Reviews of VTD148CD 'A Shropshire Lad'


 

I first interviewed Fred Jordan in 1975. At the time, I thought of him as an old singer though he was younger then than I am now, and the impression, I suppose, was partly due to his dressing in character but maybe his dignified manner of delivering a repertory that was largely comprised of country songs and ballads with no concession to what was then or at any time since ' hip, ' informed my opinion just as equally. This double CD is appositely sub-titled ' English folk singer' for if anyone epitomised a life at one with traditional song, it was Fred.

 

First recorded by Peter Kennedy for the BBC in 1952, Fred Jordan was born 30 years earlier in Ludlow and lived all his life around the Corve Dale area of Shropshire whilst appearing at folk clubs, festivals and concerts nationwide. No stranger to the Albert Hall, he was equally at home in the tap room, whilst his farm labourer's occupation, his lifestyle and his songs were, as Derek Schofield points out in the comprehensive booklet that accompanies this priceless package "of the nineteenth century, yet his singing context became the twentieth century folk revival."

 

Many songs came from Fred's family, some were from workmates and passing Gypsies and a great many were learned from singers, both traditional and otherwise with whom he came into contact through the emerging folk revival of the 60s. 'A Shropshire Lad' covers all bases from The Gypsy's Warning (his first public platform, winning him £1!) Includes locally-learned Child Ballads such as Barbara Allen through Napoleon Bonaparte acquired from Rees Wesson to his signature-tune Farmer's Boy which his father used to sing. Forthright views were held on songs being sung 'tidy' as he put it - lineal, straight to the point, and no intros ("this bloody talking. I cannot see no necessity for it. It's like telling somebody the end of a tale before they've read the book.") All sung with the trademark vibrato which developed more as the chronology of these CDs displays, from the earliest days to the most recent taping here from 1991. None of the tracks here are studio-made incidentally, being all field recordings.

 

Fred died in July 2002. There was no artifice with him - what you saw was what you got - an agricultural worker in his ordinary clothes (he never dressed down for effect) Like man, like songs; - uncluttered with no affectation. Heather Horner who spoke movingly during a Memorial Day at Cecil Sharp House last - November knew this very private human being well and has written "With the death of Fred Jordan we have lost a friend whose songs, a performance style, and indeed his whole way of life, derive directly from an earlier era, yet connect seemlessly with the twenty-first

century."

 

John Howson at Veteran is to be congratulated for what is a landmark release whose concept and execution are benchmarks against which future traditional recordings must be judged. It s is a fitting remembrance of a man, whom I, and many others were privileged to know and from whose values we learned a great deal. As a singer of English folksong, he easily rates alongside the likes of Harry Cox and Walter Pardon. We knew that already but this fine coda proves it beyond all doubt.

The Living Tradition

 

Fred was only thirty when he was first recorded, and the songs here, spanning nearly forty years and two CDs, provide a fascinating picture of the development of his repertoire and style. The examples from the 1950s and '60s on the first CD were chiefly learned from family, neighbours and workmates, and range from "classic" traditional material such as his fine sets of Six Pretty Maids (The Outlandish Knight) and John Barleycorn, to sentimental or comic favourites of the late 19th century. The later recordings on the second CD show the effects on Fred's repertoire of his extensive contact with the folk revival; it did not remain static, and he continued to learn new songs from whatever sources became available. They were all fully assimilated, however, and appear quite homogenous with his earlier material. Although The Seeds of Love is John England's version, learned especially for an EFDSS event, Fred made it entirely his own; as he did the Scottish Rigs of Rye, which you wouldn't normally expect to hear from an English country singer. In one case there's a noticeable outside influence; the tune and phrasing of The Rose of Allendale, though Fred picked it up in South Wales, seem to derive from the Copper Family version rather Sidney Nelson's version

 

Fred's singing style, too, can be heard developing as the years pass. His voice becomes deeper and more resonant and his phrasing more fluid. His characteristic decorative trills, used as occasional punctuation in early recordings, become more extended and appear more often. An already well established technique becomes more mature and compelling, and the character of the singer himself grows more apparent in it. It's little wonder that he had such a way with audiences.

 

This is an important record of an important traditional singer, produced to exemplary standards. Over two hours of unalloyed listening pleasure, accompanied by a 63-page booklet including extensive biographical notes by Derek Schofield and detailed notes on the songs from Mike Yates. The original field recordings have been expertly optimised by Jim Ward. John Howson and all involved in the project have given us not only an excellent and thoroughly entertaining tribute to Fred, but a serious and informative document. Essential listening.

English Dance & Song

 

Fred Jordan is a name that may be familiar to many people reading this, but how many realise the impact that he and some of his contemporaries have had on the development of traditional song? How many consider that recordings like those on this double CD capture a way of life, an approach to life, that has passed? The accompanying notes give an excellent account of Fredís life. Born in 1922 he learnt his songs from his family, work-mates and travellers and sang them in the pub on a Saturday night. Later, invited to sing in folk clubs, concerts and festivals, his repertoire grew and was influenced by new singers and audience.

Leaving school at the age of fourteen, he started work on farms, in general farm work, although working with horses became his great love. He never married and was untouched by many of the modern external influences, a fact that his singing reflects: it is natural, relaxed and from the heart.

He was first recorded by Peter Kennedy in 1952 and this album includes recordings from 1952-1991. Recordings and technology, venues and audience, change. Changes, too, can be heard in Fredís voice and his repertoire. The songs cover the full extent of his range: classic ballads, folk songs, Victorian tear-jerkers, Edwardian parlour songs, some are poignantly sad, some humorous. As well as the songs he learnt before 1952, there are many that he learnt in more recent years. It is true to say that he greatly influenced the folk revival, but also true to say it influenced him.

Not only did we meet at many festivals, we had the privilege to see him in his own home. Totally at ease, he welcomed us with all the warmth that his singing portrays, a relaxed attitude of contentment with his lot. If you want to capture that feeling, want an excellent reminder of someone whom you saw at events and enjoyed, or want an insight into traditional song in the twentieth century, this double CD is for you.

          What's Afoot

 

It was as a student in the early 70's I discovered Fred Jordan's first LP on the record shelves of the college library but it was to be many years before I had the pleasure of seeing him perform in public. My initial response on hearing that first recording was one of pleasant incredulity. I very much liked what I heard but it was nothing like the `folk' singers I'd been listening to either live or on record. In the way a story teller used tone and expression to entrance the listener, Fred appeared to be similarly using a range of vocal effects to augment his delivery of a song. I do not remember the first time I saw Fred perform, but I remember being captivated by his performance and after that first time taking every opportunity of seeing him and never being disappointed. This Veteran double CD is equally not disappointing. Covering in chronological order nearly 40 years of singing, the compilation comprises 44 tracks and is a fair, or as fair as can be, representation of the extensive repertoire of a highly creative singer. Many of the recordings have been taken from previously and currently available sources but have never been amalgamated with recordings released for the first time including Fred performing live to a folk club audience. Although none of the tracks are studio recordings, this is a very listenable collection, the original material having been cleaned without being over processed. How complete these CD s are in terms of Fred's repertoire I wouldn't know. What I can say, is that having now listened to the collection several times, I have yet to think of a song I would have expected to hear that is not included. `The Gypsy's Warning', `The Outlandish Knight', `John Barleycorn' `The Farmers Boy' and `Foggy Foggy Dew' all are to be found. The collection is complemented by an excellent and informative 63-page booklet. It is hard to imagine anyone who has even a passing interest in traditional folk song not getting pleasure from this valuable and impressive anthology.

Folk London

 


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