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PETER BELLAMY - The Barrack-Room Ballads Of Rudyard Kipling

PETER BELLAMY - The Barrack-Room Ballads Of Rudyard Kipling
Fellside Recordings FECD253

It is a sobering thought to consider that to many young Folkies, not only is Rudyard Kipling a name from the past, so is the name of Peter Bellamy. For it has been 21 years now since Peter chose to “say adieu” for the final time: and left a sense of aching loss behind him.

This double CD represents the first time that Peter's various Barrack Room Ballad recordings have been brought together in one place. The first disc is a reissue of his original LP, and the second largely contains those other settings of poems from the book that made up the bulk of PB's Soldiers Three cassette. Along with the discs, we have a wonderfully legible liner booklet, with Peter's 1975 notes, and additional informative notes by Nigel Schofield, written in 2012.

As someone who bought the original vinyl back in the 70s, I cannot tell you just how much joy this collection gives me. Apart from being able to hear it, gloriously “hiss and crackle free” at long last, one can play it now without my Socialist Worker friends pointing a finger at me for both selling-out and also hanging onto every word of Rudyard Kipling: “that arch-imperialist” (as they foolishly called him).

For the fact is that now, in these past four decades, Kipling's literary stock has risen considerably, and indeed one can say he has been rehabilitated. Mind you, that said, if I was a foster parent, telling Social Services that I was a Kiplingite, would perhaps be ill-advised! Sadly, there is no getting through to those people who are still suspicious of Kipling's motives. No point telling them that Kipling was “of his time” in his language, and as far from a racist as you'll ever find. Indeed, so often in his poems, he contrasts the colonialists unfavourably against the colonised.

You'd have thought that The Kipling Society would have originally welcomed with open arms, Peter Bellamy's request to put the poems to music. Not so: they made life very difficult for him. I hope those (if there are any still alive!) of the committee that originally denied him those rights, feel suitably contrite all these years later.

At this stage of a review, I would normally start mentioning standout tracks. But if I try that tried-and-tested move, I will be here all day, and you will need to read this review online as it will have grown far too long for the print edition of TLT. For the fact is, that there is not one track that does not pay its rent in the album.

But please don't think it is a case of “always brilliant” Kipling poems here. No, in truth, try to read some of them in the Collected Works of Rudyard Kipling, and they hardly LEAP off the page. It takes Bellamy's genius to make them come alive.

Not just his astonishingly individualistic bleat - a voice that would help bring the sheep in, better than any prize sheepdog – but also his authoritative concertina playing and choice of melodies (some self-penned, some borrowed). This brave man incurred the wrath of the PC Brigade, to bring us pure magic. I close this review remembering the only one-to-one conversation I had with Peter. (At the Fo'c'sle Folk Club in Southampton, on 12th October 1973.) He was in town to do his - then embryonic - Kipling show, and I met him before the doors opened.

We had a brief chat in the bar and then it was time for him to bring old Rudyard to life. This he did triumphantly. And did not just breathe life into Kipling: he breathed life into me as well.

And my thanks go to Fellside Recordings all these years later, for providing the madeleine cake to make me 26 years old again.

Dai Woosnam

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This album was reviewed in Issue 94 of The Living Tradition magazine.