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GREG STEPHENS & CROOKFINGER JACK - The Beggar Boy of the North'

GREG STEPHENS & CROOKFINGER JACK - The Beggar Boy of the North'
Harbourtown HARCD051.    

What a delight this is!  What a corker!  The opening set Canny Cumberland / Yorkshire Lasses / The One Horned Sheep is so infectious and atmospheric that with eyes closed I could imagine myself treading a measure or two at Mr Fezziwig's party.  Taking a breather from that I could relax with the next item, the gorgeously languid Never Love Thee More, with a segue into Cumberland Nelly and what may well be the original tune to John Peel.  And so it goes on, Lonsdale Hornpipe, The Northern Lass, the title track Beggar Boy of the North, all the way through to the closer, The Cantsfield Polka, 12 tracks full of goodness, completely satisfying.  If music had calories I'd be gaining weight as listened.

Crookfinger Jack were a band formed and led by Greg Stephens (tenor banjo, mandolin) in the 1970's, with Dave Lyth, fiddle, Chris Ashley, fiddle, Peadar Long, whistle, flute, clarinet, tenor sax, Gordon Johnston, guitar, bodhran, Chris Hill, cello, and Pete Mickleborough, Double bass.  Their brief was to play music from North West England, defined as 'Chester to Carlisle, bounded by the Irish Sea and the Pennines'.  It must have taken a lot of research to find the music played here but I can tell you it was worth it.

By all accounts this didn't do too well when recorded as an LP in 1978.  I can't think why because it sounds fresh as a daisy right now, and the fact that I, a dedicated non-dancer who always listens for vocals on a record, have enjoyed it so much tells its own tale.  It's a very welcome re-issue indeed.

I've never heard Greg Stephen's current group, The Boat Band but if they sound anything like this, with a few songs maybe, and I were running a club or festival they'd be on my wish list right away.

Roy Harris

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This album was reviewed in Issue 72 of The Living Tradition magazine.