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FRED JORDAN "A Shropshire Lad" Veteran VTD148CD

I first interviewed Fred Jordan in 1975. At the time, I thought of him as an old singer though he was younger then than I am now, and the impression, I suppose, was partly due to his dressing in character but maybe his dignified manner of delivering a repertory that was largely comprised of country songs and ballads with no concession to what was then or at any time since ' hip, ' informed my opinion just as equally. This double CD is appositely sub-titled ' English folk singer ' for if anyone epitomised a life at one with traditional song, it was Fred.

First recorded by Peter Kennedy for the BBC in 1952, Fred Jordan was born 30 years earlier in Ludlow and lived all his life around the Corve Dale area of Shropshire whilst appearing at folk clubs, festivals and concerts nationwide. No stranger to the Albert Hall, he was equally at home in the tap room, whilst his farm labourer's occupation, his lifestyle and his songs were, as Derek Schofield points out in the comprehensive booklet that accompanies this priceless package "of the nineteenth century, yet his singing context became the twentieth century folk revival."

Many songs came from Fred's family, some were from workmates and passing Gypsies and a great many were learned from singers, both traditional and otherwise with whom he came into contact through the emerging folk revival of the 60s. A Shropshire Lad covers all bases from The Gypsy's Warning (his first public platform, winning him 1!) Includes locally-learned Child Ballads such as Barbara Allen through Napoleon Bonaparte acquired from Rees Wesson to his signature-tune Farmer's Boy which his father used to sing. Forthright views were held on songs being sung 'tidy' as he put it - lineal, straight to the point, and no intros ("this bloody talking. I cannot see no necessity for it. It's like telling somebody the end of a tale before they've read the book.") All sung with the trademark vibrato which developed more as the chronology of these CDs displays, from the earliest days to the most recent taping here from 1991. None of the tracks here are studio-made incidentally, being all field recordings.

Fred died in July 2002.There was no artifice with him - what you saw was what you got - an agricultural worker in his ordinary clothes (he never dressed down for effect) Like man, like songs; - uncluttered with no affectation. Heather Horner who spoke movingly during a Memorial Day at Cecil Sharp House last November knew this very private human being well and has written "With the death of Fred Jordan we have lost a friend whose songs, performance style, and indeed his whole way of life, derive directly from an earlier era, yet connect seemlessly with the twenty-first century."

John Howson at Veteran is to be congratulated for what is a landmark release whose concept and execution are benchmarks against which future traditional recordings must be judged. It is a fitting remembrance of a man, whom I, and many others were privileged to know and from whose values we learned a great deal. As a singer of English folksong, he easily rates alongside the likes of Harry Cox and Walter Pardon. We knew that already but this fine coda proves it beyond all doubt.

Clive Pownceby

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This album was reviewed in Issue 55 of The Living Tradition magazine.