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BRUCE LINDSAY - Two Bold Singermen And The English Folk Revival: The Lives, Song Traditions And Legacies Of Sam Larner And Harry Cox 

BRUCE LINDSAY - Two Bold Singermen And The English Folk Revival: The Lives, Song Traditions And Legacies Of Sam Larner And Harry Cox 
Equinox Publishing ISBN: 9781781799178 (hardback) / 9781781799185 (ePDF) 

Before starting reviewing this biography, let me say I’ve been a fan of both singers since the late 1960s - when attending gigs where proselytisers like Peter Bellamy enthused over them – but also declare that I’m the antithesis of a walking encyclopaedia on both artistes, (although my respect for both has meant I’ve visited their home villages, which in Larner’s case, saw me at his cottage in Winterton-on-Sea, just three years ago).

Right, preamble over. Now, when a moment ago I called this a biography of the duo, I was perhaps over-simplifying it a bit. Of course it’s indeed a detailed account of their lives, but it’s so very much more. Like what, exactly? Well, it’s also a thorough analysis of their singing styles and repertoire; it additionally offers a fascinating insight into their local milieu and fellow pub singers; takes a detailed look at their years of fame and those Folk celebs who championed them; and above all, is a ringing endorsement of their rightful place high in the Folk pantheon. And without over-egging the pudding here, I feel compelled to say that this book is a social history of the East Anglia of their lifetime: one worthy of a Ronald Blythe at his best.

I enjoyed this book so much, that as soon as I finished it, I started again at the beginning: a very rare thing for me, as occasionally before now, I’ve found it hard to read a book I’m reviewing, even just the once! “Two readings” though, not because of my wanting to indulge myself: rather, because there’s so much detail that it warrants two readings. And I’ve heavily annotated my copy: alas too much to fit the space allocated for this review.

Talking of “notes”: the book’s blessed with footnotes that show Lindsay’s formidable research. He gets my total respect here: and for supplying a detailed index (amazing the number of biographies that skimp in this area). It’s a heady intellectual brew, but one that’s still easy reading: for he has a lovely lightness of touch, that makes the reader smile. Take this: “the two men are as stylistically different as Janis Joplin and Maria Callas, or Martin Carthy and Captain Beefheart”. (I’m still smiling at that.) I am also left with all sorts of stuff now lodged in my brain, like his explanation of the differences in pub sessions between Norfolk and Suffolk, and I will never hear the song The Maid Of Australia again, and look at it in quite the same way!

I will leave you with this, the most memorable of the many facts I’ve gleaned from this handsomely presented hardback book: viz. that despite being only six years different in age, and both living into their eighties in houses only seven miles (as the crow flies) apart, the two men never ever met: nor did they meet my favourite Norfolk singer from the next generation, Walter Pardon, who lived 20 and 12 miles away respectively. That still astounds me.

Dai Woosnam


This review appeared in Issue 137 of The Living Tradition magazine