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Giff of Folk North West

reviews Echoes of Alfred by Bob and Gill Berry

'It has been a long time coming' are the final words on the sleeve notes of this latest album from Bob and Gill but, as Doug Bailey says on the publicity notes, '..and is well worth the wait'.
In fact, it's been just under 12 years since I last reviewed a CD from these two experienced and seasoned performers who are also good friends. They are joined by a number of their friends and associates to produce an album of varied traditional songs from Wiltshire and Oxfordshire the latter of which is Bob's native county.

'Echoes of Alfred', a title suggested by Canadian Steve Ritchie (ex Tanglefoot), is a reference to Alfred Williams who was a poet, author and a collector of folk song lyrics from Swindon, Wiltshire who collected many of the songs herein and, as Bob states in the extensive sleeve notes, 'deserves a huge debt of gratitude' from all modern day singers of traditional song.

So, what of these songs? Well, for a start, many of them are versions of well known ditties such as Chickens! (All the Little Chickens in the Garden), Sprig of Thyme, Salisbury Plain (Rout of the Blues), Through The Groves (Holmfirth Anthem) and My Jolly Waggoner Drive On although this version differs quite a bit from Jolly Waggoner!

There is but one 'interloper' amongst the traditional material from the writing of Miggy Campbell (a member of the Midland group 'Guffaw') whose evocative song called Days of Summer would fit into any part of the country and is delightfully sung solo by Gill. This is a lovely song but even this is no match for Bob and Gill's superb rendition of I'll Weave Him A Garland, which was collected from one of my favourite source singers William Bartlett, and brings out the close harmonies that these two do so well. I also really liked Deny No Man His Rights which is as relevant today as it was in the late 19th century.

Bob and Gill are given great assistance in the choruses with vocals from Nigel and Christine Owen, Mick Hiscock and Richard Rees who also plays melodeon. Lewis Wood (Granny's Attic) provides fine instrumental accompaniment with fiddle, piano and mandolin and Wild Goose 'regular' Gill Redmond adds her usual imaginative cello playing.

Largely due to the ecletic mix of songs, their programming on the CD and the careful musical arrangements this album is a very pleasant listen and never palls. It's available from the Wild Goose web site and is distributed by Proper Music.