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"Root & Branch Vol 2 - Everybody Swing"
English Folk Song & Dance Society.

"Root & Branch. ", produced by Unknown Public on behalf of the EFDSS, comes in a package containing a CD, a booklet of essays, various posters, and a couple of picture cards, all linked on a theme expressed in folk song and music. Volume 1 was called "A New World", described as "the crossing of borders musically, geographically, and spiritually". Volume 2 takes as it's theme 'The 50's', and is called "Everybody Swing".

"Everybody Swing" was the title of a radio programme broadcast regularly during the late 1940's and early 50's. It was aimed at folk dance enthusiasts, and those caught up in the 'square dance' craze of those years. I was neither, but used to listen for the sake of the songs that could be heard occasionally, the live atmosphere, and the infectious tunes. The "Root & Branch" producers have chosen their title appropriately because of the time-span covered, 1947 - 63, in folk revival terms a period of conception, gestation, birth and infancy. Important elements like the passion for New Orleans jazz (sadly mutated into 'trad' eventually) bringing Skiffle in it's wake, Skiffle itself, the dance craze, Irish music in London, early folk clubs, are covered in the included book by writers such as Eric Winter, Reg Hall, Bill Leader, Ron Smedley, Billy Bragg, knowledgeable people who's opinions provide many a talking point. Bill Leader's piece on the history of Topic Records shows us just how much we owe to that great company. David Gregory tells of struggles, successes and failures regarding folk music on the BBC. Eric Winter, who knows more than most about the fledgling folk club scene tells it in a piece called "Purists, Popularisers & Tolerators", a good description of the way things were. Add in the fun of photographs showing the young faces of the now famous, and you've got an informative and entertaining item.

The same may be said of the CD, 23 tracks opening with George Webb's Dixielanders, and closing with Walter & Daisy Bulmer, Billy Cooper, Reg Hall, Mervyn Plunkett and Russell Wortley playing 'The Bluebell Polka'. Lively tracks both, giving me the lovely thought that given the right material these two groups could easily sit in together. In between we get, to name a few, Margaret Barry, calypsonian Lord Kitchener, Big Bill Broonzy, Scan Tester, Bobby Casey, Ewan MacColl, Ken Colyer Skiffle Group, Cyril Poacher, and the outstanding Jimmy Shand. Volume 1 had 'featured singer' Frank Hinchliffe singing three songs unconnected with the theme. This one does the same with Jane Turriff in typically exuberant style. I don't see the reasoning behind this non-thematic spot, though the chance to hear either singer is welcomed.

To my mind the CD and the book are the pick of the package, making it worth the subscription of 32 per year for two issues, given the price of CD's in the shops that is. As for the rest of it, the 'Timeline Poster', the facsimile of a Broonzy concert programme, the two picture cards - different cards in every pack - I got FJ Child, and the Queensferry Burry Man - don't add up to much. I can't see people exchanging these cards like the fag cards of my playground days, though I'd love to be proven wrong. I applaud, in principle, any attempt by the Society to reach out beyond it's membership but I'm not sure if there is such a market for this. Those of my vintage might buy it because the topic interests them, and from nostalgia. But others? I'm not so sure. Root & Branch is sold on subscription, by mail order, at festivals, and selected record and book stores. For further details call 0207 402 2789.


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This album was reviewed in Issue 40 of The Living Tradition magazine.