VARIOUS ARTISTS – Three Score & Ten (Topic Records)

What makes a good CD box-set great? When it comes as beautifully packaged as this 70th Anniversary Topic Records collection. The wow factor comes from the moment you first open the book that includes seven…yes, seven…CDs highlighting arguably the best British folk record label ever. Although I was aware of the label for some years previously (put off mainly by the cheap look of the album sleeves) I was first properly introduced to the company when I visited the Free Reed record shop in Camden in 1977. At the time I was (and still am) heavily into Celtic music but on talking to Doug who was running the shop at the time it was suggested I should try some of the Topic catalogue. Of course I wasn’t disappointed and eagerly clutching June Tabor’s “Airs & Graces”, Martin Carthy’s “Crown Of Horn” and Dick Gaughan’s “Coppers & Brass” headed home with a grin as broad as the proverbial Cheshire cat. I also remember thinking that English music was at last now as well represented as the Celtic based American record label Green Linnet. The record sleeves by this time were far better represented by Tony Engle’s excellent photography superseding the bland two colour efforts originally utilised by the company and certainly provided a far classier look that heralded the albums enclosed. The history of Topic Records is well documented by Tony Engle and David Suff in the 108 page book that accompanies the CDs from it’s humble beginnings representing the Workers’ Music Association to it’s current status as the longest surviving independent record label in the world and who would blame them for blowing their own trumpet at such an achievement? A sense of nostalgia will wash over those of you of a certain age as you cast an eye over the list of who’s who of the British tradition and Revival with 144 tracks providing but a snippet of the many albums that the company has produced over the years. Artists the calibre of Ewan MacColl, A L Lloyd, Pete Seeger and longest serving associates The Watersons to more recent recruits including Eliza Carthy, Tim Van Eyken, Martin Simpson and Bob Fox have all graced the label with their sparkling performances and, as the saying goes, it makes you proud to be British!


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