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David Kidman of Netrythms

reviews Songs from Yorkshire & Other Civilisations by Graham Metcalfe

The music on this disc was first released by WildGoose on cassette back in the late 1990s, and no doubt it will reach a whole new audience (generationally too?) by being reissued now in CD format. As it fully deserves to, I believe. Songs From Yorkshire And Other Civilisations (to give the collection its full title) is a mixture of traditional and music hall songs with a Yorkshire flavour, all sung unaccompanied by a singer from Yorkshire. Now I just know I’ve come across Graham on my travels around festivals and singarounds, but I can’t place him exactly in any one location (blame that on my advancing years!). Some of you may know Graham as one-third of trio GMW (with Magpie Lane’s Ian Giles, and Ian Woods), others as half of duo Folly Bridge (again with Ian G), but the plain truth is that Graham’s an impressive singer in his own right, with a marvellous voice possessing a wide range and an especially attractive lower register. He is naturally relaxed and totally at ease with his chosen material, which he performs with real conviction and not a trace of complacency. He has a very distinctive style, with a natural flow in the delivery, a control of melodic line which incorporates a sweet and infectious passion; this passion is expressed without sentimentality or over-emoting.

Now it’s received wisdom in the folk recording business that you can’t – or shouldn’t – release a whole album of unaccompanied singing that’s mostly by one single voice. Well I believe that exceptions can be honourably made when the singer concerned has vocal character in abundance and a healthy variety of repertoire (and expression); and I believe that Graham is one of these exceptions – I could certainly have listened to him singing solo for longer than the 38-minute span of this CD! But to be fair, Graham’s not completely solo here, for a little into track 4 (The Immigrant), in come some sublime harmonies courtesy of Ian Giles and Moira Craig which both enhance Graham’s own line and unroll the tapestry to reveal a majestic aural spread. Although just under half of the tracks benefit from such harmonic embellishment, it’s still Graham’s own delicious singing which stays in the memory. His renditions of many now-time-honoured club staples like Scarborough Sands (familiar to many revivalists as a primary source for the Dransfields’ Rout Of The Blues) prove second-to-none: Allandale is refreshingly un-dirgelike, with an unabashed relish in the unfolding of the melodic line, whereas several songs, like Dalesman’s Litany and Cawd Stringy Pie, benefit from being done authentically in dialect. Graham also shows a deep-seated delight in his material and in the act of telling the story, with notable features in his singing such as that “catch” or chuckle in the voice (a little redolent of Mike Waterson perhaps, or Lancashire’s Sid Calderbank) – features which can in lesser singers sound stylised or else mere affectation. Whatever the type of song – and Faithful Johnny and (the Somerset music-hall ditty?) Home Made Remedies provide a neatly contrasted pairing toward the end of the CD – Graham’s intelligent shaping of line, and lively sense of pace and flow (and control), is exemplary, and his interpretations can be listened to again and again without tiring. Finally (and perhaps unusually for a Yorkshire singer), Graham sometimes relies quite heavily on ornamentation or decoration – listen to his fine version of Sweet Primroses for instance. Graham says in the booklet note, “some songs give you an extra buzz when singing them”, and that certainly comes across here, for although the measured approach Graham takes is quite closely modelled on that of his source, Fred Jordan, whom he heard sing it at a York folk club in 1970, Graham definitely has a better control of line and none of Fred’s intrusive warbling vibrato! Bottom line: for anyone who appreciates fine singing (and that also includes singers wishing to develop their craft), this CD is an essential purchase.