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SAM LARNER - Cruising Round Yarmouth

SAM LARNER - Cruising Round Yarmouth
Musical Traditions MTCD369-0

In 1959, a 17 year old Martin Carthy went to an early folk and blues club run by Ewan MacColl to hear a friend share a night with “some old bloke with no teeth”, as described by his friend! He's never forgotten his first impression of Sam Larner, fisherman of Winterton, Norfolk, then 81. In the 46 page illustrated booklet included in this latest gem from the Musical Traditions label, he comments that he “was privileged to be in the presence of genuine greatness”. Listen to this and you'll see why he said that.

These recordings were made by MacColl and Seeger between 1958 and 1960, and are of remarkable quality, issued here as a double CD of one of the real source singers of England. Just have a look at the list of 67 tracks to see how much influence this man had on the early traditional revivalists of the sixties.

Sam Larner (1878-1965) grew up in a thriving fishing community on England's east coast, and as well as the songs, there are fascinating spoken insights into life in such a community 100 years ago, enhanced by a comprehensive biography by Chris Holderness. These are field recordings and Sam's obvious ease with the microphone is demonstrated by asides like “that's a good 'un” and “I dunno any more of that”, a great credit to MacColl and Seeger's technique. The original tapes have, of course, been edited, but MT are to be congratulated on retaining the essence of the man's quality by not editing out what is part of the totality of the man. There are some inconsequential little risqué ditties and local fishing rhymes, alongside some powerful performances of classic ballads like the one which struck Martin Carthy on that night in 1959, the Lofty Tall Ship (Henry Martin) and the Outlandish Knight, with a few snatches of old US music hall material thrown in, a rare mix!

It's no wonder that Sam Larner was effectively to become the basis of MacColl's Singing The Fishing radio ballad - this is real quality traditional English song, and as this is the first collection of his repertoire since a couple of early LPs, it's an extremely welcome addition to the library of authentic traditional song.

Jim Bainbridge

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This album was reviewed in Issue 107 of The Living Tradition magazine.