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The Loneliness of the Long Distance Folk Singer

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  • The Loneliness of the Long Distance Folk Singer

    I’ve been listening to Numero Group’s fine Wayfaring Strangers compilation a lot recently. In its own humble way, this chart is something of an homage from the other side of the Atlantic. Whereas that was full of 17 American male singer-songwriters recorded in regional custom studios, this is full of 17 of their British equivalents. They mostly come from the loose network of folk clubs up and down the UK, as described in the Joe Stead track that gave this chart its title.

    Coming from those clubs, these artists mix some of the older British folk traditions with the more modern sounds coming from UK folk-rock artists like Pentangle or Fairport Convention and the US singer-songwriter scene. The other effect of coming from the folk clubs is that – unlike the Wayfaring Strangers – there are some definite links between these artists. The sleeve-notes to Wayfaring Strangers suggests that “every artist collected here is an island unto himself...they never intersected, much less formed movements or communities”. This isn’t true of most of the artists here; the UK folk community was a loose group through the sixties, seventies and eighties but it was a group nonetheless. You can trace some of their histories back to key folk labels like Argo, Topic and Transatlantic but that probably says more about the close-knit folk revival community than any great commercial breakthroughs - these recordings are either self-released or issued by small regional folk labels and are a world away from Pentangle playing at the Royal Albert Hall.

    Anyway, I hope you enjoy the seventeen songs. In tribute to Wayfaring Strangers, I've kept it focused on male vocalists, although I might do a female equivalent eventually. You can also see a distinct geographical bias - most of the records here were found in the charity shops and car boot sales of the North of England so there's little in the way of Southerner sounds.

    Excuse the occasional pop or crackle, you know how these things are.

    You can download a file with all the MP3s here.

    1. The Lonesome Travellers – Wind Chimes (from The Lost Children LP, Nebula, 1971)

    Seemingly self-released, this LP was recorded at Hollick and Taylor in Birmingham, a studio well-known for the variety of their custom recordings. The year before this LP was released, the band had released another LP on Tradition Records, a fine folk label based in the Midlands. This tune was written by Graham Cooper who was joined in the group by Steve Rostron and Doug Porter. In 1975, Graham released 'From A Corner Seat' on Transatlantic with his friend Harvey Andrews.

    2. Mystery Maker – Blind Man (from Mystery Maker LP, Caves Records, 1977)

    This LP was recorded at another significant regional custom studio – Indigo in Manchester. It was released on the tiny Caves Records, which was based at Stonyhurst College, a private Catholic school in Lancashire, whoreleased three LPs of original music on Jesuit themes. This LP features songs by Tom McGuinness and Jim Crampsey, two Jesuit priests. Blind Man was written by Crampsey. It can go for substantial money due to its prog and fuzz touches elsewhere but this delicate track is my favourite.

    3. Dean Eastwood – You Never Took The Time (from The Modern Minstrel EP, Eel Records, 1973)

    Born Norrie Maiden, Dean Eastwood seems to have been something of a local celebrity around Dundee – with many club and even TV appearances, mostly as part of the Dean and Dawn or The New Eastwoods duo. He also ran folk clubs around the area and this self-released EP features four self-penned tunes that obviously favours his folk rather than cabaret tastes.

    4. Dave Walters – Flowers Of The Town (from Comes Sailing In LP, Fellside, 1977)

    On the notes on the insert to this LP, Dave Walters suggests that “the words of Flowers of the Town are by that prolific writer Anon" but, in fact, the lyrics are taken from Cecil Day-Lewis’ poem Two Songs. He goes on to say "they were given to Roy Harris who supplied the tune.” As Dave Walters suggests, the “song appears to have its roots in The Flowers of the Forest”, a traditional tune done by many artists of the time, including Fairport Convention. Roy Harris’ setting of the tune was first done by his group Notts Alliance on their ‘The Cheerful Orn’ 1972 LP on Tradition.

    Fellside, who issued this LP, was a fascinating part-time label based in Cumbria run by Linda Owens and Paul Owens, a teacher at a local school. Incredibly, the label is still going. Before setting up Fellside, they had recorded as a duo for Sweet Folk and Country, the label owned by Joe Stead.

    5. Mannin Folk – Sheep Under The Snow (from The Wonderful World of Man LP, Seaward, 1975)

    This is a traditional tune from the Isle of Man, also known as Sheep Neath The Snow or (in Gaelic) Ny Kirree Fo Niaghtey. The LP itself is a collection of sounds of the island, including motorbikes racing, steam railways and traditional folk. The Mannin Folk are still active and specialise in Manx folk and this song is sung by their “leader” Norman Clague. Strangely, there is also a gold-coloured flexidisc that features much of the material from this LP.

    6. Lee Brennan – River Mersey (from The Merseyside of Lee Brennan, Sky, 1970s)

    Lee Brennan has been singing in the pubs of Liverpool since 1969 and is still going. Perhaps his two biggest breaks came when he recorded a budget LP for Decca entitled Tribute to Johnny Cash and when he appeared in Ken Dodd’s Laughter Show, both on stage and on TV. However, this song is from a privately released LP of nostalgic Liverpool songs that I find oddly touching.

    7. The Lettermen – Riverside (from First Class, Stag, 1974)

    Stag was started in 1971 as a Liverpool custom label specialising in pressing up cabaret and comedy records for the artists that did the local clubs. However, there are a couple of LPs they issued that can fetch sizeable sums – one is the Pinnacle ‘Assassin’ LP, the other is this. Admittedly, the scratchy, sleeveless copy I found for 50p in a Liverpool charity shop wouldn’t fetch much but you can still here the strange mix of folk, prog and country that attracts the cash.

    8. Triad – The Song for the Terns (from untitled EP, Kelly Recording, 1970s)

    Triad were a three piece group from the Isle of Man, featuring Tony Killen, Robin Smith and Roger Pullin but, apart from that, I don’t know much about them. Apparently, Roger Pullin, who wrote this track, still lives and works on the Isle of Man as a marine biologist. According to a brief note on the rear sleeve, the song was “written when an oil refinery was threatening their nests”. Kelly Recording also released an EP by the Mannin Folk and was a label based on the island.

    9. Nick Strutt & Jeremy Wolstenholme – Pretty Polly (from untitled EP, Look Records, 1977)

    Nick Strutt and Jeremy Wolstenholme were Leeds folk musicians. Nick Strutt’s biggest claim to fame is probably as part of the collectable Mr Fox folk group, who he joined after their second album (but never released material with). However, he did release two LPs with Bob Pegg (of Mr Fox) on Transatlantic. After that, he joined Natchez Trace who recorded for Joe Stead’s Sweet Folk and Country. He then apparently went on to back a number of musicians recording for Huddersfield based custom studio and label, Look Records. In 1977, he released a four track 7” EP with Jeremy Wolstenholme. Jeremy also seems to have done some kind of session work for Look, as he backed Alex Campbell on an LP released on Look in 1976.

    The song ‘Pretty Polly’ is a traditional tune but the arrangement is the duo’s own. Also known as ‘Cruel Ship’s Carpenter’, the song has been recorded by folk artists on both sides of the Atlantic, including Dylan, The Band, Doc Boggs, Bert Jansch and Sandy Denny. However, this version is significantly different from the most commonly recorded version (with its introduction about “fair Worcester city”). In fact, lyrically it seems most similar to a version released by Mike Waterson (of The Watersons fame) in 1977, so it was clearly doing the rounds of the Yorkshire folk clubs at the time.

    10. Findask – Going To Berlin (from Near Enough... Far Enough, Open Door Records, 1983)

    Findask were a Scottish duo, made up of Willie Lindsay and Stuart Campbell. The sleevenotes to this LP tell us they met as students at Glasgow University in 1970, although this LP was their first release, some thirteen years later. The LP was recorded by Robin Morton at his Temple Studios. Robin had released an LP with Cathal McConnell on Topic in 1970, before releasing LPs as a member of Boys of the Lough and then turning his hand to production, both for his own label and for Topic themselves.

    11. The Callies – January Man (from On Your Side, Rubber Records, 1971)

    The Callies were a three-piece: Bill ‘Mitch’ Mitchell, Ray Tweedy and Will Browell. Here, they cover ‘January Man’, a song written by Dave Goulder and was first heard on his 1970 ‘January Man’ LP on Argo. Rubber Records was based in Newcastle and was a joint venture between Impulse Studios (who were also responsible for the Wudwink custom label) and MWM, another North East custom outfit. This was the second LP they issued. In 1975, Rubber achieved a surprise hit – Mike Harding’s Rochdale Cowbuy went to 22 in the UK charts and the accompanying album reached number 24.

    12. Mike Canavan – Whistling Jimmy (from Some Songs, Smile, 1976)

    Mike Canavan began playing music in the folk clubs around Rochdale, which lead to him recording this LP for Smile Records, a custom studio based in Manchester. It is all his own material and, according to the sleevenotes, this song is about “childhood memories of an old tramp who was renown (sic) to the kids at Blackley and district”.

    13. The Glorylanders – That’s How It Is (from Glorylanders Volume 1, iba, 1969)

    The Glorylanders were another three-piece: Bill Simmons, Arthur Pemberton and Ian Moore. They were based in Lancashire and played in Christian clubs alongside the likes of Judy McKenzie, who wrote this track. They recorded and released this LP themselves but only after issuing some of the tracks on two EPs. That includes the track I’ve included here, although I only know this as Towny showed me his copy...

    14. Peter Cadle – New Words for Old (from New Words for Old, First Impressions, 1987)

    This self-released LP was recorded at Malvern Hills Studios and Model Music in London but Cadle was clearly well-respected by some of the more successful folk artists – Christy Moore covered his ‘The Unfinished Revolution’ on an album of the same name, also released in 1987. Peter’s own version is on this LP. According to a very strange article from The Independent newspaper I found online, it seems that Peter started out as a civil servant before becoming a “door-to-door poet” during the 90s.

    15. Jon and Michael Raven – John Wesley (from Songs of the Black Country and West Midlands, Broadside, 1968)

    Jon and Michael Raven were prolific folk musicians. With a variety of collaborators, they released music under their own name on Argo and as part of The Black Country Three on Transatlantic. Michael also released two LPs with Joan Mills on Folk Heritage, which can change hands for big money. However, Broadside Records was their own label and was based in Wolverhampton, featuring folk music from the Black Country and Midlands. Here, Jon sings and plays guitar and Michael accompanies him on melodica. Clearly they were a musical family – Jon’s son went on to play bass for Killing Joke.

    16. Jon Betmead – Marie Elene (from untitled EP, SRT, 1976?)

    In 1977, Jon Betmead released an LP on Plant Life, the label owned by Nick Pegrum, the drummer in Steeleye Span. However, this EP was self-released on the infamous SRT label, the custom pressing organisation based in Hull. Marie Elene was written by Keith Pearson and was first heard on his ‘Keith Pearson’s Right Hand Band’ LP on Eron in 1976 (as 'Marie Helene').

    17. Joe Stead – The Loneliness of a Long Distance Folk Singer (from Live At The Whittlebury Folk Club, Sweet Folk and Country, 1977)

    As you can see from some of the mentions above, Joe Stead was crucial to the folk community during the 1970s. He owned Sweet Folk and Country Records (which is also known as Sweet Folk All) and recorded numerous other folkies. In the eighties, he set up Greenwich Village Records and released music by Martin Carthy and even Pete Seeger.
    Last edited by Little Jimmy Oddman; 17-04-2011, 01:13 AM.
    Mixes, compilations and the like

  • #2
    Thanks in advance!


    • #3
      Looks fantastic - great work, thanks! downloading now


      • #4

        Looking forward to getting stuff into this Jim.

        Many many thanks.
        In ((( VISUAL ))) Stereo

        Eclectic Mud


        • #5
          Looks excellent Jim - many thanks - any chance of sleeve pics so I can commit to memory?
          "..hole...road...middle thereof"


          • #6
            Originally posted by LDJB View Post
            Looks excellent Jim - many thanks - any chance of sleeve pics so I can commit to memory?
            Yes. I might get some pics up tomorrow.

            I might be wrong but I think one or two may have come from the Fuz/LDJB private press motherlode. Lonesome Travellers perhaps, maybe Findask? If not, there's certainly a couple of Scottish ones in there.
            Mixes, compilations and the like


            • #7
              Great selection of music fella... fairly sure I'd never heard any of these tracks before... Had this one on repeat last night and this morning...

              The Lettermen "Riverside" track is a scorcher. Love the Triad "Song for the Terns" tune and Findask's "Going to Berlin" is a treat and a half... all three have that summer medow introspection vibe I like a lot...

              Top suff
              "It's all just one big plastic hassle..." - Psych-Out


              • #8
                Glad you like it, mate - the Findask and the Triad shouldn't be pricey if you stumble across them.
                Mixes, compilations and the like