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Swan Arcade - "Round Again" - FECD160

This re-issue of Swan Arcade's "Forever Young" (1983) and "Diving For Pearls" (1987) offers 78 minutes of one of England's best unaccompanied singing groups in mid-period splendour. Dave and Heather Brady and Jim Boyes deliver their trademark mix of traditional, popular and protest songs with a vigour and vinegar well suited to those divisive times.

The retention of the original running orders shows how cannily the songs were grouped. The happy normality of the boy-girl relationship in Rab Noakes' "Together Forever" is wedged between the enigmatic anguish of the traditional "Go From My Window" and the bizarreness of Ray Davies' "Lola" (tracks 7-9). John Tams' "Raise Your Banner", Sting's "Black Seam", and the traditional "Donibristle Mine Disaster" (tracks 12-14) are a clear statement of support for the miners. Elvis Costello's "Shipbuilding" (with its line "Diving for dear life when we could be diving for pearls") and the traditional "Weary Whaling Grounds" (tracks 18-19) are both about being forced into dangerous employment to survive.

American gospel songs; a magnificent "Dives and Lazarus"; Tommy Makem's "Four Green Fields", which I took to be a pro-republican allegory; anti-war songs; the haunting "Peat Bog Soldiers" from a Nazi concentration camp… the content is chewy throughout. Delivery is always bracingly powerful but with little variety in the blend of voices. Whether the trio sing in harmony or unison, whether producer Paul Adams employs multi-tracking or not, Dave's is the dominant voice with Heather and Jim in support. Subtlety of technique is not a problem - listen to the dramatic stops on "Lola", for instance. Two accompanied tracks from "Diving With Pearls", the traditional "Hounds of the Meynall" and the Bonar / Sankey hymn "Only Remembered" are hard to endure - the band is raucous and under-rehearsed.

How do Swan Arcade compare with their peers - The Watersons, The Young Tradition, The Copper Family, Coope, Boyes and Simpson? It matters little. Apples and oranges, plums and pears, all have their place in this fine basket of fruit. For a fuller picture we await the re-issue of the eponymous first album from 1972, due for release by Celtic Music on the day that pigs fly over Bradford. In the meantime, well done Fellside.

Tony Hendry

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This album was reviewed in Issue 46 of The Living Tradition magazine.