Mike Wild of Stirrings
reviews Outway Songster by Cohen Braithwaite-KilcoyneI have been looking forward to hearing this CD since I heard Cohen playing as a member of Granny's Attic with his old schoolmates from schooldays at Worcester, George Sansome and Lewis Wood. This album reflects his current solo repertoire and some may have seen him at Royal Traditions at Dungworth. 'Outway songsters' were described by Lucy Broadwood in 1893 as singers who not only sang favourite songs of the era but also invented new ones themselves. This album fits that description.
His instruments are a Dino Baffetti/Oakwood Binci III melodeon in D/G, a small vintage Hohner Preciosa melodeon in A/D and a Jeffries 45 button anglo concertina in C/G, all these are played with great skill and feeling and used to great effect and he generously credits some excellent mentors and box fettlers. He took up the squeezeboxes in his teens and one can hear the influences of some great players. Recorded and produced by Doug Bailey, the sound quality is excellent and allows the full right and left side of the boxes and the voice to come across. This is a totally solo album and is quite a virtuoso performance. Again one can hear echoes of some great revival singers but his voice is his own and his West Midlands accent suits the songs , quite a few of which are from that area. He has researched his material well from recorded material and archives and the sleeve notes are very interesting. The mix of fine tune playing and interesting songs make this a very good debut solo album.
There is a good mix of songs and tunes, with songs being the majority of tracks. Ripon Sword Dance Song, collected in 1925 and found on the Yorkshire Garland website is here reworked with additions from other calling on songs. With a robust accompaniment on melodeon in D it introduces the characters in the sword dance and play, usually performed round Christmas time. The song clears the way, conjures up the dramatis personae and invites the audience to accept that the local players have travelled many miles to perform in disguise and suspend their disbelief. It builds up the story in the same way that Bob Pegg's Rise Up Jock does. Andrew Rose, known to many from the Free Reed LP of Tony Hall, is a true story of a sailor from Orkney who for some psychopathic reason was tortured by order of his captain who ultimately swung for the crime. The song which has a strong drone from the melodeon bass of box behind it appealed to British tars of the day. Thomas Holt is a self penned song based on a tale from Roy Palmer's Folklore of Warwickshire. It is an 'Old Nick' song based on a story in 1642 pamphlet about a Coventry fiddler who sold himself to the devil but ended up with his neck broken and his money turned to dust. The tune derives from The Farmer's Curst Wife which works very well.
There are some great tunes sets from reprinted manuscript books from the sixteenth century onwards, TheTrip to Birmingham set of vigorous jigs starts with one from John Walsh, 1748 and includes tunes from Lawrence Leadley of Helperby and James Winder of Wyresdale . Lovers of dance tunes from the era will be well pleased. It appears that Tekeli is a Turkish word for 'goaty' but how it got to become the tune for The Wee Cooper of Fife eludes me. Barbados and Jamaica were learnt for a production of Sheridan's The Rivals.
They come from country dance tune books from the era when Britain was a slaving nation and engaged in the sugar trade. The gentry were dancing at home in assemblies to exotic tunes and jaunty figures paid for by the trade in human souls.
There are a number of big ballads, Edward, from the singing of the great Paddy Tunney, is unaccompanied . Cohen hits the notes cleanly with his excellent tenor baritone voice, always a test of a singer on a solo CD. Babylon is the name of a Romany gypsy in the classic ballad which Ewan McColl and Peggy Seeger collected from a traveller, John MacDonald in Lanarkshire in 1969. Cohen has modified it and added and lost some words but it stands as a powerful tale of incest, and murder with a 'little penknife', which must have disturbed listeners with its everyday familiarity. The alienated young robber keeps trying to draw the young women to ' 'Veeairdio' a place that sounds strange ,a bit like when Bob Dylan sang of 'Funario' . It is a powerful ballad well sung with the dramatic intensity of ,say, Brian Peters or Pete Coe. Tom the Barber is another ballad from the Child collections which is commonly known as Willie o' Winesbury. Cohen first got this from the late Tony Rose, a fine concertina player, off his 1982 LP Poor Fellows . The strong accompaniment of the key of C notes of concertina uses the full range of his 45 button box and makes it a dramatic tale. Tom tells Jane's noble father 'I would never have been your serving man if I didn't want your daughter, so keep your land'! Cohen's explanation of Tom's profession is that he is actually a Berber of North Africa, so it is a double triumph for the serving man.
The Country Carrier is a jolly romp from Frank Purslow's book The Wanton Seed. It was written by Harry Clifton, a prolific songwriter who wrote over five hundred songs, in 1867 and collected by George Gardiner from southern country singers in the early 1900s and by then well entrenched. It appeals because the carrier and his old 'rattling mare' have the freedom of the open road, Cohen heard it from Nick Dow who wrote the biographies of many the original singers for the recent book of Purslow's selection. The Fireman's Growl is another from the singing of Tony Rose off the LP Steam Ballads. It is a set of verses from the Railway Gazette set to the tune to Tramps and Hawkers, probaby by Karl Dallas who died recently. The young lad is fed up of his 60 hours for 30 bob a week and wonders if he'll still be firing for the drivers, the 'old lads when we are all down below; !
I found this debut solo album well worth playing over again and again and as a musician and singer well established quite young and with a maturing voice I believe Cohen will be a regular solo and band performer at clubs and festivals for many years to come.