Review: Johnny Handle & Chris Hendry

Chris Coe writes:

Photo: Andy Day

Some of our club singers have known Chris and Johnny for over 40 years, and always loved their performance – the sureness of the songs and singing and the dedication to the music, language, landscape and people of the North East and Scotland. All of this warmth and sharing made for a very special night.

Chris is one of our great singers /interpreters, particularly of the ballads. Her rich sure voice draws you quickly into the songs and the introductions were just right, giving us often a very visual experience and context of the songs. We were left in no doubt that these stories were about real people and their daily lives and struggles – with their pride, fortitude and humour. The same goes for Johnny and his songs of the Pits – often recounting his own experiences in the coal industry and we enjoyed the fruits of his wide research. His voice is mellow now and his musical skills arranging the accompanied songs on the accordion and putting to poetry of the regions show a light and sure touch.

Photo: Andy Day

The first half took us into the area of the farming – the bonnie plough boys – idyllic sometimes? A poem by Aaron Watson (The Mackerel Song) now has a fine tune by Johnny telling of the overfishing and the activity putting out the fishing boats when mackerel appear in the bay. It’s a story of hard times but refusal to give in – a degree of acceptance. The tones of the accordion suit Chris’s voice well. This set finished with a real treat as Chris sang the Ballad of the Four Marys. This is a strange, savage song which they put to two tunes,  deepening the contrast between the cruelty of the child murder and the acceptance of Mary of her fate – which almost draws the audience into feeling sorry for her. A complex song, hard to sing and Chris told the details of the story in a controlled way. It was a masterful piece of storytelling. Chris and Johnnie have no problems working with the emotion of a story.

The second half dealt with the lives of the workers in the shipyards of the Clyde and stories of the colliers in the pits of the North East. Chris sang one of my favourite songs – Archie Fisher’s Fairfield Apprentice and I cried as I always do when it’s sung well! In this set the landscape shapes we saw as hills and coast were translated into mighty rivers and cranes painted bright colours and up to 300 feet high. (The Crane Song written by Barrie Temple is a fine piece of writing.)  Songs and stories of the 2 industries with the onset of hard times, the battle for a decent wage and better conditions and their final demise up to today. The lives and struggles of the women. The songs, monologue and tunes painted a vivid picture of Northern industrial history and the people who lived and worked in it.

Photo: Andy Day

Altogether a wonderful evening of warmth, humour and love of the people and their songs , performed by 2 skilled musicians dedicated to the material. It was good to hear Johnny’s mad accordion interludes again– always done in the best of taste! And Chris’s wonderful controlled, expressive voice.

Thanks to them and to all our quality residents who make such evenings possible and successful.

Chris Coe

Leave a Reply