Reviews of VT142CD 'Pass the Jug Round'
Recorded in the 1950's these songs were stored in the County Records Office at Carlisle until their wider exposure on LPRRO02 in 1982! The collectors Robert Forester and Norman Alfred contribute Cumberland Waltz, Copshawholme Fair and Corby Castle, whilst Joe Thompson launches into three rousing hunting songs. As Pass the Jug Round and John Peel also commemorate `good sport', it's well to remember that we're fifty years back and Reynard is cunning and predatory rather than charming. As Andy Turner has remarked, hunting songs themselves are often tuneful and stirring. They commemorate real people, places and events.
Songs made familiar include The Copshawhohne Butcher, a version of the Brisk Young.... The Bird Upon the Trees and The Lish Young Buy-a Broom. My Uncle Pete is a brief bit of nonsense. A couple of tunes on mouth organ, whistle and melodeon are featured, here named Cumberland Waltz Reel. Almost all the songs are unaccompanied, except for the liberal use of hunting horn and the startling appearance of baying hounds at appropriate moments. There's a proud and cheerful pleasure in presentation, most of the singers introducing their songs with asides that enhance the atmosphere.
The sound has been well mastered, the singing on the whole accurately reproduced with just enough background to reveal its origins in pubs rather than a studio. As usual from Veteran, the booklet supplies ample information on the singers and songs.
This CD is for the collector looking to complete an archive of regional songs as they would have been sung. The Child ballad Keech in the Creel might merit harmonisation and a more complex arrangement for new audiences. Best perhaps to fill a pipe with Old Holborn, settle down into an armchair and switch on the radiogram. A history which most of us can't remember swirls by.
Folk in Kent
If your horizons extend no further than the Thames Estuary, or if you are pre-disposed against country pursuits and pastimes, look away now. Having defined my intended audience, this compilation of archive recordings offers a unique, and essentially undiluted insight into rural Cumberland life, in all its simplicity and straightforwardness, in the days before television began to erode the sense of community we all once experienced.
I was immediately impressed by the diversity of the material, from the outstanding "hiring song" Copshawholme Fair, through the comical Child Ballad fragment Keech in the Creel and irony-laden Copshawholme Butcher, to the lustier Lish Young Buy-a Broom, and the more tender and plaintive strains of Corhy Castle. Then there is the specialised genre of hunting songs, culminating in the famous John Peel, not merely lists of pack-hound names but evoking a form of diversion which was, unwittingly perhaps, in a time-capsule of its own even then. The range of accents and dialects, along with some intriguing and amusing glimpses into agricultural life, merely add to the pleasure.
Finally let me touch on the overall quality of performance - whether singing, playing or the undervalued art of telling tales. Some of the singers such as Mickey Moscrop and Robert Forrester are exceptional performers by any standards, and their self-effacing talent would not be out of place in some of today's folk music venues.
The CD is attractively packaged with informative sleeve notes, the sound quality is excellent, and repeated hearings are recommended.
Shreds & Patches
Veteran has a long established reputation for recording and promoting traditional singers and musicians, but here we have a re-release of a recording made in the early 50's by Robert Forrester and Norman Alford who cycled around the Cumbrian countryside recording songs and traditional music. What is immediately striking from this CD is how the songs, singers and their community are inseparable and this context adds a remarkable quality to the songs and singing hard to describe. Listening to this CD it is hard to believe that the recordings are over fifty years old. Songs reflect the community from which they are drawn, the importance of which is emphasised in the introductions given to their songs by the singers. The songs embrace five hunting songs including the still popular `John Peel' and 'Horn of the Hunter' (complete with hunting horn) broadsides 'The Copshawholme Butcher' and comic songs all sung with conviction. The CD has more than a smattering of local dialect and humour which though broad Cumbrian is accessible. Pass the Jug Round provides a vibrant record of social history, a splendid example of music within a community and from start to finish really great listening.
The recordings were originally made in 1953 at Rockliffe and Wreay, two villages close to the city of Carlisle. They consist mostly of songs (with one or two tunes and dialect pieces) which were sung by `good old lads' and collected as a result of the lively researches of Robert Forrester and Norman Alford. They were friends who spent their leisure time sketching in the Cumbrian countryside and visiting village pubs where they both sang and collected songs: The recordings remained hidden in the archives for over twenty years until this recent, courageous venture brought them back to light.
The songs themselves prove to be an interesting mixture. The hardy Cumbrian standbys are there -'John Peel', `Joe Bowman' and `The Horn of the Hunter'- all confirming the strong Cumbrian links with hunting. There are also songs which enjoy a wider currency like `The Keech in the Creel' and `The Cowpshawholme Butcher' (a version of `The Brisk Young Butcher'). The influence of the music halls is also to be seen in `The Birds' and a humorous ditty called `My Uncle Pete'. Anderson, the Cumberland Bard, does not feature at all, possibly confirming the contention that most of his songs had ceased to be sung in many areas of the county by the second half of this century.
The singers too are a mixed group. Among them are Tom Brodie, a fisherman from Cargo to the north-west of Carlisle, Joe Thompson, a follower of the hounds from Calthwaite to the south, and Joe Nixon, a farmer. Forrester himself, a commercial artist and city dweller, also sings but his songs too have firm roots in rural Cumberland having been learnt from his grandfather who was a well known fiddler and singer during the late nineteenth century.
The record is accompanied by concise and thoroughly researched notes. These were ostensibly prepared by Sue Mycock who recently contributed a fascinating article on the Carlisle fiddler, Jimmy Dyer, to English Dance and Song. The writer of the notes possesses a wide knowledge of traditional song and presents notes which are far from dry. At one point she has the courage to quote as a tune source the one we must all have met at some time, `an American tune played on a western film on T.V.... some years ago'.
If the work of Sue Mycock is to be praised, so too is that of Robert Forrester, Norman Alford, and the others who arranged and executed the original recordings. These were obviously made at special sessions arranged in village pubs, but there is no air of self consciousness about the singing. Alford and Forrester were probably responsible for this, being performers themselves. Robert Forrester later noted, `Norman with his tin whistle and myself with mouth organ invariably set the feet tapping and opened the way to some fine singing-usually with the preliminary of "Thoo young lads disn't want to hear sek oald fashin'd stuff as this"'. What a contrast to some of the methods adopted by song collectors! Another feature of the recordings is that each singer introduces himself, usually in a relaxed manner, and this sets the song beautifully in context. Here, and in the songs, is the native wit, the coughing and spluttering, the loss of breath and the loss of words. All this adds to rather than detracts from the performance. The singers sing well, both lustily and tunefully, and this proves to be one of the CDs greatest advantages. Not only is it an historical record of traditional songs, it is also an enjoyable entertainment. Listeners from outside the county may struggle at times with the dialect. (Now an exile in the north east, I had to bend my ear once or twice to catch certain phrases.) This in no way lessens the worth of the record. Pass the Jug Around is deserving of a place in any CD cabinet and, judging from rumours about an imminent repressing, does not even need a favourable review to boost sales.
The Folk Music Journal
The collection has seen light of day (of sorts) twice before, once when the songs and tunes were recorded (directly on to 78 rpm acatates) in the 'fifties and later by the Ellen Valley Band on Reynard Records.
Now Veteran have performed their traditional magic in marketing an album that, almost unexpectedly, worms its way into the musical psyche. It fits neatly and unashamedly into the record rack alongside the earlier "Good Order!" from the Eel's Foot (VT140CD). Sue Allan's sleeve notes, which are as useful as we have come to expect from Veteran, reveal that the recordings lay dormant in the County Record Office in Carlisle for the best part of 20 years. We are exceptionally fortunate that she took the time and trouble to rescue them.
" ... (We] did manage to catch the final echoes of some fine old songs and tunes, and before final obscurity they deserve to be known to a for larger audience." Robert Forrester's comment, as one of the collectors, makes salutary reading, nearly 50 years on from the date of the original work. It emphasises, perhaps, how much has been lost, and how much more might have been lost without the work of such people. It also underlines how lucky we are to have the likes of the Howsons beavering away to re-work such treasures.
It probably doesn't need saying that there are imperfections in the recordings. The singers are taken "as seen", or "as heard". That's what makes the record the exciting document it is. When one of the voices is interrupted by a minor fit of coughing, we know it's for real - not that there was any doubt. There are no concessions to studios or track length. This is genuine material. Robert Forrester refers to the "saccharin confections" to which the British public were being subjected when he and Norman Alford made the recordings. This is the ultimate antidote to saccharin. This is pure and unrefined. Dare I say it? It is organic music. (there: I said it).
The songs and tunes almost all have relevance local to Cumberland. It is no surprise that "John Peel" takes a place of importance in the track listing. Along with "Horn of the Hunter" and "The Welton Hunt", this might make the album ideal material to sell at the next rally of the Countryside Alliance. Copshawholme (Newcastleton on the Waverley route for the railway fans among you) crops up a couple of times, in °Copshawholme Fair" and "The Copshawholme Butcher", which some will recognise from the early days of Tim Hart and Maddy Prior as "The Brisk Young Butcher". This daring, risque tale of unmarried pregnancy attracts coarse, but suitably embarrassed, laughter ("in case the missus is listening"?) from the audience listening in to the recording. Apparently, it was considered "too earthy" at the time to be lodged in the county archive, and was only preserved by the recording engineer!
Another track that will be familiar to some is "Lish Young Buy-a-broom". Much as I like Tim Hart's version, it is a pure pleasure to hear it sung in the accent that created it. It is also reassuring to find out, from the sleeve notes, that my interpretation of "lish" has been correct all these years.
And so it goes on. This is not the palce to copy the whole list of tracks, but rest assured, this album, along with its stablemates in the Veteran catalogue, will not disappoint. Make sure you too catch these 'final echoes'.
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