Fred Jordan - Songs Of A Shropshire Farm Worker

Label / Cat. No: Topic 12T150 
First Released: 1966 

What The Album Blurb Says...

Fred Jordan was born on January 5, 1922, at Ludlow, Shropshire. He is a farm labourer, living in the village of Aston Munslow, about seven miles from Ludlow. His house has a view of Corve Dale and the distant Clee Hills.

In 1952 Peter Kennedy, then working for the British Broadcasting Corporation, visited the area, and being told by the local blacksmith that Fred Jordan was a good singer, he recorded him for the BBC's folk song archive. In the autumn of 1959, Fred attracted the attention of participants in the folk song revival when he appeared at the English Folk Dance and Song society's festival wearing his everyday clothes - heavy boots, leggings and weather-defying hat. His singing drew immediate acclaim. Since then he has appeared with increasing regularity at concerts and clubs, with other country singers and also with revival performances. He enjoys concert and club work, where he sings with the straightforward 'professionalism' and unselfconsciousness common to most country singers.

As a folk singer he may be classed with the best - and that best includes Harry Cox, George Maynard and Phil Tanner. Though he is still a young man he has the essential style of this older generation. His musical sense is very highly developed; his ability to make small rhythmical changes to suit the words of songs is marked and his use of melodic ornament is subtle and skilful. the quality of his voice may seem strange at first hearing, but it is not unique, and there is nothing here of an old man's quaver, for Fred Jordan is in his prime.

In performance, he inclines to let his personality retire behind the song, in the true manner of traditional singers. He sings without change of facial expression, without physical mannerism. He performs Barbara Allen and The Old Armchair in precisely the same manner, in the straight-faced almost deadpan way that amateur singers still adopt in town pubs where they stand up to give out with I'll Take You home Again, Kathleen.

Fred Jordan acknowledges three main sources for his songs: first his parents (his mother came from Warwickshire, his father comes from Leeds); second the travellers and gypsies who frequent the district; last, his acquaintances in the countryside. In his own mind he distinguishes between what he now calls 'proper folk songs', music-hall songs, and the arranged versions of folk songs that he learned at school.

All the songs on this record are found up and down the country in one version or another. Many are to be found in the classic folk song collections. Others, of known authorship, the pops of yesteryear, have taken their place alongside traditional songs in the folk singers' repertoire on their merits of narrative and melody. Some of these are American in origin. The music-hall and touring show all played their part in widening the popular repertoire, and radio and gramophone records have also had their effect. This record shows the mixture of song types in the repertoire of a country singer in the 1960's.


What I Say

Some of you will have seen 'The Green Green Grass', the spin-off series from 'Only Fools & Horses'. If you have caught this show, then you have my deepest sympathy. Really. The premise, for those of you who haven't seen it, is that Boycie, a second-hand car salesman from Peckham in South London, moves to the Shropshire countryside to avoid some shady underworld types, and what follows is a fish-out-of-water "comedy". For anyone who lives within 100 miles of Shropshire, the biggest mystery is why do all the Shropshire characters dress like they live in the 1930s and speak with yokel Somerset accents. I mean, just look...

...and listen

Sorry to have to put you through that, but it just isn't Shropshire. But Fred Jordan, now he's the real deal...

What an unexpected gem we have here. I chose this album from my pending pile because I have spent the last week working on a farm not 10 miles from the Shropshire border - barn building, labouring and general jobbing. I believe this makes me supremely qualified to look at an album by a fellow man of the soil. Well, to be fair, I didn't get that close to any actual soil, but still, Fred Jordan must be singing the songs that speak to my heart, mustn't he?

Well, yes and no.... the title is a touch misleading - these aren't songs about Shropshire farm workers, or even songs that Shropshire farm workers in general would sing. Instead, it's a collection of songs sung by one Shropshire farm worker, namely Mr Jordan. I won't go into details of Fred's life here, because there are some excellent biographies around - try here for starters if you want to know more about the Fredster.

The songs aren't even all about farming or the bucolic life. At least two of them are nautical in flavour, and Shropshire's pretty far from the sea at the best of times.

But that's of not matter. I can honestly say that this is unique in all the albums I've listened to - what we have is Fred Jordan. Nothing more, nothing less. No musicians, no backing singers, no accompaniment whatsoever. This album stands or falls on Fred Jordan's voice, and it stands.

It stands as a period piece, it stands as a collection of English folk tunes sung by someone steeped in the folk tradition, and it stands as a collection of tunes by an accomplished singer. True, there are some vocal mannerisms which sound curious to our pop-soaked ears, and the starkness of hearing a single voice cut the silence takes some getting used to. But that also summarises the character of this album. It is raw, stripped back, nothing but the singer and the song, and to my jaded ears it made a very refreshing change. I can't say that this is going to be a recurrent favourite on my playlists, but unlike a lot of what I plough through (see what I did there?), I'm more than happy to give this a second listen. Maybe even a third.

In looking for details of this album on this wonderful internet of ours, I was amazed to find that the Topic record label not only still exists, but is a beacon of independent labels, having been releasing albums now for 69 years. Go and have a look at their site to find out more, but any label that boasted John Peel as a fan must have something going for it.

Lovely jubbly.

Sorry.

 

Sound Clips

Tracks

 

Side 1

 

1. We Shepherds Are The Best of Men
2. The ship That Never Returned
3. Down the Road
4. We're All Jolly Fellows that Follow The Plough
5. The Watery Grave
6. The Dark-Eyed Sailor
7. Three Old Crows

Side 2

1. John Barleycorn
2. The Banks Of Sweet Primroses
3. The Bonny Boy
4. Polly's Father Lived In Lincolnshire
5. The Royal Albert
6. Down The Green Groves
7. The Farmer's Boy 

 

2017 Edit - Full album available on Spotify - click here

 

And on YouTube

Final Score

8 out of 10

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Maralene Powell - Just For You

Label / Cat. No: Cambrian MCT 219 

First Released: 1972 

 

What The Album Blurb Says...

 

Maralene Powell made her first record as a solo artiste. Her second recording was in comapny with Gareth Edwards who for a brief moment exchanged the rugby field for the sound studio.

 

In this, her first album, Maralene presents a collection of songs which are as varied in subject as they are melodic in nature.

 

Family music at the fireside has been usurped in past decades by radio and television, but these technical wonders are now commonplace and making one's own music is becoming a rediscovered pleasure. This is indeed a talented family for in this record Maralene is joined by her brother and sister, Aubrey and Denise and her brother in law - John. The quiet mid Wales valley of Pantydwr must often echo to their songs.

 

"Amazing Grace" cannot be too frequently recorded for each singer brings something new to the listener. The Gentlemen Songsters who join Maralene in this version with such effect are too well known to need introduction. "Morning has Broken" is an old melody which lingers in the mind long after the echoes have died away.

 

This is a collection of ballads and folk songs, some old and some new. "Love is Teasing" is from the distant past while "Deportee" underlines how cheaply human life is sometimes held in the modern world.

 

Together they are a collection without a theme - unless what ordinary people feel and experience is thematic. Maralene is already well known on record and in concert, but this is the first recording of the Four P's and it must widen even further their circle of admirers.

 

What I Say

 

In light of the fact that the Taffs had a lucky victory on Saturday, I thought it only right we should look at one of their countryfolk for today's outing. And so we have the lovely Maralene Powell, a farmer's daughter from Pantydwr in Radnorshire. I'm not sure Radnorshire even exists any more, though there is a pub just a stone's throw from here called the Radnorshire Arms. See, a little background colour for you there.

 

Although it's ostensibly a Maralene album, the full title is Just For You - Maralene Powell and the Four P's sing a selection of folk and country songs for your pleasure. And I thought Script For A Jester's Tear was enough of a mouthful. These 'Four P's' confuse me though. There's a picture of them on the front, matching Salmon pink tops, flares armed and dangerous, and rolling Welsh landscape behind. And I think Maralene is one of the Four Ps. It certainly looks like her, and the sleeve notes refer to how Maralene is "joined by her brother and sister, Aubrey and Denise and her brother in law - John". That makes three other people, Maralene being the fourth. So why is it Maralene AND the Four Ps. Surely it's either 'The Four Ps' or 'Maralene and the Three Ps'. Surely Maralene is being counted twice. I shouldn't let it bother me, but this is exactly the kind of thing that keeps me awake at night.

 

I've just noticed that on the back of the album it says it's called 'Maralene Powell with the Four "P's" and the Gentlemen Songsters present a selection of Folk and Country songs for your pleasure. Seems like everybody's getting in on the credits. Good job they didn't put that on the cover of the album, or there wouldn't have been enough room for that lovely picture of Maralene looking foxy.

 

The songs are a bit of an odd mix. Understandably, given the nature of the Welsh, there are a few religious songs on here - 'Tramp On The Street' stood out for likening the treatment of Jesus to the death of an unloved Tramp. On The Street. A strange comparison to make, but at least I remembered it! Amazing Grace is handled well, and the Male Voice Choir, sorry, the 'Gentlemen Songsters' make sure you know this is a Welsh record. But the version of Morning Has Broken struck me as a little... off. The pianist and the guitarist seemed hesitant, and not quite sure when to come in to best compliment the vocals. It leads me to believe (though I may be completely wrong) that the song was recorded 'live' in the studio.

 

I do have a few concerns though with the choice of songs. Firstly, there is a tendency on this side of the Atlantic to believe that Country songs hold some meaning for us. They don't. Really. It's nice to listen to, and I've learned over the last few years to love Country music, but there is something so very wrong about a singer from North Wales telling me about her Louisiana home, and how the cotton crop has done this year. I'm not saying you have to stick to what you know and sing about daffodils and leeks, but there is only a certain degree of credulity I can muster, and it stops short of believing you're a prairie flower.

 

What causes me more of a worry are the two songs that start side two - 'Love Is Teasing' and 'I Will Never Marry' - they both carry the same message, which is that men are feckless bastards who will get what they want from you, then cast you aside. You can't trust them, so don't waste your time on them. I shant comment further, only to suggest that maybe Maralene had one or two boyfriend issues at the time....? Mere speculation....

 

We also have a rendition of 'Nobody's Child', a song last seen on Tony Best - By Request, and of such awful sludgy sentimentality that it makes me nauseous just to think about it. It's a song about how the narrator goes to an orphanage and finds a blind boy who nobody wants (because he's blind, obviously), and how said blind orphan believes he'd be better off dead because at least in Heaven he'd be able to see. This really is the most unpleasant song I think I've heard since No Charge. Yes, it's really that bad.

 

The record is released on Cambrian Recordings, a label I hadn't come across at all before, and one that has a strong Welsh pedigree, boasting Max Boyce and Mary Hopkin as signed artists.

Maralene's voice is rather lovely. It has that pure, clean tone that was so favoured in folk circles in the 60s and 70s. That may however have been her downfall in that while the voice is technically good, it doesn't ( to my ears at least) stand out above the other recording artists of the time. There's absolutely nothing wrong with it, but it lacks that distinctive edge that could elevate it into wider public recognition.

 

Equally, the album doesn't have a focus - had it been an album of religious songs or an album of standards, it might have fared better, but it seems to lack identity as one or the other, and so ends up a bit of a hodge podge. That's not to say I won't be listening to it again. But you can be sure I'll be skipping Nobody's sodding Child.

 

 

Sound Clips

Tracks

 

Side 1

 

(This is, by the way, the first album that I have ever seen that listed it's tracks a, b, c.)

 

(a) Amazing Grace

(b) Morning Has Broken

(c) See That Little Boy

(d) Deportee

(e) There But For Fortune

(f) Tramp On The Street

 

Side 2

 

(a) Love Is Teasing

(b) I Never Will Marry

(c) Nine Hundred Miles

(d) Country Girl

(e) Cotton Fields

(f) Nobody's Child

 

Final score:

 

6.75 out of 10

2017 Bonus - More album art of Maralene looking even foxier.  Wowsers.

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