The Contented Countryman
Neil Lanham NL02
It's always great to hear English traditional singers singing what they want to sing for someone who is genuinely interested in listening. This tape is a very good example of the sort of songs you would have heard sung on any Saturday night when a community gathered to make their entertainment. With its mix of older songs, ditties and music hall songs, Neil Lanham has managed to get some really spirited performances from these old singers. He says that "the tape recorder 'eavesdropped' on a traditional moment" and that comes across here. All three singers have that indefinable "magic "- the ability to tell their tale with an honest sincerity and passion that makes me feel that I'm sat in the room with them. Although, with CD quality regarded as standard these days, the recordings are a little on the lo-fi side - the performances are anything but. Background noise, ticking clocks, embarrassingly creaky chairs don't in anyway detract from my enjoyment of this cassette.
Side one: Blow the Winds in the Morning (4:31) - This is a good opener for this cassette of East Suffolk singers. ALF PEACHEY of Framsden, who may be better known for his melodeon playing, is a very strong singer with a good style. This is a full and slightly unusual version of this well known song and Alf keeps the pace beautifully. I like this a lot. An Irish Family (2:47) - A humorous song sung with spirit. Jolly Old Uncle Joe (0:43) - This is typical of the silly little ditties and couplets that traditional singers have up their sleeve when the proceedings need a little lift. Proud of me Old Bald Head (1:43) - A song straight out of the Music Hall, sung with great style and humour - this is a great performance. Poor Old Couple (1:50) - This well known traditional song is well sung. Diddling (1:00): Johnson's Hornpipe/Soldier's Joy - Spirited mouth music with Alf giving us an insight into his melodeon playing whilst staying true to his promise to his wife, never to play the melodeon again. (What a tragedy!) Good bye Annie (2:10) - A real tear jerker - again, all old singers seemed to have this type of song. Three Jolly Postboys (4:18) - Lovely singing of the song better known as Landlord Fill the Flowing Bowl.
SAM FRIEND of Charsfield was also known an entertainer in his community and is a competent singer singing with strong pace and without hesitation. Miners Dream of Home (3:51) - A very good performance of this old song. Sam had obviously sang it many times as it just flows from him. John Barleycorn (0:38) - Unusual fragment of this well known drinking song. Dick Turpin (2:24) - Great singing of this popular song about the famous highwayman.
Side two: Unfortunately these Sam Friend recordings aren't a patch of those on side one. These have an echo that I found difficult to ignore. Also there is a strange clicking sound that continues throughout these performances, I'm unsure whether this was noise on the recording or the sound from an activity that Sam was engaged in during his singing. Poor Smuggler's Boy (4:04) - Sam has an unusual tune for this old song which he sings well. The Faithful Sailor Boy (2:42) - Another favourite with older singers. The Wedding Ring my Mother Wore (2:59) - A tear jerker, well sung by Sam, though sadly there is distortion of a few words in some of the verses. Jim the Carter's Lad (2:16) - Another good performance of a song popular with older singers - a typically romantic view of a very hard and, at times, wet and cold rural occupation. Talking: of taking pig to Alfred Preston (3:10) - A good example of Suffolk accent and speech - although I'm not sure if I would have included this track on this cassette.
I must confess that I've been a fan of JIMMY KNIGHTS of Little Glemham since the superb 'Sing Say or Pay' LP; recorded by Keith Summers and issued by Topic in 1977. So I was delighted to hear him on this cassette, especially as these songs were recorded some ten years earlier. Jimmy sings with great spirit and I can imagine a glint in his eye as he so ably sings these songs as he has so many times during his long life. The Contented Countryman (2:33) - A spirited rendering of this song, perhaps better known as Out With my Gun in the Morning. Ratcliffe Highway (3:06) - For me this is the definitive way to sing this song. I suspect it may have been one of Jimmy's favourites too. Tompkins was a Traveller (2:09) - I have never heard this song before but Jimmy sings it so well that it's easy to forget that he was in his eighties when he sung it. His range and pitch are spot on!
Marrowbones (2:45) - Another of Jimmy's 'greatest hits', sung well, but let down by the poorly recorded first few words. The Landlord's Prayer (1:22) - Great. This is typical of the parody of hymns and sermons that were so popular among country people but often overlooked in the search for songs. I'm glad Neil recorded Jimmy's rendering.
This cassette definitely has a 'homemade' feel about it and I have made allowances for that, but I feel some of the recordings could have benefited from some pre-production editing work using modern studio technology. There is a great photograph of Sam Friend on the cover and this conveys very well the content of the tape, but I would like much more information in the accompanying notes. I wanted to know where and when these recordings were made, more biographical information, how old the singers were, etc. And it is almost criminal for an "archive" cassette not to have a date of issue. Allowing for this I would recommend this cassette to all who enjoy an older style of singing and look forward to other releases from Neil.
Paul Marsh - 13.8.98
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