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Dai Woosnam of Dia Woosnamn

reviews Return Journey by Dave Arthur with Pete Cooper & Chris Moreton

I’m not going to pad out this review with lots of biographical detail on the performer. It is the usual last refuge of the critic who has nothing to say: he merely trots out all he has read in the liner notes. Sorry, but I do not go down that road.

And that is often to the annoyance of the producers of the CDs. After all, liner notes are often “parti pris”, and occasionally exhibit a hagiographical and self-serving content that blows one away with its chutzpah. So naturally, any reviewer who copies out the liner notes is definitely “playing ball” as far as the record company is concerned: after all, they are helping to disseminate “The Message”. They are “onside” and will thus get more review copies of CDs coming their way.

But such considerations never enter my thinking.

So I am not going to say much about Dave Arthur. But conscious as I am that the majority of people reading this do NOT live in the England that Dave Arthur and myself have in common, I feel I should tell them that he is not to be confused with the DAVEY Arthur of Furey Brothers fame.

Dave goes back a long way. In the 60s and 70s he achieved considerable fame with his wife Toni. They made a real mark on the British folk scene, and became well known as TV presenters. Although he has not been so prominently in the public eye in recent decades, he has if anything INTENSIFIED his efforts, in a wonderfully eclectic way.

He is one of those characters who is Inclusive in his attitudes: just studying his CV, one does not need to be a trick-cyclist to see AT A GLANCE that this is a man constantly attempting to “link things and link people”…rather than EXCLUDE them.

And “link” is what he certainly does here. The CD’s title “Return Journey” refers to songs that had their origins in the British Isles, left here in the steerage hold of a myriad ships bound for Amerikay…and then  more-often-than-not, died out here in Britain, but thrived in the Appalachians - or wherever - Stateside.

He delivers the songs in a sincere non-embroidered vocal style, and his own fine musicianship is boosted by two pre-eminent British acoustic musicians: Pete Cooper on fiddle, and Chris Moreton on guitar. There are no “stand-out tracks”: indeed were I to pick any out, it would be in a way to go against the whole ETHOS of the album. You see, this is an album to be taken as a WHOLE: a total experience where song builds on song, making one realise the sheer wealth and breadth of material that has made the crossing of the Pond.

Lest you not buy the CD on a false prospectus, Arthur DOES add that a minority of the tracks do not fit the formula: they were not such songs making their “return journey”: but rather he includes them for no better reason than he enjoys doing them! (And there IS no better reason to include anything, it seems to me.)

And there is more! As if to sum up that this is NOT an album where you pay your money for two startling tracks and the rest is made up with aural Polyfilla, the CD arrives with a booklet containing the best set of liner notes I have read in a long while. Frankly, if I bought this album and when I got home found the CD missing, I guess I STILL would think that I’d had my money’s worth, just with these GOLD STANDARD liner notes. They are marvellous.

But not so marvellous that Arthur cannot make ONE remark that slightly stuck in my craw. This is it: he is talking about the great sean-nos singer Joe Heaney.

“He left Ireland for America around 1960, where he pursued a career as a doorman in hotels and apartment blocks!”

Now, I find that exclamation mark very telling. Now don’t get me wrong: me, of all people cannot point a finger at those who favour the otiose exclamation mark! No, that is not my point. What I am alluding to, is his very USE of it in that sentence. It suggests to me that Dave Arthur thinks that being a “doorman” was a waste of a great man’s talent. I am not sure that this was so.

True, I don’t know whether Joe Heaney loved or hated the work that put the bread on his table, but I think it entirely possible that Heaney might have shown great pride in his work, and indeed may even have had a real CALLING to do such a job. It is Dave’s attitude here which explains why restaurateurs in Britain always bemoan the fact that young Brits are not “good waiter” material, since these young Brits see it as a low-status job, whereas young Frenchmen and Italians see it as a real VOCATION.

And anyway Dave, not all of us can be sponsored by the British Council (that massively wasteful organisation that has now blotted its copybook for ever in my eyes by reportedly just appointing Neil Kinnock as its next supremo) for globetrotting jaunts: some of us need to open the doors FOR you.

But a minor complaint set against this wholly satisfactory album. Worth £13 of anybody’s money.