Review of Plain English in Living Tradition magazine

Plain English
Steam Age Records steam005-2

You get four men and six concertinas for the price of three here; explanation given in the informative notes to their second CD. It includes nine songs as well as some original, imported and Morris tunes, while the intro. to The White Hare of Howden is worthy of the Animals (I always said it was a Geordie song) and the Pressed Men’s version has a deliberately bluesy feel, including alto sax. An immediate contrast is Lavenders Blue (are we having an Owen Brannigan revival?), but well done lads, for the concertina and with many more words than appear in the Northumbrian Minstrelsy.

Some of the musical tracks are a little lacking in spark, an exception being The Orange In Bloom and Sweet Jenny Jones, which are, unusually, Morris tunes in waltz time with a jokey coda of that old Roman music hall favourite Quantum Est Ille Canis In Fenestram (this is an Oxford band – OK?). Sorry lads, but my dog didn’t like it; she doesn’t like reed instruments, including mine, so don’t take offence.

Sydney Carter is a seriously neglected English songwriter – he didn’t only write Lord Of The Dance (no apologies to Michael Flatley, who nicked the title). Two typically thought provoking Carter songs are here, about obscure figures in English history. First there is Julian of Norwich, a 14th century visionary, and then George Fox, a founder of the Quakers, Carter’s song being largely reconstructed from Fox’s own words and sympathetically performed here.

Full marks for variety on this CD, and adding a distinctly eclectic mix are Northfield, a shape-note hymn, a harmony arrangement of Hoagy Carmichael’s classic Lazy Bones and a strangely subdued version of John Tams’ normally rousing Rolling Home. This is a “Plain English” CD but not in the prevalent “English Country” style; there’s a rather “proper” feel to this production, its impact being somewhat low-key, possibly because of the Men’s classical approach? I must admit I am not a fan of massed reed instruments (nor is my dog), so this CD was a pleasant surprise in its thoughtful and well-produced arrangements, and worth a listen as a representation of Three (no, four) Pressed Men

Jim Bainbridge,
The Living Tradition
March – April 2001

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