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Topic Records TSCD676D

Traditional music and pubs have long been willing bedfellows, but the names of the Suffolk taverns the Ship Inn and Eels’ Foot have become legendary as lodestones of singing, dancing and general merrymaking. In 1955, Blaxhall’s Ship Inn hosted a film crew headed by Peter Kennedy, who had been recording around Suffolk since 1953. The 17.5 minute film which resulted evokes ‘a typical night’ of music, song, dance, banter and tobacco, all serving to cause a thirst which can only be slaked by hefty gulps of Cobbolds mild. The film is already available as part of the Here’s A Health To The Barley Mow double DVD released by the British Film Institute, but in a way, it finds more of a natural home here, as part of the 28-volume Voice Of The People series - which by now should need little general introduction - with an accompanying CD of Kennedy’s recordings from sessions at the Ship and other taverns between 1953 and 1956.

Being the closest thing we have to time travel, the film affords a precious peek into a 1950s music session in a rural community context; albeit nevertheless ‘staged’ in aspects of its presentation and editing and, of course, abridged. Highlights include Bob Scarce pausing during the chorus of General Wolfe to take a deep draw on his ciggie, Cyril Poacher downing a pint with that ever-present twinkle in his eye, Wickets Richardson’s elegant actions (with real shoes) as he enacts Fagan The Cobbler and the girls roundly trouncing the boys at stepdancing.

Watch the film first; it whets the taste buds before the full musical platter served up on the CD. Here, the recordings from the Ship have to jostle for attention with those from the Eel’s Foot, such as Jumbo Brightwell’s priceless Muddley Barracks, and from individual’s homes, like Blow The Candle Out from Edgar Button (no relation, as far as I know; though now I am curious). Part of the unique value of these recordings – in terms of musical and sociocultural history as well as entertainment – rests in their authentic conviviality and communality. Most of them are not the more measured offerings of a one-to-one field recording session; they are the result of a night down the pub, and it shows. Interjections, ad-libs, calls for order, laughter, are just as valuable for the listening experience and for posterity.

Much has changed now in Suffolk, as everywhere, although John Howson informs us, in the excellent essay within the comprehensive booklet (as ever, worth the money alone), that singing does still take place at the Ship. However, I doubt that the evening now ends with a dutiful rendition of God Save The Queen.

My advice to you: order, please, ladies and gentlemen!

Clare Button

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This album was reviewed in Issue 103 of The Living Tradition magazine.