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Roy Harris of The Living Tradition

reviews Past and Present by Roger Watson

What a pleasure to be able to review a CD by my old friend and colleague Roger Watson, especially since it is such a good one. For some years Roger worked as the Artistic Director of the folk development agency TAPS, running community projects, teaching, encouraging, and doing a fine job for folk music in general. Great work, but it had the drawback of pushing his solo talents into the background somewhat. Now that he is freelancing he is able to let us know once again just what he can do.

So what can he do? More easy to say 'What can't he do'. When I first knew him in the 1960's he was highly regarded as a songwriter and a pretty nifty guitar player. Then he would come to the old NTMC and sing traditional songs to the manner born. In later years he led the well-remembered group 'Muckram Wakes, and the equally celebrated 'New Victory Band', called dances, wrote squeezebox tutors that are still selling, and was a session musician on many albums including some of mine. The width and depth of this experience informs all that he does nowadays, giving him the ease and control in performance that shows all through this album.

Two songs of his own, 'Gilliver' the story of a pit pony, and 'The Manager's Daughter', hark back to his early songwriting days, and there's one from his old schoolmate Bob Pegg, namely 'Rip Van Winkle' written for Bob's pioneering band 'Mr Fox'. Other titles seem familiar, 'Lovely Joan' for instance, but with R. Watson's new lyrics it becomes a lively tale of a female hitchhiker giving a lad in a flashy motor his comeuppance. Likewise 'Peg of Derby' has to do with a couple of Rolls Royce workers while 'Lowlands' speaks of Martin Luther King. These songs lose nothing in the re-working; they could fit straight into the folk scene repertoire without argument.

Roger Watson proves here that he is a force to be reckoned with. Club, concert, workshop, festival organisers, take heed.