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VARIOUS ARTIST "This Label is NOT Removable" Free Reed FRTCD25

Produced to celebrate 25 years since Neil Wayne began recording under the Free Reed banner, this is the latest - with plenty more in the pipeline - in the Revival Masters series that has produced such gems as the Peter Bellamy and Martin Carthy collections. There are three CDs containing nearly four hours of music and a well-illustrated 80-page booklet with both notes on the tracks and an overview of the label's history.

As part of the project, Neil's entire archive of recordings has been digitally remastered, and is available for research on CDs at the EFDSS. So you can see, as usual the term "labour of love" is appropriate. Here we have the tip of the iceberg, but every Free Reed release is represented. There are field and studio recordings, and the line-up includes songs from Peter Bellamy, the Dransfields and Les Barker, and musicians of the calibre of Seamus Ennis and Micho Russell. And I haven't even mentioned the squeezebox players! Because of course the concertina is king here, and one particular delight is a version of "Paddy Lay Back" by the Spinners, included because it has Neil Wayne himself accompanying the Spinners on the free reed instrument the label was named after.

There are a few tracks that sound a little dated, such as the "City of Liverpool " Concertina Band playing "Lily-the-Pink", but at least they offer a little light relief, and every minute has a certain charm. With 61 tracks there are too many highlights to mention without rambling on, but one aspect of the presentation I particularly like is the way different versions of several songs are included, such as "The Hiring Fair", "Woodland Flowers" and "Mandalay". Barrie Roberts, in a previously unreleased recording at a Midlands folk club, sings his arrangement of the Kipling poem on disc one. The next disc includes Peter Bellamy singing the song and the third has a version recorded in his honour at the Old Songs Festival in Altamont, New York, by a chorus that included Heather Wood, Louis Killen and the compiler of "This Label is NOT Removable", Nigel Schofield. Disc three also has Tony Hall singing "Ten Thousand Miles Away" -- the tune Peter Bellamy used for "Mandalay".

A fitting tribute to the past 25 years of the British folk scene, let alone Neil Wayne's magnificent achievement in chronicling such a large part of it, I urge you to listen to this collection.

Graham Gurrin

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This album was reviewed in Issue 47 of The Living Tradition magazine.