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Wiggy Smith (and other Smith family members) "Band Of Gold"
Musical Traditions MTCD 307

Musical Traditions Records, in connection with Musical Traditions Internet Magazine, exists to ". bring music which might never achieve a commercial publication to the small audience that values it", a credo that says much about them and plenty about the folk revival's attitude towards traditional singers. They are publishing a steady stream of albums by such singers, gleaned from recordings made by enthusiastic collectors over a period of years and in a variety of circumstances.

This album, featuring one of the greatest of English traveller singers has recordings made between 1966 -1993 at pub sessions, in the Smith family caravan, and at the English Country Music Weekends, at Postlip, near Cheltenham. Being live it has background noise at times, but not to the detriment of the singing. It contains the work of collectors Gwilym Davies and Paul Burgess, Peter Shepheard, and Mike Yates, and our thanks are due to these men and to the team that produced the album and the 24 page booklet that goes with it. This describes the circumstances of Wiggy Smith's life, his attitude towards singing and the songs, plus complete song texts. It's a fine piece of work worthy of reading for it's own sake.

All honour to these gentlemen, and a special tip of the hat to Rod Stradling, mastermind of the whole project. Wisdom Smith, known as "Wiggy" to distinguish him from his father, also named Wisdom, is one of a traveller family well-known in Gloucestershire. Singing and step dancing were popular pastimes to them as described in the booklet. "You'd have a big stick fire, and sit in a circle round it. Someone would sing a song, and then you'd go right round the circle, everybody did something."

Wiggy learned songs on these occasions, many from his father, drawing in the elements of style at the same time. He has a strong and expressive voice which he uses to the full, singing high and drawing out his notes when the melody suits, with a touch of vibrato adding to the drama of his performance. He sings to be listened to and he gives everything he's got. His store of songs, just like any genuine traditional singer, covers a wide range of influences. Thus we get a programme including "Lord Bateman", "Barb'ry Allen", "Ship Carpenter's Mate", and other ballads along with "Don't Laugh at me, "cos I'm a Fool" (Norman Wisdom) a couple from Jimmie Rodgers records, "Strawberry Roan" from Big Bill Campbell's Rocky Mountain Rhythm, and the George Formby favourite "Auntie Maggie's Home-made Remedy". Wiggy is a performer! He knows how to hold an audience and he knows when he's done well, giving out a rich chuckle at the conclusion of a song he is pleased with.

I haven't enjoyed an album of a traditional singer as much in a long time, enjoyment that is added to by the other family members, Wisdom Snr, uncles Denny and Jabez (known as Biggun), and granddaughters Jean and Tracy, who contribute some grand songs. It's a wonderful portrait of a singer, his family, and the music in their lives. It adds to our knowledge of traditional singing in England, and it gives us fine entertainment of a kind hard to find elsewhere.

Roy Harris

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This album was reviewed in Issue 43 of The Living Tradition magazine.