Gritstone Serenade (PUG CD 008)
Songs of murderers, highwaymen and mill workers, sailors,
pirates and boozers, not forgetting the
Devil himself. Plus great tunes, old and new, on the melodeon and anglo-concertina, and a talented
cast of friends providing musical back-up: Sarah Matthews (fiddle), Jenny Coxon (hammered
dulcimer), Loraine Baker (double bass, vocal), Mike Nacey (mandola), Bonz (banjo, guitar, vocal),
Richard Peters (alto sax), and Margaret Peters (vocal).
Track List (click on title for sound clip)
Paddy Resource / The Red Ribbon / Hopkinson’s Favourite
Ten Thousand Miles
Yorkstone Flags / The Pokerwork Polka
The Bold Princess Royal
The Devil’s Courtship
Jackson’s Untitled Hornpipes, Nos. 1 and 2
The Brake of Briars
The Twenty-Sixth of Forever
The Cotton Lords of Preston
Frank and Easy / The English Paspy / Hodgson Square
The Banks of Airdrie
The White Joke / The Black Joke
The Living Tradition
The last two recordings that Brian issued were respectively Anglo concertina music and the Child Ballads, demonstrating his status as not only a top-notch singer and player, but also as one of the best-researched performers currently doing the rounds. It might seem easy, as Brian does in the notes, to describe this as “a bit of everything album” – but what bits!
Brian’s concertina and melodeon playing is immediately recognisable, combining drive, intricacy and originality whilst retaining absolute respect for, and understanding of, the traditions from which he draws. So here we get not only traditional and original tune sets, but also Brian’s own tunes to broadsheet ballads such as the impressive The Cotton Lords of Preston – an unfortunately timeless tale of the arrogance of the rich at the expense of poor workers, which is immediately followed by a version of Keith Marsden’s Prospect, Providence, which neatly encapsulates the life of such a worker. There’s big songs, too, with a Child Ballad offset by one which the great collector refused to include because he didn’t like the refrain changing between verses. Just when you might think you’ve got the measure of the man, he finishes off the collection by turning the English drinking song Good Companion into an old-time American fiddle and banjo delight.
The balance of the whole CD is quite sublime, never too serious or too lighthearted. There certainly is “something for everyone” here – existing fans will have all their buttons pushed, and any new audience will immediately realise that they are listening to a master of his several crafts.
English Dance & Song
Brian Peters is a man of considerable talent; a singer with a relaxed yet compelling style, one of the country's finest melodeon players, a concertina player of repute and an accomplished guitarist. For those in doubt, all these talents are revealed on this, his new CD. Featuring a mixture of songs and tunes in almost equal measure, it is, to quote the man himself, an album with 'a bit of everything'.
The songs are mostly well known and traditional. One of Brian's strengths, however, is in seeking out little-known versions, as in the opening Turpin Hero. In two cases, The Devil's Courtship and The Cotton Lords of Preston, he's written new tunes to go with existing words and, such is his skill as a tunesmith, these sit perfectly happily alongside those from the tradition. Although the traditional songs are wonderful, the stand-out song is his version of the late Keith Marsden’s Prospect Providence. Based on the life of a mill worker friend of Keith's, it captures the anger, resentment, hope and ultimate frustration of those trapped in 'the dust and grime' making a fortune for others to enjoy. With splendid harmony vocals by Mrs Peters, the tune is one that stays in the head for a very long time.
Lovely though the songs are, the tune sets lift this recording way beyond the mundane. Again, a mixture of traditional and self penned, most were new to these ears. The two I did recognise, The White Joke / The Black Joke are taken from the soon-to-be-published collection of Thomas Watts, and if these versions are anything to go by, it should be well worth looking out for. Of similar vintage, the jigs Paddy Resource / The Red Ribbon / Hopkinson's Favourite and the triple hornpipes Frank and Easy / The English Paspy / Hodgson Square roll along very nicely. Yorkstone Flags / The Pokerwork Polka are two of Brian's own tunes soon destined, I'll warrant, to be heard in sessions up and down the land.
Featuring an excellent group of supporting musicians, informative notes and evocative photography this is a recording to be frequently revisited.
After the tremendous Songs of Trial and Triumph collection of Child Ballads, this is a more varied offering from Brian Peters. More varied in terms of material, that is; not in quality, as this is another cracker of a set from this outstanding performer.
If it’s not too bad a pun when speaking of a squeezebox player, Peters presses all the right buttons. Whether it’s on the unaccompanied The Bold Princess Royal, a jaunty Turpin Hero, or the sensitive reading of Keith Marsden’s Prospect, Providence, Peters puts his voice, boxes and guitar fully in service of the song. The result is a compelling collection of direct performances which, while eschewing extraneous flash, are all the more powerful for their rough-hewn emotional authenticity.
The standout here is the broadside The Cotton Lords of Preston, given a punchy new tune – and some nice mandola lines from Mike Nacey – that really suits the all-too-contemporary attack on commercial greed. Stir in a couple of rollicking dance tunes and this makes for a great set of flesh-and-blood English folk from a master of his craft.
Although Brian describes his latest collection as a “bit of everything” album, he still can’t quite resist embracing a connecting concept. This time it’s that time-honoured quality: grit. One of folk music’s more essential ingredients, yet one which can prove remarkably elusive in many of its practitioners! Not so with Brian, for grit is always present in profusion in his performances, signalled by his forthright no-nonsense delivery, his abundant integrity and enthusiasm allied to an intense commitment to (and thoughtful presentation of) his chosen material.
Gritstone Serenade’s 15 tracks form a rounded, well balanced sequence with plentiful contrasts in pace, mood and instrumentation – rather like one of Brian’s characteristic folk club sets, in fact, except that here Brian is audibly (and memorably) supported by a mini-galaxy of musical friends (Sarah Matthews, Jenny Coxon, Loraine Baker, Mike Nacey, Bonz and Richard Peters). On several tracks, notably certain of the half-dozen instrumental selections, the texture opens out from Brian’s initial spirited lead-off with brilliantly managed and complementary musicianship that fairly sparkles with vitality and nifty energy, both supporting and reflecting those very qualities in Brian’s own playing. On this occasion I’d single out Sarah’s delectably creative and flexible fiddle and viola lines, while there’s also much to enjoy in Jenny’s effervescent hammered dulcimer and Richard’s alto sax counterpoints; while the whole ensemble lets their hair down nicely on the finale Good Companions, here transformed into a gleeful old-time hoedown.
The tunes played represent a typical Peters compendium of the freshest and quirkiest of hornpipes, jigs and polkas – and an absolutely enchanting self-penned waltz The Twenty-Sixth Of Forever. Brian only performs strictly solo on five tracks, some being disc highlights: anglo-accompanied non-Child ballad The Brake Of Briars sports a fascinatingly wayward tune sourced not from Sharp but from Kentish traveller Nelson Ridley, while Brian’s commanding and interestingly decorated acappella rendition of The Bold Princess Royal succeeds in capturing the essence of the spectacular rendition by coxswain Ned “Wintry” Adams collected in the 1950s for the BBC by Bob Copper. And it’s particularly good to hear pride of place given to a superbly realised interpretation of Prospect, Providence, one of the finest creations of the late Keith Marsden, which here is blessed with a genuinely sympathetic guitar accompaniment and a gorgeous harmony vocal from Brian’s wife Margaret – this being especially appropriate considering that her own home town is Morley (just south of Leeds), where the song is set).
Just as with everything Brian tackles, sheer strength of character and a gritty sensitivity invariably go hand in hand in the whole of this irresistible millstone serenade.
Brian describes this, his newest CD as “English folk songs and dance music, old and new”. The choice of title refers to the Derbyshire landscape where he has settled and established his family; also to what he regards as one of the essential ingredients of folk music and song. I recognise that grit in his performances here. His life's work has been concerned with unearthing beautiful and unusual songs and tunes and performing them to his utmost. His recent recording work has been themed – an album of Child Ballads and another celebrating the Anglo concertina were extremely well-received. In contrast, this CD is a departure from those necessarily restricted offerings, allowing Brian to flex his entertainer's muscles and let us see what he likes to play and sing when given a bit of space and time to express himself. It is full of delights and “Oh I MUST have that tune” moments.
Friends and family have been drafted into the orchestra and choir : Sarah Matthews
(fiddle), Jenny Coxon (hammered dulcimer), Loraine Baker (double bass, vocal),
Mike Nacey (mandola), Bonz (banjo, guitar, vocal), Richard Peters (alto sax),
and Margaret Peters (vocal). As a fan of Margaret's from the old days when she
and Brian were residents at Harry Boardman's club in Manchester, I guarantee
that she is still singing as well as ever. Brian has included a delightful waltz
dedicated to their 26th wedding anniversary on this CD.
The CD starts with a rollicking old favourite Turpin Hero in a less well-known version from David Belton of Ulceby, Lincs, collected in 1906 by Percy Grainger. The sleeve notes debunk his fame as horseman-extraordinaire and hero, though the song is a fantastic national legacy – never mind the accuracy. Prospect Providence ( by Keith Marsden) gets a respectful treatment from Brian, the sleeve notes mentioning that Margaret's mother once worked at one of the Morley shoddy mills. The broadside The Cotton Lads of Preston is sung to a superbly gritty self-penned tune, much more memorable than the one Harry used to use. His version of John MacDonald's Banks of Airdrie is hypnotic.
I was very taken with Brian's version of Ten Thousand Miles. He uses the same tune as I do, but has found a set of words which have a quite different feel to them and the whole song changes accordingly. I loved his new take on the devilish Keys of Canterbury which has all the makings of a “real” traditional song. His expanded Brake of Briars (Bruton Town) from the singing of Nelson Ridley is a breath of fresh air. It is so good to hear a version that hasn't come via MacColl or Carthy's own recordings (no criticism of either is implied, may I add.). Because we have so many good songs that dedicated collectors in the past thought worthy of writing down, I really don't see that we need to sing the same versions time after time. Brian always surprises with beautiful and original versions that he has dug out of the archives.
The instrumentals on this CD are a delight. Brian draws on John Offord's John of the Greeny Cheshire Way a great deal for some wonderfully quirky and tricky tunes. He plays his anglo concertina in a beautifully delicate and nuanced way. Brian's melodeon playing on the Joshua Jackson hornpipes is masterly. Listen to the lightness of the dancing right hand coupled with the inventive left-hand chords. Awesome!
I would recommend this CD to anyone who wants to hear traditional songs performed by a master of story-telling. If you would like to hear some new tunes performed by one of England's acknowledged masters of the melodeon and anglo in a totally dance-ready form, this is for you. Buy it with your Christmas present money!