Based in Stoke–on-Trent, in some ways Walker and Pfeiffer are an Anglo-German version of Skinner and T’witch, mixing playfulness with serious social comment. Both sharing vocals, he on guitar and she on recorder, Irish flute and Tibetan cymbals, Auf Wiedersehen, Me Duck, their fourth album, also features contributions from Ciaran Algar on fiddle and Paul Hutchinson of Belshazzar’s Feast on accordion.
Karen on lead and with carousel accordion backing, it kicks off in social commentary mode with the chorus-friendly, five-minute waltzing ‘Our Golden Age’, a reflection on the decline of Stoke-on-Trent, or any similar town, from its industrial peak, “before someone ripped out the page”, with the memories of a miner, trade unionist steel worker and a potter, referencing how the Wedgwood factory made pots for Queen Mary, who “all left their own fingermarks”. Paul takes over for the gently fickerpicked ‘Where I Live’, a love song to his home town (“where I live is what I am”), Karen and Paul returning for another love song, a rearrangement of last year’s single, ‘What If My Pockets Were Empty?’, a poignant song about homelessness (“What if my pockets were empty and no more could I hold my head high? /Could I still claim a seat at your table? /Would I still be that glint in your eye?”) and, a reminder, that we’re all “just a payday away” and, as Phil Ochs said, “There but for good fortune, down that slippery road go I”.
Their playful side surfaces, with hints of Ralph McTell ragtime, brushed drums, double bass and Ciaran on fiddle, on ‘The Rejected Songwriters’ Club’, the title of which pretty sums itself up as Paul sings about songwriting competitions you pay to enter but where the judges are more interested in commercial appeal than poetry, so you should “always set yourself up for a snub”. That clearly born of bitter experience, he continues on a more overly autobiographical note with ‘The Answer’ on which, accompanying himself on fingerpicked guitar with Karen on Irish flute, he reminisces his days working in a pottery factory, packing it in to follow his musical dreams, getting fucked over by the corporate machine in London and his ‘Baltimore friend’ who disappeared as soon as the money did, giving it all up for a proper job but then the fire being rekindled and, after 22 years in a business suit, swapping it for a Martin guitar, returning home and meeting Karen. More playfulness ensues, this time Karen on lead, with the bluesy ‘No Time (The Facebook Blues)’ about how social media eats up your day before, as with all good folk acts, they offer up a murder yarn, here The Ballad of the Queen of May on which, to a jaunty strum, Paul recounts the fictional 1890 tale of Aileen Palmer who is crowned ‘Queen of May’ only to be done in by her jealous rival.
They step away from the originals, for, Paul providing fingerpicked troubadour backing, Karen to deliver a fine take on Joan Baez’s classic song about her affair with Dylan, ‘Diamonds and Rust’, a staple of their live set, her with added fiddle colour. Then, accompanied by Karen’s alto recorder duetting with Algar’s fiddle, Matt Bishop’s electric guitar and Chris Cliff’s double bass, Paul sings the brooding dark-hued ‘Down To Numbers’, a cautionary message about life that poses the existential question if, when we look back, “is it only down to numbers/Or will we be remembered for the dash?”.
Two further covers wind up the studio recordings, first with Karen again on lead and flute for a tender, slow swaying reading of John Spillane’s love letter to County Clare ‘Under That Old Clare Moon’, followed, opening a capella with wind effects backdrop, by a haunting interpretation of the 1933 protest classic ‘Peat Bog Soldiers/Die Moorsoldaten’, the pair singing alternative verses, she in German, he in English, their voices coming together for the chorus, the song written (by Johann Esser and Wolfgang Langhoff ), composed (by Rudi Goguel) and first performed in a Nazi concentration camp by prisoners and today an anthem for the Peace movement.
Its first appearance on disc, it ends, as per their concerts, with a live recording of the swayalong playful end of the year parting glass title track (“So, that’s it for another year/Goodbye, my friends, good luck/We’ll see you in a field somewhere/Auf Wiedersehen, me Duck!”), interpolating ‘Show Me The Way To Go Home’, the audience in full voice for the finale.
I confess, I’d not come across the duo before, but if they ever turn up in my neck of the woods, I’m definitely keen to discover more.
Artists’ website: www.paulwalkermusic.co.uk
‘Peat Bog Soldiers’ – official video: