© Warren Fahey
Over the years I get called upon to write reviews of new releases, publications and concerts – I thought it might be interesting to assemble them all in one place. Some of the reviews appeared in radio broadcasts (mostly ABC) and others in magazines like Trad & Now.
To mark the centenary of the birth of the British folk singer A. L. Lloyd (1908-1982), better known as Bert Lloyd, Fellside Records of Cumbria, has issued a splendid double compact disc set showcasing just a small part of the renowned singer’s repertoire. It is of particular interest to Australians as the second CD is devoted entirely to bush songs. There was a time when such a release would have ruffled more than a few local feathers including those of pioneer bush song collector and commentator, John Meredith, who had little time (and less sympathy) for Lloyd as a reliable interpreter of Australian bush songs. That debate still lingers but few could deny Lloyd’s contribution to the understanding and appreciation of our bush songs, especially his musical arrangements and subtle changes to some lyrics. Bert Lloyd always described himself as a singer of Australian songs, many learnt during his stay here in the 1920s, rather than an authoritative voice. He defended his right to arrange the songs, which he did with such skill that his versions are often now seen as the ‘standard’ versions. This, understandably, clouds the folklore surrounding our traditional repertoire but in some ways is still part of the process, and who can deny the vigor and integrity of oral transmission, especially in this day and age.
But let me tell you about the first CD first. It carries the title of ‘English Songs’ and for anyone who cares about the tradition in transition this is a wonderful collection for the songs have been gleaned from the Topic Record’s archive and represent Lloyd in his prime. There is the added bonus of these songs being accompanied by the great English concertina player, Alf Edwards. I was familiar with most of the songs in the collection and found it slightly annoying that no recording details were provided. What we do get is updated notes by Lloyd and these help to bring the songs to the centre stage. I presented Lloyd’s two Sydney concerts when he returned to our shores in 1970 and recall being absolutely transfixed by the passion he achieved in his singing, despite the fact his voice had already started to wind down, and he was having problems with his breathing. Once again Lloyd showed that the old songs have a special magic and made more potent by putting them into historical context by his fascinating introductions. He achieved this in his recording notes too. Paul Adams, owner of Fellside Records, did the selection and considering Lloyd’s vast recorded legacy this must have been quite a challenge. There’s a fine mix of ballads (including a stirring rendition of ‘Lord Bateman’), two Napoleon Bonaparte songs, seas songs, love songs and a chilling version of ‘Lord Franklin’, detailing the ex Governor of Tasmania’s ill-fated Arctic voyage. I thought I was familiar with most of Bert Lloyd’s recordings so it was pleasing to find two little-known songs, ‘The Cockfight’ and ‘The Death of Bill Brown’.
The second CD is titled ‘The Australian Songs’ and offers no surprises. Once again, I would have liked to have seen the notes state the original recording source. From the accompaniments, (Peggy Seeger, Ralph Rinzler, Alf Edwrads, Al Jeffery, E.L. Rewald and John Cole), it is obvious that all the recordings come from the sessions recorded by Topic for Wattle. My favourite tracks would include his rather eccentric version of ‘The Derby Ram’ and ‘A Thousand Miles Away’. All in all the selection is a popular list including ‘Click Go the Shaers’, ‘Road to Gundagai’, ‘The Wild Colonial Boy’ and ‘Brisbane Ladies’, to name only a few of the ‘bush top 21’ represented here. I was hoping there might have been an unreleased or a radio version of some Australian bush songs but no such luck.
Bert Lloyd was a song craftsman and a great storyteller. He deserves to be remembered for his singing, his work as a folklorist, and his musical generosity to other singers. He was definitely an influence on my own interest in Australian and British music and I know I am only one of many.