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VARIOUS ARTISTS - The Transports: A Tale Of Exile And Migration

VARIOUS ARTISTS - The Transports: A Tale Of Exile And Migration
Hudson Records HUD007

There can't be many tasks in roots music as tricky or as daunting as re-inventing an iconic recording. Ask anyone who was around at the time - and a lot who weren't - and the chances are that they would pick Peter Bellamy's 'ballad opera' as the single greatest achievement of folk music in the 1970s. It was a marker for the ability of the music to cross over and find new audiences. No pressure there then.

I suspect that the first policy decision the modern Transportees had to make was how much they dared to change the structure of the work. The most obvious casualty of that process is Bellamy's role as the Street Singer, replaced by a spoken narration by Matthew Crampton. Nor is the musical content sacrosanct. Dolly Collins' elaborate arrangements are ditched, giving the whole piece a much more stripped down sound.

The strength of the original, though, was surely in Bellamy's songs, making gems like The Black And Bitter Night non-negotiable. That means that someone has to go head-to-head with Mike Waterson's unbeatable version. That magnificent tune, in fact, is the one time when the new cast, led by Sean Cooney, sound to be straining just a little. But it scarcely spoils anything. The new generation perform admirably, with special distinction in the case of Nancy Kerr, who reprises June Tabor's original take on The Leaves In The Woodland.

Cooney also contributes a song of his own - Dark Water - which brings the project up to date by linking it with the plight of the Mediterranean migrants. There is no straining for contemporary relevance. There is no need for it; it is all there in what Peter Bellamy wrote 40 years ago.

Dave Hadfield

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This album was reviewed in Issue 123 of The Living Tradition magazine.