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PETE WATKINSON "Hampshire Rose" Old and New Tradition ONTCD2003

I recently asked several North Lincolnshire folkies if they knew who Pete Watkinson was. The name drew a blank with them all. Which is a shame, because he is a significant talent.

However, were one to ask the same question of equivalent folkies south of a line drawn from the Severn to the Thames estuaries, I fancy one would get a far higher recognition factor. For Pete arrived on the South Coast scene shortly after I departed in the mid Seventies, and has since built a very solid reputation from his base at the Railway Folk Club in Pompey.

How to describe the voice? Well, it is not a big voice, but it is a distinctive one. It is a voice that is blessed with the cutting edge that so many of our voices - mine included - lack. There is nothing bland about it at all. This might seem an extravagant comparison, but try and imagine Lonnie Donegan singing traditional song in his more sotto voce mode! And trust me, there are few higher compliments.

Add to this Pete has a clear intelligence in his interpretation of lyrics and an accomplished guitar style. And he has a "backing chorus" to KILL for!

Did I mention "big" voices? Well they don't come bigger than here, for alongside Pete's wife Trish, he has none other than Dave Webber and Anni Fentiman, and if they weren't enough, he has the magnificent Johnny Collins. Ah, JC. If ever a man had the right initials! And how a myriad folk performers could do with him to SAVE their album from relative anonymity. That voice! A highly respected folk writer recently described it as "bass-baritone" . Eh? If he is not an absolute "basso profundo", then I do not know who is! Even if you said he had his truly marvellous voice in his BOOTS, then you'd still be aiming absurdly high. But there is no danger of "anonymity" with this album: Collins merely enhances it. Were he not there, the album would still be worthy of considerable merit.

The 59 minutes playing time consist of 15 tracks which are a mixture of the traditional and contemporary. The almost common theme is the link to Hampshire and the surrounding area. The best offerings are generally those that feature the Heavenly Chorus e.g. "Home Lads, Home", but the standout cut just has to be the final (solo) one: viz. Mike Harding's "Christmas Eve 1914". Watkinson does real justice to a brilliant song: a song that is up there with John McCutcheon's magnum opus.

If there is one slight disappointment, it is the title track. Oh, he does justice to the well-crafted words of Ken Stephens alright: it's just that as a one-time inhabitant of Romsey, I have to say that neither I nor anybody else I knew there ever saw Lord Louis Mountbatten as a petal of the Hampshire rose...or anything near it. Still, maybe I should try harder to make the necessary leap of the imagination.

When I lived there, the late Rick Keeling burned like a meteor across the South Coast folk scene. Those who saw him will NEVER forget him. Now if Pete Watkinson brings out a volume two of songs from the Hampshire area, what a brilliant version he could do of Rick's "Lymington Round and Round".

But "volume one" will more than do for the moment.

Dai Woosnam

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This album was reviewed in Issue 43 of The Living Tradition magazine.