Reviews of VT143CD 'Uppards'
John Cocking is a native of the Pennines in the north of England, where he has worked with heavy horses, made his living as a dry stone waller and been the kennelman for a pack of hunting beagles. With that kind of rustic pedigree it's little wonder that Cocking has amassed a fine repertoire of traditional rural songs that he's performed solo, as a member of The Holme Valley Tradition singing group, or in partnership with Will Noble. What does come as a huge surprise is that this CD contains only one song, for this is a collection of "North Country monologues." Being a "song and tune" man I instinctively put this one on the bottom of the pile, thinking that it would hold limited interest for me. Listening to the CD, however, opened the floodgates to a wave of childhood memories, as my maternal grandparents spent their latter years in Blackpool. "There's a seaside town called Blackpool, that's noted for fresh air and fun, and Mr and Mrs Ramsbottom went there with young Albert, their son." What's that old fool on about? (You may well ask). Well, those lines come from a hugely popular comic monologue written by Marriott Edgar in the 1930's, called "Albert and the Lion." While that one doesn't feature on this CD, plenty of Edgar's works do. Cocking performs (with impeccable comic timing) "The Jubilee Sov'rin," "The 'Ole in the Ark," "Uppards," "Three Ha'pence a Foot," "The Recumbent Posture" and "The Return of Albert."
While this is all well and good for me, and will undoubtedly delight those old codgers who remember the variety performer Stanley Holloway with any affection, what the hell's it got to do with anyone else? I'll tell you what -- the discovery that the writing and performance of monologues (both comic and otherwise) isn't merely a quaint relic of yesteryear, but a continuing tradition. Foremost among the recent writers whose works appear on this collection is Kevin Collier. The opening lines of his "Troopers" contains the key not only to Cocking's modus operandi, but the underlying philosophy of Veteran, and, perhaps, the essence of "traditional performance" itself:
step back in time for a moment
To the year nineteen-hundred and five
Before vids and TV's, cassettes and CDs
When all entertainment was live...
And there you have it. Damn all those type-written words that I've expended about "style, process and context," all those hand-wringing appeals to "directness," "timelessness" and "authenticity," all those semi-apologetic, weasely-worded (sailing dangerously close to facile notions of "noble savagery") adjectives that I've glibly thrown up in the course of this review. Collier, via the mouth of Cocking, has, in those few, simple lines, aligned the whole thing exactly where it belongs - it's about VALUES.
To many people, the name John Cocking may not necessarily mean anything but John is not a stranger to the South West having performed as a duo with Will Noble at Sidmouth and Dartmouth festivals in 1995 and 1999.
John was born in Marsden, near Huddersfield in the South Pennines sixty-five years ago and has lived there all his life. His first introduction to the folk scene came in 1983, when he and other local singers, Will Noble, Barry Bridgewater and Ernest Yates, were invited as the ' Holme Valley Tradition' to sing at the Holmfirth Festival.
This is John's first solo recording and there are a total of fifteen monologues on the CD, which are all north country focused. It is the north country aspect of the monologues which, with John's appealing South Pennine accent, makes, for me, the whole recording a pleasure to listen to. Come to think of it, that's probably the very reason that Colin asked me to review the CD.
Of the fifteen tracks there are monologues written by Marriott Edgar ( of Sam Small and Albert Ramsbottom fame, ) Kevin Collier, Elsie Houghton and William Beaumont. I personally like Kevin Collier's writing - an Otley lad - and in particular his monologue ' Grandma. ' It is very much a monologue of more recent times and one which I'm sure many of us can relate to in some way or another. Though having stated my preference for ' Grandma,' could Peter Brough and Archie Andrews be the butt of Kevin's humour with the track 'Trooper? ' In all instances the recording is in front of a live audience, which gives further colour to John's well executed presentation.
We all remeber those evenings at Whichever folk club. Three to four hours of unrequited love, death by umpteen means, the exploitation of one group by another and not to forget the destruction of the environment, etc. You arrive home and can't decide between a cup of cocoa or an overdose. Well, this recording by John is the perfect antidote. Stick it in the player, opt for the cup of cocoa and have a good laugh.
From the beginning to the end, the CD is delightfully entertaining. It has been produced by Simon Ritchie and John Howson, whose involvement in the recording is recommendation in itself.
"Ee by gum - it's a reet gun `un!" is what you can say about this compilation of humorous northern monologues, ably delivered by one of todays finest exponents of his art.
This collection consists of a wide variety of entertaining rhymes, including not only several very well known ones, such as The Ole in the Ark and one of my personal favourites Runcorn Ferry, but also some that are less familiar. Each one is guaranteed to raise a chuckle and some a downright good belly laugh as they weave a rich tapestry of northern life across the last century. Even the poignant tale of the sorry demise of the young lad in the title track cannot fail to amuse.
The tracks contain some lines which can only be described as `classics' in the field of monologues - "I've got hold of his hand - he's alright" says mother as the Ramsbottom family attempt to walk across the Mersey, even though young Albert is `clean out of sight' under the water. What has now become my favourite however, after listening to this CD, is the picture conjured up of Christmas long ago with all the family standing round the piano "wishing one of us could play".
John Cocking was born and bred in the south Pennines and his broad northern accent, together with his dry sense of humour, serves well in painting these wonderful pictures of ordinary folk, whilst giving a true reflection of the hardships of northern life - where humour always shone through. The recordings have been made in front of a live audience, which all adds to the atmosphere without detracting too much from the stories being told.
All in all, an excellent album which leaves a desire to listen to it over and over again.
I like John Cocking and, I am sure, so does anyone that has met him. He is a friendly and avuncular person with a gentle leg-pulling sense of humour. Flus - of course - he's from Yorkshire? All of which comes across on this CD.
Here is a collection of 14 monologues (plus one half-sung piece, The Bantam cock by the late, sadly missed, Jake Thackray). They include some fairly well-known stories such as Albert swallowing the jubilee Sov'rin, Noah and The 'Ole in the Ark and others by the renowned Marriott Edgar (Did you know he was the brother of the writer Edgar Wallace? Notice the shared name, Edgar - and what was t' lion that `et Albert called? .... Wallace!) but my personal favourites are the more recent pieces such as Mother's Lament by Elsie Houghton. This tells of a weary mother with 14 children who makes a heartfelt request - "Whatever you do when I die; don't bury me with your father?" There's another by Kevin Collier about living with Grandma- remembering -
"The fun we had on Christmas Day, Sitting around told piano, Wishing one of us could play.
Our George played tunes on knocked-off spoons
And sang with our Veronica.
Our Eileen played on t' mouth-organ or it might have been our Monica."
The written style of many of these pieces will be familiar from the records made by the actor, Stanley Holloway. However John's style of delivery is more like Cyril Fletcher's little poems on 'That's Life' (Crickey that's showing my age. Isn't it?) The rhythm and downbeat delivery gets slightly repetitive at times but he never loses the humour. He often sounds like he's just now seen the hidden jokes in some of the lines! It is wonderfully endearing to feel that he's sharing his discovery of and his delight in these pieces. For many of you, I realise that a CD full of monologues is not necessarily what you would choose to listen to all in one go. This is for those times when you've had your tea and want to let your food go down and have a gentle smile - then a right good laugh - and another - and, maybe, just one more - before you listen to some music while you do the washing-up. For those times this CD is very highly recommended.
Shreds & Patches
How's this for an ideal evening of folk - The Copper Family, Norma Waterson, Martin Carthy, Bob Davenport and The Rakes - and The Holme Valley Tradition with John Cocking! In 1986 a live recording of this unlikely combination of some of the folk world's most loved performers in Will Noble's barn at Denby Dale in Yorkshire was captured on a cassette produced by the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library. It was entitled "Will's Barn" and it has been a treasured possession of mine ever since, especially two very amusing items by John Cocking (whose monologues were always a feature of evenings with The Holme Valley Tradition).
So it was a great treat to hear them again on this new CD, entitled "Uppards." One is "Th'Ordnance at Burton" (the delightful story of how Queen Victoria's redcoats, with their boastful, officious sergeant, got their come-uppance when trying "t'measure t'land for t'Queen. ') The other is the hilarious account of canal life and a runaway horse, "How we saved the barge. "
These are just two of the varied collection of 15 monologues on this gem of a CD. They were all recorded live, most of them in John's native Holmfirth, and the reaction of the Yorkshire audiences to the sardonic North Country humour adds greatly to the atmosphere.
Seven of-them were made famous by Stanley Holloway (and written by Marriott Edgar). They include some special favourites of mine about the Ramsbottom Family - "Runcorn Ferry" and "The Recumbent Posture." Others include the ever-popular story of Noah refusing to pay "Three Ha'pence a Foot" for his birdseye maple and "Uppards," Stanley Holloway's macabre take on the ballad of "Excelsior." The other monologues are equally enjoyable in the pictures they create of North Country life.
I had not heard several of them before. They are all rooted in the lives of ordinary people and are striking examples of how folk poetry is still very much a living part of 'the oral tradition - and demonstrate that it is worthy of a place alongside the folk tradition of song.
It is a delightful CD, full of dry Yorkshire humour, and one that I can strongly recommend. (I have only one minor quibble. One item is an amusing story about performers in the time of the music hall. However, the title of this is printed as "Troopers." I am sure that if that great trouper of the halls, Marie Lloyd, had seen this spelling she would have sworn like a trooper!)
John Cocking was born in 1938 and has lived all his life in Marsden near Huddersfield. In the early 80s he joined local singers Will Noble, Barry Bridgewater and Ernest Yates to form 'The Holme Valley Tradition'- a group that performed at many venues throughout the 80s. John's early interest in comic monologues - especially those he heard when a boy listening to Stanley Holloway's radio broadcasts - became a regular part of the group's repertoire. Since then he has regularly added more monologues to his list, collecting them from both local and national performers. The impetus to record a selection came from the late Tony Rose who was in the audience at a Whitby Festival concert, where John was performing, and asked if he had recorded any monologues.
The 15 tracks on the CD include several well known titles from the pen of the great Mariott Edgar which were made famous by Stanley Holloway. There are 4 about the Rambottom family (with 'Young Albert their son') - 'The Jubilee Sov'rin', 'Runcorn Ferry', 'The Recumbent Posture' and 'The Return of Albert' (the sequel to the well known 'The Lion and Albert'. Two others from the same author are based on the theme of Noah and the Ark: 'The 'Ole in the Ark' and 'Three Ha'pence a Foot'. The final Marriot Edgar work is the title track 'Uppards'. This is in fact a parody of Longfellow's poem 'Excelsior'. It was the first one that John learned - being appropriate to the hill farm location where he lived as a boy, which was often snowed up in winter.
The other titles come from a variety of authors and performers: Kevin Collier - a current author who also founded the Otley Folk Festival; Elsie Houghton - a popular entertainer in the 80s in the Holmfirth area; William Beaumont, from the Colne Valley, who was published in the 1950s and the late Jake Thackray ('The Bantam Cock').
'How We Saved the Barge' - an hilarious story of a runaway horse pulling a canal boat-was performed by Bransby William between the wars. This one reminded me of our late friend Eric Leech who used to perform the same item, to much acclaim, at the now sadly defunct Hoddesdon Folk Music Club.
All in all a very entertaining CD. It was all recorded live, mostly in Holmfirth - the reactions of the local audience to the North Country humour greatly enhances the atmosphere of the recording of all the tracks on the CD.
The monologue, that unique form of storytelling with its distinctive rhythm and rhyme was a favourite form of expression for music-hall performers such as George Robey, Bransby Williams, Billy Bennet and others during the inter-war years.
It came to greater prominence and a wider audience through flat disc recordings when Marriot Edgar, often in collaboration with Stanley Holloway who also wrote a number of his own, produced a whole series of timeless, well-loved monologues.
Several of his, perhaps, lesser known monologues to the general public, such as 'Runcorn Ferry' and 'The Recumbent Posture" are included amongst the 15 on this CD. And to prove that this art-form is not dead, two or three contemporary ones make their claim to fame, helping to create a fascinating mix of stories.
John Cocking has a good sense of timing, clear diction, and, judging by the response of the audiences, an ability to draw them into the performance. How much more effective these monologues sound 'live' compared to a studio recording!
As a Mancunian I must admit a bias to all things Lancastrian - even at a pinch Yorksharian - but these North Country Monologues have a wide, universal appeal and will be greatly enjoyed by all those interested in words and a sense of fun. For sheer entertainment value this collection can hardly be surpassed.
Folk in Kent
The subtitle 'North Country Monologues' says it all. John, erstwhile hill-farmer and drystone waller, has since 1983 been a member of the "Holme Valley Tradition" group of performers that has performed at many of the country's folk festivals, including in their number Will Noble and other local South Pennine worthies. The impetus for this recording of 15 classic monologues came from a suggestion by the late Tony Rose at a recent Whitby Festival, and it certainly is good to have some of John's celebrated performances enshrined on CD. Aside from a rather low recording level, this CD does John's artistry ample justice. It is largely taken from recordings made in front of an audience in the Huntsman's Arms, Holmfirth in late 2002; these are topped up with one track each from Sheffield (1991) and Long Eaton (2003). John acknowledges the influences of earlier local characters Arthur Howard and Emest Dyson on his own technique, but his own individuality has ensured him a place in the pantheon of popular local performers. Many folkies feel that monologues, being spoken rather than sung, are the province of the ephemeral and have no shelf life beyond the moment, but listening to John's delivery of these classic tales you'll quickly appreciate that a good monologue well told exhibits its own brand of musicality and can be every bit as satisfying as a good song well sung, to which their continuing popularity at (some) singarounds bears testament. The repertoire on this disc ranges from a healthy number of acknowledged classics from the pen of Marriott Edgar (famous from the recordings by Stanley Holloway, of course) and two priceless modem-day examples of the monologuist's art from Otley's Kevin Collier, to some less well-known pieces including two by Golcar's William Beaumont, and the one exception to the spoken word here comes in the form of Jake Thackray's 'Bantam Cock'. This isn't a CD to overtax the player's repeat-play button, but one to savour at one's leisure when the occasion demands.
When I first started down the road with Morris Dancing, I have to be honest and say that one of the greatest pleasures, for me, lay in the apres-danse activities generically known as "Going Ahead": more music, song, some Molly and, every so often, a real treat, Tim from Belchamp delivering a monologue or two. Imagine my pleasure then in receiving John Cocking's recordings.
"Uppards! - north country monologues" is precisely that: a set of carefully crafted and cleverly rendered humorous tales. If you are not familiar with the work of Stanley Holloway, and Albert in particular, these will be a revelation to you. If you are familiar, these will bring you a smile of recognition and a series of chuckles, even laughter. They wear extremely well. It has to be added that they are by no means all Holloway stories. "Troopers" is a modern story by Kevin Collier, whose "Grandma" is an absolute classic of this form, and Jake Thackray's "Bantam Cock" makes a welcome appearance too, with just a little singing to rock it along. I will listen to "Uppards" again and again, not only for its intrinsic quality but also because it will carry me back to many memorable Morris evenings.
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