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COOPE, BOYES & SIMPSON - "Where You Belong" - No Masters NMCD15

Belper is a Derbyshire town with the civic pride and musical savvy to commission a song cycle about itself from Coope Boyes & Simpson as part of its Millennium Festival Year. A canny choice, as they are England's best unaccompanied singers and have a track record in thematic work.

The 46-minute album opens and closes with Jim Boyes' hymn-like "The River Flows", to the sound of the River Derwent recorded at the town's weir. This song, like (local lad?) Lester Simpson's "The Valley", is a reminder of our impermanence in the landscape.

In between, CBS explore the town's proud industrial heritage. Lester's "Ghost Mail" imagines an e-mail message from Jedediah Strutt, who brought prosperity in the 18th century with his pioneering cotton mills. Could this become the first folk song with an internet theme? Jim's "The Nailer's Song" tells of the town's nailmakers who stood no nonsense from the bosses and celebrated St Monday every week by drinking in the pubs instead of working. Can I be a nailmaker, please?

Strife rears its head. Lester's cheerful "The Belper Militia" is followed by Jim's "The Levelution", which is set to the tune of "Over The Hills and Far Away" and based on the surviving fragment of a local traditional song: "The Levelution is begun / So I'll go home and get my gun / And shoot the Duke of Wellington".

Lester's "Homeland" sums up the need to belong, while "Pulling Down Song" by John Tams (another No Masters man) gives a voice to the itinerant fairground workers in fine "Radio Ballads" style. And while the grown-ups strive for their daily bread and a just society, four local kids sing "Under The Apple Tree", a traditional song for a playground clapping game.

Where does this album come in the CBS scheme of things? It marks a return to Lester's and Jim's material after two glorious albums of traditional songs - "Hindsight" and "A Garland of Carols". Opinions about the quality of the songwriting will vary, and there is too much of the bludgeon about some of their work for my taste. But this album demonstrates a growing willingness to incorporate traditional elements into modern material. And the harmonies and part singing are as impeccable as ever - honey, molasses, and millstone grit.

The result is an enjoyable conjuring up of Belper's spirit. The album is in all good record shops, and the town is on the A6 between Derby and Matlock.

Tony Hendry

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This album was reviewed in Issue 35 of The Living Tradition magazine.