ROGER PUGH – A Colourful Journey (Oblong Records, OBLCD079)

A Colourful JourneyIt’s a rarity to come across an artist who describes himself as “jester, minstrel, singer, songwriter, entertainer”. Step forward Leicestershire’s Roger Pugh, serving up a deeply personal memoir in his fourth solo album, A Colourful Journey. It’s an album that feels both celebratory and poignant, as he reflects on his life and work. In particular, the rocking ‘Final Arrangements’ where he fiercely berates future mourners, “don’t you come to my funeral dressed in black” has edges of both belligerence and pathos.

To be honest, though, ‘solo’ is stretching a definition quite a bit. There are16 other musicians lending their various talents to this set of songs. One of the dangers in having so many collaborators to choose from is that it becomes all too tempting to overwork the material to fit them all in. Whilst there’s quite a pretty tune at the heart of ‘Picking Ragwort’, it gets a bit muted by multiple layers of instrumentation. However, when it does come right, as in the thundering drums and skittish mandola of final tune ‘Witches Flight’, it’s a very pleasurable listen.

Pugh’s a storyteller at heart, drawing on a diverse range of musical genres – often within the same song. He’s written and performed (in Leicester Cathedral, no less) an entire folk opera, ‘A Minstrel’s Tale’, two tracks from which appear on this album: the lively, mediaeval-style capering tune ‘A Romp Through The Barley’ and the portentous prog-rock harmonies of ‘The Day Before The Hanging’.

‘The Busker’ is a familiar tale for al fresco musicians and its chirpy, singalong chorus of “Let’s drink a health to the busker” should be mandatory on chilly street corners everywhere. Elsewhere, though, things don’t go quite so well: a pleasingly sinuous fiddle part on ‘Run With The Moonlight’ (a song for his son) struggles against an ill-matched Caribbean-style syncopated percussion and the two fail to gel.

The production sound seems rather too sharp, and much more stripped-back arrangements might have served the material better. There are some satisfying melodies and entertaining lyrics, but it feels like there’s simply too much going on – too many styles, instruments and different parts competing for attention. It seems rather harsh to say so about such personal songs and an album that’s taken three years to come to fruition but, by about half-way through, it’s all starting to feel somewhat over-cooked and at risk of tipping over into pastiche.

Pugh clearly has an abundance of stories to tell and music to tell it with and the acapella ‘Down At The Billet On Boxing Day’ shows how good he can be. This song (appropriately enough, in the style of a revel or wassail) allows voices to harmonise attractively, lyrics and melody work well together without overdoing any single element. It’s the album’s most consistently successful track and plenty more like this would be most welcome.

Su O’Brien

Artist website: https://roger-pugh.co.uk/

‘A Minstrel’s Tale’ – live:

THE STONED CHERRIES – Baked In A Pie (own label)

Baked In A PieHaving only recently moved away from Shropshire, I had heard from time to time of The Stoned Cherries, who are based in the Shropshire/ Herefordshire/ Worcestershire area, but had never (as far as I know) actually met or heard them, so I was looking forward to hearing their CD Baked In A Pie. The band consists of Aly May (whistles and backing vocals), Dave Evans (acoustic and electric guitars, mandolin, lead and backing vocals), Matt Donaldson (bass guitar, foot drum, acoustic guitar, piano accordion, backing vocals), and Roger Pugh (acoustic guitar, mandola, spoons, lead and backing vocals), augmented by Jo Rowland on steel pan on ‘Run With The Moonlight’. The CD is an interesting mixture of dance tunes and (mostly) original songs by either David Evans or Roger Pugh.

  1. ‘Morrisons’ is the traditional ‘Morrison’s Jig’, though it’s played through the first time at half-speed, which is actually quite attractive. It then accelerates into a more conventional version with more than a dash of folk-rock.
  2. ‘Rosalind’ (David Evans) is a C&W-ish song about a schoolboy romance. I suspect that it’s more entertaining as a live performance, especially the long and quirky spoken section at the end.
  3. ‘Run With The Moonlight’ (Roger Pugh) offers slightly reggae-tinged “Words of advice to a 16 year old son“. Well, Caribbean-tinged, with its leavening of steel drum.
  4. ‘Si Bheag Si Mhor’ is usually attributed (as here) to Turlough O’Carolan, though there’s some debate as to whether he wrote it, or adapted it from ‘The Bonny Cuckoo’. There again, some believe ‘Si Bheag Si Mhor’ came first and was adapted for ‘The Bonny Cuckoo’. I’ve no opinion either way, but it’s a melody I never tire of hearing, and is played well here.
  5. ‘Lemon Girl’ (David Evans) appears to be about the lengths to which people will go to get a lemon in wartime. Which is more fun than it sounds. I’m sure Robert Johnson would have approved of the metaphor.
  6. In ‘Final Arrangements’ Roger Pugh makes clear his preferences as regards his funeral arrangements. One of the better melodies among the songs here: nice arrangement, too.
  7. ‘Witches Flight’ (Roger Pugh) is described as “A sparkly tune from Roger’s folk opera “A Minstrel’s Tale”2.” The first few bars do remind me of a tune better known as ‘Arthur McBride’ (think Martin Carthy rather than Paul Brady), but as an arrangement it does indeed sparkle. Apparently it’s “now the signature tune for the Saint FM Folk Show.
  8. ‘House In The Woods’ is credited to Chris Allen and Chris Broderick, better known as the Singing Loins. It’s pretty close to the original, though thankfully it misses out the massed kazoos. Good song.
  9. ‘Dance Of The Seven Suns’ is another attractive minor-key tune by Roger Pugh, advising us to celebrate the natural world rather than destroying it. Some of the lead guitar has some almost John Renbourn-ish phrasing, which is never a bad thing. However, the lead vocal sound very uncomfortable in the lower register.
  10. ‘Forgotten Man’ (David Evans) is a surprisingly plaintive subject and arrangement. Good lyric, despite the repetitive chorus, which might be more effective cut down slightly.
  11. In ‘Cottage’ Roger Pugh sings of a life of unsophisticated self-sufficiency in a cottage in the Welsh Marches. The arrangement is suitably Celtic, if more Goidelic than Brythonic (and the lyric reminds me a bit of band rehearsals in a somewhat similar geographical context, but let’s not go there now…) The song goes seamlessly into…
  12. …a medley of the reel ‘Oysterwives’ Rant’ and the ‘Ballydesmond Polka’. And I can see why they might use this one to get “toes tapping and hips swinging at the end of a gig.
  13. ‘Days End’ (David Evans) is a reflective song about “memories, and the age-old conundrum of getting older.” Interesting lyric.
  14. ‘Down At The Billet On Boxing Day’ (Roger Pugh): while the notes promise us “Morris dancing, a mummer’s [sic] play and a traditional sing song, held at an annual event at The Crooked Billet, Leigh On Sea [sic], Essex“, this turns out to be just a song describing these events rather than the actual events. What a track that might have been. J However, it’s a likeable performance, sung unaccompanied and with strong harmonies. A good way to end the album.

I suspect that I might have liked this CD better if I’d seen the band live. Not that I didn’t enjoy it: it’s just that some of the tracks sound a little like hearing a live performance on the radio – it’s just not the same as being there. My wife (who is by no means a folkie) doesn’t like it because it’s so whistle-dominated, but Aly’s playing adds a more varied range of colours than you might expect, and the other instrumental work is equally efficient. The instrumentals are fine, and the songs are interestingly quirky, though the lead vocals are a bit patchy. However, I’m sure that fans of this very popular band will find much to enjoy here.

David Harley

Artist’s website: dgand2.wixsite.com/thestonedcherries

‘King Of The Fairies’ – live: