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Mick Tems of Folk Wales online

reviews Time to Rise by Crows

Crows were formed in 1977, made two LPs and stopped working in 1987. The heady mix of four strong voices melded in startling harmony combined with a cascade of acoustic instruments generated immense pleasure and amazement from their fans everywhere. This is a selection of six tracks from their debut album Crows, issued on the Dingle’s label in 1981, two tracks from the 1986 Dragon Records LP No Bones Or Grease , and an incredible eight tracks which were recorded for radio broadcast and never released.

The quartet was born from a meeting in the Benfleet folk club in Essex. Flyers advertised a concert by folk supergroup Bandoggs; the guests that night were a young Swindon duo, Mick Ryan and Jon Burge, and there to see them were an up-and-coming London-based duo Silas, James Patterson and Ralph Jordan. “We could be a supergroup”, one of the four suggested – “and be called Crows”, said Mick. Their debut public appearance was supporting Kitsyke Will in Pately Bridge, north of Harrogate, in 1978, and this CD represents the cream of Crows’ well-planned repertoire in those 10 years before the four members went their separate ways.

New recruits were drafted in to fill the gaps left by the departing founder members; multi-instrumentalist Dave Bordewey, Jim Younger, violin and keyboard player Steve Faux and – a year before the break-up – Nick Passmore. The CD is also dedicated to the late Ralph, whose premature death in hospital shocked everyone. His mighty input to the band is very prominent from these recordings, and it’s thanks to this very accomplished sound engineer that the first album and the BBC radio tracks were saved. Ralph was also a great arranger of classical pieces for his duet concertina; Ralph and Dave’s ‘Gavotte en Rondeau’, by Johann Sebastian Bach, is an exquisite two-minute example of mastery of the instrument.

Time To Rise! positively explodes from the speakers with the opening track, ‘Bold Wolfe’; smouldering instruments suddenly give way to a capella voices, building up to high, brilliant harmony. ‘The Antelope’, the title track, ‘Time To Rise’, and ‘Sidmouth Days’ celebrate Mick’s long and wonderful art of song-making. From the 1981 Crows album to his collaboration nowadays with fabulous guitarist Paul Downes and his folk opera A Day’s Work, he does not disappoint one jot. He hones and shapes the song to a subtle, smooth finish which bolsters the tradition and gives it strength, but always stamps it as one of his portfolio. ‘The Antelope’ and ‘Sidmouth Days’ were collaborations with James.

‘Napoleon’s Farewell To Paris’ presents a fascinating story; The Irish sea captain Tommy Flynn sang his heavily-truncated ‘Napoleon Bonaparte’ in a session at a Bangor pub in Gwynedd, North Wales, and the song spread like wildfire all around these islands – in fact, the song was so well-known that it spawned a parody entitled ‘Napoleon Goes Boozing’. However, Crows display a longer version, sung to a different tune, and the ballad explains some of Tommy’s obscure references. James found it while researching in the Cecil Sharp House library, and this radio broadcast displays stunning harmonic arrangements.

All the songs, from Ian Campbell’s ‘Coast Of Peru’, though Chris Foster’s ‘When This Old Hat Was New’ and the wonderful shape-note hymn ‘Northfields’, to the lovely Sandy Denny piece ‘Long Long Time’ and Laura Nero’s ‘And When I Die’ are really inspiring; not a track is wasted. This album is a vivid flashback that shows just how significant and spellbinding Crows really were.