This takes me back. I knew Bob Berry’s parents back in the day when albums were still issued on cassettes. Len was a genial gentleman of the old school and when Fairport Convention covered Barbara’s setting of ‘I Wandered By A Brookside’ her fame was assured. Which brings us very neatly to Echoes Of Alfred because ‘Brookside’ came from Alfred Williams’ Folk Songs Of The Upper Thames and I’m sure you’ve made the connection.
Williams famously collected only words on the grounds that future generations would not be interested in singing these songs. I think that subsequent events have proved him wrong but his decision gives singers and composers plenty of scope. Most of the songs here are from the Williams collection and from Wiltshire. They are largely rural, not to say rustic in places, and Bob and Gill perform them with refreshing directness – you could happily transfer this set to a folk club and have a damn good night out.
Gill opens the proceedings with ‘No Followers’ taking the role of a nursemaid whose trust in a “young man from the country” is betrayed resulting in the entire domestic staff losing their positions. Bob follows that with ‘My Jolly Waggoner Drive On’ which bears no relation to any other song about jolly waggoners – in fact it should probably be sung by the horse. One or two are variants of well-known titles. ‘Chickens!’ found its way into Eliza Carthy’s repertoire while ‘Through The Groves’ is a version of ‘The Holmfirth Anthem’ collected in Amesbury. ‘Sprig Of Thyme’ and ‘Salisbury Plain’ are easily identified.
More interesting are the rarer items. ‘Deny No Man His Rights’ is possibly a Chartist song; ‘Sarah Gale’ recounts the story of a gruesome murder complete with dismembered body parts found along the Thames and ‘My Old Wife’s A Good Old Cratur’ is definitely rustic. Len Berry used to sing it with great affection. There are a couple of modern songs, to round out the set. Gill sings ‘Days Of Summer’ written by Miggy Campbell of GU4 and Bob sings the post war humorous oddity, ‘I Was Much Better Off In The Army’.
Echoes Of Alfred is an easy listening album but it is important in that it also commits several more songs from the Williams collection to the immortality of the recording process.
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It’s not on this album but we couldn’t resist. ‘I Wandered By A Brookside’ – live: