Reviews of VTC7CD  'It was on a market day' - Two


 

Bill Murray reviewed the first volume of Veteran's compilation of the best of England's traditional singers in the previous issue of What's Afoot I can only re-iterate his tribute to John Howson's dedication in preserving and making available this valuable material. I can't do full justice to the 28 tracks on offer on this second volume or to the 18 fine singers represented - many, like Walter Pardon, Will Noble, and Bob Lewis are almost household names in traditional song circles. Suffice to say it's a piece of living history, a valuable resource - and it's also quite fun to listen to!

What's Afoot

 

Reviewed with Volume One (VTC6CD)

Veteran, is a company with a long track record of releasing classic recordings of English traditional music. Much of its output is composed of field recordings. Made by researchers and collectors, documenting this important side of English culture, And many of those field recordings have been exquisite. Any anthology containing “some of the finest ‘field’ recordings from the Veteran catalogue” would certainly qualify as classic. ‘It Was on a Market Day – One’ and It Was on a Market Day Two are good examples: They’re both made up of material collected by Veteran founder John Howson and his friend Mike Yates, two of the most prolific collectors on the scene.

Together, these two have done a great deal to increase the availability and profile of traditional music, and their recordings have been the basis of LP and cassette releases, books, academic articles, and magazines. Their field tapes, then, are classics among modern field recordings.

The material presented on both of these CDs, which bear the subtitle En glish Traditional Folk Singers, is fascinating stuff. By “traditional folk singers,” Howson and Yates mean, of course, not folks who make their living traveling from folk club to folk club, but working people who sang folk songs and other material in their spare time. Generally, the term suggests rural, working-class people, such as farmers and gardeners, horse grooms and shepherds, quarrymen and stonemasons, fishermen and sailors, entrepreneurs like pub landlords and flower-sellers. and tradespeople like mechanics and chainmakers. It also suggests a performance style; English traditional singing is mostly unaccompanied. That is just what you get here.

Volume 1 features, among others,Johnny Doughty, Fred Whiting, Mary Anne Haynes, George Spicer and Geoff Ling. who were also on the classic Topic series Voice of the People. My favourite singers here, however, are Bob Lewis, whose “Pretty Ploughboy,” “Young Collins,” “Lovely Joan,” and “Bailiff’s Daughter of lslington” are all terrific versions of traditional songs, and Will Noble, who sings a fine music-hall song and a parody of a popular hymn, showing the folk tradition continuing to absorb and transform new material.

Volume 2 features more great singers, including Frank Hinchliffe, Walter Pardon, George Townsend, Lucy Woodall, and Freda Palmer. It includes more fine renditions of well-known folk songs, including “Rosemary Lane,” “Hares on the Mountain,” and “Barbara Allen.” It also contains some well-chosen products of the turn-of-the-2Oth-ccntury music ball, such as the mawkish tale of “The Volunteer Organist” and the silly, sprightly, enjoyable “Rubbub.”It’s hard to pick a favourite between the two discs.


Dirty Linen U.S.A.

 

Subtitled 'English traditional folk singers' this is a valuable compilation, a second delving into the Veteran catalogue, drawing on field recordings made by Mike Yates and John Howson. This selection is from the mid 1970s to the early 1990s, and has 18 singers of varying accomplishment; for every Frank Hinchliffe and Walter Pardon there are songsters and workaday 'obligers' but that's not to question their inclusion and in point of fact it's what makes this collation such a joy. A pot-pourri that gives us the assertive Johnny Doughty from Sussex with 'Vessel In Distress/Yes I Am Contented' contrasting nicely with the measured 'Rosemary Lane' from Worcestershire's Lucy Woodall works just fine.


Much of the material sung here is not 'folk song' as the first generation collectors would have it - Charlie Hancy's The Volunteer Organist' and George Fradley's wonderful 'Rhubbub' would have been waved aside 100 years ago, yet such pieces can carry equal weight in their repertories and estimations with any heavy duty ballads. As such, they are the very essence of folk singers, certainly those featured here, many of whom I've been fortunate to meet and to hear sing

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The liner notes make the point that I have touched on previously in a review of material from Mike's archives; that these are not artists in line with much of folk performance now. Veteran's telephone is unlikely to be ringing off the wall with orders for Market Day Two, but I would question the musical probity of anyone who cannot find much to interest them here, yet who professes an abiding interest in 'folk'. This is true traditional singing, without contrivance and should be at the core of what we value - all too often we seem sidetracked by craft and technique and overlook the power of honest feeling.


With comprehensive and informative notes in a stylishly laid-out sixteen-page booklet, this is indispensable and deserves to find a place in our collections and our hearts.

English Dance & Song

 

Another release from the fabulous Veteran catalogue. And, like the first volume, it has 28 wonderful traditional songs by singers from all over England.I said, in the review for that first volume, that the fact that the songs are all sung without accompaniment seems to put some people off. Well, if you are one of those people, I would suggest that these two volumes might help to overcome your doubts. One reason is that the story, the poetry and meaning of the words are easier to follow without jangling guitars and unnecessary harmonies. Most of these singers simply allow the song to tell its own story.


Many of the singers also appeared on the first volume including Jeff Wesley, a superb singer from Northamptonshire, who starts the ball rolling with his version of Hares on the Mountain. You may know the song - if young girls were hares on the mountain, young men would all go hunting - but you will never have heard it sung better than this. Jeffs mellow and melodic voice and beautifully clear diction mean that the words and tune get all of your attention - there's nothing to distract you from the gently humorous sentiment of the song.
 

Again there is an intriguing mix of singing styles. For example, the second track is a version of Barbara Allen by the late Frank Hinchliffe, another lovely singer with a clear but more restrained tone. Then a delightfully exuberant song from George Fradley about 'our little garden subbub' where, we are told, you can grow 'stewed rhubbub'.

 

Have a look at the Veteran website for the full track-list -and all the lyrics (www.veteran.co.uk). I'm sure you'll appreciate that this CD is another one that you really ought to hear. This is Volume Two of a collection which, between them, present 56 traditional English songs, many of which you will not have heard before and even the well-known titles are unusual versions. There are some that will not appeal to all tastes but I can virtually guarantee that everybody will like at least half of them - and there's not many compilation CDs you can say that about. As I said in the review of the first volume - if you're a singer looking for new songs to learn, these CDs are essential. If you're someone who just likes to listen to traditional songs, this is a lovely collection with which to spend an hour or so. Both volumes are very highly recommended.

Shreds & Patches
 

If you haven't come across the Veteran compilation CD's yet and you are an avid collector of traditional songs, then this is the CD for you. This album has some of the finest 'field' recordings of unaccompanied songs. Since its foundation in 1987, Veteran have produced over 40 albums of traditional music from England, Ireland and Scotland. The back catalogue has the first collection in this series as well as a number of interesting anthologies, such as songs from Suffolk and 'Old Uncle Tom Cobleigh and All'. No-one can fault the fourteen pages of sleeve notes that accompany this album: no detail has been spared - the date of the recording, historical features on the words and tunes and photographs of the singers.
 

The CD includes eighteen different singers from all over England singing twenty-eight songs. Songs include: 'Old John Bradlum', 'Hares on the Mountain', 'Black-eyed Susan', The Derby Ram' and Barabara Alien', which are familiar to most of us. A new one on me is a comic song recorded in Derbyshire entitled 'Rhubbub' - I suspect we will hear this one round the folk clubs shortly, along with others on the disc. The quality of the singing is varied, but one thing unites the singers' performances: commitment They are all capable of holding the tune and sing confidently from memory. And this is the real point, though some of the songs may not in the strictest sense of the word be 'traditional', since an author and composer can be traced for a number of them, there are some fine ballads here and songs that Cecil Sharp collected among the still very singable comic and music hall songs. The style of delivery is quaint in places, so that the recordings come over as voices from the past, which is exactly what they are.
 

There used to be a department at the BBC which specialised in reclaiming tapes for reuse - which is why some classic moments in TV and radio history, much more recent than these recordings - have been wiped for ever. All who like traditional folk music will be thankful the same didn't happen to the thirty-year-old skilfully remastered recordings on this CD.

Surrey Folk News

 

This fine collection of field /source recordings of English traditional folk singers is the sequel to volume 1, which appeared last year, being a further celebration of English unaccompanied singers and their songs drawn from recordings in the extensive Veteran archive which were first issued by that company on cassette some years ago. If anything it's even more delicious than volume 1 to my mind! It includes spirited and abundantly entertaining performances from a total of 17 solo singers and one family group (the Cantwells), all recorded on their respective home territory by either Mike Yates or John Howson variously between 1975 and 1992, in (mostly) excellent transfers full of presence. There's four apiece from Northamptonshire's Jeff Wesley and Sussex man Bob Lewis, three from Derbyshire's George Fradley, two apiece from Oxfordshire's Francis Shergold and Holme Valley stalwart Will Noble, and one apiece from Walter Pardon, Johnny Doughty, Lucy Woodall, George Townshend, Frank Hinchliffe, Ted Chaplin, Ivor Hill, Freda Palmer, Charlie Bridger, Wait Stevens, Charlie Hancy and Ray Hartland. Several of the above are so infrequently recorded, and I particularly appreciated the chance to hear Messrs Hinchliffe, Shergold and Noble, while the singing of both Jeff Wesley and George Fradley prove a constant source of delight for me. Repertoire is, as to be expected, drawn mostly from the acknowledged tradition, but with the occasional music-hall song thrown in (for instance, Mr Fradley turns in a virtuoso rendition of Rhubbub, first popularised by Ernie Mayne); there's even a place for Victorian moralising, with Charlie Hancy's gloriously intoned rendition of The Volunteer Organist (though it's a mite spoilt by the recording quality which here is uncharacteristically fluttery). As a whole this collection should have a wide appeal, since it contains some infrequently-heard gems of song to entice the aficionado and practising singer alike, alongside some virtually matchless renditions of more-often-essayed club fare like Life Of A Man, Derby Ram and The Ploughboy's Joy. It's hard - and possibly less than fair - to single out highlights, but myself I particularly enjoyed Francis's Needlecases, Will's Poor Weaver's Daughter, Jeff's May Song, Bob's Stormy Winds Do Blow and Last Valentine's Day, and the Cantwell Family's Yorkshire Blinder. This is the kind of collection that provides a most persuasive advocate for the joys of authentic untutored unaccompanied singing and song, and it's presented with all Veteran's usual loving attention to detail; full texts available as always on their web-site.

Folk Roundabout

 


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