JOHN KIRKPATRICK – Joy & Jubilation (Fledg’ling FLED 3112)

Joy & JubilationThis album has been available for a while but I have an aversion to reviewing Christmas records before the clocks go back. I’ve held out for as long as I could. Joy And Jubilation is the latest in a long line of John Kirkpatrick’s themed albums – the theme being, of course, the winter season. John is supported, sparingly, by son Benji on guitar and mandolin and a host of chorus singers to help raise the rafters.

They are first heard on the opening track, ‘Stir The Fire’, a new version of the song first recorded by John on Wassail! which considered the pagan aspects of the midwinter celebrations. It provides the collection with a mighty start and it’s followed by the traditional ‘Our Jolly Wassail’ from Cornwall. There are wassailing songs from all over the country but this one had so far eluded me.

From wassailing we move on to sword dance, another winter tradition. ‘The Handling Of Your Sword’ is John’s new take on a calling-on song, praising the dancing skill of the participants rather than their heroism in battle. John counts up to seven dancers which links to the unique ‘Papa Stour Sword Dance Tune’ appearing next – a triple hornpipe with seven repeats. As far as this recording is concerned, ‘The Trees Are All Bare’ began with The Copper Family but John has rearranged it for choir with, he says, a great deal of tinkering to fit fugueing variations. ‘The Ivy And The Holly’ isn’t the traditional carol but an old song written by John for Song For A Dark Queen. The original version is now lost giving JK the freedom to tinker with it.

Finally we reach the Christian festival with a new setting of ‘Brightest And Best’ using a very danceable tune that isn’t quite the one that church-goers will know. It’s a cracker. ‘Shepherds In Their Field A-Biding’ is an alternative view of that part of the Nativity story written by John for yet another choir. He points out that the explanatory notes that accompany ‘Emmanuel’ in hymnals tend to be longer than the hymn itself and set out to construct a version which is wonderful to sing even though some of the words come straight from the Old Testament. The chorus singers really come into their own on this track.

‘The Joys Of Mary’ is a version of the familiar song with the customary seven joys and it’s followed, in a spirit of equality, by ‘The Joys Of Joseph’ written by John. The title track is a set of new words set to ‘In Dulci Jubilo’ and its upbeat style carries over into ‘God Rest You Merry’ – not the familiar tune but one that was once popular in Cornwall. The album closes with ‘Chariots’, another song commissioned for the Wassail! tour as was the opener. John has recast it without the band used on the original and smoothed it out although there is still a strong beat from a squeezebox underneath the massed voices.

If you’re looking for a Christmas album that isn’t too religious but is fun to listen to, Joy & Jubilation comes highly recommended.

Dai Jeffries

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‘God Rest Ye Merry’: