JOHN RICHARDS – Bring Back The Spring (Working Joe Music WJMCD2019)

Bring Back The SpringJohn Richards is credited on his new CD Bring Back The Spring as “John Richards, Songwriter”. And it is indeed quite possible that you have never heard John himself or the many bands with which he has been associated. But there is a good chance you know songs of his through versions recorded by Robin Dransfield, Downes and Beer, Mike Silver, Fairport Convention and other luminaries. Nevertheless, he seems to work tirelessly around the West Midlands despite his intention, announced some years ago, to concentrate on songwriting rather than continuing to gig with the full John Richards Band. Bring Back The Spring reflects his intention to leave behind as few uncompleted songs as possible, and a good thing too. His own vocals, guitar and bouzouki are augmented by a galaxy of fine musicians and singers, including daughter Emma Jones, Mike Silver, Phil Beer, and Paul Downes, and other longstanding collaborators such as Jim Sutton.

Here’s the track list:

  1. ‘Tutchen The Jed’ (touching the dead) is a bizarre murder ballad based on superstitions of murderers who were identified by a corpse that bled in their presence (cruentation).
  2. ‘Hallsands’ tells the story of a Devon village virtually destroyed by excessive dredging in order to provide sand and gravel for the naval dockyard at Keyham. Very effectively sung by Emma Jones.
  3. ‘Look In Their Eyes’ was co-written with Mike Silver, and is an excellent song about immigration and false promises. “They came when invited to make a new start / and find a new life for their children.
  4. ‘Yellows & Blues’ includes the line that gives the CD its title: it’s a contemplative song with a typically singworthy chorus.
  5. ‘Young Thomas’ is an absorbing story song about an instance of therianthropy – people who can change into animals (or vice versa). Phil Beer’s fiddle solo towards the end of the song is particularly effective.
  6. ‘Never Trouble Trouble’ is a rather classy number with a blues feel.
  7. ‘Threadbare Coats’ was also co-written with Mike Silver and contemplates chilling issues of trial by the media and exploitation of the victim.
  8. ‘No Blacks, No Irish & No Dogs’ is the final song in this collection co-written with Mike Silver, and addresses the issue of ongoing prejudice with individual stories. I imagine the man from Arkansas in the first verse was Bill Broonzy.
  9. ‘Mary Stone’s Waltz’ / ‘The Marigolds’ Waltz’. The waltz that follows this story song was written by Jim Sutton.
  10. ‘Cats Eyes & Stars’ is a story song with a distinctive acoustic rock and roll feel.
  11. Despite its funereal subject ‘The Ballad Of An Ordinary Man’ actually has a rather uplifting chorus. I like it a lot.
  12. ‘Mrs. Allcock’s Millionaire’ has an attractive melody and makes a good point about not being a “would-be millionaire“.
  13. The lengthy ‘The Unknown Soldier’ / ‘Cedars Of Lebanon’ strays into Eric Bogle/Bill Caddick country with its reflections on the Great War, and is a creditable addition to that body of work.
  14. It doesn’t seem to be John’s way to name names, but ‘A Bitter Thing’ is clearly about Alan Turing and “the prejudice of fools“. A very effective song.
  15. ‘Billy Shaw’ makes a trenchant political point about war and how people with good intentions are exploited for military purposes – “we went to war on a lie” – and makes a fine end to the album.

Bill Caddick regarded John Richards as “One of our finest writers and singers.” The vocals here by John and Emma are never less than pleasant, and there is indeed quality song-writing here, in some ways reminiscent of Caddick himself, with stories old and new. I can only hope that John has enough songs in him not yet written to lure him back into the studio at some point. But if not, Bring Back The Spring  is still a creditable end to his recording career. Certainly I’m glad to have finally become acquainted with his music.

David Harley

Artist’s website: www.thejrbs.co.uk

‘Yellows & Blues’ – live:

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: www.johnnycoppin.co.uk

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

Johnny Coppin – Borderland (Red Sky Records RSKCD120)

BorderlandJohnny Coppin’s latest album, Borderland, is a collection of songs from England, Ireland Wales and the US. Johnny also has an impressive list of guests singing and playing on the album – Karen Tweed, Paul Burgess, Mike Silver, Geoff March, John Neilson, Kevin Harcourt and David Pickering Pick who all have their own successful careers in their own right.

Borderland is a stripped-down acoustic album with a ‘live’ feel.  Shut your eyes and you have him in your living room or as a passenger in your car. The songs are about ‘real’ people and experiences, about war, romance and feelings. Twelve songs for your delectation and all of them are superb.  The three songs in the “war” section are gut-wrenching and bring home the horrors of WW1 and dreaming of home, lying about their age to get to the front and death. I love Johnny’s voice as it is melodic, haunting and just plain fabulous, and he has done a great justice to this album, also playing guitars and piano in his own inimitable graceful style.

The other nine tracks include arrangements of traditional songs.  Self penned numbers include ‘When The Morning’s Here’, ‘Cariad Cyntaf (First Love)’ and the title track tune ‘Borderland’ in collaboration with John Neilson.

This album has not been off my player and is already a favourite in my extensive music collection.  Do buy the album, and better still, go see him live! Borderland was produced by having sponsors who are all mentioned on the album cover, and the cover and booklet illustrations were exquisitely produced by Johnny’s partner Katharine Neilson, with design by John Neilson. Very pleasantly packaged and presented.

Johnny will be taking his album out on a tour in the spring of 2014, and the official release date of the album is April 7th. A regular Festival favourite, Johnny also has his own long running successful Acoustic Music show on Radio Gloucestershire every Saturday at 17.30.

Jean Camp

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Check out his website for live gigs: johnnycoppin.co.uk

MIKE SILVER – JACK DANCES –FRCD 0112

Mike Silver Jack DancesYou know it is going to be a little gem the minute singer/songwriter Mike Silver releases a new album and his latest – Jack Dances is certainly no exception.  All the tracks were written by Mike Silver.

10 glorious tracks are on the album, telling tales of loved ones, wishes for grandson, daughter making her own way in life, lost paradise, Jack Dances, trying to change a loved one, a song for his tenor guitar, wishful thinking and a song about his father and grandfather.  This album is full of song yet story-telling at its best.

Most of the tracks are Mike’s inimitable style of getting to the heart of the listener with his mellow and haunting melodic voice.  On a couple of the tracks Mike funks it up a bit on his tenor guitar!  Paradise Lost features dreams of paradise and when you get there is all commercialised and not as idyllic as portrayed.  7th son was written and St Ives features in it, a bit of a riddle!

Guests on the album include Nils Tuxen on Dobro, Christi Andropolis on fiddle and Stewart Hardy on violin and viola.

Mike has this knack of playing with the listeners heart strings with just about everything he writes, and this album is no exception.  The cover is a beautiful painting by Dani Wyndham-Reed of Jack Dances in front of Mike looking towards his lovely wife.  In his cover notes his friend and supporter – John Wallace – writes a beautiful tribute to Mike.

A lovely album and one that has not been out of my player since I had it!  You won’t be disappointed. Jean Camp

Artist’s website: http://www.mikesilver.jigsy.com/