Reviews of VTC10CD 'Stepping it out again!'
This is just the sort of CD I really enjoy delving into - music which is still
relevant today but sung and played by those who are a real part of our
tradition. The material on here has all been collected from the musicians during
the last quarter of the twentieth century by John Howson, familiar to many
through The Old Hat Concert Band and running the traditional sessions at
Sidmouth for many years.
Quite rightly John was awarded the Gold Medal in 2011 as recognition for the work he has done in this field, or rather the pub or the living room, and this CD is the result of requests for a greatest hits’ from his archive. John has done better than that by producing a compilation of recordings from his archive which for various reasons had never previously made it onto CD. I for one am really pleased that he took that path.
On here, amongst others, you will find Emily Vickers who was in her eighties when she was recorded in 1 975, the first person John recorded; Cyril Barber from Suffolk who was later to join Old Hat; Tom Valentine Smith who learnt most of his songs from his father; Lucy Farr who was originally from Ireland but became part of the London Irish scene and played in the Rakes.
Whilst all deserve a name check, space doesn’t permit that, but mention must be made of Jimmy Lynch, a busker familiar to many on the streets of Liverpool - a true star. Jimmy is accompanied here by his wonderful dancing dolls as he plays melodeon — it’s worth buying this CD just for his contribution.
In the late 1990’s I remember seeing a young Irish fiddler and his grandfather at one of John’s sessions in Sidmouth. Darren Breslin was only 12 then, but he is on here with his grandfather again sounding just as good as I remember.
There are excellent sleeve notes with short biographies on each artist as well as extensive notes provided on all the tracks which bring it all to life. Thanks John for all the work you have done, and will do I hope in the future, but thanks also for ‘Stepping it out again!’
The Living Tradition
This is a compilation of songs, stories and instrumental music and stepdancing
from many regions of England and Ireland as recorded by John Howson between the
years of 1975 and 2000. None of them have been released on commercial CD before.
The sleeve notes contain photographs of all the
performers and are extremely informative as one has come to expect from Veteran.
There are some lovely tracks — I particularly liked Harry Litherland’s McCann Duet concertina renditions of ‘Beautiful Ohio’ and the ‘Cuckoo Waltz’. Tom Smith’s ‘Pear Tree’ is a good Suffolk version of a song more commonly heard sung by Frank Hinchcliffe of Yorkshire. There are sorne very significant tracks from Suffolk singers and musicians: David Savage, recorded at the Blaxhall Ship in 1993 singing ‘Brisk Young Sailor’; Tom Smith with ‘The Cunning Cobbler’ and ‘The Bush of Australia’, versions of songs that were also known in Norfolk; Jack Stannard recorded in the Low House, Laxfield singing ‘Knife in the Window’. The last track on the CD is a unique fusion of the well-known Suffolk stepdancer, Cyril Barber stepping to Lucy Farr playing an Irish reel ‘Paddy Faliy’s’ at The Cat & Mouse in Wetheringsett in 1986. Something you don’t hear every day!
The CD is a delight to listen to — very varied and never lacking interest. The recordings are clear and considering that they were done on location, extremely free of extraneous noise. Well done Veteran once again!
More voices of more people ****
Taken from recordings made by song collector and field-recorder John Howson between 1975 and 2000, this set of 24 songs and stories ranges across the board, from ancient traditional ballads through to music-hall era singalongs to stories and dance tunes - hornpipes, reels and step dances. It’s the latest in a series of six compilations of traditional songs and music from Veteran that’s similar to Topic’s Voice of the People series. For listeners with a passion for old songs, singular diction, and an authentic, silvery articulacy of playing, this is a must-have set. Howson’s complete field recordings run to some 300 CDs, and this selects from recordings that have not, until now, seen the light of day.
The liner notes are excellent about the context and circumstances of how these performers were encountered and recorded, There are brief portraits of each artist and song - the likes of Jimmy Lynch from Wigan with his dancing dolls and melodeon, who prefaces ‘The King of the Fairies’ with a vivid recollection of the crossroads dancing, an Irish traveller tradition. Or the 90-something Jack Stannard of Suffolk with his song of seduction, ‘Knife in the Window’. There’s John Campbell, epic storyteller of ‘The Iron Frost’: a tale from the deep freeze in the winter of 1709; and men with names like great flourishing signatures — Septimus Fawcett, master English concertina player, or Eli Frankham, a Romany activist and singer who shouts out the old Harvest Supper toast, ‘The Barley Mow’. The variety and quality of these field recordings from the last quarter of the 20th century makes this a nigh-on essential purchase for lovers of traditional songs.
The noted collector, John Howson, presents a miscellany of recordings which span his decades of hard work. There are songs, stories, verse, instrumentals and the sounds of dancing. There are items from his native Liverpool, his adopted home county of Suffolk, from the North East, from Oxfordshire and Ireland. The recordings date far back as 1975, and one is as recent as 2000.
Those familiar with the Veteran label’s output will not be surprised at the quality of the performances. These range from the lyrical, as in ‘Beautiful Ohio’ from Harry Litherland (duet concertina) to the rough but moving ‘Brisk Young Sailor’ from David Savage. I was particularly interested in the versions of ‘The Steamboat /Nelson’s Hornpipes’ taken from Septimus Fawcett on English concertina.
And some have intriguing background noises, these all being field recordings. There’s no doubt that Eli Frankman’s idiosyncratic rendition of ‘The Barley Mow’ was recorded in a pub, for instance, or that Jimmy Lynch’s version of ‘Madam Bonaparte’ was captured on the pavement of a busy road.
For me, the most magical track is the last, where the fiddle playing of Lucy Farr so inspires Cyril Barber that he step-dances his way through ‘Paddy Fahey’s’. But then, that is the beauty of traditional music - each item will affect different people in unpredictable ways.
This lovely album comes with a 24-page booklet, replete with fascinating photographs and scholarly notes, in a sturdy case. The presentation, as with all Veteran products, is first-class. The content, though, is (even by Veteran’s standards) special. For an extra ordinary snapshot of what drives collectors in their work, you cannot get better than this.
Shreds and Patches
John Howson (proprietor of Veteran) is very proud of the fact that he produced the first CD of traditional English music and song. It was called Stepping it Out! and was released in 1993. When, last year, John was awarded the Gold Badge of the EFDSS (along with his wife Katie) it was proposed that he should issue a similar compilation. John went through all his recordings made between 1975 and 2000, selecting from those never released.
This is the first CD I’ve seen that comes with a health warning for audiophiles. John made field recordings, initially using cassette tapes and later, digital. There is an amount of background noise on some tracks, although I was not troubled by this at all. Actually the quality was fine, given the recording locations included the door way of Top Man in Liverpool’s city centre.
So we have 24 tracks in all. There are songs and tunes, and stories, from many different places in England and Ireland. Some of the songs are simple, handed-down local versions, including one so risqué it cannot be sung in the presence of women. There is a great version of ‘The Barley Mow’ sung by traveller Eli Frankham. There is some unique tune playing, such as a raucous version of ‘King of the Fairies’ by Jimmy Lynch on melodeon and dancing dolls. Try a very delicate version of ‘Sam Fawcett’s Quadrilles’ played by Septimus Fawcett on English concertina. Darren Breslin on button accordion plays a few beautiful tunes with his grandfather Brian on fiddle. I enjoyed a sweet rendition of ‘Beautiful Ohio’ by Harry Litherland on duet concertina. The stories include a recitation of ‘The Man Behind the Bar’ by Reg Pratley, landlord of the Jubilee pub in Bampton, and other little treasures.
The notes on both the performers and the songs, tunes and stories are excellent, informative and a personal take from John. Good stuff; it’s what they do.
English Dance & Song
In 1993 Veteran Records released ‘Stepping It Out’, a collection of field recordings made by label founder John Howson more of which, collected over the past thirty odd years, feature on this nicely packaged and enjoyable album. ‘Stepping It Out Again!’ is a timely reminder that, although today’s folk musicians are able to make a decent living from their art, the music they perform comes originally from people who, for generations, have performed it for no other reason than for their own entertainment and for the sheer joy of it
That joy is more than evident on this varied collection of stories, recitations, songs and tunes, recorded in pubs, houses and on street corners in various locations throughout England and Ireland, and featuring fiddles, concertinas, accordions and even, in the case of busker Jimmy Lynch, a set of foot-operated dancing dolls,
There’s a wry humour in much of the material including Tom Smith’s ‘The Cunning Cobber’, Emma Vickers’s ‘As Soon As I Touched My Seaweed’ and Reg Pratley’s homage to ‘The Man Behind the Bar’. With many of these performers coming from generations of musical families there’s also a tangible sense of pride, best exemplified by the grandfather /grandson combination of Brian and Darren Breslin’s fiddle-and-accordion rendition of ‘The Pigeon On The Gate’/ ’Lad O’Beirne’s’. (***** review)
R2 (Rock & Reel)
John Howson was awarded an efdss gold
badge in 2011 and it was suggested he made a compilation of the Veteran CDs. He
went better than that and produced this CD of recordings which had never see the
light of day. Made between 1975 and 2000. Emma Vickers ‘Lancashire Man’s Advice
to his Son’ was the first. Moving to Suffolk in 1978 gave him an even wider
field to record from. Many songs and tunes are familiar; ‘Cunning Cobbler’ — Tom
Smith; ‘Steamboat/Nelson’s Hornpipe’ — Septimus Fawcett; ‘Fisher Cot’ — Sarah
Anne O’Neill; ‘Mickleby four’ — Denys Troughton; ‘Barley Mow’ — Eli Frankham. As
always with Veteran, the booklet is very interesting with notes about the
singers, musicians, tunes and songs, including anecdotes like Jimmy Lynch —
(King of the Fairies). He played a 4 stop one row melodeon and had a rack of
dancing dolls operated with one foot, a high hat cymbal with the other. Created
a haunting hypnotic sound and used to transport It all in an old pram.
A vivid insight into the diversity of traditional folk — a kaleidoscope of songs, tunes, stories and stepping.
Around Kent Folk
Veteran’s established itself as very much a label of the people, documenting the songs, music and stories performed by ordinary people. You won’t find any stars here, or even any recognisable names, but they’re not missed. There are some sterling performances (although it would take a DVD to do justice to Jimmy Lynch with his melodeon and dancing dolls. Most of the pieces are unfamiliar, with the possible exception of “Cuckoo Waltz,” and all the better for it. Collected in different parts of Britain and Ireland (with a concentration on Northern Ireland, including the excellent storyteller John Campbell). Some of the dialect might be puzzling, as with “T’Owd Sow’s Getten Mezzeles,” from the North East. The playing is fun, but the real sense of tradition in these field recordings – which is what they are, even if of relatively recent vintage, made between 1975 and 2000 – is in the singing, which really bears the weight of tradition and offers a real delight, different songs from different areas, such as “The Barley Mow” from Norfolk. It’s another facet to Topic’s Voice of the People series, many of the performers having as much fun as the audiences. It’s real folk music.
Sing Out (U.S.A)
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