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Private Label MN+THB001CD

These two CDs from Martin and his band have just arrived on my desk, and in some ways it’s about time. For Martin Newell has a considerable body of work behind him. I have been aware of him for years, and read the odd poem. But never seen him and his Hosepipe Band in concert. Which may be a good thing: for Martin will surely not just want to sell CDs to his coterie of fans. He will want to ambush total newcomers with the beauty of his work, and hey, I am potentially that man. So what did I think?

Well, the first thing I thought is how apposite this should come to me now, seeing as I have just come back from a holiday in Burgh Castle and travelled to virtually every town from Cromer down to Aldeburgh mentioned in his Black Shuck poem. And if that was not enough, as someone who as a young man lived in Clacton and Colchester for over two years, I was more than familiar with the geographical setting for his The Song Of The Waterlily; indeed, in the last ten years I have twice holidayed on Mersea Island, and twice on the Dengie Peninsula. So you might say that I am steeped in the area. And that whole area incidentally, is Martin’s artistic fiefdom: it is where he has built up a large local fan base.

Why do I mention all this personal stuff? Well, because it may explain why I enjoyed these albums so much. It was like a trip down Memory Lane for me: indeed, even his most recent CD – The Green Children & Other Poems – features the Suffolk village of Woolpit, and I have even been into the church and stood in the churchyard there... on a Rick Keeling pilgrimage.

But for people unfamiliar with East Anglia: would I recommend they buy these albums? Not sure. But I think they would enjoy them some.

The Green Children is the story of two children of unusual skin colour who appeared in Woolpit, Suffolk in the 12th century. Martin tells the story in well constructed stanzas that scan beautifully, and they are redolent of a kind of hard edged John Betjeman... even down to the injections of music, that bring to mind Banana Blush. Mind you there was nothing on Betjeman’s first “trendy” LP that was half as pleasurable musically as here with Val Woollard’s recorder on her composition Green Children. It was the musical highlight for me. (That said, The Hosepipe Band all know what they are doing, and they never played a jarring note on either album, and there are several composers amongst them, all of whom rivalled Val and pushed hard for the best composition prize which I have just awarded her.)

Of the two poems on the 2015 album, I liked Black Shuck the best. The rhythms were this time redolent of another of my favourite poets: Robert W. Service. Quite apt really, given that Service wrote about a Yukon that was raw and rough: and Shuck the sinister ghostly dog that stalked the fens, was that alright... and more!

With regard to The Song Of The Waterlily: it helps if you are interested in the building of a boat. Martin expertly describes each part of the boat as it is assembled and what it does: but give me dear old Swarb singing Sailor’s Alphabet, every time. That gets to me quicker, and topped up with Stan Rogers singing The Mary Ellen Carter... well, then my eyes will surely mist over.

But hey, The Song Of The Waterlily was in itself, perfectly fine. It’s just that a part of me would have loved Shuck to have smuggled himself on board and cause a tad more excitement.

Dai Woosnam

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This album was reviewed in Issue 121 of The Living Tradition magazine.