The Free Reed Revival re: Masters Series: Archive Recordings from the Folk Revival
Founded by Neil Wayne in the early seventies and responsible for releasing over twenty vinyl albums from 1976-1981, a fruitful and seminal period in the folk-rock revival, Free Reed returned to prominence in the late nineties as masters of the boxed set. Re-releasing such revival legends as Martin Carthy, Fairport Convention, Dave Swarbrick, Ashley Hutchings and Richard Thompson, Free Reed set the bar for well-researched and compiled collections. Since they had full co-operation from the musicians involved, they were able to include unreleased gems from the artists' private collections.
To celebrate the label's thirtieth anniversary, Neil Wayne and Free Reed archivist Nigel Schofield have reissued many of the label's classic albums. Some have never before been available on CD, and there are also relevant bonus tracks, copious sleeve notes (as we have come to expect from Free Reed) and a smart box to hold all eighteen CDs in. Running the gamut from traditional English dance music to comedy and legendary folk opera, and showcasing the talents of John Kirkpatrick, the Dransfields, and the inimitable and hugely missed Peter Bellamy, amongst others, this is a treasure trove of the folk revival.
SET 1 John Kirkpatrick Plain Capers FRRRCD01
The album that launched the label back in 1976 comes home, remastered with a bonus track, and replacing the early '90s Topic CD. One of the greatest English concertina players, John Kirkpatrick was chosen to collaborate with Ashley Hutchings on 1972's seminal electric Morris album Morris On, following work with Hutchings on The Compleat Dancing Master and the Albion Country Band album Battle of the Field. Kirkpatrick wanted to return to the acoustic sound of the Morris, and so with Sue Harris, Martin Carthy, Martin Brinsford and Fi Fraser at the core, set about creating his definitive Morris statements. Plain Capers was released the same year as Hutchings' Son of Morris On, and the different approaches by Hutchings and Kirkpatrick are obvious. The Morris On series followed the Electric Morris path, whilst Plain Capers, with its more traditional and dance-led interpretations, extensive sleeve notes on the history of the Morris, and guides to playing and dancing, is almost a 'beginner's guide' to Morris music. The copious notes are all reprinted and enhanced here, and the original album sounds as good as the day it was made, with outstanding performances throughout. There is even a bonus video track about the album.
Tufty Swift and Sue Harris Hammers, Tongues and a Bakewell Tart FRRRCD02
The second remastered release puts two legendary Free Reed albums on one CD: How to Make a Bakewell Tart by Tufty Swift and Hammers and Tongues by Sue Harris. Star of the Albion Country Band and collaborator with John Kirkpatrick, Harris made her solo debut with his album, filled to the brim with some fantastic interpretations of traditional English tunes, all with superb accompaniment from John Kirkpatrick and Martin Brinsford. Tufty Swift from Derbyshire was a legendary song collector, founder of the first folk club in Belper and a sympathetic and talented performer. He helped revitalise the folk tunes of Derbyshire and the Yorkshire dales, and the vibrancy of the tunes on this album is astounding. Swift, Kirkpatrick and Harris work in harmony to create an amazing sound.
Tony Hall Fieldvole Music FRRRCD03 Melodeon maestro Tony Hall's classic 1977 album now features seven bonus tracks from the original sessions. Recorded by Nic Kinsey, like so many great albums of this era, and accompanied by Johnny Moynihan and fiddle legend Nic Jones, this is melodeon music at its finest. There are songs from all areas of the tradition here, including the Irish classic The Wind That Shakes the Barley, an epic version of Justas the Tide Was Flowing, and a fantastic bonus version of Donkey Riding.
Vic Gammon (compiler and arranger) The Tale of Ale FRRRCD04
Throughout the history of England, folk music, public houses and ale have gone hand-in-hand, and in 1977 Vic Gammon assembled a fantastic cast of folk luminaries to tell the Tale of Ale. 79 minutes in length, with over 45 tracks including readings by the late great Willie Rushton, this album tells us pretty much everything in music and voice about the Englishman and his beer on tracks like John Barleycorn, London's Ordinary, and Bring Us in Good Ale. This is a fine collection of great songs and brilliant readings that can sit alongside other classic Free Reed releases like The Transports.
The Old Swan Band No Reels FRRRCD05
Formed by folk legends Rod and Danny Stradling in 1974 and including Fi and Jo Fraser, Martin Brinsford and Ron Field, The Old Swan Band had one foot in the tradition and the other in the revival. Their debut album No Reels is a vibrant live recording of English dance music that revives the sound of the Southern English tradition. While the album captures the band's concert repertoire of the time, it also shows why they have influenced bands such as Edward II, the Oyster Ceilidh Band and others, all of whom have taken the tradition and run with it.
Les Barker Mrs Ackroyd Superstar FRRRCD06
Les Barker and his superstar terrier Mrs Ackroyd brought their legendary folk club double act to record in 1978. Remastered and boosted by nine bonus tracks from Les's output, this release brings the story up to date. The album, one of the most eclectic that Free Reed ever recorded, mixes poetry and satire with folk music and featuring performers such as Mike Harding, the late Jake Thackray and Noel Murphy. Les Barker himself is a fantastic talent, and this is shown by the older tracks (The Fastest Accountant in the West and The Curse of the House of the Baskervilles) whilst latter day triumphs like Murder Ballad and the brilliant Civilised World demonstrate that Barker has lost none of his bite.
Robin and Barry Dransfield Even More Popular to Contrary Belief FRRRCD07
This 1977 classic was a return to the Dransfields' acoustic roots, after their magnificent electric band had died a death in 1976's 'Year Zero' punk attitude (the group's only album, the woefully underrated Fiddler's Dream, is now remastered on Sanctuary records). Luckily Free Reed was there to help them release this superb album, which now makes its CD debut. The sound of the Dransfields in full flow is always wonderful, and the crisp remastering here is fantastic: the vocal harmonies wash over you, and the superb musical arrangements on The Banks of the Sweet Dundee, The Holmfirth Anthem and The Conscript's Farewell make this one of the highlights of the Revival Re: Masters series. The album features bonus tracks showing the Dransfields at full strength on Fiddler's Dream songs including Up to Now, WhatWill We Tell Them, and the hauntingly beautiful Violin. These tracks give a bigger picture of the '76-77 Dransfield sound on a fine album that has been restored to its original glory.
Eddie Butcher, Joe Holmes and Len Graham I Once Was a Daysman and Chaste Muses, Bards and Songs FRRRCD08
Micho Russell Traditional Music of County Clare FRRRCD09
Whilst Albion focuses on the English tradition, it seems churlish when discussing this impressive Free Reed series not to mention the two Irish collections included in the second set. Neil Wayne of Free Reed and John Tams have spent a lot of time collecting Irish music, and the two albums on FRRRCD08 contain music in the lesser-known Ulster tradition, by the legendary Eddie Butcher who was huge on the scene, and Joe Holmes and Len Graham, two fine singers who performed with Eddie. Recorded in 1975 and released in 1976, they contain some fine tracks and showcase an undeservedly obscure tradition. Elsewhere on the Free Reed label, the Clare Set goes deeper into the musical traditions of County Clare. Traditional Music of County Clare (FRRRCD09), by Micho Russell of the legendary Russell brothers, is a superb companion to that set, featuring wonderful flute and whistle performances.
John Kirkpatrick Going Spare FRRRCD10
After working in ensembles such as the Morris On Band and Steeleye Span, John Kirkpatrick put out this fantastic collection of his own tunes, songs and a couple of oddball tracks, ably accompanied by Bill Caddick, Sue Harris, Stewart and Colin Goldring and Nigel Pegrum. The Gas Almost Works is now considered a classic of the genre, and rightly so, whilst the almost obligatory set of tunes works really well. Of more interest are the songs. What Do You Do in the Day (accompanied by the Pork Dukes) is not just folk, but possibly the only example of folk-punk-rock, while the Christmas hit that never was, Jogging Along With Me Reindeer, is included here both in its original form and in the single version recorded with Simon Nicol, Richard Thompson and Dave Mattacks, along with King Neptune's Lament, a song about marine pollution that was ahead of its time. John Kirkpatrick is a multi-talented performer, and this reissue, with excellent sleeve notes from the man himself, is another must-have from the Revival series.
Various Artists The Transports 1977: A Ballad Opera by Peter Bellamy FRRRCD10
Released here in its original edition, this is Peter Bellamy's tale of two convicts, Henry Cabell and Susannah Holmes, transported to Australia in 1787. The music was arranged by Dolly Collins and performed by a cast including Bellamy as the street singer, Mike and Norma Waterson, Martin Carthy, and Dave Swarbrick on fiddle; in fact, the cast list reads like a who's who of seventies English folk, showing Bellamy's knack for finding ideal collaborators. The superb story utilises all of his skills as a writer and a performer and was arguably Bellamy's finest work, one of the greatest folk operas ever released. (The Transports is also available as a two disc boxed set edition, if you want the whole story of the transportation to Australia.) It stands as a testament to the towering genius of Peter Bellamy, whose ghost still haunts the English folk scene.
Gordon Cutty and Tommy Williams Masters of the Concertina FRRCD12
The final release in the second set of Revival Re: Masters hearkens back to Free Reed's origins. Long before the record label came into existence, Neil Wayne ran Free Reed: The Concertina Newslette. He had been collecting archive concertinas, and interviewing and recording the older generation who played these instruments, since 1965. These two albums were some of Free Reed's first releases, and they now appear here as one CD. Gordon Cutty was a miner from County Durham who led a dance band in the thirties and forties, and his album A Grand Old Fashioned Dance covers all the musical bases, a superb collection of concertina dance music. Tommy Williams was a Londoner who worked in a concertina factory and played his instrument in dance halls and at dinner parties. By the 1950s, he ran his own workshop. His album Springtime in Battersea contains waltz-led music. The record is very London-centric in its titling, but there is style and panache in Williams' concertina playing. These are two fantastic archive recordings from Free Reed, and the remastering does justice to the musicians, preserving their legacy for the digital age.
Bernie Parry Sailing to the Moon- And Beyond FRRRCD13
A much sought-after collector's item, the original release of Sailing to the Moon came at the end of Free Reed's vinyl era back in 1980. It makes its CD debut complete with eight bonus tracks. A contemporary folk songwriter, very much like Thompson or John Tams, Parry is ably accompanied on this musical journey by John Kirkpatrick, Tam McConville, Allan Taylor and fellow North Eastern lad Bob Fox. The album draws on contemporary life and culture: for instance, Mr Lowry was inspired by the legendary LS Lowry, Davy is based on a science fiction novel, and Sailing to the Moon captures the urge to get away from it all. Bonus tracks such as Tumbling Wear (about the river), Photographs (celebrating the then new Polaroid system, the nearest thing to a picture message at the time) all fit in with the original album. If you've never heard of Bernie Parry, this album is a fantastic discovery.
The Old Swan Band Old Swan Band FRRRCD14
The second, eponymous album from the energetic dance band, released in 1978, offered more original interpretations of traditional material, with new twists and different arrangements. In a similar vein to the Albion Dance Band's work and, like the former, part of what is now known as the English Country Dance revival, this is a superb set of tunes. With added accompaniment from brass bands, the Bampton Morris Men audibly enjoying themselves on the brilliant reworking of Speed the Plough, and amazing sets of jigs and reels like Stoney's Waltz/Neriah Benfield's Waltz/Jack Robinson, the album showcases the versatility and enthusiasm of the Old Swan Band. This is a seminal piece of work.
Alistair Anderson Concertina Workshop FRRRCD15
Another legendary album from the Free Reed concertina archives, this set by Northumberland concertina player extraordinaire Alistair Anderson has a dual purpose. First, it is an exciting and entertaining collection of some of England's best- known tunes, and secondly, with its companion book now available online, it is a tutor system to teach budding concertina players the English method. This is a wonderful release from Free Reed.
Peter Bellamy The Ballads of Peter Bellamy: Big, Broadside and Barrack Room FRRRCD16
The second album of Peter Bellamy material in the Revival collection, this is a re-worked edition of the Free Reed set Wake the Vaulted Echoes, which is no longer available. This collection shows Bellamy at his best, with a sampling from the many labels that he recorded for during his prolific career. It includes his settings of Kipling's poetry to music (Gunga Din, Mandalay and Cholera Camp), collaborations with the legendary Copper Family (The Old Songs) and the Watersons (the sea shanty Shallow Brown). Also included is the famous Steve Tilston song Slips Jigs and Reels. Bellamy's versions of Fair Annie and other traditional tracks round out this wonderful collection of material by one of the revival's most original voices, and its most maverick talent.
Roaring Jelly and Michael Hebbert Golden Grates and The Rampin Cat FRRRCD17
Here are a couple of comedy classics from the archive. Derbyshire-based trio Roaring Jelly had built up a loyal following by the time they recorded for Free Reed, and here on their debut Mike Hennesy, Clive Harvey and Derek Pearce put the cream of their live show onto this classic album, with a mixture of well-crafted songs, great comedy and superb musicianship. Michael Hebbert is a performer on the unique Jeffries System Duet concertina. Accompanied by Rod and Danny Stradling and John Tams, they put the concertina through its paces on this great collection of tunes and songs, an alternative take on pub music. With a twinkle in its eye, the album represents the lighter end of the Free Reed spectrum.
Bees on Horseback Flowers and Frolics FRRRCD18
This is another gem from 1977 (definitely a seminal year for English country dance music) by a seven-piece folk dance band whose close friendship with the Old Swan Band led to them recording this brilliant debut album, featuring June Tabor and Bob Davenport on vocals. Mixing the traditional with contemporary material, including an interesting version of Mickey's Son and Daughter, and with an extra eight tracks from the band's continuing career, this is collection of dance songs has great musical verve. It is as good an album as any to close the eighteen-CD Revival Re:Masters series.--James R. Turner.