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JOHN TAMS "Unity" Topic TSCD508

Tam's roots are in the late 60s/early 70s folk scene of the Derbyshire area and an involvement not only in seminal outfits such as Muckram Wakes but a deeper base-touching research into songs and customs of his native area. A solid grounding which led to a credibility that would see him as part of the Albion Band at its most innovative 1976/78 stage where he played a major part in such fine pieces of work as 'The Prospect Before Us' album. Progressing via the First Eleven to the mighty Home Service set-up and an involvement for many years at the National Theatre, he's written in more recent times with Dominic Muldowney the score for the 'Sharpe' TV drama series. Quite apart from fitting in the odd gig with the Questionnaires and Stalking Horses, phew it's small wonder that this first solo release has been a long time coming.

From the outset it's an album that bristles with vitality and intent - the work of a truly gifted musician. Over 9 tracks some of the material only reveals its depths after several plays where at other times the effect is instant. The title track for instance and "Whole New Vision" where echoes of the Home Service deftness (the admirable Graeme Taylor from that band is on guitar throughout) are still evident, mix passion and venom whilst remaining catchy. At other times in songs such as "From Where I Lie/Sheepcounting" the lyrical message, in this case the dismantling of the UK rural economy is brutal.. and effective. I doubt that Tams has ever put across a message that wasn't political to a greater or lesser extent.

No dull rhetoric here though, for it's the resilience of the ordinary man and woman in their battles against faceless powers that comes across in reflective, mature lines like

"he worked his stall from dusk till dawn sweet sweat and raw endeavour, black diamonds bound together by strong and simple means" (from 'Harry Stone 'Hearts Of Coal') The winding-down of this country's Coal Industry over the past quarter century is a recurrent theme and it's hardly surprising that Tam's writing is partially driven by anger having the effects of this decimation on his doorstep. Genuinely moving throughout, in songs such as that quoted and "Winds of Change" the turn of the century human condition is essayed with insight and compassion.

John's band for the album is exemplary with special mention for Barry Coope's keyboards and harmonies, Linda Thompson's rare guesting on one track and Keith Angel's propulsive but non-fussy drums. Subject matter covered possibly too bleak for some tastes? Well go the emotional distance - its worth it and if you want an object lesson in modern, relevant folk writing/performance this is how it's done.

Clive Pownceby

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This album was reviewed in Issue 39 of The Living Tradition magazine.