Reviews of VT138CD 'Proper Job!'


 

The Bob Cann album, 'Proper Job!' consists of recordings made between 1952 and 1978. Significantly, a few of these recordings were made not in some far-flung corner of Dartmoor, but in the Royal Albert Hall, London. Significant, because Cann achieved the rare distinction of being a wholly traditional musician who gained recognition beyond his locality during his own lifetime. Cann's enduring legacy is not only to be found in his extensive repertoire of Dartmoor dance tunes but in his innovative mastery of the melodeon. A useful comparison can be made with Billy Pigg in the assessment of Cann's importance. If the definitive "soul" of the music of the North-East is to be found in the intuition and improvisation of Pigg's pipes, then it's South-West counterpart is here in the drive and dexterity of Cann's melodeon. 'Proper Job' will be a welcome addition to anyone's collection of English traditional music, and, to aspirant melodeon players, indispensable

Greenman Reviews

 

It's always a great joy when someone manages to stump-up the BBC's exhorbitant licensing fees and we are able to hear some of the wonderful stuff they collected back in the 1950s. Sadly limited to once or twice through the tune for the most part, they do provide a real glimpse of how people played and sang as young men and women - when most of us will only have heard them in their elder years in folk clubs or on commercial recordings. And Veteran have done just that here, starting this delightful CD with 6 tracks (15 tunes) from the BBC archives. Further selections from both live and studio recordings trace Bob Cann's musical devlopment through the 1970s, ending with 9 tracks John Howson recorded just two years before Bob's death, aged 74, in 1990. A total of almost 70 minutes' playing time - and almost every one a winner!

Bob Cann was in his mid-thirties when Peter Kennedy made the earliest of these recordings (1952), and sounds like a completely different sort of player to the man I first heard in the late 1960s. In fact, by the second lot of Kennedy recordings (1956), he was already sounding different - and not only because he was then playing a different box. There's a raw energy and dash to his playing in the earlier session, which has been supplanted by a more steady, a more musically literate style, in the later ones. It is this style - remaining fairly consistent throughout the rest of the recordings - which the world knows, and loves. (sound clip - Uncle's Jig).

The ten tunes from 1952 are all local - 'family tunes' as Bob would say, though some have another life with other names in other places (including the oddly titled Seven Step Polka, which is clearly the Seven Steps Schottische - and is played as such. I assume the former is the name on the label of the BBC 78rpm acetate. I'd like to include sound clips of all of them, but you'll have to buy the record and be satisfied with just the Scottische Hornpipe for the moment. (sound clip).

There was a lot of lose talk of Bob having been 'got at by the Society' when I first encountered him. This is probably complete nonsense - but he must certainly have been influenced by the new people from beyond Dartmoor he met as a result of the BBC records. How else to account for a radical change of style at the age of around 38, from someone who had been playing the family music since three years old!

I said that his style remained 'fairly' consistent - but we are treated to one glorious example of him reverting to type in an unguarded moment. At the English Country Muisc Weekend in 1976, Bob and Oscar Woods shared a bedroom in our house - and both had a light-hearted 'go' on each other's boxes. Oc didn't fare too well with Bob's enormous accordion, but Bob handled the one-row as if he'd grown up with one - as, of course, he had. I'd completely forgotten the incident, had never heard Neil Wayne's tapes (despite promises), and had no idea that Bob had played it when the recordings were made. The result is just wonderful, as you can hear (sound clip - Uncle George's Hornpipe, aka The Cliffe). Such a pity, in my opinion, that he never played a one-row when he was touring the folk clubs in the '70s and '80s.

The rest of the recordings are selected from a folk club evening in 1978, an EFDSS 'Folk Prom' in 1975, Topic's West Country Melodeon LP from '75 and Veteran's own Five Generations cassette of '88 where Bob plays together with his grandson Mark Bazeley (sound clip - Barn Dance). Good news is that Mark and his musical partner Jason Rice will be recording for Veteran in 2000.

The CD has an extremely handsome cover - all Howson's own work and the best so far, to my eye. The booklet contains a brief but pretty comprehensive biography, particularly covering the family music-making, and gives both social and technical details of the five sets of recordings from which the selection of tracks was made. Despite the fact that the record's subtitle is 'Melodeon playing from Dartmoor', I was very surprised that no mention was made of Bob's story-telling or singing. He was a man of great warmth and charm, and this came across most strongly in his singing - quite and unassuming, yet delivered with great skill - he was able to keep you interested in the story of the most hackneyed of songs (Down in the Fields where the Buttercups all Grow) - and his Nobody Noticed Me was surely a classic of the genre. (See VTC9CD 'Old Uncle Tom Cobleigh' and all)

An excellent CD in all respects, and especially welcome for the 15 tunes from the hitherto unavailable BBC recordings.

Musical Traditons

Some lovely Dartmoor-style melodeon music here, including newly issued tracks, nine years after the old maestro's death. The man's unmistakable driving style, accompanied by rhythmic footstumping hasn't been followed by many of the new breed of English players, although his tunes are well used in the English repertoire and there are over 40 on this CD.

 

Bob Cann was a true community musician, a man whose music came from his own family, fairgrounds or anywhere he could pick up a good tune. There are even a couple learned from Jimmy Shand 78s. He played at parties and step dancing competitions but his first love was his own Dartmoor Pixie Band, a family tradition now continued by his grandson, Mark Bazeley. Do they still produce the tea-urn and orange cakes at Devon village dances, I wonder?

 

There are early (1952) BBC recordings of one Robert Cann here, cleaned up by new technology and a few recorded by Simon Evans of Radio Kent at Catford Folk Club in 1978, at a time when local radio recorded such things. Bob Cann's repertoire is distinctly English, i.e. It's mostly hornpipes, schottisches and waltzes, with a few jigs and occasional "reel".

 

"Morpeth Rant", the classic Northumbrian rant/reel here receives a distinctly Devon treatment in Bob's hands, presumably adapted for local dance requirements and why not? It's lovely. Like most traditional musicians, he never hesitated to adapt a tune; listen to the "B" part of the" Old Bog Road" - that old Irish waltz has become Bob's own.

 

Previously issued tracks include several from his influential 1970s Topic LP "West Country Melodeon" including the lovely "Harry Gidley's Waltz" and this excellent CD concludes with some fascination live recordings. The brief jam session on the "Manchester Hornpipe" (recorded at the first Cricklade English Country Music weekend in 1975) with Jim Small (mouth organ) and Ray Andrews (banjo) will stir a few memories and the last two tracks with Padstow supremo, Charlie Bate in the same year, are genuine little gems.

 

This is a classic album and the best memorial to a man whose style was his own whilst still in the best traditions of English dance music. Truly in Bob Cann's own words, a "proper job".

The Living Traditon

 


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