Subtitled A Concluding Event, Coda marks the beginning of the end for Coope Boyes & Simpson. They’ll be playing some gigs next year to say farewell and individually and collectively they are involved in numerous projects so I doubt we’ve seen the last of them. It’s hard to credit but they are all grandfathers and have been together as a trio for a quarter of a century but if this really is the end of the road it’s a damn good way to go out.
Coda feels very much like a CBS retrospective made up entirely of new songs. Themes and styles are drawn from every aspect of their career. The opening track, ‘The Avenging Angel’ is a lyric by Jim Boyes set to the tune of ‘Palms Of Victory’ – old hymn tunes are never too far away and there is much borrowing of traditional tunes here. The subject is the succession of wars in the Middle East and the song has the fire in its belly that was evident on their first album, Funny Old World.
From recent projects come ‘From Hereabout Hill/May Song’ sung in the Michael Morpurgo show Where My Wellies Take Me – another blend of modern and traditional – and Boo Hewerdine’s ‘The Man That I Am’, re-recorded from The Ballads Of Child Migration. The unadulterated tradition gives us ‘Napoleon’s Dream’ and ‘Flandyke Shore’ and Jim Boyes twice refers back to traditional themes. The first is ‘The Drovers’ Way’, a celebration of the green lanes that were the chief routes for moving livestock. There is a suggestion at the end that when everything goes pants the green lanes will reappear. The second is ‘The Bright Ploughshare’ which sounds a bit like the mythical rural idyll also seems to carry a warning for the future.
The trio takes a similar view of the fishing industry in ‘Bound By The Fishing’, playfully working in the names of musicians up and down the east coast. Lester Simpson’s ‘Twilight Hunter’ deconstructs Stan Rogers’ ‘Northwest Passage’ as he considers the fate of the Inuit who are now becoming a tourist attraction and considers mass migration in ‘If We Were Them’. It’s not all deadly serious, however, and CBS return to Michael Marra with his delightfully surreal ‘Frida Kahlo’s Visit To The Taybridge Bar’.
There is directness to this album which takes the listener back to Barry, Jim and Lester’s early days as a trio. They have done much more complicated things: The Peace Concerts, Christmas shows, the Great War presentations and perhaps the ultimate in traditional singing that was Triple Echo but here we have three voices with those unmistakable harmonies aided only by “The No Master’s Voices” and you can guess who they might be. Coda is a glorious finale to a long career.
In 1993, three blokes from South Yorkshire and Derbyshire, with a name like a firm of solicitors, released an album of acappella songs full of social comment and (in the words of Folk Roots) ‘harmonies you could chew’.
They were, of course, Coope Boyes and Simpson, and the album was Funny Old World. Q Magazine named it as their Roots Album of the Year in 1994.
Now, twenty three years later, with a career that has encompassed at least a dozen albums, numerous tours and festival appearances, as well as a Folk Awards nomination, Coope Boyes and Simpson are set to release what will be their final studio album.
Coda will be a collection of songs, mainly self-penned or drawn from the tradition, covering issues such as refugees, Iraq and climate change. With an anger undimmed, Coope Boyes and Simpson are returning to their roots and completing the circle that started with Funny Old World.
The album is set for a September 2016 release, and Coope Boyes and Simpson will be undertaking a UK tour in October and November, with an album launch at Musicport.
May 2017 will see Coope Boyes and Simpson embark on their farewell tour at venues throughout the UK. The tour will be a celebration of their career, and will feature material from across their entire repertoire.
Robert Riby Boyes from Scarborough was known to his family as Croppie. Like so many of his generation he was called upon to fight for King and country and, like so many of his generation, his was a short war. He was one of the lucky ones: fighting in Belgium in September 1917, wounded and taken prisoner in March 1918 and interned in Switzerland until the Armistice was signed. He was home by Christmas and in those few months he had also travelled through France, Italy and Germany.
Croppie was Jim Boyes’ grandfather. He never talked about his wartime experiences and as Jim became more involved in the history of the Great War he set out to research his story, told here with a simplicty that might be considered typically Yorkshire – just his voice with piano and accordion accompaniments by Belinda O’Hooley. Jim has previously written and recorded many songs about the war and one, ‘Down Upon The Dugout Floor’, appears twice here, firstly as a sort of overture and secondly as part of the narrative.
There are two loans among the songs. ‘La Ballata Dell’Eroe’ by Fabrizio de André marks Croppie’s time in Italy and Bram Vermeulen’s ‘Testament’ which also acknowledges Jim’s uncle, killed in a crashed bomber in WWII. Jim also uses tunes from hymns and popular songs of the period adapted with his own lyrics. He also pairs his own ‘Where You Belong’ with an unsentimental version of ‘Scarborough Fair’ to represent the pre-war period. For ‘Along The Menin Road’ he borrows both the tune and structure of ‘Banks Of The Nile’, effectively bringing the song into the twentieth century and adding the voice of the wife left behind at home. It packs a lot into five minutes.
Despite the closeness of the story, Jim somehow manages to remain dispassionate except perhaps in expressing the relief of impending freedom in ‘Where You Belong’. There’s gallows humour in his version of ‘Beside The Seaside’ and ‘The Train Song’ but he doesn’t camp it up and the homesickness of ‘Will I See Your Face Again’ is expressed in matter-of-fact terms, vividly described but without histronics. Belinda’s accompaniments are perfectly judged with just enough decoration to complement Jim’s lyrics.
It is difficult and perhaps unnecessary to offer a pat summary of Sensations Of A Wound. It requires time and reflection but it never allows your attention to wander in telling a story that may have seemed commonplace almost a century ago but which, with hindsight, seems quite remarkable.
From his home town of Scarborough in Yorkshire, Robert Riby Boyes’ First War journeys took him to the Western Front in France, to Belgium and the Battle of Passchendaele, by cattle truck to the South of France and the mountains of the Italy Front in winter, to the Front in Northern France again, and then further still …
Jim Boyes, from the critically acclaimed a cappella trio Coope Boyes & Simpson, and also Robert’s grandson, says his grandfather, who was known as “Croppie” in the family, never talked about his wartime experiences. It was only when Jim began to write songs and research the history of the First War for performances for the Flemish Arts organisation, Peace Concerts Passendale, that a fuller picture of the long trail of Private Boyes of the 23rd Middlesex Regiment began to emerge.
Bringing together Croppie Boyes own first-hand accounts, Jim’s newly written and traditional songs and Belinda O’Hooley’s (O’Hooley & Tidow, Nic Jones Trio) subtle, innovative piano accompaniments, Sensations of a Wound is an original and moving story of a Yorkshire soldier caught up in the enormity of the First War.
Sensations Of A Wound is released by No Masters on February 2nd 2015 and Jim will be touring the album in February and again in November.