Three Score and Ten

Book and 7 CDs

Topic Records TOPIC70

Promotional graphic.

TOPIC70-1   A Selection of Treasures from the Topic Catalogue   1. The Humpback Whale: Nic Jones.  2. Angi: Davy Graham.  3. The Shaskeen Reel: John Wright.  4. The Lancashire Toreadors: The Oldham Tinkers.  5. Sullivan's March: Pat Mitchell.  6. San Francisco Bay Blues: Jesse Fuller.  7. Country Gardens: William Kimber.  8. Tamlyn: Mike Waterson.  9. The Air for Maurice Ogg / Jumping Jack / The Air For Maurice Ogg: Alistair Anderson.  10. Creeping Jane: Joseph Taylor.  11. Wasps In The Woodpile: Andrew Cronshaw.  12. Prince Heathen: Martin Carthy With Dave Swarbrick.  13. The Bonny Labouring Boy: Harry Cox.  14. Rawtenstall Annual Fair: Lee Nicholson.  15. Music for a Found Harmonium: Patrick Street.  16. Bitter Withy: John Tams.
TOPIC70-2   England Arise!   1. The Nut Dance (Excerpt): The Britannia Coconut Dancers.  2. Spencer the Rover: Bob & Ron Copper.  3. All Things Are Quite Silent: Shirley Collins.  4. Blackwater Side: Anne Briggs.  5. The Two Magicians: A L Lloyd.  6. Scan's Polkas: Oak.  7. The Crafty Maid's Policy: Frankie Armstrong.  8. A Place Called England: June Tabor.  9. When I Die: Peter Bellamy.  10. The Bold Princess Royal: Sam Larner.  11. Hal-An-Tow: The Watersons.  12. We Shepherds Are the Best of Men: Fred Jordan.  13. The Rose of Britain's Isle / Glorishears: John Kirkpatrick & Sue Harris.  14. Riding Down To Portsmouth: Tom Willett.  15. Higher Germany: Pheobe Smith.  16. The Ideal Schottische: The Cheviot Ranters.  17. The Methody Parson: Roy Harris.  18. The Maid And the Palmer: Brass Monkey.  19. Hopping Down In Kent: Louie Fuller.  20. The Devil And the Farmer's Wife: Walter Pardon.
TOPIC70-3   Ireland Boys, Hurrah   1. The Rising Sun / The Pope's Toe: Jackie Daly.  2. The Waterford Boys: Paddy Tunney.  3. The Banks of Red Roses: Sarah Makem.  4. Gillan's Apples / The Prize Jig: John Doonan & John Wright .  5. Slieve Gallon Brae: The McPeake Family.  6. Paddy Ryan's Dream / Mamma's Pet: Seamus Tansey with Reg Hall.  7. My Irish Molly O: The Flanagan Brothers.  8. The Blackbird: Seamus Ennis.  9. The Factory Girl: Margaret Barry.  10. Roaring Mary / The Old Torn Petticoat: The Irish Country Four.  11. Spailpina Rún: Sean Mac Donnchadha.  12. The Choice Wife: Willie Clancy.  13. The Tinker's Old Budget: Mary Ann Carolan.  14. Padraig O'Keefe's / Con Cassidy's: The Boys of the Lough.  15. Dowd's Favourite: Hugh Gillespie.  16. Wife of the Bold Tenant Farmer: Joe Heaney.  17. The Music In the Glen / The Greenfields of America: The O'Halloran Brothers.  18. The Knight Templar's Dream: Len Graham.  19. The Yellow Tinker / The Humours of Scarriff: Sean O'Shea & Bobby Casey.  20. He Rolled Her To the Wall: Frank Harte.  21. The Heather Breeze / The Traveller: The Russell Family.  22. The Patriot Game: Dominic Behan.  23. The Belfast Hornpipe / The Rights of Man: John Rea.  24. Bridie Morley / Duignan's Favourite: Packie Duignan & Seamus Horan.
TOPIC70-4   Scotia the Brave   1. Miss Drummond of Perth / Fiddler's Joy / Traditional Reel / The Shetland Reel: Battlefield Band.  2. Come All Ye Fisher Lasses: The Fisher Family.  3. Queen Among the Heather: Belle Stewart.  4. Cullen Bay / Jig O'Slurs / Seagull: Kentigern.  5. Wi My Roving Eye: Norman Kennedy.  6. Blue Bleezin' Blind Drunk: Cilla Fisher.  7. Soldier's Joy: Tom Anderson & Aly Bain.  8. The Dowie Dens of Yarrow: Gordeanna McCulloch.  9. Erin Go Bragh: Dick Gaughan.  10. Young Jimmy Foyers: Sheila Stewart.  11. Kempy Kaye: Jock Tamson's Bairns.  12. Lady Eliza: Winnie Campbell.  13. Tilley Plump / Auld Foula Reel / Oot And In Da Harbour: Curlew.  14. Herd Laddie O' the Glen: Willie Scott.  15. The Fireman's Not For Me: Isla Cameron.  16. Dance With Me, Morag: Isabel Sutherland.  17. The Wind That Blew the Bonnie Lassie's Plaidie Awa': Jimmy McBeath.  18. MacCrimmon's Lament: Jeannie Robertson.  19. The Gallant Forty Twa: Ian Manuel.  20 The Twa Corbies: Ray & Archie Fisher.  21. Boulavogue: Davie Stewart.  22. The Wandering Piper: John Burgess.
TOPIC70-5   The Singer & The Song   1. Unity (Raise Your Banners High): John Tams.  2. The Dominion of the Sword: Martin Carthy.  3. The Sun Is Burning: The Ian Campbell Folk Group.  4. Go Down Ye Murderers: Ewan Maccoll.  5. Police Patrol: Bob Davenport.  6. Two Tears: Eliza Carthy.  7. Never Any Good: Martin Simpson.  8. Both Sides of the Tweed: Dick Gaughan.  9. George's Son: John Kirkpatrick With Brass Monkey.  10. Reconciliation: Ron Kavana.  11. Stumbling On: Lal Waterson & Oliver Knight.  12. Acceptable Losses: John B Spencer.  13. Ships of Shame: Steve Ashley.  14. The Land of Three Rivers: Vin Garbut.  15. No Telling: Linda Thompson.  16. Dust: Johnny Handle.  17. Two-Fisted Heroes: Bill Caddick.
TOPIC70-6   The People's Flag   1. The Man Who Watered the Worker's Beer: Paddy Ryan.  2. Talking Union Blues: Pete Seeger.  3. Joe Hill: Paul Robeson.  4. Masters of War: Martin Simpson.  5. The Red Flag: Bob Smith's Ideal Band.  6. The Blackleg Miners: Louis Killen.  7. No Power On Earth: Billy Bennett.  8. The Internationale: The Topic Singers & Band.  9. To the Begging I Will Go: Ewan Maccoll.  10. The Hand-Loom Weaver's Lament: Harry Boardman.  11. The Rigs of the Time: Shirley Collins.  12. Greedy Landlord: Stan Kelly With Leon Rosselson.  13. Time To Ring Some Changes: Richard Thompson.  14. Sixteen Tons: Ewan MacColl.  15. Peat Bog Soldiers: The Ian Campbell Folk Group.  16. Aa'm Glad the Strike's Done: The High Level Ranters.  17. Threes Score And Ten: The Watersons.  18. Dirty Old Town: Ewan Maccoll.  19. The Liverpool Barrow Boys: The Spinners.  20. The Weaver's March: The Celebrated Working Men's Band.  21. We Poor Labouring Men: Waterson:Carthy.  22. Perfumes of Arabia: Martin Carthy & Dave Swarbrick.  23. Hot Asphalt: Bob Davenport & The Rakes.
TOPIC70-7   Even More Treasures from the Topic Catalogue   1. Skye Crofter's / The Swallow Tail: Billy Pigg.  2. While Gamekeeper's Lie Sleeping: June Tabor.  3. Boi Se Otvori: Roza Tsetkova.  4. Barleycorn: Tim Van Eyken.  5. The Girl On the Greenbriar Shore: Tom Paley & Peggy Seeger.  6. The Happy One-Step / Green Willis: The House Band.  7. Clyde Water: Nic Jones.  8. Baranca: Vlado & Nikola Robanovski.  9. Georgie: Levi Smith.  10. Jenny Lind: Scan Tester & Rabbidy Baxter.  11. Worcester City: Eliza Carthy.  12. Talking Dustbowl Blues: Ramblin' Jack Elliott.  13. Kaba Vençe: Refki Taho, Hysen Zizolli & Ahmet Metolli.  14. The Green Banks of Yarrow: Alison Mcmorland & Peta Webb.  15. Johnny, Will You Marry Me?: Dan Sullivan's Shamrock Band.  16. Hamburger - Polka Fra Hardanger: Vestlandsgruppa.  17. Hedger And Ditcher: The Silly Sisters.  18. Burren No. 1 / Chris Droney's Favourite: Chris Droney.  19. Nna Hamu: The Jauharah Orchestra.  20. Little Sadie: Hedy West.  21. Fulmine: Andy Cutting.  22. No One Stands Alone: Blue Murder.
Well, a 114-page full-colour, beautifully illustrated, hardbacked, 11 inch square book and 7 CDs containing 144 tracks for £40 has to be a pretty good deal!  Whether it's worth it to you will probably depend upon how many Topic CDs you already own - because only 87 of the 144 are unavailable in this format.  That being said, it's pretty unlikely that you'll own all that many of these currently available CDs, so probably far more tracks than 87 will be new to you.

Rather more to the point (for regular readers of this magazine) is the fact that some of the tracks (including all of those on TOPIV70-5 The Singer & The Song and TOPIC70-6 The People's Flag) are not what you'd call traditional.  Of the other 5 CDs, it looks to me as if most of the tracks are traditional, though some are performed by revivalists.

This splendid production is something of a one-man labour of love by David Suff - the chap responsible for quite a number of other recent Topic publications.  Of the book itself, the much-used adjective 'lavish' is not inappropriate.  It really is a lovely thing, and contains literally dozens of splendidly reproduced photographs.  Every normal page has 2 or 3 photos, and there are 10 special 'photo album' pages with 5 or 6 pix a-piece.

The text tells the story of 'the oldest independent record company in the UK / the world' (depending on which page you read), from its beginnings as an arm of the Workers' Music Association in 1939 to the present day.  All right, it's mainly a chronological listing and description of most of Topic's recordings, but these are interspersed with pieces on the people who have contributed to its huge output.  There's also a good deal of narrative dealing with how the company developed, and its many challenges and successes through the years.  I don't honestly see how it could have been done much better.

Of the recordings, I must say that the older stuff has been very well cleaned up, so that a 1908 Joseph Taylor recording stands up happily beside a 2005 side (as it does on CD 1).  Given that there are 144 tracks, it would be invidious to attempt to describe many of them, buy I would like briefly to mention some that have impressed me.

To begin at the beginning: Nic Jones' The Humpback Whale is even better than I remember it; Mike Waterson's Tamlyn remains as extraordinary as ever; while Joseph Taylor's Creeping Jane is still peerless, like Harry Cox's The Bonny Labouring Boy.  On CD2 we find: Bob & Ron Copper singing Spencer the Rover as never bettered; June Tabor brings a tear to my eye with A Place Called England - Maggie Holland has written many fine songs, and this and Perfumes of Arabia (found on CD6) are probably the finest of them.  Tom Willett's Riding Down To Portsmouth remains one of my favourite songs, and Walter Pardon's The Devil And the Farmer's Wife has a delightfully quirky melody.

On CD3 there's: The McPeake Family's Slieve Gallon Brae ... if only the thousands of revivalists who attempt this wonderful song would actually listen to this track!  Track 8 is The Blackbird by Seamus Ennis, and contains part 1 of the only mistakes I've noticed ... the track actually starts with the slow air Spailpín a Rúin before moving into the set dance tune.  This mistake is somewhat exaggerated by the fact that, three tracks later, Sean Mac Donnchadha sings this song, here mis-titled Spailpina Rún.  This is followed by The Choice Wife from Willie Clancy, as delightful as ever; and a couple of tracks later the masterly Joe Heaney sings The Wife of the Bold Tenant Farmer superbly, plus we get The Russell Family's The Heather Breeze / The Traveller near the end to delight us.

CD4 Scotia the Brave provided far more delights than expected - maybe because I don't have all that many of the originals, so lots of this seemed very fresh to me.  For what ever reason: Belle Stewart's Queen Among the Heather is a passionate masterpiece; Kentigern's Cullen Bay / Jig O'Slurs / Seagull surprised me by appealing so much; and Norman Kennedy Wi My Roving Eye reminds us just why he remains so revered north of the border.  Gordeanna McCulloch's The Dowie Dens of Yarrow shows what a good singer she was in 1965, and I'm baffled that she is not very well known today.  Dance With Me, Morag is Isabel Sutherland in splendid form, and in Gallic; and Jimmy McBeath is mesmerising with The Wind That Blew the Bonnie Lassie's Plaidie Awa' - what a performer!  Track 18 is MacCrimmon's Lament from Jeannie Robertson - a very different reading from her daughter's.  Track 19 was a real surprise; on The Gallant Forty Twa I was certain that Ian Manuel was a traditional singer before I looked at the tracklist.  Near the end we find Davie Stewart singing Boulavogue as only he could do it - brilliantly!

I'll pass over CDs 5 and 6, pausing briefly to mention Martin Simpson's lovely Never Any Good - more tears! - and Sixteen Tons sung by Ewan MacColl - which has to be heard.  Presumably recorded before his stricture of only singing songs from your own culture, we wonder if his hearing this recording provoked the concept.  The final CD is, like the first, an un-themed compilation, but contains several tracks from Topic's World Music Series.  The first of these to really hit me was Baranca, a Yugoslav clarinet and fiddle tune by Vlado & Nikola Robanovski - just stunning!  Eliza Carthy's Worcester City reminds us what a great record Anglicana is; while Chris Droney's Burren No. 1 / Chris Droney's Favourite reminds me of all those little gems John Tams and Neil Wayne brought back from Ireland in 1975.  Little Sadie reminds us what a great singer and banjo player Hedy West was; and the lovely final track, No One Stands Alone, shows how wide-reaching and enjoyable the Blue Murder project was.

Needless to say, complaints about what has been included and what excluded have to be as a result of merely personal preferences - but I can't, off the top of my head, think of any really good Topic LP which doesn't find a place here (except perhaps for Bob Hart - who, anyway, is widely anthologised elsewhere).

Although a good proportion of the material is not 'traditional performed by traditional performers', its quality is such that I would happily pay £40 for such a well produced and enjoyable piece of work.  It's published on Monday 14th September, but you can pre-order your copy now at

Rod Stradling - 13.8.09

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