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The Mysteries
VARIOUS ARTISTS "The Mysteries" Fledg'ling FLED3014

The music of "The Mysteries" is from the production of three full-length plays written by Tony Harrison, and based on the medieval mystery plays of York, Wakefield, and Coventry. They were produced by Bill Bryden and first performed in 1977 at the Royal National Theatre on London's South Bank. Home Service were the house band for the National, and they provided the music for Bryden's spectacular vision of "The Mysteries". This recording was made just before the plays returned to the Cottesloe in '84, and was originally released by Coda Records in 1985.

Home Service at that time comprised: Bill Caddick on vocals and guitar; Jonathan Davie on bass guitar; Howard Evans on trumpets; Andy Findon on sax; Michael Gregory on drums; Steve King on keyboards; John Tams on vocals and melodeon; Graeme Taylor on guitars and vocals; and Roger Williams on trombone. Added to that were fiddle, recorders, and various other instruments, and last but very much by no means least - vocals from Linda Thompson!

The album opens with traditional tunes worked, honed, and arranged by the band, which lead into Caddick's "Don't Be An Outlaw" with Bill duetting with Tams, accompanied by soaring sax from Findon and the first taste of Taylor's amazing Fender strat guitar riffs. Linda Thompson's first appearance follows with "Shay Fan Yan Ley", then later she does an unaccompanied version of "All in the Morning" and "The Moon Shines Bright", and is simply superb. On "The Mysteries" we have vintage Thompson, and '84 was a very good year! It is such a shame that she has only recently returned to recording, because this CD emphasises just what we have probably missed in the meantime.

The band pulled material and inspiration from diverse sources. English traditional, Renaissance dance tunes, Orleans jazz, and also the contemporary songs of Richard Thompson. Caddick leads on Richard Thompson composition, "We Sing Allelujah", but there is also much from that other contemporary writer John Tams. Tams must be regarded as one of our major songwriting talents, just listen to him on "The Mysteries" singing his own simple, but very effective, composition "Lewk Up, Lewk Up". He also leads the company on "Wonderous Love", where the absolutely excellent musicianship of this band is demonstrated with the brass and drums allied to keyboards to generate a veritable powerhouse of music, enhanced by superb soaring guitar work from Graeme Taylor. It is difficult to make what is essentially a soundtrack from a play succeed without the visual input, but here it does. All the majesty, pomp and terror of King Herod is captured in Caddick's "Herod", and similarly the power of "The Wheel" shows the consummate skill of this band in the theatre environment - possibly defining the idea of "pomp-rock"!

This CD is a most welcome re-release, notable both as a record of an important period in the development of modern English folk music, and as a showcase of early recordings by present-day folk luminaries. It's a waymarket of the Folk Revival and it's also really good listening!

Mel Howley

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This album was reviewed in Issue 26 of The Living Tradition magazine.