Bill Caddick "Unicorns" - Working Joe Music WJM2003

Probably lots of people have, like me, some fairly well-worn vinyl copies of Rough Music, Sunny Memories, Wild West Show and Reasons. Bill Caddick LPs which are now collector's items, and long since out of stock (they only ever pressed 1500 copies of "Rough Music"), so this new double CD will be most welcome. But these are all new recordings, no digitally enhanced re-mastering here; just a man spending three days in a remote cottage in Shropshire and singing his heart out, with the end result - thirty six tracks running in roughly chronological order, Bill's own selections plus others nominated by people visiting his web site. Some of the songs are subtly changed, the passage of years having altered arrangements slightly . "songs leave you like children leave home and I had to look up children who'd wandered away a long time ago", but they all remain quintessential Caddick.

Since the early days Bill had worked on writing in a 'traditional' style and so successfully so that several of his songs have been erroneously credited on recordings as 'Trad'. He also worked on playing twelve-string guitar in an English style, resulting in his own very distinctive sound (listen to it on "Donkey Jack' and 'Poor Pig'), and one which lends much to his songs. But it is his consummate skill as a wordsmith which stands out, with allegory, imagery and often-oblique references frequently disguising deeply personal, but nonetheless universal, subject matter.

Many of Bill's songs have been taken up and interpreted by other singers - Christy Moore (who took "John O' Dreams" to chart success in Ireland), June Tabor, who seems to have recorded more of his songs than Bill has! But this double CD has Bill's own very distinctive versions of "Waiting for the Lark", "Unicorns", "John O' Dreams" and "Writing of Tipperary" (preceded by "The Reaper") and the extremely moving and powerful set of "Lili Marlene Walks Away" and "The Barmaid's Song (She Moves Among Men)". There are also some of his slightly lesser-known gems - "Born a Dog", "Gibson Girl", "Eights and Aces", "Won't Say When" and "Spanish Nights" and besides these tracks from his albums, there are also five songs previously unrecorded by Bill, including "Letter to Syracuse" (which he co-wrote with Dave Cartwright), "Aqaba" and the stunning "Quixote (The Old Man's Song) which he wrote with Tams for a National Theatre production. And the quality of much of the material written during that time with the National is quite surprising - written under the pressure of being needed almost immediately for performance, but good songs and well crafted.

However despite the quality of the writing, Bill writes songs, not prose, not poems and they are meant to be heard sung and what better way than being sung by their writer? Well no better way actually! Ranking amongst the very best of our writers Caddick has, over a period of some thirty years, produced an impressive corpus of songs and whilst Unicorns is nowhere near exhaustive, it does have much of his best work - and Bill's best is simply brilliant. Unicorns - two CD, thirty-six songs and more than two hours of pure listening pleasure. Call it a retrospective, call it best of, but certainly call it essential listening - English folk song delivered with commitment and passion.

Mel Howley

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This album was reviewed in Issue 50 of The Living Tradition magazine.