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ELSIE’S BAND - Cutaway Mike: Songs From Southern England

Cutaway Mike: Songs From Southern England
Country Branch CBCD237

“Elsie’s” is the popular name for the Queen’s Arms, a roadside pub at Cowden Pound near Edenbridge in Kent – the name deriving from its (now 85-year-old) landlady Elsie Maynard. Its “house band”, formed in the early 1970s, included within its ranks the Orcadian fiddle and accordion player Mike Hutchison (who died in 1997, and to whose memory the present CD is dedicated). The band’s current incarnation, which appears on this CD, comprises Iris Bishop (best known for her work with Martyn Wyndham-Read’s No Man’s Band), local songwriters Tony Deane and John Hills (from Legacy and Four Square Circle respectively), and singer Dave Watts.

The band’s repertoire consists almost entirely of songs from (or about) the south-east or south-west of England, and the selections presented on this disc certainly include some gems that deserve wider recognition outside of their immediate locality. As you would expect, these have been reliably gleaned from versions heard from various local source singers: Cutaway Mike from George Spicer, Riding Down To Portsmouth from Mary Ann Haynes and Tom Willett, The Valiant Poachers from George Maynard, The Egloshayle Ringers from Charlie Bate. But curiously, no source is given for the strangely jaunty tale of the hanging of The Owslebury Lads at the time of the Captain Swing riots of 1830. Nestled amongst these adaptations of traditional songs, we find authoritative renditions of four fine compositions by John and Tony (two apiece); although the best-known of these is Tony’s celebrated Padstow anthem Following The Old Oss, his Orchids (telling of the Lost Gardens Of Heligan) is at least as memorable.

Dave Watts contributes his own setting of Cicely Fox Smith’s Limehouse Reach (quite different from the Dave Webber version we know and love, and sporting an extra verse), and Tony supplies an original tune for the broadsheet lament Greenwich Fair. Two further contrasted inclusions are the fun drinking-song Men Of Kent (by Ken Barton) and Tony Franklin’s poignant song of the Thames barges. Finally, the disc’s instrumental interlude is provided by Tommy Williams’ Springtime In Battersea (his home-grown embellishment of a German waltz), given a suitably fairground-style rendition here by Iris. This is an unpretentiously entertaining and entirely companionable release that brings welcome prominence to a generous collection of unjustly neglected material.

David Kidman

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This album was reviewed in Issue 85 of The Living Tradition magazine.