Midlife, an album of traditional, industrial and music hall songs collected in Birmingham and the Midlands, was released this morning.
Researched, arranged and recorded by, Jon Wilks, a journalist and musician who was born and raised in Solihull, the album contains 11 tracks, some of which date back to the 1780s. Jon spent over a year researching the project, and a lot of his notes and findings can be found on a website he has set up to accompany the album.
Of particular interest is a song called ‘Aye For Saturday Night (My Bloke’s a Peaky)’, which is an amalgamation of songs collected from the legendary Digbeth singer, Cecilia Costello. The word “peaky” refers to the infamous Peaky Blinders gang, and is a rare piece of folk art that dates to the gang’s existence. Cecilia Costello had no tune for the fragment she could recall, so Jon has added a tune here and included the piece as part of her better known song, ‘Aye For Saturday Night’.
The album includes many pieces that may be familiar to fans of Midlands folk, including the wonderful ‘I Can’t Find Brummagem’, which Jon discovered after getting lost on his way to Birmingham Museum.
“I hadn’t been back to central Birmingham in about 18 years,” he recalls, “and when I stepped out of Birmingham New Street Station, I found myself completely lost. The first thing I heard when I arrived at the museum was a song that opened with the line, ‘Full 20 years or more have passed since I left Brummagem’. That pricked my ears up. I was amazed to find the song detailed a lot of the experience I had returning to a city I knew so well but didn’t recognise. That’s probably what kickstarted my interest in finding out more about Birmingham’s folk history.”
There’s even a song (‘Colin’s Ghost’) that he believes may never have been recorded before.
“I had the great fortune of spending an afternoon with Martin Carthy, the legendary folk singer, in my sitting room. We played songs to each other, and he was really keen to hear this one. He told me he knew of its existence, but he’d never heard it before. He’s been researching and singing folk songs since the very early 60s, so that pretty much blew my mind.”
The album is out now for digital download.
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Album website: http://jonwilks.online/