Reviews of VT135CD 'The Fox & the Hare'
This delightful album is subtitled folk songs, music
halI songs and recitations, and mainly comprises the 1967 recordIngs, by Fred
Hamer, of pub singer Harry Green of Tilty, near Great Dunmow In Essex. Harry’s
work was previously available on cassette from Veteran, but the CD also Includes
a couple of songs each by Ernest Austin, ‘Sugar’ Bailey, Stan Walters and Lorna
Tarran, who intersperse the main sections of Harry’s material to produce a
nicely balanced mixture that maintains the interest throughout the twenty-five
tracks. The songs are often well known, but usually have a refreshing turn of
tune or lyric.
The real fascination of this work, however, lies in
the musicality, humour and timing of 93-year old Harry Green’s singing. Even at
this remarkable age, his voice Is pleasant, well tuned, with a delivery that
would command respect from any audience with an ear for a ‘good song well sung’,
even when he occasionally pitches the key a little high. These recordings
represent a master class in how to entertain without the finery of instrumental
arrangements, while getting the essential qualities of his songs through to the
Recording quality, always an issue with archive material, is fine, though Lorna Tarran’s ‘The Herring Song’ has a bit of tape hum. Of the other singers, the contributions by Stan Walters are little gems. His ‘A Girl who Led a Life so Straight’ (a version of ‘Died for Love’) is sung in a style that brings out the character of the song wonderfully well. This collection is (as is usual for Veteran recordings) accompanied by detailed and well-researched notes on both singers and songs, and is another fine addition to the catalogue, being a snapshot of the wonderful repertoires and talents of all the featured singers, and an incentive to learn some more songs — though I doubt that many of us could match Harry’s fine beard!
English Dance & Song
John Howson has managed to unearth another treasure trove of East Anglian recordings of traditional singers, this time from Essex. Harry Green is the main contributor here with 17 songs. There are a couple each from four others to make this a very full hour-plus album.
It is quite remarkable that the main singer here was 93 when he was recorded in 1967 by the famed blind song collector, Fred Hamer. Certainly he is a touch breathless at times, but these performances, sure in pitch, timbre and particularly timing, are full of vitality and he seems to be fully in control of all the words; Harry must have been a formidable singer ¡n his prime.
Some of the repertoire — folk songs and music hail items in the main — is well known but there are some fascinating more rarely heard items amongst them including the title track and ‘Hares On The Mountain’, and the song that he calls ‘As I Walked out One May Morning’ appears to be unique and has been given its own classification number by Roud. A few of Harry’s items are only fragments but even they have their fascination. The tunes for his snatches of both ‘The Blackguard Gypsies’ (Gypsy Davy) and ‘The Green Mossy Banks Of The Lea’ are sufficiently different from others to make both worthy of note.
The other recordings come from a variety of sources but all the singers are interesting and the crooning approach of Stan Walters and the fine performances of Lorna Tarran are particularly pleasing. The CD comes with the usual high quality, informative booklet that has become the trade mark of all Veteran releases.
With their truly exceptional archive of country performers, Veteran’s releases are always a treat and this is no exception, containing all Known recordings of Essex singer Harry Green.
When Fred Hamer taped these performances in 1 967, Green was in his nineties, but while his voice may be thin in places — particularly the fragment of ‘The Blackguard Gypsies’ — the performances more than make up for this in character, whether on popular tradition material like ‘When Jones’ Ale Was New’ or the less-common title track.
Very much a pub singer, Green slips a recitation of ‘The Pear Tree’ (closely related to Child 1 ) amongst his selection of traditional and music hall songs. Never ones to short-change the listener, Veteran augment Green’s forty-minute recorded legacy with a selection from four other Essex singers. Of particular interest is Lorna Tarran’s composite ‘The Flash Girl’ learned from her mother (any more in the vaults, chaps?), but the contributions from Ernest Austin, ‘Sugar’ Bailey (a lovely ‘Bunch Of Thyme’) and Stan Walters all make for an intriguing vignette of the county’s song culture.
R2 (Rock & Reel)
From Veteran’s extensive archives, featuring Harry
Green at the age of 93 in 1967 and other Singers from rural Essex (as was), this
CD is one of those valuable sources of material that all traditional performers
ought to be mining.
A total of 25 tracks (you can’t accuse Veteran of
being stingy!) with 17 songs and recitations from Harry and 2 each from each of
the other four performers, this is a glorious collection of material both
familiar and not so. It’s always a fascination to hear yet another version of an
old standard (just how many tunes are there to ‘John Barleycorn’?!) and there
are plenty of those here.
Harry’s style is light with the occasional chuckle
creeping in and if I were to pick any of the songs out for attention then ‘The
Blackguard Gypsies’ and ‘Ladies Won’t You Marry’ are those, but ‘Hares on the
Mountain’ (Ernest Austin), ‘The Photo of the Girl I Left Behind Me’ (‘Sugar’
Bailey), ‘When Irish Eggs are Frying’ (Stan Walters — guess the source of that
ditty!) and ‘The Flash Girl’ (Lorna Tarran) are all worthy of note.
The CD presentation is the usually extensive Veteran production with a booklet giving all the information an aficionado could desire, and the package can be obtained from Veteran Recordings at www.veteran.co.uk, by mail order or from your local supplier, if they are enlightened enough.
My first impression, as a convert to the wild beard, is that Harry Green’s a beard icon. People might not buy CDs of traditional singers for style, but they might be wrong — I’ll come back to this later. As to content, this is an Essex treasure-box. Over one hour of lovely singing and great versions of songs and recitations, impeccably presented, selected, sequenced and annotated by our own John Howson. The Harry Green material has not been available since a cassette twelve years ago and it’s worth getting for this. Harry Green has a highish, warm, lively and engaging style of singing, which reminds me a hit of Sam Lamer. The sense of fun is palpable and infectious. My favourites of his are the title track and the Pear Tree recitation, but he does both fun and serious material effortlessly. There are seventeen from Harry Green; a whole album’s worth.
Two songs from Ernest Austin earn their place. Ernest Austin has a formal, emphatic style and his exceptional version of John Barleycorn, is a real highlight. Sugar Bailey, who I remember meeting in the eighties, has a firm, melodic voice and can do music-hall sharpness on ‘The Photo of the Girl I Left Behind’, as well as the softer tone of his second song. Stan Walters has a deeper, sustained, gipsy-style baritone and also does the dark and the daft on his two. Lorna Tarran’s ‘The Flash Girl’ is a delight and her two show a strong, but sweet and melodic tone. There’s a wealth of content, some great versions and rare songs and all the singers have the warm, sweet roll of Essex voices, which you can still hear in the county, if you listen closely.
I’ve concentrated on sound and singing in the content, as well as the great beard pics, because this stuff is stylish too. Singers of old songs and fans of old singers seem confronted with a problem. It doesn’t seem possible to sing as naturally as the old singers do. Having grown up in a culture where you are surrounded by commercialised, homogenised, glossy music and unnatural voices, our tendency is to feel that our own voices, once unsellconsciously natural, have been irredeemably stolen. In a way, it’s true, but the feeling is fruitless. The truth is that all voices have choices, arid inheritance and cultures to ignore or embrace. The best you can learn from these old singers is their plainness of sound and delivery, which is not so much a naturalness as an honesty, a directness and a faith in the heart of the material. These qualities are available to us all. You can find it in, say, Neil Young, Jim Eldon, and Suzzy Roche. These stylish singers like Harry Green and co have a kind of straightforward extravert intimacy, which draws the listener into the company of the singer — call it community singing, or even folk singing. Some singers of old songs take the content, but they miss the style. If you get the style thing, then you are not a revivalist, beard or no beard, because youcan hear that this stuff is alive. It’s a wonderful CD.
Sub titled Folk Songs,Music Hall Songs and Recitations the 25 tracks are field recordings of 5 source singers from Essex, The bulk of the material, which had been previously released on audio cassette is made up of Fred Hamer’s recordings of Harry Green of Tilty near Dunmow. He was aged 93 when Hamer made these recordings in 1967 and considering the quality of his voice at that advanced age we must be sorry that he was not recorded as a younger man. Readers from Essex may well be familiar with a number of the songs as they entered the repertoire of the late Peter Billinge from Brentwood. They range from comic material such as title track and Down in the Fields Where the Buttercups all Grow to traditional songs such as The Nutting Girl and The Blackguard Gypsies. The other singers contribute two tracks each. Ernest Austin of Great Bentley gives a version of John Barleycorn while Sugar Bailey of Shellow Bowells (one of my favorite Essex place names) sings the classic folk song Bunch of Thyme and Billy Merson’s music hall number The Photo of the Girl I Left Behind. Sugar’s nick name needs a little explanation, In the local accent Bailey and Barley were homophones and he became known as “Old Barley Sugar”. The name stuck so well that I only discovered that he had beenchristened Herbert on reading the sleeve notes. Stan Walters of Stansted gives a brief parody of When Irish Eyes are Smiling which he learned when working in a local saw mill before being called up into the Royal Navy where he acquired an extensive repertoire much of which was unsuitable for mixed company.
The real gem on this CD Is Lorna Tarran of West Mersea. She is heard both speaking and singing and It is striking how she switches accents, clearly taking her singing style from stage and film. This is very obvious in her mix of recitation and song The Flash Girl which builds a story, possibly partly derived from a local ballad, illustrated by snatches of the song The Knickerbocker Line.
As usual with Veteran recordings there is a substantial booklet with notes on every song and potted biographies of the singers. If you like listening to “old boys” then this is for you with some fine singing and new versions of old songs as well as a few that are not so common in the folk scene.
There must be very few, if any, traditional
singers and musicians from East Anglia that have not been featured by John
Howson on his Veteran albums. Indeed, John and Katie Howson are about
to be awarded the gold badge by the EFDSS in recognition for their tireless
work for Folk Music, of which the recordings are just one part.
Harry Green, whose songs make up over two- thirds
of the tracks on this CD. was ninety-three when he was recorded by Fred Hamer
in 1967. Even then he delivered a repertoire of ballads,
country songs, and recitations in a strong. rich voice. He was Essex born &
bred, and much of his singing was done in the Rising Sun pub at Duton Hill. I
was interested to hear the song
Oh Joe The Boat Is Going Over since until very recently I had only been
familiar with the tune.which itself is very common among East Anglian
The other Essex singers featured on the album are
Ernest Austin, who offers another attractive version of.John Barlevcorn,
‘Sugar’ Bailey, StanWalters with a little parody When Irish Eggs Are
Frying, and Lorna Torran whose Herring Song is of’ the Herring Head family.
As with all of the Veteran productions, the sleeve notes are copious and very informative. Whether one’s interest is just in listening to traditional singers no longer with us, or using their songs as a source of inspiration for one’s own performance, this album would be most welcome.
Another splendid CD from veteran — this time concentrating on Essex singers of folk songs, music hall and recitations. Mostly Harry Green (40 mins. Recorded by Fred Hamer), there’s two tracks each from Ernest Austin, Sugar Bailey, Stan Walters & Lorna Tarran. The collection gives a snapshot of a bygone life from all corners of the vibrant rural and coastal county. Many songs are familiar — ‘When Jones Ale was New’, ‘Banks of Sweet Primroses’, ‘Nutting Girl’, ‘John Barleycorn’, ‘Bunch of Thyme’, ‘Herring Song’, ‘A Girl who led a Life so Straight’ and ‘Blackguard Gypsies’. ‘The Fox and the Hare’ is a rare song in England — only 8 versions are listed in Roud and 5 of them are from North America. ‘Ladies Won’t You Marry’ to tune ‘In & Out the Window’ has a spoken part which Harry obviously relished. Other recitations include ‘Pear Tree’ and ‘Thaxted Bells’. There is the usual informative booklet giving bi-ogs, song notes and photos. A fine piece of collecting.
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