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VARIOUS ARTISTES 'Song Links' Fellside Recordings FECD176D

'Song Links - A Celebration of English Traditional Songs and their Australian variants' - is an idea conceived by Martin Wyndham Read. The ideas behind 'Song Links' are bigger than the CD alone and perhaps the best time to review this album, the first in the 'Song Links' project, will be in ten to twenty years' time. The relative strengths of the song traditions in the two countries are evident in the generally stronger contributions by the English singers and musicians; time will tell if 'Song Links' will prove to be a watershed for any new revival of interest in traditional song in Australia.

I will start this review by declaring an interest. The Living Tradition is one of the sponsors of the project. We are not alone - each of the 34 tracks of this double CD set has been sponsored by a festival, club, organisation or individual. This collective confidence in Martin Wyndham Read has been well rewarded with a CD that sets new standards in presentation and is a timely reminder of the entertainment value of good songs, well sung. '

Song Links' is a double CD with extensive sleeve notes running to 80 pages. The packaging format is attractive and unusual; it is in effect a CD sized hardback book with CDs slipped inside the front and back covers. The result is a practical alternative to a boxed set, it is comprehensive but easy to store alongside the rest of your music collection. In choosing this route, Fellside have set a quality benchmark for future projects.

What of the music? Rather than having English and Australian versions back to back, they have devoted one CD to the English songs and another to the Australian songs. Each CD is long, well over an hour, but the variety of songs and of performers makes the time fly by, which is always a good sign. The English artists include Tony Rose, The Copper Family, John Kirkpatrick, Bill Whalley & Dave Fletcher, Louis Killen, Shirley Collins, Martin Carthy and Norma Waterson. The Australian contributors include Kate Burke & Ruth Hazelton, Dave de Hugard, Danny Spooner and Cathie O'Sullivan. Straddling the two countries are Nancy Kerr & James Fagan and of course Martin Wyndham Read. Not on the recording but present in spirit is A.L. Lloyd - Bert Lloyd - an important figure in both the British and Australian folk revivals.

The English CD is the stronger of the two but I have a feeling that the Australian CD is a work in progress and that there is much more to come. I found myself listening more and more to the Australian CD and it prompted me to dig out an old Bert Lloyd recording of Bush Ballads. The sleeve notes point out that there was not much active collecting of folksongs in Australia before 1950 and most of the Australian songs on this album come from a small part of temperate south-eastern Australia. Hopefully future recordings might explore or re-introduce material from other sources.

A live concert of 'Song Links' at Sidmouth Festival resulted in a standing ovation. I don't know if the final song of the concert was the same as the final song on the CD. If it was, then I can understand the response. The final track, 'The Bonny Bunch of Roses-O', sung by Martin Wyndham Read is simply magnificent. If the ovation were for the whole project, then I would concur with that sentiment. In either case, Martin Wyndham Read deserves a medal for this one.

Peter Heywood

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This album was reviewed in Issue 52 of The Living Tradition magazine.