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BARRY DRANSFIELD "Be Your Own Man" Rhiannon RHYD 5003

Barry Dransfield ... wasn't he the guy they called the Lord Byron of folk music? Sang with his brother, didn't he? No, not Lord Byron's brother - his own brother ... Robin and Barry Dransfield, that's right.

Mention of Barry Dransfield immediately brings to mind the late 60s and 70s when he and Robin achieved near legendary status in the world of folk music. Indeed, should you happen to own an immaculately preserved copy of their Trailer LP "The Rout of the Blues" - voted Melody Maker's best folk album of 1971 - keep it safe and you might strike lucky on the Antique Roadshow in years to come; better still, if you've got Barry's 1974 Polydor album you could get o200 now for a mint copy.

So what's so special about the man? Listen to this CD and much will be revealed. It's a solo effort with a total running time of over an hour and is his first since "Bowin' and Scrapin'" in 1978. The songs are a mixture of classic trad such as The Derby Ram, John Barleycorn, Daddy Fox and The Water is Wide (which you may have seen him sing in the remake of "Mutiny on the Bounty" with Mel Gibson and Anthony Hopkins) and ones by modern composers as diverse as Dave Stewart, Bert Jansch and Cyril Tawney.

There are some of his own songs, too, with self-explanatory titles such as "Be Your Own Man" and "You Can't Change Me Now", and "I Once Was a Fisherman" reflects the changes in the port of Hastings, where he now lives, as well as a couple of sets of his own fiddle tunes delivered very stylishly.

He admits to admiring solo performers rather than what he terms production folk music and this comes across in the recording. With the exception of a few overdubs from guest musicians Gary Blakely, Chris Fyfe and brother Robin on harmony vocals, this is how you would hear Barry in performance with a clean, crisp edge to the sound, the voice grabbing your attention from the start and the musicianship shining through.

The sleeve notes of "The Rout of the Blues", I'm reminded, discussed the conflict between the individual and the collective (very important in folk music around 1970), declaring how critics seek with increasing difficulty "for the performer able (and willing) to assume the ... role of artistic dictator which was the product of his alienation from his audience" contrasting this with "a composer like John Cage (who) seeks anonymity so assiduously that his very silence forces us to listen to what he is saying."

The sleeve notes on the new album list the songs and where he got them. Welcome back Barry!

Alan Brown

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This album was reviewed in Issue 11 of The Living Tradition magazine.