THE JOHN RICHARDS BAND – Hard Times And Heroes (JRB JRB0723)

Hard Times And HeroesWhen John Richards released his most recent solo CD, he expected it to be his last album. When I reviewed that album for this site, I commented that “I can only hope that John has enough songs in him not yet written to lure him back into the studio at some point.” Happily, it turns out that his songwriting days were indeed not over, and John is back with a new CD, this time released as by The John Richards Band: it’s called Hard Times And Heroes.

The band consists of John himself on vocals, guitar, bouzouki and baritone guitar; Emma Jones on vocals; Jim Sutton on double bass, bass ukulele, keys, concertina and vocals; and Julia Disney on violin, viola and vocals. They’re joined on two tracks by Ryan Pinson on percussion (tracks 9 and 12), and on one track by Brian Wilkes on vocals (track 4). All the songs are John’s, but tracks 2 and 6 also include traditional tunes, the Morris tune ‘Constant Billy’, while ‘Margie McCall’ includes the jig ‘The Lilting Banshee’.

Here’s the track list.

  1. ‘No Ordinary Day’ focuses on overcoming the problems of love in a divided community.
  2. ‘Jasper and Hercules’ / ‘Constant Billy’ includes the well-known and well-regarded Morris tune. Appropriately, since the story of Jasper Smith’s fiddle and his family is intertwined with the history of the Headington Quarry Morris team. John has many excellent songs with a historical theme but this one also benefits from his family’s links with the “King of the Gypsy Fiddlers.”
  3. ‘Freedom In Retreat’ is an attractive melody carrying words about moving on.
  4. ‘Half Truths And Lies’ points to the prevalence of media misinformation: in the 21st century, that genie is, I suspect, never going back into its receptacle.
  5. ‘One Famous Son’ is about a certain footballer’s child poverty campaigning, and a worthy tribute.
  6. ‘Margie McCall’ is a fascinating tale: I won’t go into the story to avoid giving away the sting in the tale. The playout piece is ‘The Lilting Banshee’, a traditional Irish jig.
  7. ‘Let’s Try Not To Think About Tomorrow’, though the title may remind you of ‘The Trimdon Grange Explosion’, is about a more personal tragedy, yet has an optimistic message in the chorus. Lovely.
  8. ‘Sydney Cove’ is another song with a family connection, this time to an ancestor who was transported to Sydney Cove, the real site of the penal colony that became the city of Sydney, though the abortive intent to site it in Botany Bay seems immovably implanted into the folk memory.
  9. ‘Eighteen Black Eagles’ concerns the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin and the 18 black American athletes who between them won 14 medals, but went home to the same old segregation and didn’t receive presidential recognition until much, much later. (Jesse Owens received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1976, but it was Obama who acknowledged the contribution of the other 17.)
  10. ‘Battle Of Colours’ is also about the 1936 Olympics, a moving song focusing more on the Nazi frustration at the ‘affront’ to Aryan supremacy and Jesse Owens’ friendship with German athlete Luz Long.
  11. ‘Who’s Gonna Bring My Baby Home Tonight?’ has quite a country-ish feel, demonstrating John’s versatility as a writer.
  12. The title of ‘How Do You Sleep Now?’ may recall the musical feuding between John Lennon and Paul McCartney after the breakup of the Beatles, but actually addresses something much less trivial, the shocking behaviour and attitudes of those in authority.

There is a reason that so many of John Richards’ songs have been covered by folk luminaries such as Fairport Convention and Downes and Beer who will no doubt be regarding this CD with interest. I’m delighted to report that he has not lost his knack for writing songs with fascinating stories and catchy choruses, well sung (particularly by Emma Jones), harmonized and played. If you’re nostalgic, like me, for the very British school of songwriting represented by Bill Caddick, Peter Bond et al, but haven’t come across John Richards before, you may very well enjoy this album.

David Harley

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