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:

Maggie Boyle (1956-2014)

Photograph: Nigel Hillier
Photograph: Nigel Hillier

It is with deep regret we announce that London-Irish singer Maggie Boyle lost her life to cancer on 6th November 2014, aged 57.

Brought up in a vibrant musical family in London during the 1960/70s, Maggie Boyle developed a love and appreciation for traditional music and community. As a youngster, Maggie performed with the local branch of Comhaltas, gaining All-Britain singing titles. In the 1980s she formed a duo with her then husband Steve Tilston, recording several highly acclaimed albums and later, three further solo albums. Over the years, Maggie collaborated with luminaries such as The Chieftains, Incantation, Fairport Convention and Bert Jansch and regularly performed in numerous line-ups, the most significant as a duo with Paul Downes and the all-female trio Grace Notes. Maggie also engaged in cultural works outside the folk scene including the Ballet Rambert’s performance piece Sergeant Early’s Dream and John Renbourn’s Ship of Fools. She also contributed to film soundtracks, notably Patriot Games and Legends of the Fall.

Throughout her musical career, Maggie was dedicated to supporting younger singers and developing the tradition. She was instrumental in establishing artist-run co-operatives Three’s Company and Skinnymalinks through which she helped develop new talent, including The Demon Barbers and The Witches of Elswick. Maggie organised concerts promoting young performers and taught regularly at Breton Hall and Newcastle University. Since 2012 Maggie pioneered a scheme to visit her musical heroes and record intimate exchanges with the support of BBC Radio Leeds. The Kitchen Songs Project gets to the heart of luminaries such as Ralph McTell, and demonstrates Maggie’s innate love, respect and passion for this music and her fellow musicians far beyond the bounds of ‘career’.

Revered for her ability to enchant a room with her ethereal voice, this captivating quality penetrated her very being; Maggie had a pure soul which brought joy and peace to others wherever she went. She was dedicated to her wider family and had a profound impact on many more. After touring the country constantly for the past three decades, Maggie is well known to many throughout the folk scene. Those who met her, even briefly, were greeted with an open warmth and generosity of spirit they haven’t forgotten. Her family are immeasurably grateful for the astounding love, care and generosity shown to Maggie over the past year by countless people in the folk community and beyond.  Maggie leaves behind an exceptional presence; her absence is felt most keenly by her devoted partner, Bill, two children, Molly and Joe, and beloved granddaughter, Betty Sue.

There will be a Memorial Service at 12 noon and a celebration of Maggie’s life and times from 2pm on Monday 17th November, both at Victoria Hall, Keighley. All are welcome, please bring instruments and memories.

Fay Hield

For further details please contact Fay Hield: info@fayhield.com

Maggie, accompanied by Paul Downes, sings Nick Burbridge’s ‘Old Man’s Retreat’. It seems an appropriate choice.

SHOW OF HANDS – Wake The Union (Hands On Music HMCD36)

Steve Knightley and Phil Beer (with long time collaborator Miranda Sykes) certainly know how to stir things up opening with a powerful song of bitter recrimination in the hard-hitting and spiteful “Haunt You”. You can just hear the angst as Knightly spits out the lyric with such venom that it will make you wonder if he has personal experience of the subject matter. Continuing the duo’s/trio’s no nonsense approach in having a dig at the ‘fat cats’ that still inhabit the earth carried over from their previous album Arrogance, Ignorance And Greed they include the laid-back blues styled “Company Town” reminiscent of  “Buddy Can You Spare A Dime?” but in place of a full-on New Orleans Dixie Band they introduce the sound of Paul Sartin’s Cor Anglais (perhaps, in view of the recession the budget wouldn’t stretch to a full band) and Paul Downes tenor banjo this is only the start of what turns out to be a veritable box of delights of which there’s not a duff track to be found. With more than a touch of Americana liberally sprinkled throughout the recording and images of Dust Bowl tumbleweed blowing about courtesy of sampled instruments this really could be the CD that sets Show Of Hands alight in the good old US of A. Personally for me this album really is a turning point in my appreciation for all things American styled and congratulations must go to the other musicians involved in the project namely Seth Lakeman, Cormac Byrne, Martin Simpson, Andy Cutting, B.J. Cole, Hannah Martin, Phil Henry, Leonard Podolak and Jenna Witts. On a final point congratulations to Mark Tucker in the production chair, photographer Rob O’Connor and the stunning art design by Mark Higenbottam. Unreservedly ten out of ten!

PETE FYFE

See Artist web link for current tour details: www.showofhands.co.uk