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Fledg’ling FLED3094

Formed in April 1965, The Young Tradition – a strictly a cappella outfit comprising Peter Bellamy, Royston Wood and Heather Wood – was defiantly unique even among folksters, not least because their rock-band-style attitude and flamboyant Paisley/Carnaby-Street dress sense seemed rather at odds with their strident, intensely individual and sometimes austere three-part harmony singing and determinedly traditional repertoire, both the latter elements usually being accorded an altogether more sedate, even cosy, style of presentation by folk revivalists of the era.

Fabulous though the Young Tradition’s few recordings be, the trio’s live act was a legend even in its own lifetime and it was only after an interval of 45 years that one isolated live recording has been unearthed, courtesy of an American fan (Steve Mayer) who remembered a reel-to-reel tape recording he’d made of a YT concert at Oberlin College, Ohio on 17th November 1968 (barely 10 months before the group was to disband). In the space of 70 minutes, we get virtually the entire contents of the show (seemingly missing only the very start: the likely “customary” YT set-opener Chicken On A Raft, possibly another group number or two and then the first few lines of Peter’s solo The Prentice Boy); the disc’s 25 tracks make up an accurate aural portrait of the extent of the group’s repertoire, much of which emanated from Norfolk singer Harry Cox or the Copper family of Sussex. All three of the LPs they’d issued up to that point are represented, plus their EP, along with six previously unrecorded items (Royston leading a hilarious take on The Two Magicians, two solos from Heather, and three more chanteys). The performances are every bit as full of fire and commitment as the group’s fearsome reputation would have those of us who missed out on seeing them believe. For what also comes across in massive spades is the trio’s unbridled enjoyment of performance: what the insightful booklet note describes as its “affinity for the physical pleasure of singing”.

And the Young Tradition were memorably loud! On this quintessential live set, the sheer blistering presence of their singing is literally overwhelming, even at the remove of a recording, and any instances of microphone overload or split-second dropout are instantly forgivable, so grateful we are to have this glorious tape. The raw urgency and emotional impact of their delivery is something else! Utterly spellbinding, whether belting out a terrifying medley of chanteys, recreating a mumming-play dialogue (The Husbandman And The Servingman) or earnestly intoning a Sacred Harp hymn (Wondrous Love or Idumea) or retelling a classic ballad (Banks Of Claudy or The Bold Fisherman).

I don’t need to make any extravagant claims for the quality of the singing, either from any of three individuals or from the full ensemble in its striking natural togetherness and unerringly intuitive counterpoint. Just feel the 250% lung-power and primordial foot-stamping gusto of Byker Hill bursting through your speakers almost at the end of the night – what immense staying power and a brilliant climax to a brilliant evening. Copious thanks to Fledg’ling for bringing us what is definitely the historical release of the year, no question.

David Kidman

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This album was reviewed in Issue 98 of The Living Tradition magazine.