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Spritely Records 001

What’s your favourite day of the year? May Day, maybe? Padstow, morris bells, obby osses, Bampton, melodeons, Green Men, lusty pagan rites, copious beer, and all that?  Josephine could get you in the groove. It’s a beautifully presented audio-visual collaboration between Stately Homes of England (Tim Bowden and Andrew Cowen) and cartoonist Hunt Emerson.  They’ve taken a 1978 song by John Otway, a genre-busting British singer-songwriter with a cult following, and, by their own admission, given it the lavish attention that most people would reserve for their first-born.

Josephine is a 17-year old lass spending the night in the arms of her lover. The next morning she will be crowned as the May Queen who will ensure a good harvest. Echoes of pagan sacrifice?  There’s plenty of time to ponder the lyrics as the CD gives you 8 versions of the song. The full version is in folk rock style, with a commanding, well-seasoned vocal from Hunt, a rousing guitar break from Dermot Walker, and an 8-voice choir recorded in Hunt’s kitchen.  The definitely danceable Meets The Mad Professor is the best of the other versions – sort of techno dub electronica with wicked bass from Mickey Jeynes.  The production is excellent throughout.

This devotion to a single song will jar with some people. We’re not used to it in folkland. In my view, John wrote a good song but not a great one (and I disagree profoundly with Andrew’s comment in the notes that there is no need to write any more songs as the best ones have already been written). The dedicated attention makes more sense when you see the accompanying artwork, which turns the package into May Day revelry.  Hunt loves his music but makes his living as a fine cartoonist. The CD casing is beautifully illustrated and one of the editions comes with four A3 prints – two of them feature Josephine, one is of The Morris Mob, and one is of Jack-in-the-Green.  They are full of wit, intricacy and ingenuity, and they demand a bit of wall space.  Combining recorded music with art was much easier in vinyl days. This package puts them back together with tender loving care.

Hunt is the eldest of my three musical cousins. Any bias in this review is purely accidental.

Tony Hendry

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This album was reviewed in Issue 90 of The Living Tradition magazine.