JOHNNY CAMPBELL – From Hull And Halifax And Hell (Subversive Folk Records SF002)

From Hull And Halifax And HellJohnny Campbell is a singer/songwriter/guitarist from Manchester who has not forgotten the sixties although I suspect that he’s too young to have actually been there. That doesn’t matter: the spirit of the folk clubs in their heyday runs in his veins. The set, complete with all his introductions, was recorded in a bar in Nôlsoy in the Faroe Islands. It sounds as though the audience is small – the total population of the islands is only 50,000 or thereabouts – but they enjoy a joke and From Hull And Halifax And Hell is indeed live in the Faroe Islands.

The fourteen track set is a mixture of original songs, covers and traditional material – just like sets used to be. The first three songs are Johnny’s and sound traditional. He borrows the ‘Tramps And Hawkers’ tune for ‘Complaint’ – another long-standing tradition – and, but for one line, he could claim that he’d dug up ‘Johnny McGhee’ in a dusty library stack with no-one to gainsay him.

Now he starts to mix things up. The first cover is from protest singer Cosmo. ‘Climate Change Is Coming’ isn’t really suitable for sensitive dispositions but it makes its point forcefully. He follows that with ‘The Derby Ram’ and then Arlo Guthrie’s ‘Victor Jara’ and that made me stop to think. It seems to be a rather incongruous juxtaposition but…where do you place a song like ‘Victor Jara’ in a set? It is at once tender and brutal; a contradiction within itself so slotting it in after a joke is probably quite reasonable.

Johnny does a fine version of ‘Arthur McBride’, followed by the song that gives the album its title. ‘Hook, Line & Sinker’ is his anti-Brexit song complete with a “subtle” Bob Dylan reference and ‘Dark Streets Of Nôlsoy’ is the Pogues song in disguise. He finally closes with ‘Moving On Song’, as angry and bitter as it has ever been. Somehow it feels like a premonition.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website: https://johnnycampbell.co.uk/

‘Complaint’ – live:

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