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Spare Hands is the adopted “loose collective” name for a group of four singers from the Hull area that was originally convened for the specific purpose of providing recordings of local whaling songs to play in the background for visitors to the Hull Maritime Museum. Steve Gardham, Mick McGarry, Bill Sowerby and Les Ward, each being well known and highly regarded on his local patch for his contribution to the folk scene thereabouts, proved also to make a dynamic combination. A CD (Where The Whalefish Blow), many of whose songs’ sporting details having been adapted to take account of the locality, was recorded and released around the beginning of 2014, and quickly sold out.

The idea for a follow-up album of songs about the local fishing industry was originally mooted as part of a Yorkshire Garland project, but, when this fell through, fortunately the group was able to fund it through sales from the first album and fees from local gigs. Here it is then: every bit as able, distinguished and listenable as the first CD, and striking a healthy balance between an almost self-picking selection of quality fishing-related songs from the local Hull heritage and reliable, lusty and heartfelt renditions of folk now-standards Three Score And Ten, Shoals Of Herring and Fiddler’s Green. These are topped up with a pair of songs from tradition that have now been blessed with Hull-themed references and adapted thus by Steve: The Dogger Bank (the tune and chorus for which originated in a New York music-hall song), and the carol I Saw Three Ships. The latter, an album standout, forms a poignant, simple memorial to those affected by the triple trawler disaster of 1968, which itself provided direct inspiration for Luckiest Sailor, one of two examples on the disc of the excellent songwriting of Hissyfit’s Linda Kelly (the other, Spare Hand, furnishing the group, and this CD, with its name).

Mick’s strong, powerful singing, with its hard, lived-in character, proves just right for these songs and he also dispatches the late Mike Waterson’s Three Day Millionaire and Bye Bye Skipper with real gusto. Elsewhere, Steve takes the vocal lead on five songs, Bill on one (his own composition Through The Galley Boy’s Eyes) and new Spare Hands recruit Tom Gaynard on the MacColl number. Tom’s array of whistles provides an extra dimension to the already fulsome instrumentation (anglo concertina, melodeons, harmonica, guitar and bouzouki) and the blend is attractive, with the whole crew bringing their collective playing skills to the disc’s central track, a convivial instrumental soundtrack to Downing Pints In Rayner’s, penned by Bill.

As I’ve indicated, the intense authenticity of the foursome’s vocal delivery, coupled with the evident proud involvement of all Spare Hands in the enthusiastic promotion of their local heritage (not least via the exposure of home-grown songwriting talent), makes for a worthwhile and desirable product with its own distinctive flavour.

David Kidman

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This album was reviewed in Issue 108 of The Living Tradition magazine.