If you like your folk music robust and uncluttered, you probably have, in your collection, at least one album by Keith Kendrick and his partner Sylvia Needham. Shine On is very much a reflection of their live act; a mixture of traditional and written songs by friends old and new, with three instrumental sets thrown in, reflecting Keith’s ceilidh band heritage.
The title track is written by John Richards, originally for the late Johnny Collins to sing, and deals with the struggle against alcoholism, not the most cheerful subject to begin with but it certainly makes you sit up and take notice. Keith and Sylvia follow this with ‘Jack-In-The-Box/March Bluebeard’ which Keith originally recorded with Ram’s Bottom (and that was a long time ago) and ‘The Christmas Hare’ by old friend Roger Watson. Songs like this allow the duo to give their Derbyshire accents free rein – usually it’s just the occasional flattened vowel that gives them away.
There are two songs by Sydney Carter; ‘Silver In The Stubble’, which is reflection on the aging process and the wonderful and cutting ‘Standing In The Rain’. I should have said that a certain Christmassy motif runs through the record – perfect for next winter’s mix-tape. A new friend is Linda Woodruff who writes songs tinged with humour like ‘Finest Captain On The Sea’ and ‘Father Christmas’ which explains how St. Nicholas spends spring and summer dancing Morris in Derbyshire. Of course he does.
There are more serious songs, of course: ‘Bedlam’ and ‘Van Dieman’s Land’, for example, and also ‘Bonny Kate’ and ‘Giles Scroggins’ from the tradition and the biting political ‘Always Money For A War’ by Ian Robb. Supporting the duo’s concertinas (and Sylvia’s banjo) are members of ceilidh band BandAnglo – Pete Bullock, Tom Miller, Keith Holloway and Pierce Butler – to give ‘Tip-Top Polka’ a bit of extra welly but Keith and Sylvia don’t really need much help.
Young Jim Causley returns once more to the writing of his distinguished relative, Charles. I Am The Song, unlike the serious and sometimes mysterious Cyprus Well, is a collection of poetry written for children. As you might suppose many of the songs are quite short and Jim crams twenty-one of them onto the record. Equally, you might suppose that the poems are funny to the point of silliness and to an extent you would be correct but there are dark moments and the humour sometimes conceals a serious point.
The set opens with ‘Python On Piccolo’, a song about animals forming a band and typical of the surreal images in some of Charles’ poetry also represented by ‘Good Morning Mrs Croco-Do-Dile’, ‘Tabitha Tupper’ and ‘Mrs McPhee’. Next comes a bit of social observation in the shape of ‘Newlyn Buildings’ although the line “who had the top apartment no-one ever seemed to know” adds a frisson of mystery. ‘Here We Go Round The Roundhouse’ is a calendar song that will creep into the club repertoire before long I have no doubt.
Of the darker songs, ‘Lord Lovelace’ leads the way followed by ‘Lady Jane Grey’ and ‘A Mermaid At Zennor’, although Charles steers clear of being too explicit about the fate of the titular lady in the former or the churchwarden’s son in the latter. My personal favourite is ‘I Saw A Jolly Hunter’ which will make children laugh but says a lot about Charles’ views.
Jim’s accordion arrangements provide an appropriately jolly West Country lilt to the poems but he is exceptionally generous to his friends, notably Becki Driscoll and Nick Wyke, Keith Kendrick and Sylvia Needham and Mick Ryan who take a share of the lead vocals. Nick manages the most excruciatingly perfect flat notes on ‘The Money Came In’. Other players include Jeff Gillett who provides most of the finger-picked guitar, Matt Norman who plays various banjos and Mary Humphries and Anahata.
Charles Causley said that he could never decide which poems were for children and which for adults and this collection will prove that. The standard omission is ‘Timothy Winter’ which was included in the children’s collection but only because Jim recorded it on Cyprus Well. Buy this for the kids just before they grow out of nursery rhymes or buy it for yourselves because you’ll enjoy it too.
I count myself very lucky to work on occasions with Keith Kendrick & Sylvia Needham as members of the music ‘crew’ providing entertainment onboard HMS Warrior, Portsmouth. Many’s the times we’ve shared a good joke together whilst either singing or playing in an informal session and that comes across in this more than pleasurable recording. Both fine singers, Keith and Sylvia prove just as adept at accapella as they are in accompanying themselves in company with, amongst others Jon Loomes (hurdy gurdy, fiddle and piano), Johnny Adams (various instruments and vocals) and Gilly Loomes on cornet and hammered dulcimer. The duo’s repertoire of predominantly traditional arranged British songs including “Banks Of The Nile”, “The Riddle Song/Lovers’ Tasks” and a stirring, if somewhat unusual setting of the shanties “One More Day/Shallow Brown” courtesy of John Short establishes their credentials as purveyors of that distinctive ‘folk’ culture that we from these islands should all be proud of. The inclusion of a jolly rumpy-pumpy concertina led set of tunes ”Blue-Eyed Stranger/Joe Pea’s” evokes memories of Keith’s days spent with the much missed band Ram’s Bottom and should prove a popular addition to English session players everywhere. Yet another fine album from the Wildgoose stable.