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JAMES FINDLAY - Sport And Play

JAMES FINDLAY - Sport And Play
Fellside FECD238

James Findlay is a singer, fiddler and guitarist from Dorset. He’s just 20, and he’s the winner of the BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award for 2009. Sport And Play is his 57-minute debut album on the well-respected Fellside label. All but one of the 12 tracks are arrangements of traditional ballads and songs.

These are the the bare facts, which I was noting dutifully during a couple of moderate mining-themed openers. Then he launched into a 9-minute unaccompanied version of Tam Lin and sung it with a thrilling skill to match any veteran.  I was hooked. The rest of the album – all about love, sex and death – reeled me in effortlessly.  Highlights include When A Man’s In Love from the singing of Paddy Tunney; George Collins from  A.L. Lloyd’s version with Tony Rose’s tune; and Lakes Of Shilin from Nic Jones’s version. James’s liner notes are clear and honest about sources. Like most young singers, he looks to the folk revival as well as to the old texts. But he shows boldness in tackling the rarely-sung Fair Mary Of Wallington (Child 91): 8 minutes of multiple deaths by childbirth is a morass of misery, but life can’t all be fun and frolics.

James’s voice has steel and sensitivity, with clear phrasing and a dramatic edge. He sounds older than his years, as if he’s had a decade or two of singing the old songs.  He understands them well enough not to maul then, and the music never overwhelms the words. His gentle guitar work contrasts with his attacking fiddle playing with its short, insistent phrases. Alex Cumming accompanies him on accordion.

Here is a young man whose love and respect for traditional songs shines out. He’ll carry them with them wherever his talent takes him.

Tony Hendry

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This album was reviewed in Issue 88 of The Living Tradition magazine.