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COSMOTHEKA "You Only Had To Ask!" Folk Sound Records FSCD 55

A reviewer should always try to arrive at his subject, free from prejudice and free from the desire to show favour. To "tell it like it is" should be his guiding light. But that said, let me start this review by declaring an interest of sorts.

There was a time when one single thing would sway me to choose to visit one folk festival over another taking place the same weekend. And that factor was whether Cosmotheka featured on the bill! They were for many years my favourite act: yes, above Vin, above everyone. And when Al Sealey died at the end of 1999, one was not just saddened in the normal way (at the loss of a decent human being), but crushed by the thought that this sublime double-act would be no more. But while there is the CD player, they will always live. (Not that there was any prospect of us fans ever forgetting them!) And here we find their "greatest hits" so-to-speak, in one wonderful album: one which will set the benchmark for future generations of singers of Music Hall songs.

What an extraordinary duo they were. This CD catches so much of their chemistry: the fine imitation Cockney accent of Dave, the stunning patter-merchant delivery of Al, the phenomenal timing of them both. But of course the visual pleasure of watching them together is inevitably missing: the truly PHYSICAL interaction between them both, and the wonderfully mockingly scornful and "knowing" looks, that Dave would give his brother.

But by golly, there is more than enough here to please any newcomer to their work: this disc really delivers. And not just the DISC: the CD liner notes by surviving brother Dave, are a model as to how liner notes should be written. I commend him for them. Mind you, one thing unintentionally amused me: at one stage he tells us that a one-off "Harry Champion" show, when broadcast, "picked up one very valuable listener, Frances Line, newly appointed as Controller of Radio Two, who immediately gave us the go-ahead to put together our first national radio series". How is that amusing? Well, earlier he had told us that they were managed by Jim Lloyd! But Dave, some of us know the link! Ha!

(Am I saying anything dodgy occurred? Emphatically not! I am just zeroing-in on his comment that the broadcasting of the show "PICKED UP a valuable listener". Methinks a brilliant woman like Ms. Line was well aware of the talent to burn that her husband's great duo already had at their disposal.)

This fine CD is only half the total task achieved. Now we want the best of their TV spots compiled in an equally unforgettable video. Cosmotheka were true giants. I often consider that had they lived a century earlier, they would have bestrode the Music Hall stage like no others.

Dai Woosnam.

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This album was reviewed in Issue 55 of The Living Tradition magazine.