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HUGHIE JONES AND FRIENDS - Liverpool Connexions

Liverpool Connexions
Fellside Recordings FECD198

Hughie Jones was always my favourite Spinner. It is fashionable now amongst the smart set to deride Britain's most famous folk group of the sixties, but I don't mind admitting I always loved all four of The Spinners. But Hughie, especially. And sometimes in the years that have elapsed since their break-up, he has disappeared from my radar. But he has never disappeared from the Scene. He has been appearing at virtually all points of the compass (with a marked penchant for seafaring festivals) and getting into the Fellside studio (this is his third album for that distinguished label).

He has come up with a very satisfying album here. However, I am not in the business of writing puff-jobs, so I will add the odd note of censure to my praise. But let's look at the many plusses first.

Don't let the "and friends" above the title on the CD front cover, fool you. Oh yes, they are THERE alright, and a stellar bunch they are. But this is very much HUGHIE's album: he takes all the vocals in a voice that is every bit as good and fresh-sounding now as it was forty years ago. I applaud him for keeping the flame burning in himself: even the best of singers can find a certain world-weariness enter their vocal DNA after half a century singing in public! Not Hughie. I applaud him also for the selection of songs. There are favourites like Shep Woolley's 'Down By The Dockyard Wall' and that Stan Kelly masterpiece 'Liverpool Lullaby'. The latter song he delivers "a cappella" (and it amuses me to see him change the original "when Littlewoods provide the cash" to "when the Lottery provides the cash": a sign of the decline of the Football Pools in the UK, methinks!). And then there's Ewan MacColl's 'Dirty Old Town', which I can honestly say I have never heard done better. A really funky arrangement with some glorious melodeon from Brian Peters, sweet Nashville guitar from Bob Conroy, and best of all, some wonderful double-bass by John 'Count' McCormick (my oh my, can't that man SWING!)

And mixed with such well-known songs, we have the relatively esoteric. 'Here's to Cheshire' is a fine song written in the last half century here in Britain, but I first heard it recorded by the great Pete Seeger, and have it indeed on several American recordings, yet it is relatively unknown here. And there are two settings by Alan Fitzsimmons of poems by Cicely Fox Smith. I am ashamed to say I was unaware of both. My loss. Great to see the usual high quality Fellside liner notes. And black print on a white background. That is heaven. I can read it easily. No "psychedelic swamp" for Fellside!

And now my three slight caveats. First, I note that Hughie says that 'Dirty Old Town' is Ewan MacColl's masterpiece"! Eh? Surely not? I realise that we don't all think the same, but most people I know would not put it in MacColl's top TEN songs, let alone describe it as his "masterpiece". And then there is the excellent partly self-penned song 'Alexander Selkirk Is My Name'. A song worthy of a much wider audience. But if people DO cover it, I hope that they will not do as Hughie has done here, and show the song as 'Alexander Selkirk Is My Name (Jones)'.

For the fact is that the verse melody is note for note that of 'The Wild Colonial Boy'. The middle eight is Hughie's though. And ALL the fine words. And lastly there is the apparent 'Liverpool' thread that binds the songs together. At times that is risible. I think Hughie knows it, but getting 'Liverpool' in the title is a good commercial move that will see the CD sold at the various shops and museums in the city catering for 'music tourists'. Recommended.

Dai Woosnam

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This album was reviewed in Issue 67 of The Living Tradition magazine.