety.

 

I enjoyed listening to these songs as part of our rich heritage but I am not sure that I would wish to listen to a complete tape or CD of these unaccompanied signers. Transported to the intimate atmosphere of country pub, with songs punctuated with a pint and the reminiscences of some of these interesting characters, would be a more attractive proposition for me. Perhaps for people like me, with limited knowledge of folk song, compilations like this one, with its pleasing variety, are a more satisfactory way to absorb our heritage, if one does not actively participate.
 

I was pleasantly surprised to see how recently most of these tapes were recorded, all in the field rather than in a studio. The quality of recording is excellent. It is good to hear this proof that traditional folk song and dance is very much alive and to know that John Howson is helping to preserve and encourage the further development of the English folk tradition.

Tradition

 

John Howson's work in recording traditional singers and musicians in their own surroundings, in as high a fidelity as possible outside of a studio, has become a byword in the recording industry. Every one of his cassettes has been a labour of love. Through them, and those of his colleagues, we are privileged to know many wonderful folk performers, some now deceased. This CD has one track from each of the first 25 cassettes on the Veteran Tapes label and it's a scorcher. It's a real kaleidoscope: farmers, fishermen, gypsies; dance-bands, choirs, morris-men. Cornwall is represented three times: Charlotte Renals with Ball of Yarn, Morrissey & Pitman with Two Irish Maltese, and the Padstow Carollers with Rouse Rouse. Bob Cann features twice, playing with The Pixie Band and stepdancing to Mark Bazeley. Bampton Traditional Morris Dancers are here, and Sussex charmer Bob Lewis. You won't find any electric instruments, bass guitar or drums on this CD, but you will find love - love from the perfromers for their music. Delightful!

Folk Kernow

 

This first CD from Veteran is a compilation consisting of one track from each of the list twenty-five cassetles on John Howson's label, and magnificent material it is, too. Choosing the tracks must have been a difficult undertaking, but John has achieved a pleasing variety with unaccompanied song augmented by Instrumental and choral tracks . The selection includes the wonderful Sons of Labour' by Walter pardon, The Staithes fisherman's Choir, a great country dance tune by the late Devon melodeon player Bob Cann with the Dartmoor Pixie Band, and the traditional Padstow carol 'Rouse Rouse ', sung in the Streets of Padstow by its people. Limited space makes it impossible to do justice to this venture. This is a CD for anyone with an interest in traditional music and song but be warned. If you have not yet come across Veteran Tapes, I suspect you will find it hard to resist adding one or more of the tapes to your collection on the strength of this sampler. If you do get hooked sear not. John Howson runs a subscription scheme which will enable you to build up your collection relatively painlessly, whilst helping John finance future ventures. If you do not already own 'Stepping it Out' do yourself a favour. Buy it now and if necessary, take the plunge and buy a CD player to play it on.

Folk London

 

Originally released as a sampler, including one track from each of the Veteran cassettes released up to 1993, this CD offers a remarkable and well-balanced selection of traditional song and music from right across the country.

EFDSS English Folk Song Bibliography

 


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