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Folk Police Recordings  FPR003

Let me start this review with a salute in a direction that is relatively rare in CD reviewing: I want to acknowledge the quality of the liner notes by Raymond Greenoaken.  Oh, the joy when a real writer is let loose on a CD booklet!  It is so much better than reading the lyric/poem.  That said, there were odd occasions on the 16 tracks here, when I might have needed the lyric sheet, as the diction was just momentarily not all that it could be.   I said “might have needed”: in truth, I was in no danger, as I knew these songs since I was a paid-up member of the Peter Bellamy/Rudyard Kipling fan club (so-to-speak).

Mr Greenoaken starts his sleeve notes with a delightful anecdote.  He recounts how he first came across Bellamy’s Kipling work in 1971, when he found Bellamy’s Oak Ash And Thorn in the unlikely setting of the window of Bradley’s Electrical Goods in Haltwhistle.   And needless to say, he pounced, and was suitably entranced (as I also was, the previous year, when I bought that seminal album in the week it was released).

We are both men who love Kipling and love Bellamy.  And there’s a third man – who if such a thing is possible – has been even more smitten.   I refer of course to a driving force behind this album: that leading light of the current UK folk scene, Jon Boden.

Jon appears in the opening track Frankie’s Trade, but then contents himself to leaving the stage and the fifteen tracks that follow, to a dazzling array of the largely native-born Young(ish) Turks of the British folk scene.

And what an opener it is!  It lays down a marker for what is to follow: for it is classic “thinking outside the square”, and is determined to tell you that this is not going to be a Let’s Be Faithful to Peter’s Delivery album!  Boden has recorded his song on a vintage wax cylinder: one that makes Joseph Taylor sound like he must have had a Dolby System fitted in his throat!

And by and large, if the rest of the succeeding cast are generally a bit more mainstream in their approach, they all provide their own take on their song, and do not slavishly follow St Peter through his Kipling Gates.  I only ever spoke to that lovely man the once (so had no deep knowledge of him), but I am certain in my bones that were Peter here today, he would want it no other way, than that they embrace Kipling in their own style.

After track 2 (Olivia Chaney’s clear straight take on The Brookland Road) lulls you into a false sense of security that this is going to be a more EFDSS ride than an Oxjam Music Festival one, up comes Charlie Parr from Dylan’s one-time hometown of Duluth, with his stark banjo and even starker voice, nailing Cold Iron like he had written it! 

And then Tim Eriksen’s Poor Honest Men really throws the gauntlet down: his slightly chilling delivery is submerged eventually by some screaming guitar sounds à la Jimi Hendix, and the kind of pyrotechnic drumming that makes the late Keith Moon seem like he’s adopted a code of silence.

So we are clearly on a journey here into the unknown with this album, even though the cast of performers themselves are not exactly “unknowns”.    Leading names like The Unthanks, share the studio with more up and coming names.

And it was one of these relative non-stars that gave me the best high on the CD.  It was Elle Osborne, bringing up the rear, who left the most lasting memory with her achingly vulnerable The Way Through The Woods.  It was the track that most brought Peter’s spirit to mind, and made me recall that this giant of a presence from Norfolk, eventually gave up on finding his own way through the woods.

Would I buy this album?   Yes, of course.   But then I am an avowed Kipling/Bellamy aficionado.

Should YOU buy it?  Yes again, but (seeing as nobody could do Kipling like Mr Bellamy could!), only after ensuring you first bought all three of Peter’s own Kipling albums.  That might pose a problem as they are - in part at least - deleted from the catalogue, methinks.  So you will have to scour the second hand vinyl shops.

But Jon Boden would probably be the first to opine, these things aren’t mutually exclusive.  Go on, spoil yourself.

Dai Woosnam

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