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ROD SHEARMAN "Here's To Friends" Long Song LS01CD

All the songs on "Here's to Friends" are Rod Shearman's - his more famous ones such as "London River" and "The Big Fella" and his name are well-known in Club and Festival circles. In the Merchant Navy he spent seven years at sea in the 50s, this experience reflected in a number of his compositions and accounts for his liking for shanties, although he writes on topical and historical subjects, the countryside and seasons too.

A sensitive and evocative lyricist, his tunes are framed along traditional lines and have catchy accessible refrains. This is an un-reconstructed folk singer; what Cyril Tawney, with whom comparisons could be drawn, would call "old-style". Hard to believe this is his first recording but such it is and yet only "Sail Away" is included of the songs popularised by Jim Mageean and Johnny Collins in the late 70s/early 80s. This was the time when Rod, having dabbled with Jazz saxophone after leaving the sea, investigated Dylan/MacColl/Guthrie, was inspired by Stan Hugill's books and after playing with the Captain Swing collective, chose to immerse himself in the Folk Scene proper. He's been in a rich vein of form since and this album is as warm and open as the man himself. Nothing ground-breaking you understand, but with a guideless delivery and depth of feeling that provides much to admire.

Here are songs for a baby's birth, for London, for Victor Jara who Rod met in 1968, for Ulster and for the returning of Spring. Thus there's no type-casting of Shearman as sea-songster - he's much more than that and whilst some of the sentiments expressed are well, sentimental, we don't cross that fine line into mawkishness. "As strangers we met, we're leaving as friends And if fate is kind then we'll all meet again" (from the title song)

Rod Shearman's heart is in the right place - he wears it on his sleeve. I have no problem with that. A commendable disc.

Clive Pownceby

And another view of the album:

So Rod Shearman has finally made an album of his songs after nearly 40 years writing and singing in venues ranging from noisy London-Irish pubs to large political rallies, to singarounds at festivals. Well it's not before time, and the result captures the essence of his qualities as a singer/songwriter, and should bring him to the notice of a much wider audience.

Rod is totally unlike some of today's singer songwriters whose output seems geared to producing the next album. He has written more than 75 songs simply as a way of communicating his thoughts and concerns to others - sometimes just to entertain them, but more often to make them think. His warm distinctive voice, a mixture of his Kent upbringing and his adopted home of London is tailor-made for his own material, as is the uncluttered production on this debut CD. Over half the songs are unaccompanied with Dave Webber, Anni Fentiman and Johnny Collins providing top class harmonies on some choruses. The remainder are given a sympathetic guitar accompaniment from Mick Pearce.

This CD gives a good feel for the range of Rod's songs. His sea songs, inspired by his early days in the Merchant Navy are probably the most widely sung by others. Here he includes "Sail Away" one of his best known chorus songs, and the more reflective "Song of the Sea" - for me one of the high points of the album. Another personal favourite is "The Thundercloud Looms" a song looking forward to a time when lovers will no longer be separated by the troubles in Northern Ireland - as relevant today as it was when it was written over twenty years ago.

Rod's performance always contain a fair sprinkling of songs covering "political" issues (in the broadest sense) that concern him. Here we have songs about the environment, the injustices done to soldiers executed by firing squad in WW1, about Chile and El Salvador and the plight of the Aborigines. But there is always a characteristic note of optimism, and they are balanced by songs simply celebrating the city and the coutryside.

In the end friendship is probably what is most important to Rod, and the closing song "Here's to Friends", new to me, struck me as another of Rod's classic chorus songs, which could easily be taken up by others as a closing song for the night. Some old favourites including "London River" and "The Big Fella", have been left off this CD, but if enough people buy it, he just might include them on another one.

Rod is to my mind one of the true originals on the folk scene, so if you haven't heard him try to have a listen. His style, uninfluenced by what is currently fashionable on the folk music scene, may not be to everyone's taste, but I am sure that this CD will win him many new friends. His old friends will need no recommendation from me.

Richard Brown

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This album was reviewed in Issue 33 of The Living Tradition magazine.