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Luke’s Row Music LRCD004

The latest CD from Peter and Barbara Snape delivers a further well-balanced and thoroughly unpretentious collection of predominantly Lancashire based material, much in the manner of the duo’s previous two recordings. Regular listeners will know what to expect: songs from the traditions (folk and the music-hall), expertly chosen and robustly and enthusiastically delivered with a spark in the engine and a twinkle in the eye. Good old-fashioned folk from a proven quality act, a close-knit partnership that’s fully assured in its research, preparation and performance, and deservedly popular with audiences. Vitality is the keynote throughout this disc, both in Barbara’s sturdy, characterful and involving singing and Peter’s solid, reliable and thoughtful melodeon playing.

This CD, while obviously an artistic progression from the Snapes’ previous offerings, is, like its immediate predecessor Revel And Rally, exclusively song-based – which is not a problem of course, when Barbara’s singing is so satisfyingly full of presence and the supporting musicianship is quite as invigorating (not only Peter’s own contributions, but also those of John Adams on trombone and fiddle and Robert Snape on mandolin). And importantly, the choice of material is as stimulating and enterprising, for a good number of the selections are likely to be unknown to most listeners. In two cases (The Happy Workingman’s Song and Radcliffe Otter Hunt), Lancashire song and ballad collections have furnished the texts, for which Peter has provided the tunes; one of these collections is also the source for Sprig Of Thyme, of which Barbara’s powerful rendition is a disc highlight. Barbara’s gift for genuine unaffected expressiveness is also a feature of the utterly charming Now’t About Owt (penned by one Ernest Melvin in 1927, we learn from the informative booklet notes) and the Cumberland ballad Corby Castle. The north-west working song No More Shall I Work In The Factory is also an inspired choice, bookended by extracts from a contemporary Lancashire street broadside that (intriguingly) parodies Stephen Foster’s Hard Times.

I’m pleased to find that in terms of balance of repertoire the intermittent sense of formula, which I had noted on the Snapes’ earlier CDs, is almost entirely absent from this carefully-sequenced new collection. And Barbara’s earlier tendency to occasionally overplay her theatrical hand is nowhere near as marked here, even on the choice Oldham Tinkers tale of John Willie’s Performing Newt and the trio of music-hall numbers that were popularised by Gracie Fields. Barbara has clearly always had a penchant for Gracie’s work and has made her songs somewhat of a speciality, so here we’re treated to three quirky and well contrasted examples: the parlour-ballad-like Turn Erbert’s Face To The Wall, the smile-inducingly cheeky What Can You Buy A Nudist For His Birthday? (don’t ask!) and the “barking mad” hunting song Rochdale Hounds – which, however, is dogged by a rather noisy canine backdrop (Lancashire’s “hills are alive with the hounds of music”, but overmuch, methinks!). This is to my mind the only miscalculation in an otherwise exemplary Brian Bedford production, which so well captures both the special essence of the Snapes as performers and their sheer enjoyment of performing. In contrast to the dogs, the “time, gentlemen please” bar room ambience conjured for The Barmaid’s Song in fact proves rather apt (and the pub chat and ringing cash-registers appear a sly nod to vintage archive recordings!).

Yes, Snapenotes is a fine CD, one which represents the very best of the too-oft-undersung regional folk scene. A superior gig purchase, sure, and one which will prove a continual delight for purchasers, being eminently suitable for repeated home listening. One to savour and stacked full of pure Lancashire relish (and trust me, that’s every bit as delicious as hotpot!).

David Kidman

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This album was reviewed in Issue 104 of The Living Tradition magazine.