Jim Causley returns to his roots for his Lockdown-2 album. Devonshire Roses follows Dumnonia – recorded ten years ago – by collecting together twenty songs from Devon, mostly traditional but with one of two surprises.
He begins with ‘The Bell Ringing’. It is usually sung rather solemnly with the chorus drawn out to give everyone an opportunity to join in. Jim speeds it up and adopts a rich Devon accent giving it an extra rustic charm – is there nothing he can’t add that infectious grin to? At one point I began to suspect that he was having us on and had employed a ringer to take the lead but he assures me that it is all him. In fact Jim regularly does dialect readings at events across Devon and runs the annual Jan Stewer Night, celebrating the work of Albert John Coles. I hope you’re paying attention; this will be important later.
As if to establish the parameters of the record the second track is ‘The Rounding Of Cape Horn’. This is generally known by another title but as the Amphitrite begins the song in Plymouth Sound I reckon that Devonians can call it whatever they wish. ‘Bampton Fair’ is next – another jolly tale of rural life with a wry observation about the election of the king. You’ll notice that the farmer who is the central character doesn’t actually do any horse-trading. ‘Childe The Hunter’ is a complete contrast, a local tragedy.
‘What About A Little Drop O Cider’ is the first of two singalongs written by A J Coles, although he has also been credited with the closing song, ‘Widecombe Fair’. ‘The Blue Flame’ concerns a West Country tradition that the souls of the dead appear as flickering blue lights. Jim pairs it with the maid’s lament, ‘Queen Of Hearts’. ‘Old Cobley’ will sound familiar but it was collected two decades before Baring Gould published ‘Widecombe Fair’ and made it the “official” version.
‘Ockington’ is a sombre murder ballad; ‘The Dolton Boys’ is another bell-ringing song, set to the tune of ‘The Grand Old Duke Of York’, and ‘Blackingstone Ravens’ is a version of ‘Twa Corbies’. These are three songs unique to Devon as is ‘The Mallard’ which I don’t think I’ve ever heard outside the West Country. This is a cumulative nonsense song and Jim turns in the most extraordinary vocal performance plumbing the depth of his range and Devon accent and dialect skills. He’s combined several versions – and there are a lot – and starts at the proper end with the toe, finishing with the bill.
While we’re still grinning at that we have ‘Out Stepped Mother And Me’, another of A J Coles’ songs, which I’m sure I’ve heard before but can’t place. ‘My Lady’s Coach’ is a Dartmoor ghost story and then we have the patriotic ‘Devon Glorious Devon’, written by two knights of the realm and which only a true Devonian could sing with a straight face. Jim manages that admirably. ‘Fremington Great Meat Pie’ is another comic song – a sort of ‘Derby Ram’ – set to a calypso rhythm complete with glockenspiel.
‘Twenty One Years On Dartmoor’ is the real surprise. Jim’s notes state that it was written by Bob Miller in 1930 and travelled all over the world and much mutated – in the American version the jail in question is in Birmingham. ‘The Slapton Smuggler’ and ‘Tavistock Goozey Fair’ are both fairly well known but the next surprise is the 15th century ‘Exeter Carol’. Finally we have ‘Widecombe Fair’. Jim sticks with convention and credits it as traditional although there is the suspicion that it was assembled by Sabine Baring Gould from any number of versions.
Jim plays all manner of keyboard and keyed instruments and is supported by Matt Norman and Nick Whyke who provide all the strings together with eleven more vocalists – all recorded in splendid isolation. Nothing is over-arranged and but for the necessary multi-tracking of Jim’s instruments it could almost be a live performance, particularly when the choir gets the wind in its sails. For me, Devonshire Roses is a trip down memory lane to a time and place now fifty years ago and because of that I’ll declare that I love this record. Best of all Jim has another thirty songs already recorded for the third part of his Devon trilogy.
Artist’s website: www.jimcausley.co.uk
There are no videos from Devonshire Roses on-line yet but this song from last August seems to embody the correct spirit.
‘Glorious Devon Morning’ – live at Sidmouth on-line: