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RAY PADGETT - Traditionalist English Songs

RAY PADGETT - Traditionalist English Songs
Private Label LTCD9014

Barnsley’s Ray Padgett, one of the region’s most distinctive traditional-style acappella singers, is a welcome pint-sized (I use that phrase advisedly!) presence at any singers’ gathering, locally or further afield. In 2002 Ray produced a CD, titled Stand Up Raymond, Volume 1 (sadly, Volume 2 - Hitch Up Thy Trousers Raymond - never saw the light of day!…)  And now Ray’s sterling commitment to the ongoing Yorkshire Garland project has borne fruit in this handsome two-disc collection. Ray has taken direct inspiration from Rod Stradling’s Musical Traditions label here, for a 28-page A5 booklet whets your appetite for the aural delights of the two CDs within the jewel-case, containing 49 songs with a total playing-time of close on 2½ hours (now there’s true pound-stretching Barnsley value for you!)

This take-home-and-savour edition of the repertoire of Ray Padgett, recorded by Matt Nelson at Ray’s home last November, ideally captures Ray’s personality. But don’t be fooled by the cover shot of Ray with his trusty concertina, for although at sessions he’ll doodle away happily on that instrument, picking out the melody to a song as a preamble to the singing, on these CDs he performs entirely unaccompanied.

Ray’s own natural role as a song-carrier within today’s revival, taking his cue from source singers, embraces local or regional variants of well-known traditional ballads and broadsides, comic pieces, items from the music-hall, and a handful of contemporary songs written in (and becoming part of) today’s own tradition. For Kay Sutcliffe’s Coal Not Dole, Ray has even composed a new melody that IMHO better reflects the sentiment than the original tune. Many songs in this collection will be significant discoveries for the researcher, and Ray’s cordial booklet notes illuminate their origins. Each song is (quite properly) audibly back-credited too, after being delivered in Ray’s inimitable stylish (some might also say quite stylised) manner. These are “typically Padgetty” renditions, clear in enunciation and replete with Ray’s own quirky accent, if occasionally verging on mannerism or affectation. He treats these songs with respect, yet clearly still derives enormous fun from the singing – there’s invariably a cheeky twinkle in his voice that betrays his puckish involvement in the story and his eagerness in its telling.

Ray’s interpretations seem to have changed little overall since 2002, except perhaps in his now altogether freer, almost conversational delivery that often takes unexpected liberties with bar-lines or phrasing. Ray’s singing is consistent in both manner and technique, but there are instances where his pitching can be wandersome (and on Butter And Cheese And All he even shifts key altogether midway through the first verse). A few songs plainly feel just a tad rushed here, while I was also disturbed by Ray’s decision to (on North Wall, Orgreave, Poacher’s Fate) sing verses-only between initial and final occurrences of the chorus; I can appreciate the playing-time issues, but to my mind this practice mars the impact of these fine songs. I’d also quibble with the discs’ sequencing, for the songs just seem to be arbitrarily shoved together in an almost-alphabetical order on each individual disc. Occasional awkward juxtaposition of key-centres results in some consecutive songs “jarring” at the outset, while some tracks follow too quickly on from previous ones.

The package certainly looks good, with much effort obviously having been expended, but it suffers from curious lapses in accuracy and detail, some of which are not entirely forgivable. The booklet contains full texts, invoking favourable comparison with releases from the MT stable (if not their glossier Veteran and Topic counterparts). Inevitably there’s a sprinkling of minor typos, but some of the rather obvious (editorial?) howlers, such as blatant mis-spelling of place-names, I’m sure could have been avoided. There are also inconsistencies in matters of song-titling and even authorship (this is surprising considering Ray’s keen penchant for proper research). The layout is at times quite untidy; but, most frustrating of all, the order of songs as presented in the booklet doesn’t conform to that heard on the discs and (correctly) reproduced on inlay tray and back cover of booklet. If nothing else, Ray should have provided a simple page-reference-by-title guide-cum-index. Steve Gardham has supplied a useful concordance-index, giving Roud and Child reference numbers for around two-thirds of the songs but even here, unfortunately, the entries are misaligned.

Even notwithstanding its “ha’porth of tar” aspects, though, this enjoyable and entertaining release constitutes an indispensible archive resource; Ray is thus to be heartily congratulated for his initiative and personal achievement. The set’s available from Ray himself (68 Longcauseway, Barnsley S71 2JA or tel. 01226 284927), for only £10 + £2 P&P.

David Kidman

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