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Nick Howard of Shreds & Patches

reviews Beyond the quay by Tom & Barbara Brown

Tom and Barbara have been active in the folk world for almost 40 years and many of the songs on this recording have been in their repertoire for many a year. There’s a strong south-west theme to this collection of sea songs, “Beyond the Quay”, sixteen tracks, a good twenty songs. There’s a good number of unusual songs they’ve dug out or come across and they also have refreshing versions of songs you think you know too well. The Herring’s Head is a great duo version sung in an argumentative question and answer style, not the common aggregating chorus version which I hear often. A couple of Tom’s own songs fit seamlessly in, including the jolliest shipwreck I’ve ever heard. No shanties, the nearest they get is a medley of short silly songs.

Tom has a deep rich voice, a clearly phrased traditional style, sounding deceptively straightforward on first hearing, but with many fine inflections which make his songs a real joy on repeated listening. Barbara to me has two distinct styles in her singing, a clear simpler style which works well when singing harmony with Tom and when singing most of her accompanied songs. Best of all is her unaccompanied singing; clearly phrased, melodious with sensitive and subtle variations in pitch – quite equal to the Irish ‘sean nos’ style in its own way.

Altogether this recording grew on me with every listening, their experience manifesting itself in the finely crafted detail of the singing. There are also 4 past CDs available from their website.