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Chris Yorkie Bartram of Shreds & Patches

reviews Ghosts & Greasepaint by Barry Lister

Simply sublime.


From the first line of the first track you are drawn into those magical yet familiar worlds that folk songs create. It has been said that radio has better pictures than television but, I would argue, folk songs have the best pictures of all. However - they need to be sung - and it's best if they're sung by someone who can see all the pictures and the layers of meaning. Here is a man who not only has that ability but also has a superbly rich and expressive voice with which to transmit the whole range of images from romantic to horrific to lyrical and beyond. For example, listen to the exquisite phrasing and tonal variation as he sings, "She hooped, she hollered, she highered her voice, she lifted her lily-white hand". You understand, completely and immediately, why George Collins doesn't hesitate to swim across the river! Or, in contrast, those grotesque and fascinating verses in Long Lankin about blood everywhere. Or listen to the simple clarity of expression for the beautifully romantic words of Limadie.


Barry has a great natural sense of tuning and empathy refined by long experience of thinking about and singing these songs. He is a long?time member of The Songwainers and has worked with the National Theatre and Folk South West. Over the years he has worked with other very talented people and a few of them appear on this CD. It's another plus-point, in my opinion, that he doesn't hog all the limelight - how many `solo' albums do you know of where another singer is given a solo song? (Tom Addison here sings The Handloom Weaver as the first part of a medley of songs about factory life.) There's lots of lovely harmony-singing on several tracks - from Tom, Dave Lowry and Sean O'Shea and exemplary accompaniment from Ed Rennie on guitar and melodeon and Jackie Oates on fiddle. Highlights for me include Sean's harmonies on the aforementioned Limadie, the ensemble singing on Hunting the Hare and the complex yet uncomplicated instrumental arrangement on Sir Richard's Song. As always, it's the unaccompanied tracks that get my greatest preference, but if you're going to have accompaniment, it's hard to imagine any better than this.


It saddens (and, quite frankly, amazes) me that Barry Lister isn't really well-known. He should be near the top of the bill at every festival in the country. So why isn't he? Well, I guess it may be because he doesn't pander to the stereotypes that some people want from singers of traditional songs. With his carefully trimmed beard, his ear-ring and refined taste in clothes he is never going to look like the archetypal farm-labourer - nor does he wish to, I'm sure. (And, incidentally, I live in a farming community and very few genuine farm-labourers look the part these days) The title of this CD mentions `greasepaint'; the front cover features a painting with theatrical masks; the notes describe songs as 'great drama' and `a great piece of theatre' and - with his impeccable diction; fabulous phrasing and carefully measured dynamics - he uses all the skills of an actor. He even looks like an actor in the photo on the CDT (Oops, is that me admitting to my own stereotypical thinking?) These hints of theatricality may seem at odds with the common ethos of folk music - all that rough-and-ready, untutored country-folk stuff - and, unfortunately, it seems to prejudice some folk club and festival organisers. But it's just not right. Barry is, in the most important sense, an absolutely `traditional' singer - a transmitter of songs that have survived through generations (or will be passed on in similar manner e.g. Cyril Tawney's On a Monday Morning). I'm sure he enjoys making wonderful sounds with his voice but the clarity of his delivery is always used to the service of the song - not to impress us with it's own quality. It is always evident that he wants the story to take absolute precedence over any other aspects of performance. He is one of my favourite singers and I don't get to see him often enough so I sincerely hope this CD will lead to him getting lots more bookings at clubs and festivals up this way. Organisers, please take note.


This CD is - in case you haven't guessed - very highly recommended.