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Jon Bickley has been singing and songwriting for ten years, but he is new to me, so at first I was surprised by the rough and ready delivery of his material. However, as much of this CD was inspired by the letters and diaries of young soldiers serving in the First World War, this is surely what he is getting at - it wasn't very polished down in the trenches. So, songs such as We've Come To Hell To Kill The Devil aren't supposed to be cosy. Its line, “we shot two snipers and blew up a landmine, that was the best bit of fun we had”, unapologetically reminds us of the brutality of war.

There is, though, some light and shade on the CD. Calling All The Angels, with its community choir backing, Are We The Spiders (“or are we the flies”) and Once I Had A Sweetheart (“but now I have a gun”) each in its own way focuses on the vulnerability of the rank and file soldier. And Poppies For Sale even brings it home that 100 years on, squaddies are still losing their limbs and ending up on morphine drips.

Comparisons with Peter Bellamy and Rudyard Kipling are inevitable but ultimately unhelpful and even unfair. Bellamy/Kipling was special. Bickley is workmanlike. Don't expect a comfortable ride, even an enjoyable one, but if you're up for a thought-provoking and interesting 42mins, this one's for you.

Graham Gurrin


This review appeared in Issue 129 of The Living Tradition magazine