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SID KIPPER - Gutless and THE KIPPER FAMILY - Two Faced

SID KIPPER - Gutless
Leader Records  LEKCD2126

Dambuster Records  DAMCD024

There was a time around the mid-late 1980s, when I would decide to go to a festival simply because The Kipper Family were on the bill.  Gosh, they were a good act.  They’d regularly have us all in fits.

And then, in the early 90s, they were no more: Sid (the son, played by Chris Sugden) went solo, and Henry the father (played by Dick Nudds) disappeared from my radar altogether.

And it is fair to say that Chris Sugden in his bleaker moments must often think that “Sid Kipper solo” has also almost disappeared from public view too.  Indeed, the penultimate song in Gutless is a pointed reference to the fact that he claims he cannot get any air time on Britain’s premier radio folk show.  He says in his witty liner notes: “Sid has been somewhat put out over the past decade or so that the BBC’s flagship folk programme has consistently ignored him and his recordings”.  He claims he has never once appeared on Mike Harding’s programme as a solo artist.

Can this really be true?  If so, it is a sad indictment of Smooth Operations. Surely, one slot from the admittedly excellent familiar names that seem to crop up on that programme whenever I tune in (e.g. Waterson:Carthy, Kate Rusby, Bellowhead, Martin Simpson, June Tabor, John Tams, etc) could be sacrificed, for us to hear Sid solo?

It would probably do wonders for his CD sales.   And would probably help those members of Generation Y who never saw The Kipper Family perform, realise just what they had missed in that duo: because Sid solo still has the magic (even if one misses the brilliant patter and truly touching harmonies of “father and son”).

If I am to be totally frank, I am not sure that Two Faced quite recaptures that great chemistry between Chris and Dick.  You see, when you read that the album contains “unreleased gems”, and you know that the duo has long been ancient history, you have to ask yourself just WHY the tracks were “unreleased”!  After all, they did release 6 albums in their years together.

And when you hear the album, you understand why many of the tracks never made any final cut.  True, they all contain a level of wit, but most alas have not enough to sustain a 3 minute funny SONG.

Ah, but one thinks: surely, it is worth hearing these songs just to hear father and son’s plaintive harmonies again?

Well, yes, up to a point Lord Copper!  The problem is though, that the sound quality on the earlier tracks on Two Faced just does not do the duo justice.

But the sound quality is just dandy by the time we get to the last song on the CD: and it is by-far-and-away the best cut on the album.  Do You Know Ken Peel?  It really delivers in spades.

However, whilst I have some serious reservations about the joint album, Sid’s new solo album is a much more successful affair.  Oh for sure, not all the songs succeed (indeed more miss the mark than hit it), but the sound quality is pucka, and the gorgeously unhinged liner notes are a hoot.

The standout song is All Things Dark And Dangerous.  I quote from his notes: “This hymn by Wesley Charles is all that now remains of the Pessimist Methodists, a short-lived religious sect, who believed that all was for the worst in the worst of all possible worlds.”

It strikes me that someone with a cast of mind that can come up with something like that, is a national treasure, and should be able to make national radio at least once in ten years (when the Usual Suspects often seem to hog the airwaves!)

Dai Woosnam

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This album was reviewed in Issue 90 of The Living Tradition magazine.