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JOHN CONOLLY - The Man From Fiddlers’ Green

JOHN CONOLLY - The Man From Fiddlers’ Green
Jacdo Music JACD04

Master singer-songwriter John now (albeit with tongue maybe partly in cheek I suspect!) arranges a direct album title credit to reaffirm his authorship of Fiddlers’ Green, the folk classic that has long and widely been misappropriated and/or incorrectly credited to “trad Irish” or the ubiquitous “Anon” (and on…). And it matters not a jot that the song itself makes a further welcome reappearance on this, John’s latest CD, in the original version (not John’s own recent partial rewrite) and in a typically convivial live recording from Louth Folk Club (here much in the manner of an encore – one more before we go, perhaps?) which, by the way, is one of a small number of tracks capturing John the consummate entertainer in this, his natural environment, where he invariably draws a good crowd.

The handful of live cuts aside, this new CD places John’s proven talents in admirably understated studio settings coordinated by, and directly involving, his most recent collaborator, that excellent (if at times still obstinately undersung) multi-instrumentalist Rob Van Sante, who’s also produced the album. And before I forget to mention it, erstwhile fellow-Battlefielder Alan Reid contributes a little accordion and piano and Alan Dawson a tasteful smidgen of banjo (on Lincolnshire Wedding Song), while Linda Kelly and Hazel Richings (Hissyfit)’s gorgeous harmony vocals grace several of the songs.

Readers will, I’m sure, need no introduction to John’s enthusiastic, involving and entirely accessible performing style and his enviable songwriting versatility is well showcased on this latest collection, which contains plenty of new songs alongside old favourites (including re-recordings of Willie Leonard, By Torridon and The Angels Of Lincoln). The last-mentioned song, a tribute to the stonemasons whose work adorns our great cathedrals, can, I believe, also be taken as a metaphor for John’s own solid artisan-like craftsmanship. John’s writing deals adeptly and with genuine humanity with a healthy variety of topics and concerns, notably figures from local history (Joe Pearson, Willie Leonard, Havelock The Dane) and inspirational locations (Passing Places). The true-hearted and affectionate love song Keep On Trying was written for his wife Vere.

In contrast, right-minded socio-political commentary is aired on Big Society Blues and Big Bucks For Bullshit and our maritime heritage is brought to the fore in John’s setting of William Delf’s With Flags Half-Mast and a shanty from the Percy Grainger manuscript (Ring Down), while Lincolnshire folk culture is represented by a useful pairing of Brigg Fair and Caistor Fair (fair enough?!). Finally, not forgetting John’s mischievous and gleefully wicked (but never offensive) sense of humour surfaces on the yee-hah country-flavoured Born-Again Atheist, the obvious portrait of the British folkie in Beards And Sandals and a retelling of the story of The Three Fiddlers.

David Kidman

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This album was reviewed in Issue 99 of The Living Tradition magazine.