Over the years Tom and Barbara Brown have become elder statespersons of the West Country folk music scene and have done so without ever forgetting what it was that drew them (and me for that matter) to traditional music in the first place. This is important as we will see.
Just Another Day… is a collection of songs connected with Minehead and if you think that concentrating on one small Somerset town is limiting you couldn’t be more wrong. Twelve of these songs were collected by Cecil Sharp from just two sources – retired sea captains Lewis and Vickery – and were unearthed by Tom and Barbara while researching the three records of Short Sharp Shanties, a collection of songs collected by Sharp from John Short of Watchet just along the coast. Incidentally, if you haven’t heard this marvellous set you should do so immediately, but I digress. The point is that you never know what you’ll find unless you look and listen.
The other three songs come from The Minehead Harbour Maritime Heritage Project and this is where the importance of knowledge, experience and, yes, status comes in. The opening track, ‘A Minehead Lad’, was written by Tom and Barbara for the project to illustrate the period around the Great War. Listen to it blind and you might say it came from the tradition; told you were wrong, you might hazard that Kipling had a hand in the lyric. For the final, title track, a song “from” World War II, Tom nicked the tune ‘Lili Marlene’– cheeky but with the ring of authenticity. You can’t fake that feeling for what is right.
The supporting musicians and singers are long-time friends: Anahata, Mary Eagle, Keith Kendrick, Barry Lister and Paul Sartin among them, and they play with the ease of experience and familiarity. You may recognise some of the titles but the versions will often be unfamiliar. Critics may call Just Another Day…old fashioned but that’s part of the joy of folk song. Here are choruses you can sing along with and stories to keep you enthralled – imagine, if you can, hearing ‘The Bonny Bunch O Roses O’ for the first time – and don’t say that a song like ‘Franklin’ isn’t relevant. Nearly 170 years on there are reports that one of the expedition’s ships has just been found. I’m sorry if this has turned into a seminar but Just Another Day…reminds me why I’ve been listening to this music for nearly fifty years and that’s more than enough to make me recommend it.
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.