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QFTRY & TOM LEWIS - Poles Part Too

QFTRY & TOM LEWIS - Poles Part Too
Self-Propelled Music ASM106D

At the end of 2005, the editor of that fine German online website Folkworld, asked me to name my 5 favourite albums of the year. It was difficult to decide on four of the five. But I had one CD in my mind that was pre-eminent. It was in gambling terms an absolute “banker”.

I had reviewed Tom Lewis's 2004 album 360° – All Points of the Compass in that year following its release (actually, in TLT #62). And had been blown away.

I have spent the past seven years recommending this album to all-and-sundry. And waiting for more from Tom Lewis to come my way. And finally it has. And the obvious question is whether it has been worth the wait.

Before I come up with my answer, let me tell you a bit about this new album.

This new CD is Tom's second album with a 5 member group of Polish shantymen, who now go under the all-too-forgettable name of QFTRY. Some ten years after his first collaboration, they join together again in a more eclectic repertoire than most lovers of “songs of the sea” might appreciate. That said, even songs like Proud Mary (from the pen of John Fogerty of Creedence Clearwater fame), are NAUTICAL in that the mighty Mississippi DOES reach the sea! And it is fair to say that the best cut on the whole album - Jesse Fuller's immortal San Francisco By Blues – is of course set in Oakland on the shores of that great bay.

But all that said, most of the material would delight any regular attendee at maritime festivals. Cyril Tawney's signature song Grey Funnel Line (the unofficial anthem of British submariners), kicks the album off, in a most imaginative arrangement, with the countertenor really hitting the ground running, and with the magnificent bass singer banging in the guy ropes to stop the former soaring off into the stratosphere.

We follow with Passage to Grimsby (aka Dogger Bank), which was, as they say in the liner notes, “stolen from Johnny Collins' early repertoire”. As I am someone living in the town,I always listen hard to the last line of the chorus and make sure they sing GREAT Grimsby, and not the “grey Grimsby” I unfortunately heard a well known band sing a few years ago! Needless to say, Tom and his mates are too streetwise to make that basic error.

Other standout tracks are their magnificent rendition of Mick Ryan's classic The Song Goes On, and the Kipling/Bellamy gem, Anchor Song. And not forgetting Tom's famous song Last Shanty, which is delivered with immense brio, and has the added charm of a short section sung in Polish.

But, strangely perhaps, it was, as I said, the aforementioned San Francisco Bay Blues that made the CD catch fire. I promise you that even “Lone Cat” Jesse would have freed himself from his one-man-band contraption and got up and DANCED. It is exhilarating: not least for the dazzling guitar break halfway through from Dariusz Kabacinski (the recording engineer: not a group member).

So the verdict? Clearly, a definite success. But I have one slight reservation.

There are no new songs from Tom's pen here. Now with many songwriters, that is no great loss. But with such a seriously good writer as Tom Lewis, that is something we must regret. Doubtless he is storing up ideas and will again - with his next CD - unleash his songwriting talent on the hungry-to-devour in the Folk world.

Dai Woosnam

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This album was reviewed in Issue 93 of The Living Tradition magazine.