I’m guessing that A Garland For Joey is an album that Bob Fox has wanted to make for a long time. Many fine musicians have taken on the role of Songman but Bob has the gravitas to take the part from that of the provider of incidental music to the play’s narrator.
Subtitled The War Horse Songbook, the record is described as a re-telling and it is certainly a reinvention. Bob puts aside the melodeon that he was compelled to learn for the stage and mostly returns to the guitar providing some big arrangement. He is supported on three tracks by the Carlton Main Frickley Colliery Band and on one by Sam Fisher’s cornet. The garland on the cover and the opening song ‘Snow Falls’ gives the record a Christmassy feel which is reinforced by ‘The Devonshire Carol’ or, at least its title, which both closes the songbook and leads into the first song of the postscript, ‘The Cherry Cheeked Optimists (Part One)’. The second part of the song is anything but optimistic, of course, and it sets the scene for ‘Scarecrow’ which closes the album. Given that the original version pre-dated the premiere of War Horse by some thirty years it was a remarkably prescient piece of writing by John Tams.
Religion was a much more important aspect of life a century ago but ‘Only Remembered’ has transcended time and faith to replace ‘The Parting Glass’ as the farewell song of choice. ‘Rolling Home’ is an expression of Tams’ socialist manifesto and is an uplifting mirror image of the bleak ‘Scarecrow’ but both mark the beginning of the end of deference to our “betters”. The traditional ‘Scarlet And The Blue’ is the jolliest song on the record with a jaunty tune matching an optimistic lyric, contrasting with the sombre ‘Stand To’ which follows it – another quasi-religious song – and Tams also borrows the carol ‘Lullee Lullay’ while maintaining its original form as a lullaby.
Hearing these songs sung in full and in sequence tells the story, not necessarily of Joey, but of the war itself and stand alone without the magnificent puppets and the action on stage. A Garland For Joey will be on a good many Christmas lists this year.
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Artist’s website: www.bobfoxmusic.com
‘Snow Falls’ – live: