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BILL SMITH A Country Life: Songs and Stories of a Shropshire Man

BILL SMITH A Country Life: Songs and Stories of a Shropshire Man
Musical Traditions MTCD351

Bill is probably a name unfamiliar to most readers of this magazine - or of most other magazines. Not surprising really as he gave up singing most of his repertoire many years before these recordings were made at the start of the 1980’s. When they were made by his son, Bill was in his early 70’s and in deteriorating health, unfortunately passing away in 1987.  Despite his age there is a strength in the delivery of the songs. An agricultural worker whose forebears were prolific singers, Bill followed in their footsteps. He enjoyed learning songs at school but was reluctant to perform. Eventually his main stage was in the pubs in the local area in the company of other singers.

Whilst Bill might not be a familiar name, some of his songs will be...The Outlandish Knight, Henry My Son, The Cuckoo, Down The Road, All Jolly Good Fellows, McCaffery, to mention a few. But many are just fragments as that was all he could remember - the majority being less than a minute long.
Because he was increasingly reluctant to be recorded, the quality of the recordings is not the highest. Everyday sounds creep in: the fire cracking, cutlery being laid on the table, what sounds like a clock chiming!  What comes across is a sense of devilment in some of the jokes and ditties. There is also warmth in the telling of the stories and the singing of the songs. The sleeve notes, which are excellent in detail and source info, mention how he would start singing one he had just remembered before bursting into Postman Pat - how frustrating for Andrew his son.

Rod Stradling describes this collection as being one of the most important made. I am not qualified to disagree with him, so I won’t. It’s a challenging listen, and not one you would manage in one go, but I do feel better for the experience.

Dave Beeby

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This album was reviewed in Issue 91 of The Living Tradition magazine.