DAVE LOWRY – Songs Of A Devon Man (WildGoose Studios WGS443CD)

Songs Of A Devon ManDave Lowry’s Songs Of A Devon Man is a CD project that has taken several years to come to fruition, a delay partly due to Covid and the sad death of one of the people behind it. For more than five decades, Dave Lowry has built his reputation as a singer, both as a soloist and as a member of a capella harmony groups including The Oakleaves, The Journeymen (briefly), Isca Fayre and The Claque. However, he has also built a major repertoire of songs from the West Country, especially Devon, and notably from Sabine Baring-Gould’s collection Songs Of The West.

Dave was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease some years ago: discussion between Bill Crawford, Barbara Brown and her late husband Tom Brown led to a CD recording session at Doug Bailey’s Wild Goose Studio, with the intention of preserving this unique repertoire in performance form. In Bill’s words, the final project “far [exceeded] my original plans to sit him down with a pint and a microphone in someone’s kitchen.” The songs from that studio session have been augmented with additional chorus work and some earlier recordings are also included, with tracks from the Claque album Sounding Now, the Barry Lister album Ghosts & Greasepaint (which strongly features other members of the Claque), plus three songs recorded by Phil Beer (‘Jan’s Courtship’, ‘Prussia Cove’, ‘Spanish Ladies’).

Since there are 27 songs on the album, I won’t attempt my customary track-by-track review, but here are some highlights.

  • The tracks credited to The Claque are notable not only for the quality of the material, but also for some fine vocal ensemble work. They include ‘Drink, Puppy, Drink’, ‘Devoran Smugglers’ and ‘Come To My Window’. The latter is an interesting and wistful contrast to the more usual ‘Go From My Window’: in the Claque song, it’s clear that the night visitor would indeed find the lodging denied in the the other song. ‘Hunting The Hare’ comes from the Barry Lister album but features all four members of The Claque in fine form.
  • ‘Admiral Benbow’ is a duet with Barry Lister: it’s not the well-known ‘Come all you seamen bold…’ song with which you may be familiar, but a rather fine text popular with broadside printers, expertly harmonized here.
  • The tracks recorded by Phil Beer are a poignant reminder of what an accomplished singer Dave was before his illness took hold. I particularly like his handsome minor-key ‘Spanish Ladies’, collected by Cecil Sharp in Somerset, and ‘Prussia Cove’, a great smuggling song (using the tune commonly known as ‘The Lincolnshire Poacher’) that Dave learned from Brenda Wootton. Brenda was the source of several other songs in the collection.

Sadly, the more recent recordings suggest that his illness was already starting to impact on his singing by the time the session took place, but that doesn’t detract from the charm and importance of this collection. I particularly liked the late Tony Goode’s ‘Caledonia’ – I can never resist a shipwreck song! – and the song of naval battle ‘The Marigold’, but there is plenty of lighter material such as ‘The Cheerful Horn’ and ‘Tom Bawcock’s Eve’.

I should, perhaps, mention that the song ‘Maggie May’ in this collection is neither the Rod Stewart song nor the popular sea song, but a sentimental but charming 19th century ballad by G.W. Moore and Charles W. Blamphin, much heard nowadays in Cornwall and especially Padstow, having been popularized by Charlie Bate.

If you’re against hunting songs on principle, this album may not be for you, as it features several. But if you’re interested in unique versions of traditional material and some very classy harmonies, this is certainly worth your attention, as are the albums by The Claque and Barry Lister.

I gather that there aren’t many CDs left from this limited pressing, but the tracks are available for MP3 download.

David Harley

Artist’s website: www.wildgoose.co.uk/albums/wgs443cd-songs-of-a-devon-man/

You’ll find it hard to find appropriate films to accompany this piece but here’s an old video of ‘Every Trueborn Englishman’ sung live by The Claque: