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.
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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.
Hark Hark – a festive feast to send you into Christmas with a feelgood factor. A rich mixture of old and new with a firm foundation of traditional Yorkshire and Derbyshire carols, the album is augmented by spicy instrumentals showing the links between carols and dance tunes, along with humour, original songs and joyful instrumentals.
Christmas comes but once a year, which means we only get one chance annually to see the Coope, Simpson, Fraser & Freya Christmas show – a pity, since the eclectic, funny, poignant and clever mixture would work even stripped of its seasonal theme. Luckily, they are releasing an album which captures the magic of the show.
This is not just a bunch of folk with good voices belting out traditional carols. It’s a welcoming hotch-potch of stories, poetry and jokes threaded through with carolling and wassailing, both acapella and accompanied by a proper bagful of instruments, blown, plucked, bowed and struck.
The show is rich in the Variety tradition – there are various nods to music hall – and steeped in folk’s past and present, and the way the show veers effortlessly between solemnity and silliness makes it a wonderful, and wonderfully warm, winter night out.
My favourite, favourite Carol Singers, (Natalie Wheen, Classic FM)
I know it isn’t done to review an event like this and I have no intention of doing so. But I do feel that a concert that meant so much to so many people should be reported.
Sarah Morgan died, suddenly but not unexpectedly, on 14th September 2013. In her last days she laboured to complete her doctoral thesis under the watchful eyes of her friends and her doctorate was awarded posthumously. That was the sort of her person she was. It transpires that the idea for a memorial event was discussed before she died and Sarah even made a list of the people she wanted to appear. It was thought by some – those who had given up singing seriously several years ago – that this was Sarah’s last little joke but not one person refused the invitation to appear. It fell to Sarah’s final musical partners, Moira Craig and Carolyn Robson to make the idea a reality on April 13th at Winchester Guildhall.
The Community Choir movement, with which Sarah was so heavily involved in recent years was represented by five groups: choirs from Winchester, Alton and Petersfield, The Spotlight Singers and The Andover Museum Loft Singers. I believe Sarah founded three of these and their repertoires included songs that Sarah arranged, published and sometimes wrote tunes for.
Friends old and new filled the bill. From the past we heard Val Higson, a member of Curate’s Egg alongside Sarah way back in the 1970s and Sheila March, formerly of Bread And Roses, Sarah’s first all-female group. Representing the younger generation was Susannah Starling who proved what a remarkable accompanying instrument the double bass can be. From America came Mary Eagle who first came here thirty years ago and captured everyone’s heart and her friend and fellow Appalachian singer Joe Penland. Sarah’s musical connections covered a lot of ground.
Major names who travelled across the country for their ten or fifteen minutes on stage included Lester Simpson, John Kirkpatrick, The Askew Sisters, Ron Taylor, Jeff Gillett, Eddie Upton and Grace Notes. Mary Humphreys & Anahata, Mick Ryan, Tom & Barbara Brown and Doug Bailey didn’t have quite so far to travel and neither did Belshazzar’s Feast who closed their set and the concert proper with ‘Home Lads Home’ – words by Cecily Fox Smith and music by Sarah Morgan.
No memorial is over without a big finish and ‘Only Remembered’, also sung at Sarah’s funeral, had become a sort of theme. “Only remembered, only remembered, only remembered for what we have done.” Sarah did so much.