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CYRIL TAWNEY "Down the Hatch" Neptune NGL 101 CD

Cyril Tawney made his first record in 1960 and claims to have been singing folk songs for a living longer than anyone else in Britain. This new CD on his own Neptune label is released to celebrate the thirty-fifth anniversary of his professional career and a celebration is indeed what the album is about for it's subtitled "Songs about Drink and Drinkers".

If you've seen Cyril perform you'll know what to expect, just voice - strong as ever - and nylon-strung guitar, although on some of the twenty-three tracks (fifteen over the eight, perhaps?) he's joined by a smallish pub chorus.

Most of the songs are Trad, arr. Tawney and should be familiar to listeners, with several sea-related ones but as both conceiver and producer of the album, he points out that its contents may be mostly funny but there is a darker, negative side to the subject - who said "I'll drink to that"?

This leads to a real surprise, his version of Richard Thompson's "Down Where The Drunkards Roll", but there is also a darker, negative side to recording and how Cyril or his engineer Guy Hatton allowed this track to pass (and it's not the only one) when voice and guitar accompaniment seem to be in different keys is disturbing.

Highlights for me are Miles Wooton's comically nostalgic "Early One Evening" and Alex Glasgow's "As Soon as This Pub Closes" where the revolution is put on hold and when you read Cyril's note to "Farewell to the Whisky" where he states that the Scots don't just make the best whisky, they make the best songs on the subject too, you KNOW the man is a true believer!

Overall it's a pleasant album from a man who almost single-handedly revived the folk song culture of England's South-West and influenced a few Scots youngsters - Jim Reid, for one, first heard the Dundee whaling song "The Balaena" from Cyril in the Dundee Folk Club in the early 1960s.

In his Introduction to Medieval English Lyrics, published in 1963 in London, R.T. Davies made this assertion: "To the best of my knowledge there areno drinking songs among English folk-songs". Cyril Tawney has proved him well and truly wrong. Happy anniversary, Cyril, and slainte!

Alan Brown

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This album was reviewed in Issue 7 of The Living Tradition magazine.