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JOHNNY HANDLE - Billy Bell: Redesdale Bard

JOHNNY HANDLE - Billy Bell: Redesdale Bard
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"Billy" Bell was a roadmender in the northernmost part of Northumberland just after the turn of the last century and wrote a large body of poems, seemingly for his own satisfaction, although several were submitted for local publication.  This enjoyable collection contains a selection of his writings (the remainder is published in e-book format).  Whilst the poems are fun to read, like much vernacular poetry, they really spring to life when heard - the book notes that he loved to hear his verse read or sung.  

Johnny Handle realises this well and has produced a complementary CD split between his readings of the poems and others which he has put to traditional tunes interspersed with locally-relevant tunes (such as the Redesdale Hornpipe and Bellingham Boat).  Johnny's readings are magnificent and really breathe life into the material. Obviously for fans of the High Level Ranters and Johnny (with his lengthy solo career) as well as natives of the area, this book and CD will be self-recommending.  But does it work for poor benighted southerners?

Well the CD certainly does and is great fun.  The book is a little drier:  it is of considerable interest but devoid of annotations - so, for instance, it would have been nice to have some indication as to the subject matter of the poem The Cleugh (presumably the Colcleugh dam?) and it may have been an idea to have a glossary - some of the words have certainly got me beaten!  But put together with the CD it works well.  It's great to see work such as this getting to a wider audience, so many praises to the people who have put such hard work into this worthwhile project.

Paul Burgess  

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This album was reviewed in Issue 97 of The Living Tradition magazine.