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Jacqueline Patten of EDS

reviews Past and Present by Roger Watson

Roger Watson’s experience of traditional music is broad. During an outstanding career, he has performed with a number of bands including Muckram Wakes and the New Victory Band; worked as artistic director of TAPS (1989-2008); led community choirs; and worked with people from several cultures. Past and Present reflects his English roots.

The tracks are evenly balanced between songs and tunes. Most of the tunes are traditional with the exception of ‘Bengal Rounds’ written by Roger, in which he used the style of the ‘rounds’ of north-west England with the scale of Raga Shivranjani: a fine example of how he brings his wealth of knowledge to all his work. From the upbeat, rhythmic, ‘Linnen Hall/The Fanocini’ to the toe-tapping ‘Fred Pigeon’s Polka/Donkey Riding’, the listener is uplifted. The other tunes are the beautifully lilting ‘Idbury Hill/Broken Dagger’, the jig ‘The Gobby-O’ and a non-jig version of ‘Hunt the Squirrel/The First of August’. All the arrangements are excellent.

The alternate tracks are song. Roger’s approach to traditional song is refreshing. For the majority of the settings, he uses traditional tunes with contemporary words penned by himself. The opening track illustrates the reason perfectly: for ‘Gilliver’ he has used a tune by Colin Cater to which he wrote a song which tells the story of his grandfather who was a ‘ganger’, a pit pony driver. Thus, he is continuing the tradition of using song for story-telling while informing the audience about aspects of social history. Other songs include settings of ‘Lovely Joan’, ‘Lowlands’, ‘Rip Van Winkle’ (Bob Pegg) and ‘Seafarers’.
Roger’s voice has a deep, resonant clarity, and throughout he plays the melodeon and concertinas with a similar clarity. He is joined by Jackie Oates on vocals and viola, and Tim Walker on vocals, flugelhorn, cornet and side drum.

The arrangements are innovative with a deceptive simplicity, totally captivating.