A great deal has happened since Granny’s Attic released their second album, Off The Land, three years ago. A lot more people have heard of them now and Cohen Braithwaite-Kilcoyne has, rightly, become a solo star. Good for him but is it good for the band? If Wheels Of The World is any guide and if he can balance the two strands of his career, then the answer is yes. Cohen is certainly the dominant force although George Sansome takes lead on four tracks but competing with a melodeon can be hard work. Producer Sean Lakeman has done a sterling job in maintaining the balance without suppressing any of the trio’s power.
Most of the material is traditional and the title track which opens the set is new to me. It surveys the political landscape of the early part of the 19th century and its movers and shakers or “spinners” as the lyric has it. Sounds terribly modern, doesn’t it? The other song I hadn’t heard before, ‘What I Saw In My Dream As I Slept In My Chair’, covers similar ground. Between these two is the classic ‘Ship In Distress’ and the first tune set; a piece from Playford paired with one of Lewis Wood’s own compositions. The same sort of juxtaposition occurs in ‘Riddle’s Hornpipe/The Circus’.
‘Banks Of Green Willow’ has long been a favourite of mine and I’m old enough to remember hearing Shirley Collins sing ‘Gilderoy’ back in the 70s. Before you say anything, yes, Sandra Kerr had it first and Shirley increased the lovers’ ages to a more respectable seventeen. George does a wonderful job of what is, after all, a woman’s song and, needless to say, the lyric has little in common with the real life of the outlaw, Patrick McGregor. ‘The Highwayman’ and ‘Our Captain Cried “All Hands”’ would give the record a rousing finish except that they are separated by the beautiful ‘Fenland’, composed by Lewis.
Wheels Of The World gives me hope for the future of traditional music – it’s about the only hope we have left.
An outway songster was one who sang traditional song and popular hits of the time but “actually invented new ones themselves” according to Lucy Broadwood and Fuller Maitland. Cohen Braithwaite-Kilcoyne doesn’t go as far as covering Lady Gaga and it is difficult to point the finger at the song he invented – although ‘Thomas Holt’ probably comes closest – but he admits to taking several liberties with the songs and tunes included here. Outway Songster is as fine an example of the folk process in action as you could wish to find and it’s a damn good album.
The set opens with ‘Ripon Sword Dance Song’, traditionally a Christmas calling-on song from which Cohen has removed the seasonal references and added some extra verses. This is what he does several times on the record, making some songs traditionalish, I suppose, but none the worse for that. Second is ‘Andrew Rose’, a real X-rated song. Cohen is faithful to the printed texts which relish the tortures inflicted on the poor sailor but not actually why it was thought that he merited such treatment. I shudder listening to Cohen’s version.
Many of the songs are variants of well-known ballads. ‘Thomas Holt’ has a tune that is mostly ‘The Devil And The Feathery Wife’ and takes that story and twists it into something new even though it can be traced back to the 17th century. ‘Babylon’ is a Scottish version of the outlandish knight story and ‘Tom The Barber’ is ‘Will O’Winsbury’ in different clothes. There are three instrumental sets and one song I’ve never heard before, ‘Fireman’s Growl’, which was recorded by Tony Rose on Steam Ballads, a long-lost album from 1977. Karl Dallas takes the credit for collecting up the verses and setting them to a very familiar tune.
Cohen Braithwaite-Kilcoyne may have come to your attention as a member of Granny’s Attic, a fine trio, but this is his first solo album – completely solo with melodeon and concertina, with no studio tricks. His voice belies his youthful looks in its drive and confidence and the album is a perfect example of the producer’s skill and Doug Bailey has excelled himself. It sounds as if he just set up the microphones and pressed Record but it probably wasn’t as simple as that.
I’ll say it again: this is a superb record and I hope that we’ll hear much more of Cohen Braithwaite-Kilcoyne.