David Kidman of fRoots
reviews Past and Present by Roger WatsonRoger, best known for his work with Muckram Wakes and the New Victory Band, and more
recently for his role in Mick Ryan's folk-opera The Navvy's Wife, hasn't released a solo album for absolutely ages. Here, though, at last, we have Past And Present, which keenly reflects the spirit of his freelance work for the organisation he founded, Traditional Arts Projects, by acknowledging the processes of tradition in his performances, notably in owning and individualising material from heritage sources.
Roger's ebullient and committed performance style, and not least his choice of instrument-the trusty melodeon (with occasional forays onto English concertina) - will naturally invite comparisons with other squeezebox practitioners such as John Kirkpatrick, Pete Coe and Brian Peters. Additionally, these performers also share a penchant for creatively rewriting or updating traditional sources - in a still-respectful but refreshingly non-po-faced manner.
For this disc, Roger offers up three of his own rewrites: a cheeky but in the end quite poignant Peg Of Derby, a fun take on Lovely Joan that recalls Brian's recent "biker's Child Ballad" Six Nights Drunk, and a version of Lowlands that invokes the free spirits of Martin Luther King and other political figures. He also adds a telling extra verse to Two Brethren. Roger's two original songs on the disc both draw on reminiscences of his ancestors who worked in the mining industry, and he also turns in a cover of the evocative Bob Pegg song Rip Van Winkle from the first Mr Fox LP (tho' I do rather miss Carole's fiddle part!).
Elsewhere Roger parades his no-nonsense approach, instrumental dexterity and lively musicianship on a number of neatly combined tune-sets, which embrace (among other delights) a non-jig version of Hunt The Squirrel and a 3/2 hornpipe-round that uses an ektaal rhythm from a Bengali raag! On a small handful of tracks, Roger enjoys musical and/or vocal assistance from Jackie Oates (five-stringed viola) or Tim Walker (flugelhorn, cornet), otherwise he performs resolutely solo-and he's in good robust voice too.
Past And Present forms a well-rounded portrait of this charismatic performer,