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A. L. LLOYD, Ten Thousand Miles Away

A. L. LLOYD, Ten Thousand Miles Away
Fellside FECD219 (Double CD)

Albert Lancaster Lloyd, widely and happily known as Bert, was a folklorist, author, scriptwriter, translator, journalist, linguist, a constant fount of information and inspiration to the folk scene from its very earliest days, and an incomparable singer.  His recordings and live performances either solo or with Ewan MacColl, spread a British repertoire of song around the folk scene at a time when many fledgling singers were avid for such material.  Likewise his books, 'The Singing Englishman', 'Folk Song in England', and his 'Penguin Book of English Folksongs', in collaboration with Ralph Vaughan Williams, were hugely influential. 

His singing style was influential too.  Many singers found his way with a song most congenial and based their own style upon it.  I certainly did, in fact I was an out and out Bert imitator to start with.  When listening to myself I can still hear echoes of the great man, and I remember him with warm affection.  A word of praise or encouragement from Bert Lloyd was treasured by any of us singers.  He gave me a copy of 'Folk Song in England' signed 'to my friend Roy Harris, with very deep respect', an inscription that brought me to tears when read again after his death in 1982.

 When I think of Bert I recall a man of engaging manner and personality, and an appearance often described as 'Pickwickian', holding audiences spellbound with his introductions to songs, often with personal anecdotes from his time on Australian sheep stations, or on board a whale factory ship.  Bert's introductions were never dry, for all his knowledge and erudition.  He had a terrific sense of humour and when he sang anything the song stood up all the more clearly because of his entertaining preamble.  His name is still quoted in print and conversation around the folk world, but as time passes memories fade, and a generation grows who never actually heard him.  Now, thankfully, we have these two CDs, most generously marketed by Fellside at the price of one, to bring back Bert's voice to those of my vintage and, I hope, introduce it to those to whom his is merely a name from the past.

The first CD deals entirely with English song and contains some absolute classics, first introduced by him to eager ears.  Titles like Lord Franklin, The Coast of Peru, Bitter Withy, Down in Yon Forest, well known nowadays but they hit us like hammers back when first recorded between 1953 and '57.  Every song is sung with the devotion to the text that was a Bert trademark.  To him, the story of a song was everything.  He delivered it with precise diction and a majestic sense of pace, making every piece a stand alone drama, wringing the heart with Died For Love, taking us on a whale chase in Coast of Peru so realistically we can feel the salt spray, and gripping us with the vengeful power of The Death of Bill Brown, one of the highlights of CD 1.

When Bert was a teenager he went to Australia on the 'assisted emigrant' scheme.  He stayed there nine years during which time he enjoyed listening to the songs of fellow station hands, noting them down wherever he could, claiming this is where his interest in folksong began.  On CD2 we hear his Australian repertoire, twenty one beguiling songs of shearers, bushrangers, and the like, featuring characters like Bold Jack Donahue, and the ferocious drinker Bluey Brink who polished of a bottle of sulphuric acid with no damage but singed whiskers! 

In the English songs of CD1 Bert sings unaccompanied or backed by the supreme concertina man Alf Edwards, and his style is measured, almost formal at times.  On CD2 he is backed by Edwards again and also Peggy Seeger, guitar and banjo, Ralph Rinzler on mandolin, Al Jeffrey, banjo, E.L Seward on guitar, and the excellent John Cole on mouth organ.  This band fits the more rhythmic swing of the Oz songs perfectly with a spontaneous rough and ready sound that is much to my taste.  Bert's singing is here much looser, more laconic than before, just right to my ear, from start to finish. 

I have already described him as an 'incomparable singer', and I'm not alone in that opinion.  Dave Swarbrick, for instance, wanted him to be the lead singer of Fairport Convention back when that band first began.  His is just one of the many authoritative voices raised in Lloyd's praise.  Given all these good words the newcomer to him might be expecting to hear a voice full of majesty, range and resonance.  Not so.  Bert's voice is a light baritone, nothing exceptional tonally, and prone to squeak and fall off pitch occasionally.  But he is still a great singer.  His commitment to the story makes him so.  The pacing and diction are part of it, and so is his identification with the words he is singing.  I've mentioned his dramatic quality, but when a song is humorous he shows it.  It has often been said of him that he sings 'with a smile in his voice' and it's a good description.  These are two CDs of treasure for which we owe a great debt to Fellside for bringing them out at a bargain price and helping to ensure that the legacy of Bert Lloyd continues to be available to us all.  I spent much time in the company of this wise and witty man, and I would like more people to know him.  Reader, if you haven't yet heard him I urge you to drink at this well.

Roy Harris

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This album was reviewed in Issue 82 of The Living Tradition magazine.