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CYRIL TAWNEY - Live At Holsteins - Chicago 1981

CYRIL TAWNEY - Live At Holsteins - Chicago 1981
The Song Goes On

These are two remarkable collections, celebrating the late Cyril Tawney.  Skilfully re-mastered by Mike Hockenhull, they make for a fitting tribute to this much-missed singer-songwriter and notorious collector of traditional song.  The Song Goes On is an impressive two-disc collection of material gathered from the Cyril Tawney archives.  The songs are mainly traditional with a few Tawney originals thrown in for good measure. Despite re-mastering, the audio quality is variable at times, but this somehow adds to the authenticity and gravitas.  The collection offers an impressive overview of Tawney's renowned efforts in collecting folk music, covering an array of themes, including songs garnered from the travelling community, songs of mariners, songs of emigration and the inevitable drinking songs.

Tawney effortlessly illustrates the art of restraint on The Wild Rover - a song usually associated with a more bawdy delivery, but in this case interpreted in a much more reflective manner, perhaps suggesting a wild rover whose force is now spent.  Humour is evident on a number of occasions be it with the double entendre of Cruising Round Yarmouth or the clever genre-parodying Early One Evening. The accompanying booklet contains an interesting history of each song.

Live At Holsteins makes for much lighter listening than the previous collection, revealing Tawney as a most amiable performer and teller of stories.  Unlike many live recordings, the between song chat and banter is left largely intact - definitely a wise choice in this case, as Tawney's engaging conversation is every bit as revealing as his singing, adding much to the overall ambience of this recording.  In contrast to the previous collection, the songs are mainly Tawney's own compositions with a lesser amount of traditional material.

One might wonder how well Tawney's West Country drawl and quintessentially English music would export to 1980's Chicago, but any unease in this regard is quelled when you hear the audience singing along to Tawney's own Sammy's Bar, revealing the utmost affection for the singer and his songs.  It's this moment that offers affirmation, if it were needed, of Tawney's international reputation in the world of folk music.  Restraint is present once again on Tawney's beguiling interpretation of All Around My Hat, but on this collection it is Tawney's own compositions that steal the limelight - in particular the rhythmic pace of Lean And Unwashed Tiffy, the affection and sentimentality of The Oggie Man and the assured Sally Free And Easy.

Out of the two recordings, Live At Holsteins is notable for its warmth and effortlessness.  The Song Goes On is an impressive and interesting collection, though perhaps a little dry by comparison.  If you want to be entertained go for the live collection; if you want to listen to a remarkable historical record of English folk music, then The Song Goes On will fit the bill perfectly!

Mike Wilson


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This album was reviewed in Issue 75 of The Living Tradition magazine.