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VARIOUS ARTISTS - The Tale Of Ale Revisited

VARIOUS ARTISTS - The Tale Of Ale Revisited
Free Reed FRRR19

It takes bravery to revisit a classic recording and update it, which is essentially what’s been done here. Subtitled “the continuing story of the English – and their beers”, this recording will be of interest to those who enjoy their ale (especially in pubs with music and song), and gives plentiful acknowledgement to its forerunner, the original Tale Of Ale, put together nearly 40 years ago by Peter Bellamy, the Dransfields, Roy Harris et al. Big boots to fill. This time the personnel includes many stalwarts of the North Midlands folk world – Keith Kendrick and Sylvia Needham among others, all appearing under the banner of “Musica Inebriata”.

The problem is that it is difficult not to make comparisons between the two recordings – I couldn’t resist dragging out my old double LP set and listening to them! – and the new version doesn’t always seem to measure up. To be fair, this is probably more about nostalgia and memories than it is about musical ability or content; there is nothing wrong with the revisited version. In fact, there are some surprising and enjoyable elements – I particularly enjoyed the almost Klezmerish treatment of the opening Playford tune; there were some excellent and thought-provoking readings and entertaining poems, and the musicianship was always proficient. The newer material included classics such as Keith Marsden’s Doing The Manch (I’d have been disappointed not to see it here), a eulogy in three parts to the pub as social and cultural centre, Johnny Handle’s The Old Pubs, and a final summation of the part played by CAMRA over recent decades.

On occasions, the singing could have done with more gusto and less restraint, and there was a brief diversion into the world of gin which didn’t seem especially relevant, but on balance I enjoyed this CD. My only caveat would be that, in order to do it justice, you do have to sit down and listen to it – it doesn’t work as background music – and 79 minutes is quite a lot of listening.

John Waltham

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This album was reviewed in Issue 111 of The Living Tradition magazine.