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NICK DOW - A Poor Man's Gift 

NICK DOW - A Poor Man's Gift 
Old House Music OHM812 

Nick is a singer, guitarist, folk song collector, and great lover of all aspects of Romany culture, which he has great insight into through his lovely wife Mally and her extended family. For many years his main source of income was from restoring, repairing and painting gypsy vardos. He is also a really pleasant bloke and one of our finest, somewhat under-rated singers.

The first of this pairing is actually in DVD format so that as well as 10 songs from Nick, there is roughly a half an hour of video footage. The video section will not play in the DVD slot in my TV but on my computer it opens as a video file called NICK AND MALLY DOW WAGONS. This starts with an interview with Mally talking about her early life in a traveller family, then there is some footage of traveller life, mainly with them having a great time with their horses at the travellers' Mecca - Appleby Fair. The rest is mainly about the wagons with Nick in interview explaining his current restoration project and talking about previous ones. It ends with lots of photos of the high folk art of wagon painting by a number of leading artists in this field. It is all very interesting and well done.

The songs are a well-chosen bunch, all from traveller sources, and many of these are through Nick's own connections, particularly with the Lee family of Blackpool and others learned at various traveller get-togethers, but there’s also a good take on the famed version of Riding Down To Portsmouth that Mike Yates recorded from Mary Ann Haynes in Brighton. It is possible to hear that Nick has two types of listener in mind; the traveller and his folk club fans. To these ears, he handles this dichotomy with ease.

The other album in this pairing is a re-release of one of Nick's albums from 1983. It confirms that his approach to singing shows no great change, though the more recent one demonstrates greater depth. The two performances from the earlier album that linger in the memory are The Bonny Girl and Another Man's Wedding. It is only after several listenings that it occurs that these are both sung unaccompanied. Now, Nick is a fine guitarist and his backings are carefully worked out and always appropriate, but to hear the full majesty and impact of this magnificent voice at its finest, then it is those where that voice is heard on its own that these ears are attracted to.

Which of the two to choose? Too difficult! Go for both!

Vic Smith


This review appeared in Issue 130 of The Living Tradition magazine