Various ‘The Eve Folk Recordings’ 2CD (RPM/Cherry Red) 4/5

eve-folk-recordingsThe current resurgence of interest in the UK folk scene has led to a re-examination of the first generation of musicians that emerged back in the 1950s and 1960s and this excellent double CD, featuring an extended review article by renowned folk music journalist and author Colin Harper, focuses attention on some of the unrecognised greats of the English folk scene as well as re-investigating an early work by one of Scotland’s great practitioners, Donovan. Some hard to find Columbia recordings of musicians from the mid-1960s make this a real treat for folk fans and pride of place probably belongs to Mick Softley and his album, ‘Songs for Swingin’ Survivors’. Born in Essex to Irish parents, Softley spent the early 1960s busking in Paris before returning to England to start up, and manage, his very own folk club ‘The Spinning Wheel’, and this served as the inspiration for his debut album for a major label. Softley soon became friendly with both Donovan and a then young Maddy Pryor (late to become lead singer of Steelye Span) and his voice sounds as thought it has been influenced by the likes of Tim Buckley, especially on a song such as ‘All I want is a chance’. In approach Mick Softley was closest to the US folk singers, accompanied only by guitar, and his lyrical voice is heard to great effect on ‘After the World War is over (or how I learnt to live without myself)’. The ode to a girl he once knew, ‘Jeanine’, is added as a bonus 45. All but two songs on the album were originals with interesting covers of Billie Holiday’s atmospheric and evocative ‘Strange Fruit’ and Arlo Guthrie’s ‘Plans of the Buffalo’ rounding off the bill. The first CD is completed by a couple of 45s recorded by Donovan and these fit very much into his folk-pop sound while the second CD is dominated by two separate albums by Vernon Haddock’s Jubilee Lovelies and Bob Davenport and the Rakes. In fact the latter was an a cappella singer from the Gateshead in the north-east of England and belonged very much to the classic folk singing tradition and Davenport performed regularly on the live folk circuit and indeed had even been invited to perform at the prestigious Newport Folk Festival in the States alongside Joan Baez, Dylan, Phil Ochs and Tom Paxton. it should be explained that the Rakes were in fact two instrumentalists providing minimal accompaniment when required and this included accordion on the entertaining ‘William Brown’ and assorted instruments on ‘Reel’ where an interest in the Irish folk tradition is evident. Davenport’s plaintive voice is heard to best effect on the all too brief ‘Wake up my love’ while on ‘New York Girls’ collective vocals come into play. Old-time music with an emphasis on reviving the American Jug band tradition provides the backdrop to Vernon Haddock and the Jubilee Lovelies and the leader performs here on mandolin, jug and swanee whistle while key musician David Elvin plays banjo, guitar and kazoo. The songs showcased date roughly from the 1920s and include a rousing rendition of ‘Don’t let your deal go down’, a banjo and guitar intro to the excellent ‘Stealin’ and harmonica plus vocal accompaniment to the ‘Viola Lee Blues’. At the time the original album sold approximately only four hundred copies and has been sought after ever since. Extensive inner sleeve notes offer an informative historical overview of the recordings and round off a terrific package of music.

Tim Stenhouse