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THE JOHN KIRKPATRICK BAND "Force of Habit" Fledg'ling Records FLED 3007

I must begin by declaring an interest. I am a fan of John Kirkpatrick. There is style and panache in his musicianship and he has done a great service for English traditional music by demonstrating that it is not effete and gutless but every bit as lively and varied as the more fashionable Celtic tradition. I have heard John as a solo performer, in duos with Sue Harris and Richard Thompson, and as a member of Brass Monkey. This album features the John Kirkpatrick Band - the other members being Michael Gregory, Graeme Taylor, Paul Burgess and Dave Berry.

On the CD there are fifteen tracks - ten of dance tunes either traditional or written by Kirkpatrick himself and they are played with great verve and energy. The tunes are predominantly English though "Menage A Trois" has - not surprisingly - a French sound, and there is something distinctly Bavarian about "The Bread and Jam Waltzer". My own favourite track is the medley of Morris tunes. One track, "Princess Royal" is a straight copy of the version on the much acclaimed "Morris On".

Of the songs, there is a lovely folk-rock treatment of "The Oakham Poachers" featuring Graeme Taylor on guitar. "Seventeen Come Sunday" is an arrangement by Steeleye Span. There are many versions of this song and this one - sung at breakneck speed fails to do justice to it. The other three songs were all written by John Kirkpatrick himself. "George's Son" is a story about two sheep dogs and has a traditional feel to it. "Black Against the Snow" is a song of love and loss with some strong poetic images but I feel that the folk-rock treatment of this one is all wrong and leads to John belting out the closing lines of a song which is meant to be gentle and haunting. Every CD of fifteen tracks will almost certainly contain one bad track and that is the kindest thing I can say about "Blue Balloon". It is written in the rock idiom and therefore jars with the content of the rest of the album. And what on earth is the song about? I've listened to it over and over again and I still can't make any sense of it.

These are minor criticism, though. Overall this is an album with plenty of verve and variety and excellent musicianship.

Howard Baker

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This album was reviewed in Issue 17 of The Living Tradition magazine.