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TOM AND BARBARA BROWN - Beyond the Quay

TOM AND BARBARA BROWN - Beyond the Quay
WildGoose Records WGS358CD

I remember Tom and Barbara Brown as strong voices on the London folk scene in the 1990s.  Then they made their escape to North Devon.  Since then, they have enjoyed a golden autumn to their career as one of Britain’s best harmony duos.  They are noted for their broad repertoire but their fourth CD, Beyond The Quay, has the tang of the sea throughout.  This is a satisfying hour of fighting sailors, wrecked ships, maritime romance, and wondrous herring.  But no shanties.

Many songs are unaccompanied, but there is low-key musical support from Hazel and Emily Askew on a range of instruments, Keith Kendrick on concertinas, Malcolm Woods on roped tenor drum, and Joan Holloway on nakkers.  The Askews, Keith, and producer Doug Bailey provide a distinguished chorus.  The young Askew sisters really get traditional music in a way that some of their peers don’t – it’s great to hear them joining hands with an older generation.

The songs are well-researched, with credits scrupulously given in the liner notes. My favourites include the rousing opener The Chesapeake and Shannon (Anglo-US naval battle in 1813); The Herring’s Head (an argument song also known as King of the Sea, heard in various versions all around our shores); The Death of Nelson (from the singing of George Dunn of Staffordshire); The Blackbird (from the Shropshire singer May Bradley); the Short Songs set (verses from five songs to the tunes of Brighton Camp and The Sailor’s Hornpipe); and Firing The Mauritania (written by Redd Sullivan when he was a stoker on the ship and finding it a rubbish job).

Tom and Barbara’s voices are rich and warm, conveying their lifelong delight in traditional song.  Each takes their solos – he goes for bounce and strong rhythm, she is more stately.  Together in harmony, they have the natural understanding, which comes from nearly 40 years as a couple since they met at Padstow in 1969.  Long may they continue. 

Tony Hendry
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This album was reviewed in Issue 82 of The Living Tradition magazine.