Link to Living Tradition Homepage





ERIC BOGLE with JOHN MUNRO - A Toss Of The Coin

ERIC BOGLE with JOHN MUNRO - A Toss Of The Coin
Greentrax Recordings CDTRAX375

How nice it is to see this wonderful duo back in the recording studio. And nice to see John get almost equal billing on this album: for in truth, they’ve been so close together in performance terms for so many years, that if they got any closer they’d need to get married!

My joking aside, it should be said that by-and-large, this is a deeply serious album. One or two up-tempo jaunty numbers apart, the rest of the songs tackle major tragedy and trauma.

The Black Saturday bush fires of February 2009, in which 173 souls perished, provide two strong songs (the opener Ashes, and track 6, Reg Evans’ Cradle). Then there’s Song For James, a song about the road death of a 19 year old in Co. Cork. And then we have Eric’s singing – to his own melody - of the famous WW1 poem to the memory of the senselessly slain, In Flanders Fields. Then that poem is almost updated a near century later, to Eric’s new song Home Is The Hero, about a maimed Afghan War veteran’s homecoming. Add to this, two bordering-on-the-stunning songs on subject matter that tears at your soul: the Sandy Hook school shooting (Roll Call), and a song by Mike O’ Callaghan (When An Angel Appears) on the sheer wicked injustice of terminal illnesses like cancer, and how they often cut down the finest of our flowers, long before they have finished blooming.

So, dear reader, I have set the scene. And you may be thinking “it sure as heck doesn’t seem a bundle of fun”. And of course it is not. But if you think that it is a morose and dark album, please think again. For it is, I reckon, quite uplifting in its way.

I am helped in arriving at this feeling by the overall sound of the CD. None of the songs have dirge-like melodies, and all exhibit outstanding instrumental work and vocals. And Pete Titchener, who recorded it at Folk House Studio in Adelaide, deserves our warmest congratulations for the way that every instrument and vocal harmony is given suitable parity in the order of things: something that is far from commonplace in CDs that I review.

Gee, you can just simply bathe in that musicality. Luxuriate: just close your eyes. Who needs Radox, when you can listen to John’s dreamy high harmonies and his sensationally good mandolin, ukulele and guitar? And it is not just him of course. I have remarked in reviews before on the astonishing Emma Luker on fiddle and cello: after listening to her here, I am convinced she must be the secret love child of the great David Lindley. She is that good.

Four other guys bring a lot to the musical table too, but alas I do not have space to discuss. But I would like to say a word about the two female harmony vocalists, each used (perhaps too sparingly?) on one track only here. Liz Frencham provides some enchantingly seductive and inventive vocals on John’s singing of his reggae-inspired Glory Days. This was one of the two upbeat songs I mentioned earlier: a song on the plusses of arriving at the Third Age. And with a gloriously true line about one’s realisation that one does not know everything, as one thought one did when young: “I’ve never known till now, how many things I’ve never known”.

And then, blow me, if Maggie Rutjens does not have the daunting task of immediately following that harmonic brilliance with her own colouring of Eric’s vocal, on the album’s closing song, Don’t Throw Away Your Dreams. This is a Titchener/Harrison number, and to Maggie’s credit, she did not make me wonder why the sublime Ms Frencham was not given a second innings.

But as I remarked earlier, the big memory here will be the two very strong songs that lodge themselves in your head and GUT as soon as you hear them. The first When An Angel Appears, is by Mike O’Callaghan, about the loss of a saintly nurse and family member to the cruellest of diseases. It has the sweetest of choruses, but has verses with a stark simplicity of language that reminded me of Betjeman at his best. And a last verse that could not be bettered by anyone, not even Eric.

But that was not the song that had my tears rolling. It took track 10 to do that. Eric’s salute to the 26 who died at Sandy Hook in Connecticut.

I guess a cynic would say, it is less a song and more a LIST of names. But they would be wrong, despite the song’s title saying what it is on the tin, viz. a Roll Call. In amongst those evocative Christian names that many of us know from endless TV reports, there are biting lyrics like this, on the filth that can emanate from Internet chat-rooms: “As the usual conspiracy trolls/Crawl from their cyber holes”. I hope a copy of this song finds its way to every Connecticut radio station.

All in all, I reckon this CD to be a considerable piece of work. And now that Eric and John have announced their retirement from world tours, those fans who would have flocked to their gigs here in Britain, will have to flock to the record shops instead.

And if they do, they will not be disappointed.

Dai Woosnam


Secure On-line mailorder service
Buy this CD online from The Listening Post
The Listening Post is the CD mailorder service of The Living Tradition magazine.
This album was reviewed in Issue 96 of The Living Tradition magazine.