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Brian Watson "Where Ivvor Heh Thi' Gone" Old and New Tradition ONTCD2004

This is not the specialist taste that it might first appear. Although I have no doubt that it will appeal to the 'lads n' lasses' of the north-east it deserves a much wider listening. The whole of the production of this CD values the content and the performance. There will be many people around the country who have never heard of Brian Watson and even less who have heard him sing. The time has come to remedy that!

Brian has been singing in his native area for as long as he can remember, although this was mainly in the back room of the local pub rather than in the rarified atmosphere of folk clubs. His upbringing in the 1930's with a mother and father who were both performers contributed greatly to this development.

Brian's strong baritone voice is put to great use on a very powerful collection of songs. There are several Tommy Armstrong songs and in "Borth O' the Lad" you can almost see the twinkle in his eye as you listen to the humour in his voice as it is sung in very assured style. There is some excellent support on this (and other tracks) from Joyce and Danny McLeod and Dave Webber and Anni Fentiman. Johnny Handle and accordion support Brian on "South Medomsley Strike". This is a very sympathetic delivery of a song that can lose the emotion when done more vigorously. "Row I' Thi' Gutter" is an Armstrong song of social observation of women's life in pit villages in the late 19th and early 20th century - the "Petticoat Regiments". Armstrong's representation is well rounded off with "Row atween the cages", "Stanley Market" and "The School Board Man" The last of these is a masterly delivery as the conversation in the song progresses between boy and man. All of them are sung with a clarity and delivery that brings them alive. "Colliers Pay Week", " Weshin' Day", "Paanshop Bleezin" and "Aw wish Pay Friday wad cum", as well as Joe Wilson's Row upon the stairs and "Nee Wark" are some of the standards of the North-eastern repertoire. You'll rarely hear them sung as well or with such a genuine feel. "Nee Wark" is a masterpiece. It still has its place today despite the claims of governments that employment is the highest ever - "What wretchedness, what misery, there's ne one can tell, except them that's been oot o work like mesel". I was delighted to see Ned Corvan's "Cat-Gut Jim the Fiddler"; a song I gave to Jim Eldon of Hull twenty years ago. I also think that this song shows the range of Brian's voice as he handles it with total confidence, (as well as Cat-Gut Colin Ross the Fiddler!). There are also some less common songs on this CD. "The Quayside Shaver", "The Lass that Selled Grosers Upon The Auld Bridge" and the title track "Where ivvor he thi' Gone" show Brian's wide repertoire of this period of northern song. Two songs, the very good "Hawkhope Hill" by that excellent writer Terry Conway and "Kielder Hunt" seem to be out of place on the CD. Not that they aren't sung well - they are, but seem out of place from the historical perspective. However, they do serve to illustrate the breadth of Brian's material. This is a CD that everyone in the north-east should have in their collection - and probably will. More importantly, people around the country interested in song should acquire this for the great singing, the great songs, a wonderfully descriptive 40 page illustrated and informative booklet and a great production from Old and New Tradition Recordings. This is a must for song enthusiasts.

Graham Pirt

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This album was reviewed in Issue 45 of The Living Tradition magazine.