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BOB DAVENPORT - The Common Stone Topic Records TSCD552

It is now 39 winters ago that I first saw Bob Davenport perform live. It was in the unlikely setting of the Royal Festival Hall. It was a star-studded charity folk line-up. Quite what the charity/cause was, and who was on the bill exactly, I have now forgotten: but I do recall that two singers blew me away. One was the late Matt McGinn: the other was Bob.

Alas McGinn was to die somewhat tragically, years before his time. So I never had the same opportunity I had with Bob: viz. to regularly attend his gigs down the years. But that said, it has now been a few years even since I last saw Bob perform, so it was nice to catch up with this new album. And what a nice album it is. Now, "nice" is not the word I would ever have thought I'd apply to the Bob Davenport of 1965-66. In those days he was a FORCE OF NATURE. His amazing voice rang around the RFH to such an extent that one knew that if the PA system failed, there would be no problem in him getting heard.

But now the man is 71. And whilst the political fire still burns within him, and whilst his vocal timbre is still in fine fettle, it is clear that the same voice has lost a little of the sheer physical energy that was once its hallmark. And that is no criticism: heavens, there would be something wrong with him if it DIDN'T. And interestingly, this physical fact has changed the nature of the performance. Whereas his turbo-charged albums of old had often left him open to the (misguided) charge of being a wild ranter, now his more subdued approach lends a subtly reflective quality to his material. And what fine material he has here: and what fine assistants to help record it. Not satisfied with just CBS and the Watersons, ("just"? Ha!) he also ropes in Chumbawamba, both Linda and Richard Thompson, John Tams and Fi Fraser.

Every track succeeded bar one - quite why he wanted to set Blake's "Jerusalem" to a tune other than Sir Hubert Parry's magnificent setting, is utterly bewildering - and some succeeded more than I could have imagined. The Brecht/Weill Alabama Song delivered in a way that the song often can deliver for me: however it was the setting by Bob of a Brecht poem (one previously unfamiliar to me) that jointly proved the most moving moment on the album - Song Of A German Mother. I defy you not to get a frisson from it. But note that I said "jointly" for there is one other contribution (also unknown to me) that brought a lump to the throat.

I refer to I Wish You Were Here Again, written by Sir Harry Lauder after his only son was killed in the Great War. Now, I have always loved Sir Harry's singing of joyous songs like Roaming In The Gloaming"and Keep Right On To The End Of The Road, but this side of him I did not know. Thanks Bob for educating me. This fine song immediately made me think of Kipling and the aching loss he felt at the loss of his son John (an "only son" also), and I can imagine it must have brought real comfort to the thousands of British parents so-afflicted in that four-year nightmare. This is an album I might well have bought had I not been sent this review copy. And I don't say that as often as I would like to say it.

Dai Woosnam

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This album was reviewed in Issue 59 of The Living Tradition magazine.