JOHNNY COPPIN – 30 Songs (Red Sky RSKCD122)

30 SongsCovering four decades 30 Songs, a new compilation from the Stroud-based singer-songwriter amply serves, were it needed, to underscore his status as one of the folk world’s finest alumni. Compiled as two CDs (that one’s red and the other blue surely a Beatles nod), with the second disc a personal acoustic selection, it spans material from his solo debut, 1978’s Roll On Dreamer, to 2014’s Borderland with a roll call of guest musicians that include Phil Beer, Mick Dolan, Mike Silver, Dik Cadbury, Bill Zorn and Pete Acock, not to mention actor Anthony Head who lends backing vocals to ‘Believe In You’ from 1979’s Going Back.

That appears amid the first fifteen tracks, the same source album also providing the Jackon Browne influenced ‘Part In My Heart’ and the hymnal-like ‘We Shall Not Pass’, both featuring Beer on violin. In fact the basic track for the opening uptempo and ‘When All Is Said And Done’ was recorded for the same sessions, eventually ending up on the now impossible to find 1986 charity album Where Would You Rather Be Tonight. It’s one of two charity recordings, the other being the gentle ballad ‘It’s With You That I Will Stay’, another winter hymnal-coloured number that appeared on 1989’s For Every Child.

His third album, Get Lucky has the lion’s share of selections, first up being the upbeat ‘New Day’, followed by the Eltonish piano-based ‘Catherine’, a ballad once rumoured Cliff Richard was considering recording, ‘Celebrate My Life’, ‘First Time Love’, another piano ballad, and, lifted as a single, ‘Everybody Knows’.

Still in the 80s, ‘Keep A Little Light’ comes from 1985’s Line of Blue while English Morning offers a dramatic setting of Ivor Gurney’s poem ‘East Wind’ before moving into the 90s and, featuring trumpet, another poet, this time Charles Causley whose ‘Innocents’Song’ was given a big building treatment on West Country Christmas and was later covered by Show of Hands.

1993’s Force of the River accounts for the remaining two numbers, an edited version of ‘Border County Road’, apparently written on the A49 between Leominster and Shrewsbury, presumably not while driving, and the near six-minute ‘May Not Be Far Away’, co-written with keyboardist John Broomhall and featuring showstopping exultant guitar solo from Mick Dolan.

Turning to Disc 2, it opens with ‘Rydal’, written after his first visit to Wordsworth’s home at Rydal Mount and featuring on Line Of Blue. The same album also yields ‘Hallelujah’, an anti-war number written during the Falkands War, and, written to commemorate the 375th anniversary of Bermuda, the potted history ‘Pride Of All The Ocean’ featuring just Coppin on acoustic guitar.

One of his finest albums, Forest And Vale And High Blue Hill was a setting of poems from Gloucestershire and the Cotswolds, represented here with a shimmering piano and violin setting of Leonard Clark’s ‘This Night The Stars’ celebrating the view across the Severn Vale from the Forest of Dean and, with Geoff March on cello, ‘Costwold Lad’, written by Frank Mansell for his father, the last of the line to farm near Bisley. He also goes to the Mansell well for ‘The Holy Brook’, an unpublished poem with March’s cello and Paul Burgess on violin from Early Morning.

Remaining with the poets, Edge Of Day was his 1989 collaboration with Laurie Lee, here showcased with the lovely keyboards accompanied ‘On Beacon Hill’ while, written for a production of The Merry Wives of Windsor, there’s ‘Come Live With Me And Be My Love’ which, despite being from 1997’s The Shakespeare Songs, was actually a poem by Christopher Marlowe, the other bard being John Drinkwater whose 1914 ‘Moonlit Apples’ was set to music for a show named A Slice of Apple and subsequently recorded for 2014’s Borderland with Burgess on recorder.

Fellow folkie Mike Silver provided the lyric and acoustic guitar for both the bluesy ‘Survival’ and the folksier ‘We Had It All’, both lifted from 2005’s The Winding Stair, the title track of which, a tribute to Dublin bookshop, also appears. Johnny also teamed with Silver for their collaborative 2007 album Breaking The Silence, playing guitar and sharing vocals on ‘Postcards From Cornwall’, co-written with Dave Bell for a Decameron reunion concert in memory of their early days in the county. It was after the band broke up that Coppin went solo and it’s from that debut album that the remaining two songs come, the fingerpicked ‘Never Lost For Love’ and, written after a tour of Ireland, one of his simplest and finest numbers, the piano and violin sway of ‘Angelus’.

His last studio album now three years ago, it’s time he was back in the studio, but, for now, both as an introduction to his work for newcomers and a treasury for the faithful, consider 30 Songs an early Christmas gift.

Mike Davies

Artist’s website:

Johnny Coppin and Mike Silver live – ‘Not For You’: