You have to wonder what more historic delights are still hidden away in the vaults of German radio and TV. The punningly titled A Maid In Bremen was recorded there in 1978 and draws together all the influences that came to bear on John Renbourn – English traditional song, blues, jazz and Indian music all come together here. With John are Jacqui McShee, Tony Roberts on flute and oboe, the cello of Sandy Spencer and Keshav Sathe on tablas. The album is of its time: applause and nicely spoken introductions are left in place but also timeless as befits the work of a man who helped to shape multi-cultural music.
The opening track, ‘I Am A Maid That’s Deep In Love’, has an arrangement credited to the original Pentangle line-up despite the fact that only John’s guitar remains. There must be copyright issues involved although it does sound how Pentangle might have sounded without Terry Cox, Bert Jansch and Danny Thompson. ‘Death And The Lady’ is definitely the new group’s arrangement and then Jacqui McShee solos ‘Westron Wynd’. To complete the stylistic mix we are next treated to a sparkling version of The MGs’ ‘Sweet Potato’ which is probably worth the ticket price on its own.
The pattern repeats with variations. ‘John Barleycorn’ is followed by Furry Lewis’ ‘Turn Your Money Green’. John gets to solo but you have to hear flute and tabla playing the blues. ‘My Johnny Was A Shoemaker’ is followed by ‘To Glastonbury’ which is the only track that is painfully dated – this was during the final death throes of the hippies, after all.
Two renaissance lute tunes by Hans Neusiedler are another interesting diversion. In the absence of a lutenist, they are led by Roberts’ flute. They are followed by a return to the tradition with ‘The Maid On The Shore’ and ‘A Maid In Bedlam’. John describes ‘Sidi Brahim as not having a title or a format – the former was obviously corrected latter – but it rolls along magnificently for nearly eleven minutes. John doesn’t play sitar here but he imitates one rather well when necessary and gives Sathe and Roberts all the space they need.
‘Cruel Sister’ brings us back to the English tradition while the first encore, ‘Kokomo Blues’, was a long-time favourite of John’s. And still the audience hadn’t had enough so the group came back to sing ‘Will Of Winsbury’ which may have been an-on-the spot choice by Jacqui. It brought the concert to a rather more mellow close than Kokomo Arnold’s rocker.
For an album that is forty-odd years old, A Maid In Bremen stills sounds fresh and relevant and, to my ear, captures a group of musicians at the height of their powers.
Label website: www.mig-music.de
‘A Maid In Bedlam’: