Sea shanties dropped out of my own repertoire quite a few years ago, so I’m probably the only folkie in Cornwall who hasn’t heard Fisherman’s Friends or seen the movie. So until I saw the PR, I didn’t know of Toby Lobb, who is a member of the group. (As it happens, he goes on this album by the name of Loveridge on this album – as far as I know he has no connection with the act of the same name based in San Francisco.) So when I was nudged in the direction of As The Crow Flies, an album of ten mostly original songs, I wasn’t sure I was the right person to review it. However, after I’d listened to the first couple of tracks, I was hooked. (Sorry!)
While the arrangements and themes of the songs here are solidly rooted in folk club culture, with Cornwall and seafaring playing starring roles, no windlass, bullgine or capstan was harmed in the making of Toby Lobb’s lockdown project. Instead, this is a collection of pleasing melodies and interesting lyrics, beautifully sung and augmented with finely judged additional harmonies and instrumental work from The Longest Johns, Jon Cleave, Giles Woolley and Sally Penna-Bray, with particular credit due to Phil Beer’s fiddle and Dobro and Emma Murfin’s whistle.
Here’s the track list.
- ‘The Safety Of Home’ has some fine harmonies, including Jon Cleave’s distinctive bass vocal.
- ‘Cornish Heart’ is beautifully conceived and sung, benefiting from Phil Beer’s sympathetic fiddle.
- ‘Rollin’ Down The River Camel’ has new words by Toby to a tune he describes as traditional. However, to the best of my knowledge the song ‘Rolling Down The River’ was written by Jack Forbes for a radio programme about Tilbury Docks in the 1980s. Perhaps Jack used a traditional tune, but if so, it’s not one I’m familiar with. Still, it’s a very good tune, and it sounds just as good in Toby’s version.
- ‘She Will Wait’ is a bit poppier than most of the tracks here, but there’s no harm in that when it’s done this well, with Emma’s atmospheric whistle and Sally’s lovely harmony.
- Despite its jaunty melody, ‘The Sacred Shore’ deals with the decline of Cornish industry and the Cornish diaspora. If it lacks the drama of Steve Knightley’s ‘Cousin Jack’, it’s nevertheless an eminently singable and listenable song.
- ‘The Doom Bar’ recounts the legend of the mermaid who is said to have created the sandbar at the mouth of the River Camel as her dying curse after being shot by one of the locals.
- ‘Death Of A Padstow Boy’ – a wistful story song.
- When I saw the title ‘Will You Go’ my heart sank, expecting yet another version of a song I’ve heard a little too often in the last six decades. In fact, it’s a deeply affecting original song about leaving Cornwall that quickly became my favourite track.
- The Child ballad turned capstan shanty ‘Blow Away The Morning Dew’ gets a new lease of life with Toby’s new lyric in ‘Blow Ye Pressing Winds’, in which the victim of a press gang tells his story. The story is not dissimilar to that of ‘Polly On The Shore’ and does not end well, as was so often the case. However, Toby’s narrative focuses more on the day-to-day detail of naval misery than the final battle, which suits the jauntiness of the tune.
- Toby’s arrangement of ‘The Parting Glass’ is uncontroversial, but perfectly pleasant. Not a bad way at all to finish the album.
Let’s hope that when life returns to something nearer to normal and the Fisherman’s Friends hit the sea roads once more, Toby still has time to develop his undoubted talents as a soloist: on the strength of this album, it seems likely he has a lot more to offer.
Artist’s website: www.loveridgemusic.com
‘The Doom Bar’ – Toby’s lockdown version: