There’s something engagingly old-school about the Ian Walker Band’s album We Come To Sing, released on the 16th January 2023. Perhaps that’s not surprising, since Ian has been performing for many years, and his songs have been sung by artists as varied as Dick Gaughan, Roy Bailey, and the Yetties. Old school? Well, yes, in the best sense: the album includes strong message songs with highly singable choruses; classic modern(-ish) songs such as love songs by Tom Paxton, Sandy Denny and Richard Thompson, lesser-known gems like Francis Fahy’s ‘The Tide Full In’, and a closing set of fiddle and banjo tunes. The band consists of Ian on vocals, banjo, guitar and autoharp; Jimmy Scott on vocals and guitar; and Moe Walker on vocals and an unusual percussion effect on ‘The Iron Workers’ Song’. Their core sound is effectively augmented here and there by John Graham (fiddle, bass, mandolin, vocals); Fraser Speirs (harmonica); Stevie Lawrence (percussion, whistle, jaw harp); Scott Walker (Appalachian fiddle); Alan Reid (piano, accordion, vocal); and Mary Reid (vocal).
- ‘Hawks And Eagles Fly Like Doves (Reprise): it’s a little unusual to see the first track on an album tagged “reprise”, but in this case the tag comes not because it appears elsewhere on the album, but because Ian Walker’s powerful song about apartheid in South Africa was originally recorded in 1985 and has been covered many times since by other artists such as The McCalmans and North Sea Gas.
- ‘We Come To Sing’ (Ian Walker) is a touching song written in memory of the son of Jimmy and Lynne Scott – “a life taken too soon”.
- ‘The Man On The Moon’ lifts the mood with a quirky reminder of the still-much-missed Matt McGinn. Has it really been that long???
- ‘Sun’ (Ian Walker) is a deceptively cheerful tune with grim environmental undertones to the lyric.
- The very effective track ‘Will Ye Go Tae Flanders?’ (Traditional / Billy Ross) dates from Marlborough’s Flanders campaign in 1706, and here includes verses added by Ossian’s Billy Ross.
- ‘The Tide Full In’ (Francis Fahy) – Francis Arthur Fahy (1854-1935) was born in Kinvara, near Galway: he spent most of his life in London but was a passionate advocate for Irish culture and wrote many popular songs and verses (among other things). You may recognize this tune as a variation on the hornpipe ‘Thomond Bridge’: I believe it was Paul Mulligan who set Fahy’s words to the tune. Very nicely performed here.
- The love song ‘Home To Me (Is Anywhere You Are)’ is unmistakeably a Tom Paxton song, very attractively interpreted here. I rather like the suggestion of ‘Duelling Banjos’ used as a fill between verses.
- ‘The Iron Workers’ Song (The Upton Forge)’ (Ian Walker). This ridiculously catchy song was written for Dave Dewar’s musical about the life of Thomas Telford – Upton Forge, near Upton Magna in Shropshire, was where the wrought iron chains were forged for the Menai suspension bridge. In case you were wondering,that unusual percussion effect is a shoemaker’s last. Easier to carry to gigs than a blacksmith’s block!
- ‘Dimming Of The Day’ is one of my favourite Richard Thompson songs. This is a serviceable version, but the version from Pour Down Like Silver is stiff competition.
- ‘These Old Feet Still Walk The Walk’ is by the late David Cowan and is described in the album notes as “ingenious” – certainly, the shoe fits.
- ‘The Water Is Wide’ (Traditional): the old warhorse proves to be still worth a ride. Excellent harmonies.
- ‘Carry Your Dancing Down’ (Ian Bruce & Ian Walker) – I’m still trying to lose the image of “Dad Dancing at a wedding”, but this is a sprightly song from a well-established song-writing partnership.
- ‘Who Knows Where The Time Goes?’ – Sandy Denny’s best-known song is always worth a hearing, but the lead vocal here doesn’t sound altogether comfortable with the melody.
- ‘Buttercup Hill’ (Ian Walker) is a delightful song inspired by “the proximity of a 4-year-old’s imagination”, and yes, Ian, I can certainly relate.
- ‘Walking On Sunday’ is a rather nice song by Anthony John Clarke: this arrangement just about stays the right side of schmaltz.
- ‘Rammy In The Glen’ (Ian Walker) is another song from Dave Dewar’s musical about Telford: if I ever get the chance to hear the whole musical, I’ll jump at it.
- ‘The Goodnight Song’ (Jim Boyes) is an excellent version of a very fine song. I love the harmonies on the final section.
- ‘Cripple Creek / Old Joe Clark / Grandad’s Favourite’ (Traditional) – there aren’t many 5-string banjo players who haven’t found at least one of these tunes bouncing off their frets at one time or other, but this is a lively, spontaneous set that on the whole does them justice.
In short, We Come To Sing is a well-balanced mixture of old favourites and less familiar songs, performed with a spontaneity that more than compensates for the occasional rough spot.
Artist’s website: http://ianwalkeronline.com
‘The Iron Workers’ Song (The Upton Forge)’ – live: