DAMIAN CLARKE – Covered 4 Cancer (Vox Pop VOX031)

Covered 4 CancerDamian Clarke isn’t known for covering other people’s music (unless it’s someone like Turlough O’Carolan) but you know what lockdown did for musicians. I should say at the outset that proceeds from Covered 4 Cancer will go to cancer and stroke charities. The album is also a companion piece to Damian’s book, Busking Business, wherein each chapter is referenced by one of these songs. Although, as Eric Morecambe famously said, “not necessarily in the right order”.

The songs mostly come from Damian’s youth and were selected for their adaptability to his chosen instrument, the hammered dulcimer. It’s remarkable how well some songs settle on Damian’s arrangements and how well he succeeds in imitating some of the original sounds.

He opens with ‘Meet Me On The Corner’, featuring Bill Howarth on mouthie. Damian doesn’t list any other contributors and there is a lot of multi-tracking but I’m convinced I can hear a female voice sometimes. There is an unlisted bonus track, ‘Hoffedd Ap Hywel/The Rakes Of Kildare’ which I do know features George Whitfield on piano accordion. Anyway, ‘Meet Me On The Corner’ is a good busking song with a chorus that everyone can sing along with. Damian betrays his mediæval learnings by adding an “o” to one line.

Next is ‘Manic Monday’ – yes, Prince arranged for hammered dulcimer and the melody suits the instrument so well. Damian lays aside his instrument for the unaccompanied ‘Gaudete’ – he doesn’t quite have the sweet tones of Maddy Prior but that got me thinking; ‘what did mediӕval monks actually sound like?’. These guys weren’t trained singers and perhaps they were content just to “make a joyful noise unto the Lord”. Damian cleverly recorded alternate lines of the verses on different channels so the song sounds like a call-and-response across the choir stalls.

The dulcimer imitates the Beach Boys’ opening of ‘The Sloop John B’ and Damian sticks pretty much to their arrangement although I do wish someone would do some something more earthy with it one day. There is a “lost” verse involving the stewardess, by the way, which I don’t believe is contemporaneous – you can look it up for yourselves. Again, the dulcimer is a good match for the jangly guitar on The Cure’s ‘Friday I’m In Love’. It’s another tune for which the instrument is eminently suited as is ‘Both Sides Now’ but the former is linked to a story in Busking Business.

I’m so accustomed to Christy Moore’s version of ‘Ride On’ that hearing it without an Irish accent initially came as a shock – I don’t mind, though. ‘Bella Ciao’ is just the sort of song that I would expect Damian to sing, it being a 19th century protest song about working conditions in rural Italy. Tom Petty’s ‘Freefalling’ is a particular favourite of mine and on first hearing it didn’t quite work for me. Bizarrely the arrangement seems denser than the original and I would prefer Damian’s voice to be higher in the mix. Oh well.

Penultimately we have a medley of the South African anthem ‘Nkosi Sikelela’ with Labi Siffre’s ‘Something Inside So Strong’ which would be a rather solemn ending to the album were it not for the aforementioned uncredited track. Essentially, Covered 4 Cancer is an album to play in the car and sing along with, which is how Damian learned some of them. And remember: the proceeds go to charity.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website: www.damianclarke.co.uk

Read Dai Jeffries’ review of Busking Business here.

‘Friday I’m In Love’ – live and official: