PETE COE AND ALICE JONES – The Search For Five Finger Frank (Backshift BASH CD 61)

5FingerFrankIf you haven’t seen Pete Coe on stage recently (why not?) the title may require some explanation. “Frank” refers to Frank Kidson, something of a 19th century renaissance man from Leeds: publisher, artist, historian, antiquary and collector of folk songs and tunes. His first volume of songs was published in 1890, a full ten years before Cecil Sharp had even heard a folk song. Kidson was a founder member of The Folk Song Society but now he’s thought of as the “lost” collector with only one of his books remaining in print. As for “five finger”, that was how he described himself – he had many talents but pianist was not among them.

Having got the history lesson out of the way let’s get down to the business in hand. This splendid double CD set brings together twenty-seven Kidson songs and tunes. Alice Jones is every bit as much a multi-instrumentalist as Pete Coe, specialising in keyboards and reeds with a fine, natural voice that complements Pete’s unmannered style. The approach is essentially simple with minimal additions – there is a brass trio on two tracks, some fiddle, mouth organ and hammered dulcimer here and there – but the songs are what’s important.

Lest you think that this album is hard work, think again. These are often earthy songs and are treated as such – Pete even sets ‘Turpin Hero’ over the ‘Teenage Kicks’ chord progression and swears he hasn’t changed a word or a note of the melody. Many of the titles will be familiar and many others conceal familiar songs. ‘The Swan Swims So Bonny’, for example, is a nicely involved version of ‘The Two Sisters’. In contrast, disc 2 opens with a down-to-earth version of ‘Hares In The Old Plantation’ that’s half chorus. I hadn’t heard it before. ‘All On Spurn Point’, another new song to me, is the fascinating story of a shipwreck tainted by pecuniary considerations. Very modern. Kidson’s version of ‘Bonny Light Horseman’ is very different from the familiar one but this album is full of such delights.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website: backshift.demon.co.uk/

‘Penny For The Ploughboy’ is still a fixture in Pete’s live set:

folkmaster edit – I also couldn’t resist giving this gem another airing from a past folking live show we ran back in 2006 – It’s one of my Pete Coe favourites and really sums up the man…


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