John Cee Stannard’s Folk Roots Revisited is a wonderful flashback to the land of British singer-songwriter, circa 1970. But, oddly enough, it also nests nicely with the current (Bon Iver inspired!) love of authentic heartfelt acoustic music. It’s just like (the great) Richard Thompson wrote so long ago, “If you really mean it, it all comes round again”.
Just so you know, JCS was a vital third part of the very fine group Tudor Lodge, who long ago recorded a wonderful record for the Vertigo label (with a gorgeous fold out sleeve that was reproduced with textured perfection by Repertoire Records!). Of course, sales were slim, but today an original vinyl copy is pricey and deemed a classic. As Kurt Vonnegut said, “So it goes”.
Several of the songs were written for the never recorded second album, and they indeed conjure the spirit of those early 70’s. ‘Lovely Day’ is quick paced (with flute!), yet the lyrics are filled with inevitable loss, memories left, and finally, some joy in memories being made. Pop-folk existentialism, perhaps? ‘If Only She Were There’, is again up-beat with melodic flute that dances around a catchy melody – just the stuff that made Tudor Lodge’s album an instant classic – fifty years too late.
There’s a Dylan-inspired song, ‘Shades Of Grey’, in which John Cee contemplates love, life, truth, and everything in between, which, of course, is what songs way back when usually did. But the tune provides a thematic umbrella which covers the personal introspection and (to quote Ray Davies), the “definite maybe” of this album as John sings, “Is there just one question or a million on the way and which one was the one that was one too many shades of grey”.
By the way, my friend, Kilda Defnut, doesn’t hear Dylan, but rather Allan Hull (of Newcastle Brown, Lindisfarne, and ‘Fog On The Tyne’ fame).
That said, Folk Routes Revisited spins beyond the archival and philosophical stuff, and is, ultimately, a record of really nice songs.
‘High Hill’ begins with a nod to jaunty Fairport Convention, which belies the depth and tragedy of the lyric as the protagonist comes to terms with his plight of always being “someone else’s man working my fingers to the bone on someone else’s land”. Pop-folk class struggle, perhaps?
There are more insightful tunes. ‘No One There’ is a dreamy (harmonica-driven) glance at the loss of a loved one, which equals the greatness of fellow folkie Chris Simpson (of Magna Carta fame). ‘I See A Boy’ is a plea to see a “forever young” reality beyond the “dark surprise” of age. A simple violin frames the sincere vocal that echoes Wordsworth, when he wrote, “The child is the father of the man.”
You know, (to get tangential) I once talked with a trucker outside of a roadside restaurant in Fargo, North Dakota. The guy always travelled with his best friend – a one-eyed Dachshund named Buster. He said everyone only noticed what was missing, but he saw the beautiful eye that still remained, and according to this man, “Could read a road map better than Rand or Mcnally”. ‘I See A Boy’, as with much of the music on this album, touches that nerve.
There are songs with less abstract subjects. ‘Ferryman’ is a bluesy ode to Charon. ‘The Ultimate Inning’ confesses a fondness for the game of cricket. ‘No More Tears’ is a jumble of happy images hoping for “no more new tears from old tears´ with a melody worthy of Al Stewart in his prime. ‘The Last Time’ has the simple sincerity of Vin Garbutt. That’s high praise.
The odd man out is ‘The Picture’, which is sung by friend and co-writer, Mike Baker. But true to form, the song conjures the magic of those 70’s British singer-songwriters like Ralph McTell, and the lesser known guys like Peter Bond, Allan Taylor, Chris Foster, Peter Greenwood, Steve Tilson, Pete Atkin, and Marc Brierley, all of whom deserve current attention.
But (to quote The Beatles) the “topper most of the popper most’ is the final song, ‘Silver Chalice’. Sadly, John Cee Stannard passed away in March 0f 2020 of cancer. This song, with its roller coaster fun park ride of a melody, once again, belies its theme: a search for a silver chalice filled with water, which was rumoured to be an “efficacious in treatment of cancer”. Of course, John Cee gifts the tune with a wry folk-singer’s smile to inform (with a melodic wink) that while he did, indeed find his “holy grail’, he also found “a bamboo pair and monkey emblazed socks”.
So, we are left with a bunch of songs and a pretty great musical road map for life; and let’s just say Folk Roots Revisited is, to quote his own words, with deference to many things beyond and above the cricket crease (which every “old cricketer” eventually “leaves”), John’s “Ultimate Inning”.
Artist’s website: https://www.johnceestannard.co.uk/
‘Shades Of Grey’ – live: