Reviews of VT131CD 'When the May is all in Bloom'
John Howson of Veteran offers us
the first-ever CD of brand-new recordings by English traditional source
singers. The six veterans featured on it are all based in Kent and Sussex; all
are active in the folk scene today and all are in fine voice, as demonstrated
by this collection. Bob Copper and John Copper are father and son from the
legendary Copper Family of Rottingdean; Louie Fuller is a perky octogenarian
originally from Woolwich, with a style reminiscent of the golden age of the
London variety theatre; ex-scrap metal dealer Gordon Hall has a distinctive
singing style and a vast repertoire learnt from his mother Mabs; the
gentle-voiced Bob Lewis gives us one of the highlights of the album,
'Searching for Lambs'; and Ron Spicer provides the only accompanied song in
the collection with his accordion on an unusual version of 'Constant Lovers'.
A great source of previously unrecorded material and a treat for all lovers of English traditional singing.
What a pleasure and delight! 1995 and Veteran Tapes becomes Veteran CDs with this stunner - a terrific 'sampler' of six well-known singers and not-so-well known Sussex singers. John Howson seems to have done it agian. Some might thing it perverse not to launch such a venture with a big name, in traditional terms, but you can be sure he knows what he's doing.
There are no particularly astonishing or obscure songs here - the performance is all, And what performers they, form Octogenarian Bob Copper at his tender, sure-footed best, through the infectious hilarity of Louie Fuller, to the towering, exotic exuberance of Gordon Hall. Other singers are possibly not so well known, though they are regulars at festivals and clubs. Ron Spicer and John Copper are the sons of noted singers (as of course are Bob and Gordon); Ron is an unassuming performer who sings with a ample charm and would probably lay no claims to emulating his father, George; John, when not harmonising with The Family, shows marked skill with the idiosyncratic ditties and wordy choruses so beloved of our great-grandparents and Dan Quinn. Many of you will have seen Bob Lewis, but here he is not he festival 'crowd pleaser'; he shows an ability to sing thoughtfully, giving great care and attention to decoration. It may be this which points him up as a quality singer of the revival, rather than a traditional singer, despite his credentials. I know I'm taking a lot of risks using such politically incorrect terminology. and anyway I could be completely wrong...
It will be astonishing to some that this superb music flourishes along the stockbroker-ridden London/Brighton line. I suggest that it's time that any poor soul who still believes that 'we've got nothing to carry on" look through the Veteran 'tapes catalogue - your music is all around you. ' To those of us already privy to the information, I cannot recommend the new CD highly enough.
It is unlikely that any amount of gratitude couId repay John Howson what the Folk world owes him. A look at the Veteran Tapes catalogue sets the mouth a-watering the ears a-twitching. Naturally, John has progressed to CD's and this collection of fourteen tracks from six singers is among his best. As I played it for the n'th time I made notes but there isn't space for all of them here.
Bob Lewis sings 'Colin and Phoebe', a composed song that long since passed into repertoire of traditional singers, including George (Pop) Maynard, singer and World marbles champion of Copthom, Sussex. Bob sings the widely-collected 'The Spotted Cow' and the strangely haunting 'Searching For Lambs' - a star witness to testify to outstanding musical quality among Folk tunes.
Bob Copper's son, John, livens up the disc, robustly singing a couple of music hall songs he had from his grandfather, Jim. (Some of the more fastidious collectors might have shunned music hall songs, but the singers regarded them as grist to the mill.)
Louie Fuller (her octogenarian voice is still powerful) sings two songs of equally popular origin. 'Spotty Dick' she fills with suggestive lines such as I'm having a bit tonight.
'Twenty-one years on Dartmoor' is said to originate on a U.S. record made by a duo called Mac & Bob, but it's at least possible it started life in England, crossed the Atlantic and crossed back home again between the wars.
Gordon Hall sings a ten-minute version of 'Broomfield Hill', also commonly called 'The Broomfeld Wager' (Child 43). He also sings 'Mass Simkins' (in Sussex, mass = master) that's a likely contemporary of 'Villikins and his Dinah'. 'The Grand Conversation on Napoleon', an impressive ballad with a monumental tune, was collected here by Ralph Vaughan Williams, but it turns up frequently in Ireland, where Joe Heaney, among others had it.
Bob Copper at 80 is singing with
enviable voice. 'George Collins' seems to be an amalgam of two Child ballads,
but 'The Trees They Do Grow High', though widely dispersed throughout Britain,
was unaccountably missed by Professor Child during his years of collecting. I
have recent tapes of Bob's singing and heard the Folk on 2 celebration of his
birthday. He certainly is singing wonderfully well.
Ron Spicer sings 'Lily White
Hand' - familiar to Folk fans as the Irish song 'Blackwaterside' and the
'Constant Lovers', another well distributed song. The version sung here is
largely taken from a Gardner manuscript. Its direct descendant is the popular
'I Never Will Marry', which Alan Lomax in Folk songs of North America regards
as a talented and tactful editing of the earlier song. Personally, I think the
American song is a trivialised affair.
When 'I say The Constant Lovers' is for me the best song on this CD, that is merely an expression of personal taste. It is rather like saying: Here is a diamond, but it is set round with rubies and emeralds. Every track is a shining gem.
This is a record
for the connoisseur, a delightful combination of fine songs performed by
singers of comparable quality. The Album assembles six traditional singers
from the South East, including Bob & John Copper, Louie Fuller, Gordon Hall,
Bob Lewis and Ron Spicer. and make no mistake that adds up to infinitely more
than merely six singers of traditional songs.
At the age of
eighty Bob Copper displays all the integrity and sensitivity which made his
singing so appealing when I first heard him in the early sixties and his
rendition of 'George Collins' is a little gem. Whilst John offers "The Clothes
Horse", a cleverly written music hall type song describing the amusing antics
of a first time equestrian and "Shift up a little bit Farther" in similar
vein. Another music hall song which has now found a rightful place in the
tradition is Louie Fuller's 'Spotty Dick" which carries all the innuendo one
might expect from the title and as a song is great fun.
Ron Spicer on
"Constant Lovers" is superb. This delicately presented song of a sweetheart
lost at sea has a fine squeezebox accompaniment which compliments the gentle
voice perfectly and once you're in the mood the next track Bob Lewis's version
of "Searching for Lambs' can't fail to impress.
With such an array
of material any selection of favourites must be a very personal one but I have
to confess Gordon Hall leaves me absolutely gob-smacked, whether it be the
humour of "Maas Simkins" or the monumental ten minute version of "Broomfield
Hill" this man is a master and if you are looking to develop your own skills
as an unaccompanied singer play his "Grand Conversation on Napoleon", listen
and learn. Here is a man who knows how to deal with words and music.
For me this album has arrived at just the right moment in the development of our music, it provides us with an opportunity to step back and re-examine its origins and its meaning. I am certain that in years to come many of our next generation of performers will be talking of this album as influential whilst the next generation of folk fans will be seeking it out as a collector's item.
The six traditional singers featured on these recordings are all from south-east England, mostly from Sussex, and all were recorded within the last twelve months. Fourteen tracks cover a wide range of songs and styles, all superbly handled. In alphabetical order we find Bob Copper singing solo some fine ballads, while his son John shows his skills at comic songs and handling an audience. Louie Fuller successfully tugs at the heartstrings, Gordon Hall gives one hundred percent as ever and Bob Lewis's versions of classic English songs come over particularly well, whilst Ron Spicer provides a subtle contrast to the unaccompanied singing by backing "Constant Lovers" with his accordion. Vic Smith's informative notes and John Howson's sympathetic recording completes an entertaining and important milestone in English traditional singing.
Sussex Folk Diary
John Howson at Veteran is, of course, the leading collector and recorder of source singers and musicians. This album celebrates the songs of the South East (mainly Sussex] a rich area for collectors during this century. The singers are 2 generations of Coppers - Bob & John, Louie Fuller, Gordan Hall, Bob Lewis and Ron Spicer. Much of the material has been passed down within families and contains the usual mix of traditional and music hall style material.
Veteran must be congratulated for being the only label now releasing source material and this album should be a must for those interested in traditional song. What a splendid 80th birthday present this is for Bob Copper.
A first look at the cover with its 'church window' effect of six singers tells you that what you see is what you get. Though two of them are in their eighties, the quality all the singing shines through, and sleeve-notes provide comprehensive information on each singer. All these singers are essential listening to keen followers traditional song because interesting variants as well as songs one may not have and are included. The individuals themselves are all source /traditional singers living around the Kent and Sussex area, from where their material is chiefly drawn. Sound quality is superb considering these are 'field' recordings made in the singer's in home or nearby, with two tracks before an audience. Bob and John Copper, here singing individually, are of course world-renowned, and Bob Lewis is a frequent Visitor to Padstow on Maydays. Ron Spicer continues where his famous father George left off. Louie Fuller and Gordon Hall are recent 'discoveries' of tremendous style and impact, and all these songs are delivered with the confidence born of public performance, in contrast to many other recordings of traditional singers. Every one of these 14 songs would be an asset to any singer's repertoire. My personal favourites are Gordon's 'Grand Conversation on Napoleon', and Louie's 'Twenty-one Years on Dartmoor'. One of Veteran's best to date.
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