I’ve always had a soft spot for folk music, and over the years, the Watersons, June Tabor, Billy Bragg and many others have done sessions for my Radio One programme. [John Peel, As I Roved Out, pt.1]
Following on from my last post, it seems only natural that I should post the remaining song that entered the Festive Fifty under two different titles, and a couple of like-minded souls to keep it company.
June Tabor says that she learned how to sing folk music by memorising an Ann Briggs LP. It is doubtful whether the natural, candid purity of her voice and the unsentimental way she relates the tale of a visit to a WW1 soldier’s grave in No Man’s Land/Flowers Of the Forest (FF 1977 #40) was learned in parrot fashion. Sam Saunders said, ‘She can stop time and draw tears from the stoniest heart': and the Guardian agrees: ‘a chillingly lived in voice that makes every song sound like a personal experience’. Compared with the Men They Couldn’t Hang’s version, the righteous anger is cooled to simmering melancholy acceptance, topped movingly by an accordion solo.
The Lancashire trio of John Howarth and brothers Larry and Gerry Kearns have been making music as the Oldham Tinkers since 1965. They recorded a Peel session in 1974:’ they were shocked to be asked, amused too, but flattered. They did the job and enjoyed it’, as their website reports. In 1977, they did a gala performance for the Queen in Manchester, and gained the supreme accolade of a Festive Fifty entry with John Willie’s Ferret (FF 1977, #52), an amusing tale of the goings-on at a ‘do’ where one of the locals chose to bring his pet. It comes from the album A Fine Old English Gentleman: copies of this are not exactly plentiful out here, so the recording used is taken from their MySpace page.
Five Hand Reel featured Dick Gaughan, and their version of Cruel Brother (FF 1977 #34) is pungently reminiscent of the folk rock style that proliferated in the 60s and 70s. Gaughan said:
It seems odd in these days when it is now perfectly normal to sing Gaelic songs in a contemporary fashion that this was regarded as extremely daring and adventurous in 1977. We’ve come a long, long way since those days.
His daughter’s involvement in a traffic accident caused Dick to leave the band and restructure his career on less hectic lines.
All in all, Peel’s professed liking for folk music came to a head in this year’s chart, and would not flower in the Festive Fifty to this degree subsequently.