Sunday 4 January 2015


CD Review

Various artists

This collection of songs is bigger than the sum of its parts. It's a time capsule which preserves an extremely important period of the British music scene in general and the folk scene in particular, along with those who were involved.

The CDs are as much about the stories behind them coming to be as they are about the music contained on them.
Their story begins back in the early sixties when folk was a sub-culture supported by thousands upon thousands of club goers and followers and like most sub-cultures you either knew about it or you didn't.
It's only when the media get hold of it and adds labels such as revival and underground movement that is comes into the national consciousness and suddenly this new stream of culture, which has been kept going by dedicated musicians and folkies for years, is the new kid on the block.
The folk movement has several strands which included traditionalists who kept the musical culture of their corner of the UK alive, there were blues and country contingents who were tapping into music coming from over "The Pond" and the protest singers who were carrying on the spirit of the hippies and counter culture. The one thing they had in common was a rejection of commercial success, folk singers at that time made a living on the road playing the hundreds of folk clubs about at the time and it was from within this melee bands such as Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull and Fairport Convention found an audience.
It was only when musicians such as Lonnie Donegan, Peter, Paul and Mary, Joan Baez and Pete Seeger began to make it into the charts that the wider nation became aware that folk was out there.
However, there was little room in the world of popular music for a folkie to set up in a camp that was crowded by The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Elvis and the like.
But into this came Donovan.
Geoff Stephens
With him came his managers Geoff Stephens and Peter Eden that had overseen Donovan's almost overnight success from an unsigned artist on Ready Steady Go! to one who was offered a record deal and became a hit on both sides of the Atlantic.
Their relationship wasn't to last and as early as 1965 Donovan was working towards ditching his two overseers but because of their success with Donovan they were commissioned to produce four albums covering the spectrum of folk music in the UK, using artists of their choice from the "folk revival" movement - in the end they only managed to produce three and that's the basis of The Eve Folk Recordings.
Stephens would eventually go on to write hits such as Winchester Cathedral, You Won't Find Another Fool Like Me, Knock Knock, Who's There?, Semi-detached Surburban Mr James, I'll Put You Together Again and Goodbye Sam, Hello Samantha. His talents led to him being associated with some of the biggest names in the music industry not least of which is Elvis, Tom Jones, The Hollies, Hot Chocolate, Boy George, Dana, David Soul, The Drifters and a host of others.
The first album features some of Donovan's best known hits with the majority of the album taken up by Mick Softley, who wrote two of the Donovan hits, and his Songs for Swinging Survivors. The second disc features two albums first Bob Davenport & The Rakes then Vernon Haddock's Jubilee Lovelies. The Donovan section includes hits Colours, Catch the Wind along with Goldwatch Blues and The War Drags On.
Peter Eden
Stephens and Eden met Softley, who had written Goldwatch Blues and The War Drags On, through Donovan and were impressed with his music.
Softley originally from Essex was considered something of a maverick and among his repertoire of songs were those in the vein of Dylan and Seeger in that they were protest tunes and had that angry aspect to them.
When you hear him belt out After The World War Is Over and The War Drags On along with the real emotion he invests in his version of the graphic and harrowing Strange Fruit, made famous by Billie Holiday, you really get a sense of how music was tied to the idealism and change of the sixties.
There are tracks where it's sometimes hard to distinguish between Softley and Seeger such as The Bells of Rhymney, which admittedly was written by Seeger, Keep Movin' On and Jeannie, the only thing missing is the banjo.
There are genuinely gentle and dyed-in-the-wool folk tunes too such as All I Want Is A Chance and What Makes The Wind Blow, you listen to tracks such as these and you are immediately transported to Woodstock and age of the hippie.
Softley even throws in the blues With I've Got A Deal You Can't Turn, She's My Girl and the more country sound of West Country Girl and Plains of the Buffalo.
As you listen to the tracks you can almost chart the influences which have filtered into Softley's music but more than this it's obvious he was a damn good songwriter and folk singer.
With only five albums to his name, the last one being in 1976, Softley is still on the folk scene. He now lives in Enniskillen NI where he writes poetry and pretty much plays purely for the pleasure of entertaining people.
The second of the four albums fell to the flamboyantly named Vernon Haddock's Jubilee Lovelies who were often to be found frequenting The Ship and The Smack in Southend.
Haddock may have put his name to the band but the main man was David Elvin who Eden knew from his school days.
The album from Mick Softley
Coming from a different angle the band tapped into the minstrel/skiffle/jug band sound with pretty anything else they wanted thrown in and come across very much like a forerunner of The Bonzo Dog Doo-dah Band.
Other members included Alan Woodward, Alan Sutton, David Vaughan and the wonderfully named Sid "Piles" Lockhart.
This one and only album, which sold just 400 copies, was put together in a night at Advision Studios and while it's certain with today's modern technology and know-how it could be a much more polished affair, the nature of the band and the recording as it stands gives an immediacy and energy that could never be recreated by paying attention to production values and the like.
This is an eccentric album from an eccentric group of musicians created in an eccentric way and is all the better for it.
There is the manic banjo playing of Boodle-Am-Shake, the great entertaining sound of Coney Island Washboard which moved smoothly to Don't Let Your Deal Go Down which sounds more like Donegan than the artist himself.
Throw in the ukulele, swannee whistle, kazoo and pretty much anything else they could get their hands on and you have an album which is full of energy and really gives a snapshot of the enthusiasm and commitment to the music of the players at the time.
Bob Davenport
Bob Davenport came from the other end of the country to Softley and Haddock, Tyneside to be exact. He had also been around quite a bit longer so didn't subscribe to this idea of a revival.
When you listen to his songs on this album it's obvious they are grass roots stuff with many of them sung unaccompanied just as they would have been in the local pubs and clubs.
Davenport was steeped in traditional folk, Irish and music hall sounds and this is obvious in his performances captured on this album.
There are also a couple of great blues tracks in Viola Lee Blues and Stealin'.
After moving down south and already with a portfolio of recordings he was rubbing shoulders with the likes of Ewan McColl and Peggy Seeger and it was Stephens and Eden who gave him his chance to record a full album.
Davenport, who had become a recognisable figure on the folk circuit during the fifties and sixties, brought together his band The Rakes and on their first recording as a group, The Collector EP, Geordie Songs, the band included Reg Hall on melodeon and Michael Plunkett on fiddle. For his other recordings the band was joined by Paul Gross on second fiddle, there was also Soo Paterson providing spoons on later offerings.
Haddock's album
The album was recorded, with a smattering of alcohol, at The Fox in Islington where Davenport ran a club and the songs have that feel about them; a wonderful rawness and honesty.
At least half the album is sung a cappella with songs such as My Bonnie Lad, Wake Up, My Love, New York Girls, Rap Her To Bank, The Hexamshire Lass - which Davenport gave to Fairport Convention to record.
Most of the songs on the album have been picked up by other musicians who have gone on to be much bigger names and who are carrying along the tradition of keeping folk alive, such as New York Girls which is now a staple of Bellowhead's repertoire and The Soldier and His True Love which has become famous as The Nightingale through bands such as The Dubliners and William Brown also known as Keep That Wheel A Turnin'.
There are also some fantastic reels and jigs which like the songs capture a real sense of what it was like to be involved in the folk scene half a century ago.
The fourth album which never was is one of those moments in music history which could have been great like the turning down of The Beatles demo tape by a Decca executive.
With the three albums under their belt Stephens and Eden were looking for the fourth offering and Eden had the idea of a blues album.
As it happened, a guitarist named Eric Clapton has left The Yardbirds and was reported to be looking to concentrate on the blues.
The Eve Folk Recordings
Taking a punt Eden contacted Clapton who, tentatively appeared interested in the project, however, when Eden tried to firm up the deal Clapton told him he'd had an offer from John Mayall and was going to take that instead and as the well-worn cliché goes, the rest is history.
The albums never really caused any major eruptions in the music strata when released and eventually all the artists involved went their separate ways, some unfortunately no longer with us, and of course Donovan went his own way and became a household name who is still touring today. What these three albums are though are a real insight to a time before and including the so-called first "great revival" of British folk and the more you delve into the history of the musicians and people involved you more you realise they are part of a spider's web where the threads can be seen stretching out into both the past and the future of British folk.

The Eve Folk recordings are available now through RPM Records.

The Mike Harding Folk Show

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