Sometimes you don’t get the night you expected and this was one such occasion. Having booked one of our old musical colleagues, Maggie Holland, we were confident of a good night, but when the audience gathered we realised that there were a number of extra singers signing up to sing. In the area for a rehearsal were Geoff Lakeman, Mick Ryan and the group Granny’s Attic – all former guests at the club. Added to our own resident singers, the line-up could have graced a festival stage with ease!
The first half featured our regular locals; Pete Coe started off with ‘Catch Me If You Can‘ collected by him from the Renals sisters, a traveller family from Bodmin, Chris Manners sang his song ‘England’s Last Apprentice‘ and Chris Coe kicked off the chorus singing with the 18thC Tyneside song ‘Dol-li-a’. Tim Edwards rendered a medley of songs covering home, travel and appropriately Easter, followed by Alice Jones‘ rendition of the American Sacred Harp song ‘Long Time Travelling‘, generally attributed fully or in part to Isaac Watts. The guitar and foot stomp accompaniment certainly entertained the pub diners below!
The guest floor singers appeared in the second half of the night. A song written by recent guest Reg Meuross – ‘England Green and England Grey‘ – was delivered by his friend and musical collaborator Geoff Lakeman with excellent duet concertina accompaniment. Geoff has been a guest at the club in the past. The extra singers were in the area due to rehearsing the latest folk opera written by Mick Ryan who gave us his wonderful song about continuity of the tradition, ‘The Song Goes On‘. Regular Phil Cerny delivered a blast from the past with the whaling song ‘Blow Boys Blow‘ and reminded us that his home club, The Black Swan in York, was just about to celebrate it’s fortieth year in the same venue. Although we had all three of Granny’s Attic in the room, circumstances led to a solo song from George Sansome who gave us a version of ‘The Isle of St Helena‘ collected in Yorkshire by Frank Kidson. One can wonder why there are songs in the English tradition that are complimentary to Napoleon Bonaparte but he was something of a hero to the working class – not so much the upper echelons.
Our guest for the night is an old friend who worked with Chris Coe as a duo and they also worked together in The English Country Blues Band and the up tempo dance band Tiger Moth. Maggie Holland plays guitar and banjo (bass guitar in Tiger Moth and ECBB), and sings a mixture of songs from impeccable sources plus her own material. Her songs have been covered by many other singers including June Tabor and more recently The Young ‘Uns.
She started well for me – one of my favourite songs from the pen of Tucker Zimmerman – ‘The Taoist Tale‘. Then followed Robb Johnson‘s ‘Overnight (nothing happens)‘, her own song about the Morecombe Bay cocklers tragedy, Billy Bragg‘s ‘Levi Stubbs Tears‘ and into her song, ‘Black Crow‘, a dark song which I have accompanied many times when Chris Coe sang it on our gigs. Dylan‘s ‘Mississippi‘ and Bruce Cockburn‘s ‘Pacing the Cage‘ preceded the set finisher of Woody Guthrie‘s poem ‘Deportees‘ about immigrants lost in the 1948 plane crash in Los Gatos Canyon, set to music by Martin Hoffman.
We were already familiar with Tucker Zimmerman‘s gentle song ‘Oregon‘ as it’s in Pete Coe’s repertoire but Maggie’s second half starter segued into Portland Town. ‘Blood Like Wine‘ and ‘Peppers and Tomatoes‘ (a song about fitting in) were followed by ‘Goin’ ‘Cross the Mountain‘ collected by Frank Warner off Appalachian banjo player Frank Proffitt. I was particularly moved by Robb Johnson‘s song ‘Texas Prison Songs‘ as I didn’t know the story that lay behind it. Years ago we lost our good friend, journalist Eric Winter. When he died in hospital he had headphones on, listening to his Walkman and the tape that was playing was ‘Texas Prison Songs‘.
We all joined in various bits of Leon Rossellson‘s anthem – The Digger’s Song and were happy that Pete Coe’s demand for ‘A Place Called England‘ was acceded to – a song covered by June Tabor and also by the Young ‘Uns.
Chris Miller‘s ‘Leave The Lights On‘ led to the inevitable encore – an anniversary song specially written for Maggie by Robb Johnson called ‘Circle of Friends‘.
We have some very good nights thanks to good residents and a creative booking policy on the part of Pete Coe. Some nights have just that little extra sparkle.