Robert Riby Boyes from Scarborough was known to his family as Croppie. Like so many of his generation he was called upon to fight for King and country and, like so many of his generation, his was a short war. He was one of the lucky ones: fighting in Belgium in September 1917, wounded and taken prisoner in March 1918 and interned in Switzerland until the Armistice was signed. He was home by Christmas and in those few months he had also travelled through France, Italy and Germany.
Croppie was Jim Boyes’ grandfather. He never talked about his wartime experiences and as Jim became more involved in the history of the Great War he set out to research his story, told here with a simplicty that might be considered typically Yorkshire – just his voice with piano and accordion accompaniments by Belinda O’Hooley. Jim has previously written and recorded many songs about the war and one, ‘Down Upon The Dugout Floor’, appears twice here, firstly as a sort of overture and secondly as part of the narrative.
There are two loans among the songs. ‘La Ballata Dell’Eroe’ by Fabrizio de André marks Croppie’s time in Italy and Bram Vermeulen’s ‘Testament’ which also acknowledges Jim’s uncle, killed in a crashed bomber in WWII. Jim also uses tunes from hymns and popular songs of the period adapted with his own lyrics. He also pairs his own ‘Where You Belong’ with an unsentimental version of ‘Scarborough Fair’ to represent the pre-war period. For ‘Along The Menin Road’ he borrows both the tune and structure of ‘Banks Of The Nile’, effectively bringing the song into the twentieth century and adding the voice of the wife left behind at home. It packs a lot into five minutes.
Despite the closeness of the story, Jim somehow manages to remain dispassionate except perhaps in expressing the relief of impending freedom in ‘Where You Belong’. There’s gallows humour in his version of ‘Beside The Seaside’ and ‘The Train Song’ but he doesn’t camp it up and the homesickness of ‘Will I See Your Face Again’ is expressed in matter-of-fact terms, vividly described but without histronics. Belinda’s accompaniments are perfectly judged with just enough decoration to complement Jim’s lyrics.
It is difficult and perhaps unnecessary to offer a pat summary of Sensations Of A Wound. It requires time and reflection but it never allows your attention to wander in telling a story that may have seemed commonplace almost a century ago but which, with hindsight, seems quite remarkable.
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Sensations Of A Wound will be released on February 2nd with a launch gig at The Purcell Room, London on February 17th.