Peter Shaw of UK Folk Radio
reviews I am the Song by Jim CausleyEditors Choice
Jim Causley’s brilliant 2013 album Cyprus Well was a commission from the Charles Causley Trust to set the Cornish poet and distant relative of Jim’s verses to music. The trust was impressed by the results and asked Jim to produce a follow-up, this time to mark the centenary of the poet’s birth this year.
But rather than simply repeat the approach with a further collection of Charles’ poems, Jim instead chose to explore another aspect of the writer’s output, his verses for children. The result is I Am The Song: Children’s Poems By Charles Causley.
As a parent of a five and a two-year-old, it’s always a battle to listen to my favourite music in the car with the overwhelming demands for the children’s choice. Fortunately, my son has eschewed the usually ubiquitous Disney Frozen soundtrack (and I’m very happy for him to let it go). Instead, his CD of choice is the soundtrack to the Minions movie. Which is great because rather than a singing Snow Queen, I get to listen to The Spencer Davis Group, The Kinks, The Who and Donovan. Albeit over, and over, and over again…
So a new CD for children by a favourite folk artist is always a welcome event. And (which is important to all our mini offspring) it is packaged really well. The cover and fold-out poster illustrations by Bex Bourne (www.bexbourne.co.uk) are delightfully in keeping with the music. The poster was of particular interest to my son as each of the illustrations depicts a character from the songs, but it’s left to the listener to guess which one (great for car journeys with the little folk).
The cast of characters on the poster include a crocodile, a knight, a mermaid (a comb and glass all in her hand), a sloth playing a sitar and (of most interest to my son) a besuited gentleman being eyeballed by a ghost (it’s all about spooky things at the moment). Charles Causley’s children’s poems are amusing and enchanting, and Jim has chosen appropriate folky settings that keep the words to the fore.
There are (as you would expect) list and nonsense songs, and many of the 21 tracks clock in at less than two minutes, Jim making a welcome choice to let the little vignettes speak for themselves, rather than extend them unnecessarily. The poems and songs demonstrate what a fertile and brilliant mind Charles Causley had, as it’s a bit like discovering a new collection of unfamiliar classic nursery rhymes.
Jim brings all his skills as a performer and arranger to enhance the words, with fine musicianship (backed by an 11-strong team of guests) and his acclaimed vocals. It’s a pleasingly old-fashioned-sounding collection, reminiscent of the songs from Bagpuss (for me, there’s no greater acclaim than that).
Compared to Jim’s other recent output, the tunes and atmosphere are more joyous. He’s having lots of fun with silly voices and quirky arrangements. But before it all gets a bit too jaunty, there are some sombre and reflective songs to balance out the collection. And many of these are the standouts for me, such as Lady Jane Grey, the story of the short-lived Queen of England, and Lord Lovelace which is more akin to the material on Jim’s towering album from last year, Forgotten Kingdom. The closely woven harmonies on One For The Man with Mick Ryan and Keith Kendrick to the fore sends a shiver down the spine.
Conversely, my son was enchanted by the peculiar songs, particularly Colonel Fazackerley (‘The ghost one!’). Charles’ poems can be delightfully dark, such as the tale of Mrs McPhee: a lady who eats ducklings for every meal, with the unfortunate side-effect that she is now sprouting feathers and has webbed feet. I wonder what Mr McPhee thinks…
As well as offering some fine new tunes, Jim has woven traditional music into his arrangements. A snatch of Hickory Dickory Dock can be heard on I Don’t Want To Grumble, much to the amusement of my two-year-old. And The Obby Oss, a song detailing the exploits of Padstow’s legendary May Day nag on a fateful journey across Cornwall, is appropriately peppered with snippets from the Swinton and Padstow May Day songs.
The album concludes with I Am The Song, which will be familiar to Jim’s followers from its appearance (in a different arrangement) on the Mawkin: Causley collaboration, The Awkward Recruit. It’s an appropriate ending to a little gem of an album, which – like Cyprus Well – makes it seem staggering that these poems weren’t songs in the first place, and very satisfying that they are now. Car journeys with the kids just got much, much better…