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David Kidman of Fatea

reviews Songs from the Past Into the Future by Derek Gifford

Derek's a folk circuit stalwart with some 35 years' singing experience, a highly-regarded solo performer as well as a member of shanty group Three Sheets To The Wind (with Keith Kendrick and Geoff Higginbottom). Giff was unquestionably a key figure in my own discovery of chorus songs and the joys of chorus singing indeed! His glorious, rousing setting of Keith Scowcroft's poem When All Men Sing is nothing short of iconic, and has become a true cornerstone of the folk repertoire. But let's not forget also Giff's enthusiastic espousal of all manner of folk songs, and his eager exposure of local songwriting talents, both of which aspects sit so very comfortably alongside his own not inconsiderable performance skills, and are well to the fore in this latest collection. As a singer, Giff's relaxed and confident style is perennially winning, while he can also boast a significant (if humble) degree of accomplishment as a guitarist.

This latest "giffering" (his sixth album) continues the approved tradition which he's made a speciality - combining the pick of contemporary folk songs with percipient and satisfying takes on traditional material. The latter category is here represented by a nicely turned Bold Fisherman (which sports a superb cello counterpoint from Gill Redmond) and a simple but effective a cappella account of Dives And Lazarus (which like many of us he learned from the singing of The Young Tradition). Pick of the remainder I would judge Songs They Used To Sing by Mike Bartram (a canny chorus-song-for-well-versed-chorus-singers), Richard Grainger's thought-provoking opus Land And Sea (which contains some lovely lyrical oboe playing from Paul Sartin), Les Sullivan's lively press-gang saga Five Pounds, and Pete Coe's atmospheric early composition Farewell To The Brine (eerily accompanied by bowed psaltery and shruti box). Other powerful contributions come from the pens of Alan Bell (The Cocklers' Song) and the late Rod Shearman (Do You Remember?), but each of Giff's chosen songs has much to offer and no individual track is "skippable". While for those who already know and appreciate Giff's companionable stage presence, the disc's quotient of straightforward folky humour comes in the shape of Miles Wootton's priceless (and still mightily relevant) parody Early One Evening (retold with relish aplenty!) and Brian Hooper's environmental commentary Coming In Further.

Giff's standing in the folk world is paid tribute by the ready recruitment of fine guest artists: singers including Tom & Barbara Brown and Anna Shannon and instrumentalists comprising those mentioned in dispatches above plus the estimable Keith Kendrick. All adding up to a well-coordinated, friendly and accessible (and sympathetically recorded) release that will give considerable pleasure.