Reviews of VT154CD 'Good hearted Fellows'


Cardiovascular stimulation from some lovely chaps ****

 

There's a persistent calumny that English traditional music was the last preserve of tuneless geezers gurning on endlessly in pubs, tormenting tuneless fiddles and battered squeezeboxes. Good Hearted Fellows, a selection of traditional and music halt songs, interspersed with tunes played on melodeon, fiddle and mouth organ, contradicts this completely. This material was recorded by Keith Summers between 1971 and 1977 in Suffolk, and the originals are now housed in the British Library's National Sound Archive in London.

 

Summers' first love was the blues, but he heard some recordings in the Folksongs of Britain series that had a profound effect. "I had heard', he wrote, "music as exotic and bizarre as anything from the Mississippi Delta or the Appalachian mountains and resolved to track it down". He spent years travelling around Suffolk, often hitching lifts, visiting pubs such as the Blaxhall Ship, the Dennington Bell and the Brundish Crown. Summers was not capturing a dying tradition; he was documenting a lively musical culture.

 

There are 32 tracks by 18 musicians, none more than about three and a half minutes long. The players were elderly - Jimmy Knights was born in 1880, Ted Laurence sometime in the 1890s and Jumbo Brightwell in 1900. But without exception they perform with vivacity, accomplishment and aplomb. They enliven narrative, their timing of musical jokes is expert, and the instrumentalists play with great verve and inventiveness. By all accounts, like the musicians he met, Keith Summers was a good-hearted fellow. They were only too happy to let him record their music, and we should all be grateful.

Songlines

 

Another Veteran release justly called a classic, ‘Good hearted Fellows’ comprises field recordings made by Keith Summers. He was a well-known figure on the English folk scene; he spent a lot of time in the 1970s collecting folk songs, released some LP compilations of the songs he collected, wrote several important articles about his findings. and founded the magazine Musical Traditions. Summers was himself a good-hearted fellow, offering help and advice to other researchers, mcluding myself on occasion. Sadly, lie died in 2004.

 

This CD contains tracks that were released on such classic Topic Records LPs as ’The Earl Soham Slog’ and ‘Songs from the Eels Foot, but most of them are published here for the first time. And what a treat they are. Ted Laurence, a singer I couldn’t remember hearing of before (although he did appear in Topic’s majestic Voice of the People series), opens the CD with a fine music-hall song about a trip to town in a donkey-cart; he also appears later on another such piece, a version of “Pulling Hard Against the Stream,” here called “Do Your Best”.

 

The most surprising songs to me were a version of ”Come and Be My Little Teddy Bear,” sung by Harkie Nesling to his own fiddle accompaniment, and “Spithead,” a parody of “Spanish Ladies” that seems to date from just after World War I, which taunts the Germans and their lack of naval prowess! Lots of fine old folksongs here, too, such as “The Lakes of Coolfin,” “Botany Bay,” and “Seventeen Come Sunday,” and a number of tunes on melodeon, fiddle. And harmonica. As with most Veteran releases, the sleeve notes are a joy to read, including some very funny stories in Summers’s own words about his dealings with traditional singers.

 

And as a bonus the words of the songs, notes on the singers, and lots of other information on  Veteran albums are available at the Veteran website.

Dirty Linen U.S.A.

Rarely, I think, can there have been a CD released with a title so utterly appropriate to its content; here we have 32 tracks by 16 or so 'good old boys' (and Dolly Curtis, who was definitely a good old gal!) of songs and tunes for which the term 'pleasant and delightful' might have been especially coined.  That they were all recorded by another particularly good old boy, the late and much lamented Keith Summers, should come as no surprise to readers of this magazine.

Keith told me about this project some 18 months before his death; indeed, he sent me and Veteran's John Howson a pair of cassettes containing between them 77 tracks which he intended to be the basis of a double CD showcasing his Suffolk recordings - particularly those not currently available elsewhere on CD.  Keith was a man of great enthusiasms, and it wasn't too long afterwards that I got the instruction to put the Suffolk recordings on the back-burner for a while, as he had another project - his Fermanagh recordings - which he wanted to do first.

I wasn't too worried by this - not knowing at the time quite how ill Keith was - and set to work on what became the double CD The Hardy Sons of Dan.  Mercifully - and with a great deal of help from Paul Marsh, Peta Webb and Ken Hall, Geoff Wallis and Finbar Boyle - it was finished and presented to Keith, to his great satisfaction, only a week or so before his death.

Some months later, when we started looking at the Suffolk material again, a very serious problem emerged.  In the letter accompanying the original cassettes, Keith had written 'The grouped items highlighted in green will become more relevant in the context of my notes.'  No such notes have ever come to light!  Further, he had decided that, since the MT double CD was unlikely to be done with his hand on the tiller, he would prefer a single CD of his recordings to appear on the Veteran label where they would get the widest possible public exposure, particularly in East Anglia, while MT would produce a further double CD of 'the best of the rest'.  John Howson and I discussed the problems involved, and came to some approximate decisions.  But since it's obvious that he would have to make his selection first, we at MT weren't able to start the long process of listening to some 30 CD-Rs from the National Sound Archive, where Keith's collection is stored, until quite recently.  That's why this Veteran CD is now out, whilst the MT double is tentatively scheduled for launch at the Keith Summers Memorial Festival at the King and Queen in May 2007.

All that being said, John has adhered firmly to the spirit (if not exactly the same tracks) in which Keith originally conceived the project, and his original title, Many a Bright Good Hearted Fellow - taken from Ted Laurence's splendid song, Do Your Best - is extremely well-served by this selection.

The CD starts with the same Ted Laurence singing Dicky & Cart, a very complete account of a country couple's shopping trip in their donkey cart.  It's obviously a music hall song and employs the hackneyed Thrashing Machine tune.  Nothing of any great moment you might imagine - but then you notice the quality of Ted's singing.  Coming from north Norfolk, it's perhaps not surprising to find a little of Harry Cox's style in his singing, and there's some real class in the way he handles this simple song

To carry on with the songs for the moment, we next hear Jimmy Knights with Ratcliff Highway, and a slightly different tune to the well-known one.  This is often the case here, for Fred Whiting's Jack the Drover (sound clip) has a quite different melody, which he handles with great skill - particularly in the insertion of extra beats into the line to accommodate extra words.  This is lovely stuff!

George Ling's Lakes of Coolfin comes with a completely new (to me) tune (sound clip, left), whilst Billy List's Maria Marten uses the Banks of the Sweet Dundee one, and Jumbo Brightwell calls a version of The Dolphin tune into service for his Botany Bay (sound clip, right).  Another great performance!

There is also a good selection of songs you probably won't have heard before: Ted Cobbin's Spithead is a Spanish Ladies parody; Jimmy Knights sings I Can't Change It with great relish, and Harkie Nesling does what is very rare amongst English traditional performers - and sings Come and be my Little Teddy Bear to his own fiddle accompaniment.  But perhaps the greatest delight is Ted Laurence again with a Harry Clifton music hall / parlour song, Do Your Best (sound clip).  Sentiments such as these occur frequently in Victorian poems and songs, but this is coupled to such a glorious tune, and Ted makes such a good job of it that I think this has to be my favourite song on the whole disc.

The ten tunes are interspered between the 22 songs, giving some nice textural contrast to what is a really excellent selection of material.  Eely Went plays a typically diverse set of scraps of polkas welded together on track 4, and Pip Whiting does the same on track 7.  Interestingly, both include versions of a tune more widely known as Jack's Life.  Track 11 is a fiddle tune from Pip Whiting and a snatch of a song by Charlie Whiting, titled They Daren't Do it Now.  As the notes correctly state, the latter is a parody of the widely known but rarely sung I WIsh They'd Do it Now, but the former is, I think, the tune to the song The Girl I Leave Behind.

Fred List is a melodeon player with a style somewhat different to many Suffolk musicians - and very much to my taste.  Although he played in Blaxhall Ship regularly, I don't recall ever having heard him play during any of my visits to the pub in the late '60s and early '70s.  Very much my loss!  Anyway, he finishes the CD in fine style - seamlessly blending half a dozen tunes into one splendid set.

 

This is a great record, and one of which I am certain Keith Summers would have been justly proud.  And you will be proud to own a copy, too!

Musical Traditions

 

Many readers of this magazine will have known Keith Summers personally. Others will have known him by reputation, still others may never have heard of him. His death in 2004 robbed us of a rare enthusiast, for not only English dance and song, but for dance and song the world over. I don't think Keith could have wished for a better memorial than this CD.

 

Featuring twenty-two songs and ten tune sets; twenty of these thirty-two tracks are either previously unreleased or unavailable in these versions elsewhere. As indicated in the title, they represent a selection from Keith's vast collection of field recordings. This is only the first selection as there's more to come at a later date on Rod Stradling's Musical Traditions label. But what a selection this is! If a CD can have a twinkle in its eye, this has a big one.The sheer enjoyment and love of what the 'Good Hearted Fellows' (and one good hearted lass!) are about is almost tangible. The opening track, Ted Laurence's 'Dicky and Cart' sets the standard for what is to come ... a music hall song, passing into the country repertoire, to an old favourite tune (The Threshing Machine'). Put all three together, add a singer of rare quality, and the result is a delight. Similar vocal delights are George Ling's 'Lakes of Coolfin' (to a more unusual tune),

Jumbo Brightwell's 'Botany Bay' and Billy List's 'Maria Martin'. Personal favourites all, but, to be honest, I could have randomly typed in any of the performances; they're all stunning. Of the tune sets, Dolly Curtis's playing of 'Pigeon on a Gate' for Charlie Whiting's stepdancing and Albert Smith's mouthorgan versions of 'Red River Valley/Pigeon on a Gate' ('Same pigeon, different gate' as one good old boy would have it!) make you wish you'd been there.


The whole comes accompanied by the usual high standard of Veteran booklet: notes on performers and tunes by Howsons, John and Katie, on the songs by Mike Yates and illustrated throughout with some excellent photos.

English Dance & Song

 

The late Keith Summers was a blazing enthusiast for traditional music in all it's forms. He had a passion for finding singers and musicians on their home ground and the knack of making recordings that captured the full flavour of the occasion. This album is a fine example of his work, being thirty-two items recorded by him in various part of Suffolk from 1970 to 1977.


Suffolk is a county known for the bestowing of nicknames and Keith brings us items from 'Harkie' Nesling, 'Eely' Went, 'Jumbo' Brightwell, 'Dinks' Cooper, and 'Font' Whatling. among his 'Good Hearted Fellows'.(There's one 'good hearted lass' by the way - melodeon player Dolly Curtis).
They bring us the mix of songs usually to be found among country singers, ranging from 'Lakes of Coolfin' and 'Eggs in the Basket', to music hall pieces like 'Dicky & Cart', the tale of a shopping trip in a donkey cart, smartly sung by Ted Laurence. Incidentally the title of this album comes from a line in a further Ted Laurence song 'Do Your Best'. I wasn't familiar with Mr Laurence's name, but I've enjoyed his singing.
Other things I enjoyed were Jumbo Brightwell's 'Seventeen Come Sunday', quite the best version I've ever heard, and 'A Group of Young Squaddies', sung by Geoff Ling. This song brought a lump to my throat as I remembered it being sung by Nobby Thurman, noted footballer, cricketer, and pub singer, in our neighbourhood, and my favourite uncle. He called it Two Sweethearts' and sang it frequently at family gatherings, much to my grandma's delight.
The fact is that this album, with its parade of people giving out with their songs, step-dancing, fiddle, melodeon and mouth organ playing, for the entertainment of themselves and their friends and neighbours, is very much to my delight. I boast of a wide taste in music, but when it comes down to it this is the kind I like best. Keith Summers left us far too early. We, who knew him, miss him, but we thank him for his legacy of recordings of which this is a prime example.

The Living Tradition

 

The title fits the CD perfectly, it being a compilation of some of the many recordings of traditional Suffolk singers and musicians made by the late Keith Summers in the 1970s. There are 32 tracks on this CD - twenty-two songs and ten tunes by seventeen different singers and musicians, there's a huge variety of singers, musicians and songs here.

 

Many of the songs are unusual variants or use unfamiliar tunes - and a few are not what you'd expect from the title. The CD booklet gives copious background information on all participants and songs/ tunes. Although it's obvious that none of the performers were in the first flush of youth, all give strong and confident performances -highlights for me are Fred Whiting's fiddle playing, Fred List's melodeon, Ted Cobbin's song Spithead (a First World War naval parody of Spanish Ladies) which is delivered with great swagger, Charlie Whitings's singing of Boston Burglar, Alec Bloomfield's Shoot Them All. All the singers are unaccompanied except for Harkie Nesling who does something very rare amongst traditional singers and accompanies himself on fiddle.
 

The recordings themselves are very good as is the digital mastering for CD; most of the tracks sound like they were recorded last week rather than sourced from 30 year old tape. Overall this is a great CD that stands comparison with anything in the Topic "Voice of the People" series.

Shreds & Patches

 

"Traditional folk songs, music hall songs and tunes from Suffolk", according to the disc's subtitle, is the menu on offer in this latest sparkling issue from one of the country's premier purveyors of field /source recordings. And a more cheering title cannot be imagined! The disc presents 68 minutes of music: 32 tracks (22 comprising songs and 11 containing instrumental pieces, either individual tunes or medleys), well sequenced for maximum contrast. All these field recordings were made between 1971 and 1977 by the late and much-lamented Keith Summers, and have been mastered from digital copies made by the British Library; and an excellent job has been done too, for some were made under less than ideally favourable conditions. This proves a fascinating collection, for it contains some really delightful singers and musicians while introducing me to a considerable number of songs that I'd not encountered before. Some of the singers (all but one of whom hail from Suffolk) will already be familiar to those who have earlier Veteran releases or who had invested in Topic's mammoth Voice Of the People set: Jumbo Brightwell, Charlie Whiting and Geoff Ling to name but three. Their voices are distinctive and it's good to hear more examples of their repertoire. But it's the previously-unknown (to me) singers and their songs (many of which emanate from the music-hall) that provide arguably the greatest pleasures on this disc: Ted Laurence's Do Your Best (the lyric of which incidentally provides the disc's title), Jimmy Knights' I Can't Change It, Fred Whiting's Jack the Drover and the sadly brief Come And Be My Little Teddy Bear, where Harkie Nestling sings to his own fiddle accompaniment. Then again, there are also some interesting variants of songs we know all too well: Dinks Cooper's Trawler Song, George Ling's Bonny Bunch Of Roses and Fred List's Light Dragoon , to single but but two. (For me, though - and this is a personal response I stress - it's a shame that the disc begins with the Dicky And Cart tale, since it's sung to one of those hackneyed sing-song cod-folk tunes that gives folk music such a bad reputation!) The tunes are delectably sprightly and oozing with rustic atmosphere: I particularly enjoyed Fred "Eely" Went's fiddle playing, especially on the set of polkas (track 4) and the wonderfully "slow and sentimental" Silver Threads, and Fred Whiting's Earl Soham Slog (accompanied by a dancing doll!). This brilliantly compiled disc should give much pleasure, especially in the knowledge that Rod Stradling's Musical Traditions label is currently planning to issue a further selection of Keith's Suffolk recordings next year. As ever, it comes with a thick and tremendously informative booklet, and full song texts are available on the Veteran website.

Folk Roundabout

 

Another well-produced and well-documented collection of songs and tunes from Suffolk from John Howson's Veteran label. Thirty-two tracks of traditional musicians and singers, and a thirty-six page booklet giving a biography and photograph for each performer. This is good value for money and a must for anyone who either follows the East Anglian tradition or who will keep it alive in the years to come.
 

This collection was recorded by Keith Summers during his travels in Suffolk (and the Norfolk border) in the 1970s. Keith, who sadly died a couple of years ago, was a keen collector and recorder of traditional songs, and I remember him as an entertaining speaker on English folklore and customs. Most of the performers he recorded have now passed on, and it is a great credit to Keith that he had the interest and energy to spend his holidays with his tape recorder, sharing and recording the pub sessions and other events that went on at a time when perhaps things were about to change. Keith recorded sessions in Suffolk pubs like the Blaxhall Ship, Butley Oyster, and Laxfield Low House, that have now either closed down or been displaced by karaoke, the restaurant trade, or a new generation of singers with their electric guitars and amplifiers.

The good hearted fellows he recorded were not professional singers or musicians, and so the standard is variable, they are not always in tune or in time, but the songs all tell a story, sometimes humorous, sometimes sad, and are delivered with a confidence born of familiarity. They learned their songs from within their families or their local communities, and would usually have a fairly small repertoire of songs which they had made their own and which they would regularly perform in their local pubs. This tradition still lives on today, but such singers and sessions are becoming harder to find, and so this CD, like others in the Veteran catalogue, is a valuable record of the Suffolk Tradition in the 1970s and will be sought after in years to come because of it.
 

So, not a record to sing along or tap your feet to, but a valuable source of material for those who have an interest in, or who will carry on, the Suffolk Tradition.

Mardles
 


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