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TONY KENDALL "A Bicycle Ride with Vaughan Williams"
Stormforce Arts STFC006CD

I've put off writing this review for a couple of months. I've thought long and hard, but I can't cop-out. The concept is brilliant, but the album doesn't work. Let's look at the detail.

In 1903, the 31 year old Ralph Vaughan Williams arrived in the small Essex town of Brentwood to teach an Oxford University extension course on Folksong. He had at that time not collected any traditional songs. In his class he had the middle-aged daughters of the Ingrave Rectory, Georgiana and Florence Heatly who were able to direct him to local traditional singers. Folksong collection was a decidedly trendy occupation for a young (classical) musician at the time, and over the next couple of years, he noted 140-odd songs. This album reflects RVW's work in that area. It contains a mixture of spoken word, both transcriptions of contemporary writings by RVW and informed comment by Tony, three excellent transcriptions of (anonymous) wax cylinder recordings, and recordings by a cohort of people whom I suspect are individually excellent performers. This last part is where the album falls down.

The problem is exemplified by the juxtaposition of a cylinder recording of the "Banks of the Nile" sung by an anonymous traditional singer with the sub-Watersons pastiche of the same song which follows it. Tony, apparently has a version of the song from his Grandmother, who "used to accompany her authoritative vocal with a stabbing and aggressive piano part, heavy on the left hand; a growling 'rock and roll' bass line". I'd have loved to have heard that!

Many of the other musical tracks suffer from a distinct lack of production values. I don't know if was a lack of studio time (I do fully understand the pressures involved in making an album ...!) or perhaps Tony didn't recognise the need to have an independent set of musical ears in the production chair?

There are few enough recordings of English traditional music, and it's a matter some considerable sadness to me that I really couldn't recommend this album, except possibly for two things. The transcriptions of the wax cylinder recordings, could tip the balance. But, even then, I have my suspicions that at least a couple are recordings of early revival singers! The playing, on classical violin, of RVW's Folk Song Studies for Violin by Stuart Briner as background to some of the narration could also make the CD worthwhile for some people. It's certainly given me the impetus to go down the local classical record shop to locate a full recording, if one exists!

Chris Bartram

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This album was reviewed in Issue 18 of The Living Tradition magazine.