Well, as we always say, it would not be Cropredy without our annual Chris Leslie interview.
Darren Beech and Paul Johnson tracked Mr. Leslie down on the Friday, luckily just before he was about to do a runner in the pink buggy to go off and do a gig with the ‘Banana Splits’.
In the interview, we talk about how the act of walking fuels the art of song-writing, the process of writing the ‘what Chris Leslie has been up to piece’ for the Cropredy programme each year and how this year’s article conjured up the visions and words of the John Tams version of Ewan MacColl’s ‘The Manchester Rambler’.
We also talk about the ‘Fairport Extension’ set, why Fairport are the best backing band in the world, the much loved and dearly missed Maart, we revisit the 25th Anniversary 1992 Cropredy year and remember when Robert Plant played a very special set as part of that celebration.
The interview should start playing automatically, if not click on the play button below to listen.
The Reckoning, John Tams’ third solo album, is the latest deluxe re-issue marking Topic Records’ 80th anniversary. Originally released in 2005, it was the last of a trio of albums that might fall into the singer-songwriter category and the culmination, as far as recording goes, of a career that now stretches back fifty years. Tams has also been an actor, composer and musical director among other roles he’s taken on over the years but is best known for his membership of Muckram Wakes, The Albion Band and Home Service.
The first thing that struck me on listening to The Reckoning again was how gentle it is. Tams is a political thinker but he doesn’t rant in song, preferring to let the ideas enter your mind by a process of osmosis. Take the opening song, ‘Written In The Book’. On the one hand it seems to be a condemnation of the false hopes of the sixties: “Lennon and McCartney have a lot to answer for” and on the other it’s an attack on Thatcherism. ‘Safe House’ is equally complex. It’s clearly about the dispossessed but are they immigrants, Travellers, or the unemployed detritus of industrial decline? Probably all three.
There are several traditional songs here – at least they were once traditional and Tams labels them as such despite the work he’s put into them. ‘Amelia’ is absolutely gorgeous: obviously in shanty form but it leaves us wondering whether it’s ‘Amelia’ who is out on the sea or her sailor who is trying to get back to her. ‘Bitter Withy’ is modernised with Graeme Taylor’s Dobro over Andy Seward’s banjo and ‘A Man Of Constant Sorrow’ is transferred to the Derbyshire and Yorkshire coalfields and 1984.
‘The Sea’ is a song cycle which includes ‘One More Day’, a song that Tams has made his own, and the amalgamation of ‘A Sailor’s Life’ with the chorus of ‘A Sailor’s Alphabet’. The last track on the original release was ‘Including Love’, a decidedly American blues decorated by Steve Dawson’s trumpet. It sounded slightly incongruous then but with the three “postscript” tracks taken from or inspired by productions of John Steinbeck works it seems more appropriate. The first of the three is the cheekily titled ‘Sweet Home Oklahoma’ and the second is ‘No Luck At All’, both featuring Taylor on second guitar. Both of these post-date the first release of The Reckoning but the final track is a gorgeous big band version of Albert E Brumley’s ‘I’ll Fly Away’ from 1990 (remember Plainsong’s version?) and among the familiar names on board you have to single out Trevor Dunford’s lead guitar playing.
If this is the last of Topic’s celebratory reissues, it’s not a bad place to stop but, you know, I can think of a dozen more candidates to continue the series.
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Derbyshire is famous for many things to those in the know, but for the casual mainstream music fan the county that gave the world Rolls-Royce has added little to history’s record collection, aside from one hit wonders White Town and Candy Flip.
In folk circles, however, it is a different story and to mark the 12th year of the city’s folk festival it held its first-ever Made in Derbyshire evening, showcasing three of the county’s foremost talents.
It helps enormously that two of the talents are the festival’s patrons, five-time BBC Radio Two Folk Award winner John Tams and the highly féted Lucy Ward, with the trio completed by festival regulars and local favourites Cupola.
And so it was Cupola, the trio made up of Doug Ounson, Sarah Matthews and Oli Matthews, who kicked off the evening, good-humouredly persevering through the early gremlins in the sound system to showcase their mix of traditional three-part harmony English and European folk, drawing on a song list built up during their 10 year career.
Cupola are accomplished musicians with a worldwide following and this was just one of three different manifestations the band adopt. Later that evening they performed at another venue as DanceCupola, while halfway through their set they invited Lucy Ward on stage to form Cupola:Ward, performing the dark and twisted Willie’s Lady from their 2016 collaborative album Bluebell.
Their last song paved the way for DanceCupola by blending three up-tempo compositions written by Doug Ounson before the stage was set for John Tams, in tandem with long-time collaborator Barry Coope on keyboard.
Beginning with ‘Only Remembered’ from the National Theatre’s production of War Horse, John and Barry went onto deliver a virtuoso set interspersing their songs with easy and witty patter, passing comment on pretty much everything from John’s creaking limbs and forgetfulness to Teresa May and the parlous state of world politics.
Fitting to the geographical flavour of the night, John didn’t forget his roots, recalling a meeting 40 years ago at Sudbury Hall near Ashbourne with George Fradley from Cubley, before performing his song ‘Nowt Do To Wi’ Me’, with plenty of audience participation.
Later, he gave new life to Ewan McColl’s gorgeous ‘The Manchester Rambler’, inspired by the Kinder Mass Trespass of 1932, an act of civil disobedience on the slopes of Derbyshire’s highest peak which gave rise to the Ramblers Association. There was even time for a rendition of Lionel Richie’s ‘Hello’ – sung in a broad Derbyshire vernacular.
John and Barry brought their set to a close with ‘Will I See Thee More’ and ‘Over The Hills And Far Away’, earning a standing ovation and reasserting John’s status as Derby Folk Festival’s favourite eminence gris.
And so to Lucy Ward, the former local schoolgirl with four albums and a host of awards under her belt, who was back to the folk scene after a short hiatus.
Singing the stories of the people of Derbyshire is one of the joys of her career, Lucy had explained backstage before the show, especially her best-known composition Alice in the Bacon Box, which she has performed all over the world and which, inevitably, she performed in the heart of her home city too.
But first, with her customary greeting “Ay Up!” she began her set with material from her new album, Pretty Warnings, including ‘Silver Morning, Sunshine Child’, a tender and moving tribute to her 20-month-old son, and ‘Cold Caller’ – which, she explained, the audience was free to either interpret as a title inspired by the story within the song or by an unsolicited PPI inquiry.
Backed by her four-piece band, Lucy mixed up her set expertly, weaving in a jazzy feel to ‘Maria Martin’ and, by her own admission, a heavy glam rock influence on ‘Marching Through The Green Grass’.
And, just to keep the audience on their toes, she threw in a folk version of Elvis Presley’s ‘A Little Less Conversation’, a contrast to the heart-breaking content of ‘Mari Vach’, a bygone tragedy brought achingly to life.
Her performance was a prime example of someone totally at home – in more ways than one – and at the height of her powers, and as a showcase of Derbyshire’s musical talent, her triumphant return to action, John’s musicianship and storytelling and Cupola’s uplifting melodies, the evening was a resounding success.
Which makes it even more of a shame that such a friendly, well-run and increasingly popular event has to be held in large, slightly chilly, tent which, as John Tams had explained, is so because its usual venue, the city council-owned Assembly Rooms, is still closed following a fire in the neighbouring multi-storey car park in 2014.
“It stands like a large empty tomb,” he remarked, pointing out that to reopen it would apparently cost £10m, when, in his opinion, all it requires is a good going over inside with a dustpan and brush.
And so, while John wore a smart jacket and waistcoat and Lucy Ward looked every inch a star in a sparkling top, the audience who’d paid their money to enjoy their talents were doomed to sit hunched up in their coats to keep out the autumnal cold.
Fully four years after the fire, it all feels a bit embarrassing – the festival and its heroic organisers deserve so much better.
I’m guessing that A Garland For Joey is an album that Bob Fox has wanted to make for a long time. Many fine musicians have taken on the role of Songman but Bob has the gravitas to take the part from that of the provider of incidental music to the play’s narrator.
Subtitled The War Horse Songbook, the record is described as a re-telling and it is certainly a reinvention. Bob puts aside the melodeon that he was compelled to learn for the stage and mostly returns to the guitar providing some big arrangement. He is supported on three tracks by the Carlton Main Frickley Colliery Band and on one by Sam Fisher’s cornet. The garland on the cover and the opening song ‘Snow Falls’ gives the record a Christmassy feel which is reinforced by ‘The Devonshire Carol’ or, at least its title, which both closes the songbook and leads into the first song of the postscript, ‘The Cherry Cheeked Optimists (Part One)’. The second part of the song is anything but optimistic, of course, and it sets the scene for ‘Scarecrow’ which closes the album. Given that the original version pre-dated the premiere of War Horse by some thirty years it was a remarkably prescient piece of writing by John Tams.
Religion was a much more important aspect of life a century ago but ‘Only Remembered’ has transcended time and faith to replace ‘The Parting Glass’ as the farewell song of choice. ‘Rolling Home’ is an expression of Tams’ socialist manifesto and is an uplifting mirror image of the bleak ‘Scarecrow’ but both mark the beginning of the end of deference to our “betters”. The traditional ‘Scarlet And The Blue’ is the jolliest song on the record with a jaunty tune matching an optimistic lyric, contrasting with the sombre ‘Stand To’ which follows it – another quasi-religious song – and Tams also borrows the carol ‘Lullee Lullay’ while maintaining its original form as a lullaby.
Hearing these songs sung in full and in sequence tells the story, not necessarily of Joey, but of the war itself and stand alone without the magnificent puppets and the action on stage. A Garland For Joey will be on a good many Christmas lists this year.
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John Tams has announced his retirement from Home Service – we thank him mightily for all his work with us and wish him well!
“A combination of circumstance not least and most recently an 8-part television drama series has drawn me reluctantly to leave Home Service effective from September 13th 2015”, said John. “This decision, whilst difficult, aims to avoid compromising the future for Home Service at a time when my restricted diary would make forward planning impossible. There are no issues beyond this and I leave my friends and colleagues, some of almost 40 years standing, in the certain knowledge that they are ‘The best damn band in the land.’ I send them my fondest thoughts and support for their continuing success. I’ll miss you lads!”
We are excited to announce that we have now regrouped with two new members and a revamped brass section.
Replacing Tam would never be an easy task, but with John Kirkpatrick joining our ranks we have found exactly the calibre of character and musicianship required. John will take over the lead vocal role and add his inimitably masterful accordion.
Also, we must announce the emigration of Jonathan Davie to Thailand. Huge gratitude and best wishes are due to Jon, whose replacement has also taken a lot of consideration. However, we can heartily welcome the wonderful Rory McFarlane (ex Richard Thompson band) to join us on bass.
Furthermore, now we have John K on board, Steve King will be not only be gracing the keyboard, but freed to stand tall amongst the brass section and exhibit his skills on tenor saxophone, helping to create an even more dynamic sound. The new line-up has already begun recording a new album at Morden Shoals Studio – watch this space to follow its development!
We shall miss you both greatly Tam and Jon, but know that you both wish the band all good fortune in its future voyage of discovery…
Our very own Dai Jeffries caught up with Graeme Taylor last month to talk about his pivotal role in Home Service, the bands history, his accident and his other theater and musical projects.
The band has had quite a journey since the highly successful festival season in the summer of 2011 which put them back at the epicenter of the folk rock map, Home Service was then nominated in two categories for Radio 2’s Annual Folk and Roots Awards, where they secured ‘Best Live Act’ at The Lowry, Manchester in February 2012.
The reunion of this classic band came about after the discovery, in early 2011, of some previously unheard live recordings made by their faithful sound engineer on a couple of cassette tapes that had languished in the back of his wardrobe for the last 25 years. These recordings, made at the Cambridge Folk Festival in 1986, exhibited a power and commitment that was never fully captured in the studio, so a live album release immediately became inevitable.
Home Service was originally formed from the creative nucleus of the Albion Band line-up that produced the classic “Rise Up Like the Sun” album, singer-songwriter John Tams feeling the need to explore more contemporary themes in his writing and its musical interpretation. Songs like “Walk my Way”, “Alright Jack” and ”Sorrow” were anthemic observations on the unfairness of Thatcherite Britain and its social inequalities. The crushing irony is that they sound as potent now as they did then, thereby making this band’s work as relevant as ever.
Listen to Part 1 of the Graeme Taylor interview below:
Listen to Part 2 of the Graeme Taylor interview below:
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