ALAN BELL - The Definitive Collection
Greentrax Recordings CDTRAX285

I recently met that grand old man of Greentrax fame pushing his shopping trolley round a Lothian garden centre and relieved him from worrying overly much about greenfly on his azaleas by talking of that other grand figure Alan Bell. Seems, like me, Ian loved Alan’s ‘The Century’s People’ album and had sent in his recommendation to some award panel that it be given due recognition, but to little avail. Bah - what do they know?

Now Greentrax have followed through by releasing this CD, which does exactly what it says on the label i.e. it is the definitive collection, bringing together all of Alan’s best known songs which have hitherto been dispersed throughout other albums. They’re all here, from the one that made it into the Japanese charts – ‘Bread and Fishes’, to one of the best farewell songs in the business, ‘So Here’s to You’, by way of that great favourite of English singarounds ‘Alice White’, which was written for, and popularised by that excellent singer Marie Little, and is given another fine treatment here by Liz Moore.

There’s a great feel for history in song here, from ‘The Band in the Park’ (battle weary soldier turns up on the doorstep after “disappearing” into the army in 1939 and re-emerging only after the end of WW11) to an earlier war ‘Letters from Wilfred’ and the geographical, from his beloved Lakeland to the Fylde Coast. Alan has a great affection for Scotland too, and this emerges in his lyrics to ‘The Dark Island’ - sung here by Th’ Antique Road Show - which was written after a lonely walk through a deserted village on Islay .

A good album for those who appreciate well crafted songs, and one that is a lesson to those who might be tempted to veer towards a more overblown approach. The uncluttered arrangements and accompaniment, which always make the song the thing, are an example of just how it should be.

Hector Christie

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This album was reviewed in Issue 65 of The Living Tradition magazine.