PETE COE – The Man In The Red Van (Backshift BASH CD 63)

Red VanPete Coe is one of the old guard, one of the last. He’s been in this business for more than forty-five years and still has all the moves. I expected The Man In The Red Van to be something of a political work, akin to It’s A Mean Old Scene. It would be appropriate but even Pete couldn’t have known what is lying in wait for us in June. This album is a collection of songs, most of which will be familiar in some form. And that’s the key – halfway through the second track I was hooked.

That track is ‘The Spanish Lady’. Pete learned it from Al Donnell, was given extra verses by Mary O’Connor and added the chorus from Frank Harte, so this is a combination of at least three versions, but it is Pete’s treatment of the song that lands the killer punch. Forget the rollicking folk club chorus version; Pete slows it down, plays it on acoustic guitar and includes more verses than I’ve seen in a single text before. There’s an odd, noirish feel about the finished product and I’d be prepared to say that this is what Pete does best.

The opener is ‘King Henry’, a variant of the ‘Lord Randall’ story with poisonous toads instead of eels, and I’ve heard versions of the song many times but not this one. The same is true of ‘World Of Misery (Shenandoah)’, a song I wouldn’t mind not hearing again. Except that Pete’s version comes from Saint Vincent and includes lines I’ve never heard before. It’s nice to be surprised.

Pete includes two of his older songs. The first is ‘Joseph Baker’, which he has been performing live recently, and the second is the song that flagged him as a songwriter, ‘Farewell To The Brine’, about his home town of Northwich, and two covers; Terry Conway’s ‘The Walls Of Troy’ and Vic Gammon’s  ‘Ash And Alder’ which come the closest to making political points.

Musically, the album is deceptively simple. Pete plays most of the music with sparing support from Andy Peacock and producer David Crickmore plus a chorus of colleagues and friends. He doesn’t need any more than that.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website:

‘Joseph Baker’ live: