Link to Living Tradition Homepage





ANDY KENNA - Old Ports Of Call: The Maritime Songs Of Bob Watson

ANDY KENNA - Old Ports Of Call: The Maritime Songs Of Bob Watson
Fearns Farm Phono FFP004

Scouser Andy Kenna has a long pedigree of involvement in the field of maritime song, stemming right from the days of the 50s/60s folk revival, when he ran a number of folk clubs in the north-west and subsequent membership of the original line-up of The Mersey Shantymen, backing the likes of Stan Hugill and Bert Lloyd. In 1995, he formed Liverpool Forebitter (with Bernie Davis), recording two CDs, one of which (Salt Water Ballads) concentrated exclusively on Andy’s own settings of John Masefield poems. Of late, however, Andy has performed in a solo capacity and following his earlier collection, Emigrants Served, he now turns his attention to the maritime songs of Bob Watson, on which his sturdy, distinctive voice and adept concertina playing are perfectly supported by Steve Keene (fiddle) and Ian Sidebotham (guitar and banjo), both fellow-members of the famous “Oddies” (the group based at Middleton’s Oddfellows Arms).

I’ve always been surprised, given the consistently high quality of Bob’s songs, that comparatively few of them have been recorded – and all praise to Andy for undertaking this project, which delivers 15 glorious examples of Bob’s artistry. Together they demonstrate Bob’s expert understanding of the idioms and traditions of maritime song, his own forebitters, ballads, laments and shanties all carrying the ring of authenticity. The most well-loved of these compositions may have already become repertoire staples for the discerning maritime singer, but they still deserve a wider audience; indeed, such evocative pieces as the iconic Mollymauk and the nostalgic Slip Along Home and Old Ports Of Call will regularly impress any general (as opposed to hardened specialist) folk audiences hearing them for the first time, especially in truthful, understanding and sincerely felt performances such as these. The bitter valediction Shantyman, of course, has long since attained legendary status among maritime music performers, and receives a suitably vibrant rendition here (though its resemblance to a worksong is perhaps over-emphasised by adopted vocal mannerisms), as does The Masterless Men (a powerful a cappella depiction of Newfoundland outlaws); Welsh Girls proves an infectious forebitter, while Nancy-O!, in taking on the form of a shanty, feels almost more like the real thing than the real thing!

Even as an enthusiast of maritime song myself, I find myself encountering several of these songs for the first time and I’m sure many of them represent first-recordings. Three of the disc’s selections are the result of writing collaborations; Force Ten, recounting the tale of the steam trawler Goth, was co-written with Fleetwood’s Ron Baxter, while the reflective refrain-and-chorus song Walton Bay was co-written with Nobby Dye of Bristol crew Harry Brown’s Shantymen and New Zealand’s Mike McPhee had a hand in the composition of Revival Mutiny (it’s a shame that the appeal of the latter track is spoilt by an unfortunate degree of artificial reverb on the chorus contributions). There’s a grand variety in expressive content, form, mood and tempo in these songs, qualities in Bob’s writing of which Andy is one of this country’s best qualified exponents, so the disc comes highly recommended.

David Kidman

Secure On-line mailorder service
Buy this CD online from The Listening Post
The Listening Post is the CD mailorder service of The Living Tradition magazine.
This album was reviewed in Issue 103 of The Living Tradition magazine.