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CYRIL TAWNEY "Navy Cuts: The Songs Of Cyril Tawney"
ADA Recordings ADA101CD

Few (if any) singers don't have at least one Cyril Tawney song lurking in their repertoire, not to mention any shanty crew worth its salt, and such is the stylistic diversity of his writing (broad comedy through to poignant nostalgia) that his songs have been successfully covered by a wide range of performers, from The Corries, Peter Bellamy and Martin Simpson to Emmylou Harris & Dolores Keane. Indeed, many of Cyril's songs seem to have become part of the tradition. Their appeal is universal; not only because they're so well-crafted, but also because of Cyril's gift for portraying accessibly what is intrinsically a relatively specialised frame of experience - life in the Royal Navy - which he does in a refreshingly non-jingoistic way, making extensive (and instinctive use) of the colourful vernacular. Even the most ostensibly downbeat reminiscences or vignettes are laced with delicious tots of humour and irony, and the imagery is invariably highly memorable. John Tams gets it spot on with his insert note to this CD, by describing Cyril as a "lyric poet", since he understands and communicates real life in all its contradictory moods.

Now many (myself included) have long thought it odd (and frustrating) that Cyril's own seminal recordings have hitherto only been available in (the notoriously un-user-friendly) tape format, so this new CD release - consisting of recordings drawn from those original tapes, lovingly remastered by Oliver Knight and John Tams and sounding positive and immediate - will I'm sure be much welcomed. Not least because Cyril's own performances are naturally authoritative, not only as an interpretative benchmark; his superficially simple nylon-strung guitar accompaniments impart an appealing intimacy to the listening experience. The package also contains Cyril's own notes to the songs, together with brief but perceptive appreciations from Messrs. Carthy and Tams as well as the indefatigable Mick Peat (who has masterminded the release). There can be no complaints about the selection - Chicken On A Raft, Sally Free And Easy, Grey Funnel Line, Five-Foot Flirt, Sammy's Bar - need I say more?… Diesel And Shale, On A Monday Morning, The Oggie Man, Six Feet Of Mud… And as if that's not enough, this release comes complete with two bonus tracks not listed on the cover (Drunken Sailor and Reunion). This is pretty much an essential acquisition, then, being a truly representative collection that can be regarded equally well as a "best of" and as but the tip of a large iceberg, of which I'd like to see more surfacing from the deep in the future.

David Kidman

Remember "It's a Wonderful Life" where the James Stewart character is taken through a world where he never existed, and sees the consequences of himself never having been? It's easy to get into a frame of mind like this with the songs of Cyril Tawney - one consequence of his never having been born would be to remove huge chunks of singarounds at (particularly) English festivals. Where would the Middle Bar in Sidmouth be without "The Grey Funnel Line", for instance, or the Durham campsite without "Chicken on a Raft?" But there is more …

The sleeve notes refer to the Fifties when most of the songs here were written, and reflects that "The folk scene had yet to be invented" Perhaps a tad tongue-in-cheek, but I know what the writer means. Tawney was so prolific, and maintained such high standards that it could feel a bit like that. John Tams elsewhere says that Tawney is "a lyrical poet - and for me one of the great documentary songmakers of the 20th century". In essence then, a great hole would be left had he not been. There are 14 songs from the man here - whether you favour going down to "Sammy's' Bar" one more time, or prefer the detached amusement of "On a Monday Morning", or the bitter ruefulness of "The Oggie Man", the CD bears handsome testimony to the Cyril's life and work.

Hector Christie

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This album was reviewed in Issue 46 of The Living Tradition magazine.