Bob Lewis and Bob Copper at a Kent folk club, 1999
MT Records MTCD374
A Fair Maid Walking; The Honest Labourer; Good Morrow Mistress Bright; You Seamen Bold; We Shepherds are the Bravest Boys; The Streams of Lovely Nancy; The Pretty Ploughboy; George Collins; A Sweet Country Life; The Banks of Sweet Primaroses; The Cobbler; The Bold Princess Royal; My Boy Willie; While Gamekeepers Lie Sleeping; Three Crows / Blackbirds; The Threshing Song; Spencer the Rover; Thousands or More; Oh Good Ale; John BarleycornThis is an unusual but very enjoyable slice of English tradsong. Bob Copper needs no introduction, of course, but Bob Lewis is a less familiar figure whose singing should be better appreciated. Despite a 20-year age gap the two were good friends, sharing a delight in informal pub singing sessions. This CD, recorded in 1999, presents them going song for song in the setting of a local folk club.
Bob Lewis impressed me mightily when I first heard him 20 years ago, and his singing here is a revelation, beautifully phrased and enunciated, rich at the bottom end, clear and accurate at the top. He was clearly picking songs with expansive tunes: the gorgeous modal melody of We Shepherds (surely the one from the Marrow Bones book), and unusual versions of Pretty Ploughboy and A Sailor's Life, show off his range to particular advantage. He also shows a deft touch with a comic song.
Bob Copper's pre-eminence in his celebrated family was such that his excellence as a solo singer was sometimes overlooked. Turns out he also spent years teaching himself English concertina, as documented amusingly in Jon Dudley's affectionate booklet notes. His song accompaniments are well thoughtout and rather Killen-esque, with a mixture of unison, harmony lines and chording. You get the odd fluff, but generally the box lends a gently wistful air to songs from the family repertoire and Bob's collecting expeditions with a BBC tape recorder in the 1950s.
George Collins, which he used to claim as an 'English Blues' on account of the flat sevenths, is wonderful, coaxed by subtle concertina harmony and dissonance to a point some way up the Delta. The Two Bobs also combine most effectively for Spencer The Rover and Thousands Or More, Bob C taking the bass line as he used to with the family in latter years.
The usual packed MT booklet also includes a fascinating interview by Vic Smith in which Bob Lewis waxes lyrical on the heyday of Sussex song. Lovers of traditional English singing will thoroughly enjoy this, available from www.mtrecords.co.uk
Brian Peters - 7.2.18, writing in