REVIEWS

Tom and Barbara's CDs, Where Umber Flows (2000), Prevailing Winds (2002), and Tide of Change (2006) are now sold out and no longer available. West Country Night Out  was released in 2007 - it was not promoted or sent for review as it was made for the local and village hall live-gig market - but some people insisted on reviewing it!  Beyond The Quay  was released in 2008 and their most recent CD -  Just Another Day  - was released in 2014.   Completing the Short Sharp Shanties project, Tom's biography of John Short, A Sailor's Life, was launched in 2014 on the centenary of Sharp's last visit.  Extracts from reviews of the CDs and the book are shown below.
  Tom & Barbara's CDs
Just Another Day - reviews Beyond The Quay - reviews Tide of Change - reviews
West Country Night Out - reviews Prevailing Winds - reviews Where Umber Flows - reviews
Tom's biography of John Short
A Sailor's Life - The life and times of John Short of Watchet 1839 -1933
reviews
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reviews of "A Sailor's Life" book

          ED&S                  Exmoor Magazine    Folk North West      Mardles
intheboatshed.org.uk           fROOTS                   Ships in Focus      Sea Breezes
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English Dance and Song (ED&S). Winter 2014         Fred McCormick
John Short, from whom Cecil Sharp collected 56 shanties in 1914, has become well known to the folk world via Tom and Barbara Brown's much acclaimed Short Sharp Shanties project. Here, to complete that project, is Short's biography, and it is evident from the outset that he must have been a difficult quarry to pin down. Thus, this brief but meticulously detailed work says rather more of his times, and of the ships he sailed in, than it does of John Short.
 
That is no criticism of the author, for Tom Brown proves a most astute and penetrating researcher. With little more to go on than official records, occasional newspaper reports, and Sharp's notebooks, he presents his readers with a dazzling array of detail regarding the kind of life which Short must have led, and of the trade he plied. Indeed, the picture that emerges is of a sober, upright and honest individual, and a caring husband. It is the antithesis in fact, of the rollicking roustabout, whom we might recognise from the writings of Stan Hugill and others. The narrative details are helpfully illustrated with snatches of songs. Since these are not from Short's repertoire, the author lists their sources in one of the appendices.
 
To complement the main story, this book includes all the shanties which Sharp collected from Short, together with the tunes, collection dates and manuscript numbers. What's more there is an appendix with copious information about the ships he sailed in. I was so impressed with the author's scholarship that I wonder if he might come up with a more general social history of nineteenth century seafaring one day. In the meantime, grab this meaty little tome. It is a unique insight into the life of a seafarer, and one you won't regret buying.  BACK
 
Exmoor Magazine no.69 - Winter 2014             Tony James
Once John Short was the closest Watchet had to a folk legend and, when he died in April 1933 at the age of 94, he was hailed as the last and most famous of all shantymen, responsible for saving scores of long-forgotten sea-songs from extinction. He became probably the first able seaman to have an obituary in The Times.
 
Sadly, posterity often has a short memory and some 50 years later; few people in the town knew anything about the man once known as Yankee Jack. His grave was unmarked and the only small plaque to his memory had the wrong date of birth. Eventually came the first stirrings of recognition that this son of Watchet was maybe something special. The late Ben Norman took up his cause; there were shanty concerts featuring his songs and the English Folk Dance and Song Society put him on its website.
 
From then on Yankee Jack's belated fame steadily grew, but still missing was a detailed biography; but now we have it. Tom Brown and his wife Barbara are noted Exmoor folk researchers and musicians and Tom has produced a scholarly work of extraordinary detail about a man who provided little information relating to himself during his lifetime, and whose fame came from the songs he sang.
 
John Short went to sea as a boy and left it as an old man. But his skill as a seaman was largely eclipsed by his shanty-singing and he was 75 and living in Watchet in retirement in 1914 when his past caught up with him in a fairy-tale manner. Over the next six months Cecil Sharp, then the world's most celebrated folk song collector, notated the words and music of 57 of Yankee Jack's songs, many of which are now the definitive versions, and the old salt became, whether he liked it or not, a local hero and later a national celebrity.
 
Tom Brown has left no fact unturned about Yankee Jack: a chronological account of his life, details of the ships in which he sailed, and the words and music of nearly 60 of his shanties, plus a mass of personal detail from original research, which bring the story to life.
 
Today Yankee Jack has a statue in Watchet, a plaque on his house, and my boat - a Bristol Channel flatner- bears his name. Thanks to Tom's diligent and painstaking research, he finally has the excellent and definitive biography he has long deserved.  BACK
 
Folk North West.  November 2014         Derek Gifford
This well researched book is about the life and times of John Short of Watchet. Watchet is a small port situated on Somerset's northern coast. John Short was born in 1839 and died at the ripe old age of 95 in 1933. He spent much of his life as a British merchant seaman during the days of sail working from trip to trip all around the world. He was one of hundreds of similar men who worked during the time of the expansion of trade sailing on the 'tall ships' under canvas. At his death he became the most famous shantyman in England through an obituary in The Times newspaper. 
 
What makes him special from the folk world's point of view apart from being a shantyman is that in 1914 the phenomenal folk song collector Cecil Sharp collected fifty-seven songs from him. Fifty-six of these were deep-sea shanties.  
 
In this book Tom Brown not only successfully documents those shanties with both words and music but also documents John Short's life chronologically starting from his birth 'in a small cottage at the head of Swain Street, Watchet'  through the years of booming worldwide trade and the many ships that 'Yankee Jack', as Short was nicknamed, sailed in. Just under half of the book deals with his life story with well detailed documentation and a number of archive photos.
 
The rest of the main body of the book under appendix one lists the songs according to the titles John Short used. The tunes are fully transcribed and the words of John Short's versions of the shanties given in full. There are a number of versions of well known shanties such as Billy Riley, Bully in the Alley, Hanging Johnny, Poor Old Man, Round the Corner Sally, Stormalong John and Whisky Is My Johnny to name but a few. The list also includes the one song that John Short liked to sing that wasn't a shanty - Sweet Nightingale.
 
The remaining appendices give details of the ships that Short sailed in, his family tree, the voyages of the Watchet sailing ship Crystal Bell and the sources of the songs and poems quoted in the first part of the book. There is also a comprehensive bibliography and reference section.
 
There is no doubt that Tom Brown has done a monumental amount of research to produce this book which is a valuable reference work to would be shantymen, singers in general and historians. It also offers a detailed look into the merchant navy during the great days of sail in a very approachable written style.
Copies of this book can be obtained from S&A projects whose web site is www.umbermusic.co.uk
 
As a companion to the book there is also the three volume CD collection of 'Short's Sharp Shanties' produced by Wild Goose recordings at www.WildGoose.co.uk which I've reviewed and recommended in previous issues of FolkNW. BACK
intheboatshed.orh.uk  November 2014        Gavin Atkin
Most of us have heard and enjoyed singing sea shanties at some point. From books by yachting writers of the past (Francis B Cooke, for example) we know they enjoyed singing them a century ago (in the same era as some of the collectors were collecting the songs), and composers and film makers have long used them as a device to signify sailing ships and sailors. But while we’re all aware of the iconic status of sea shanties, most of us probably have little idea of the lives of those who used them in earnest to enable a group of men to work in time doing tasks such as:
 
hauling halliards (the lines that raise sails)
heaving on a capstan (for example, to raise the anchor)
pumping seawater from a ship’s leaky bilges (there were plenty of them, particularly in the years before Plimsoll’s reforms)
 
Where and when these songs were collected, and from whom, may also be a bit of a mystery – many of the books that I’ve seen over the years haven’t bothered to include the information. Tom Brown’s A Sailor’s Life is therefore very welcome– for it answers both of these questions, describing as it does the life of mariner John Short of Watchet, a man whose long career followed an arc that began with going to sea as a boy, working as a deep sea sailor in his young life, then worked on local boats, and eventually becoming a hoveller (a kind of local pilot and harbour boatman) as he grew older.  Happily for him and us, he does not seem to have got into the kinds of troubles involving drink, women and crimpers that are described by so many of the ‘warning’ type of sea songs. Yankee Jack, as he was often called as an acknowledgement of his trips across the Atlantic, was also a popular local singer whose huge collection of sea songs and shanties (more than 150) going back to the mid-19th century were noted by the legendary folk song collector Cecil Sharp.
 
I’ve known author Tom Brown since the 70s, though not well as I might have done as he’s generally a quiet chap, at least until he starts singing. But you have to watch the quiet ones, and I have to say this is a cracking book full of stories and detail: which ships Short sailed with, when, what his roles were on board, all referenced from Lloyd’s list and many other sources, and all spelt out very carefully. Where there is ambiguity or doubt in the sources, Tom wisely takes great care to say so before arguing for his own conclusions. There are illuminating notes, too, about the ships themselves. This material must have taken untold hours of research and thought.
 
The book also includes wonderful set of 50-odd songs from Short’s remarkable collection. Thanks to Short’s long career and excellent memory, many of these are of an earlier vintage than those noted from other sources and often show interesting differences, while others are very much the versions that were found in the school books of my youth or in Stan Hugill’s classic book Songs of the Sea.
 
I must confess to a soft spot for John Short, for Watchet and its harbour, which in recent years has been overlooked by a statue of the old boy. Three decades ago my parents had a well-used second home in Watchet for some years (they later retired to the area), and I know the steps – still unchanged – where the best known photos of Yankee Jack were taken. So you might have cause to think I’m a little prejudiced. Nevertheless, I’m very happy to say that, on my shelves at least, A Sailor’s Life earns an honoured place alongside Songs of the Sea and Roy Palmer’s Boxing the Compass.  BACK
Ships in Focus Record 59. November 2014.        Roy Fenton.
 This is undoubtedly an unusual book to be reviewed in 'Record'. It is about a sailor and not ships, has very few illustrations of ships, and is definitely the first book we have reviewed with pages devoted to words and music. Yet it is an impressive and important piece of work, the research for which would not disgrace a highly experienced maritime historian.
 
John Short was in all but one respects a typical seaman of the age of sail (his one voyage under steam ended in an accident). His claim to fame and his significance aboard ships was that he was a talented shantyman, and he became a major source for that doyen of folk song collectors of the 20th century, Cecil Sharp. The many shanties remembered by Short and written down by Sharp have added significantly to our knowledge of these songs and the important part they played in working sailing ships. They also comprise a significant part of the repertoire of singers who continue to perform these simple, rousing and often somewhat earthy songs.
 
Folklorist Dr Tom Brown has strived very hard to compile a complete record of John Short's long career as a seaman, a far from easy task as Short's discharge book has been lost. Working with crew lists (a difficult source as they are very dispersed), plus shipping and local papers, he has traced Short's voyages in detail, and gives brief but satisfyingly accurate biographies of each ship in which he served.
 
Although the book is likely to appeal most to those who study or sing shanties, it is also a very worthwhile piece of maritime history. There are many accounts of ships' officers' careers, but few if any books recount the life and times of a typical seaman from the age of merchant sail like John Short. Well written, nicely produced and very competitively priced, this book is a little gem.   BACK
Sea Breezes. January 2015
This is a delightful book - a detailed biography of a nineteenth century merchant seaman John Short born in Watchet, Somerset in March 1839. He worked in the coastal trade as a boy, but later moved on to deep-sea voyages to Peru, Australia, Japan and all over the world. He became a well known shantyman and a much loved and respected character in his native town in his later years.
 
A Sailor’s Life not only records the times that John Short lived through and his personal history, but includes the songs he sang to co-ordinate the efforts of the crews and gives details of the ships he sailed in, painting a vivid and fascinating picture of the merchant navy in the days of sail.  BACK
fROOTS.  November 2014.      Vic Smith
We know much more about the early song collectors than about their informants, so it is very pleasing to have a publication that focuses on just one singer. John Short worked on merchant sailing boats during the last years of the ascendancy of sail, had his songs noted by Cecil Sharp in 1914 and became something of local celebrity, but this still left a lot of research work to be completed by Tom along with some supporters. Some 70 pages are devoted to his biography here. Densely packed with information and stylishly constructed and written, the easy narrative commands attention throughout. Tom laments the career details that he has failed to uncover but there is enough detail here to gain clear insights into the way John Short lived his life.
 
In telling the man's story, we hear a great deal of interesting social history about life at sea for a 19th Century sailor. We learn that the life expectancy for a sailor at that time was 45 - and yet John managed to more than double that. Howso? Well, the worth of a good shantyman who encouraged protracted and sustained effort from his fellow crewmen was well recognised and rewarded with lighter duties. In addition the lifestyle of this devoted husband was some distance from the drunken roistering of popular conception.
 
All the 50-odd songs that Sharp got from him are given here with the proviso that the words would have been subject to considerable improvisation in their use as work songs.
Together with some historic and contemporary photos, this makes very a very pleasing whole. Placed with its companions, the three Short Sharp Shanties CDs on WildGoose, these songs are presented here in more discerning and intelligent way than the way they are often treated in the folk revival. BACK
Mardles.   Feb-Apr 2015.   Mary Humphreys
Those who have been reading the succession of "Short Sharp Shanty" CD reviews in this magazine over the last couple of years will be familiar with the name of this very prolific source singer whose repertoire has been comprehensively recorded by Tom and Barbara Brown and friends on WildGoose Records.
 
Now, at last we have the book containing all the songs of merchant sailor "Yankee Jack" as collected by Cecil Sharp. We also have copious information about John Short's life and the ships in which he sailed. All the songs have been completed, if necessary, using texts from similar versions which renders them immediately singable.  The musical notation and texts are eminently readable. As one would expect from an academic of Tom Brown's stature, there is an extensive bibliography, coupled with details of all John Short's journeys and the ships in which he sailed. 
 
This much-needed project of bringing John Short's legacy to the general public has been lovingly undertaken and completed by Tom and Barbara. The book is a must-have item for anyone interested in the maritime history of the West Country. I cannot recommend it too highly for an informative and very entertaining volume for all those shantymen among our readers.  BACK
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 
 
 
 
 

Reviews of "Just Another Day" CD

fROOTS       English Dance & Song         brightyouingfolk.com          Folknews Kernow
Living Tradition       R2       folking.com        Folk North West

What’s Afoot        Shire Folk           Folk Monthly           Mardles   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

fROOTS  Dec. ‘14    David Kidman
The West Country duo’s latest CD has a simple enough premise outlined in its subtitle – songs old and new collected in, or written for, the town of Minehead.  Its nucleus comprises a dozen songs collected by Cecil Sharp over a century ago from two retired Minehead sea-captains (James Vickery and Robert Lewis).  Within the sequence of these is tucked a shanty (Heave Away My Johnny) for which Tom provided new words as part of the 2014 Minehead Harbour Heritage Project, while neatly bookending the entire set is a pair of songs written by Tom and Barbara themselves specially for this project, concerning themselves with the Edwardian era (A Minehead Lad) and World War 2 (the title track, set to the Lili Marlene tune) respectively.
 
We can always rely on Tom and Barbara to come up with a fresh angle on song repertoire and Just Another Day is arguably their most stimulating collection to date.  Each of the songs is solidly researched, with loving attention to detail, and performed with a characteristic warmth.  The diversity in the material might surprise, for it’s by no means exclusively maritime in theme, and we find some particularly interesting variants or perspectives on songs or tales we thought we already knew backwards (The Lark in the Morning, Franklin, Spanish Ladies and Greenland Fishery being prime examples).  Perhaps the most familiar item is The Bonny Bunch of Roses O, here given a sterling reading by Barbara which highlights both the Browns’ skill in instrumental arrangement and the excellent support playing which they command, with oboe, fiddle, cor anglais, anglo concertina, hammered dulcimer, flute, whistle, cello and mandolin used selectively and to really good effect.  (Paul Sartin, Keith Kendrick, Jon Dyer, Anahata, Brenda Burnside and Matt Norman, with Barry Lister and Mary Eagle are among those swelling the ranks.)
 
Even so, the sheer strength of Tom and Barbara’s own singing is paramount and the disc’s three purely a cappella tracks are expectedly splendid; I especially enjoyed Hunting the Hare.  Yes, for a spirited and committed tradition-based collection with thought-provoking content and superb arrangements you just can’t do better.  BACK
 
 
EDS (English Dance & Song). Winter 2014.       Fred McCormick
This CD could be considered an adjunct to the work which Tom and Barbara Have been doing with Cecil Sharp’s collection of John Short’s shanties for the past few years.  Short’s repertoire doesn’t figure on this outing, but the songs are from his part of the world.  Thirteen in fact were collected by Sharp from two Minehead sea captains – Robert Lewis and James Vickery.  These are augmented by two delightful compositions from the Brown stable: ‘A Minehead Lad’ and ‘Just Another Day’.
 
The traditional songs are an excellent bunch, with particularly good renditions of ‘Isle of France’ and ‘Reilly’.  I was especially glad to hear an unusual text of ‘Lord Franklin.’  It makes a welcome change to the one which has been doing the rounds for years now.  Normally I have an aversion to over-orchestrated CDs, and I cringed a little when I saw the list of musicians who’d participated here.  I needn’t have worried.  The playing is first class, the arrangements are tasteful and nowhere do the accompaniments even come close to dominating the singing!
 
The notes are informative, rather than scholarly.  That’s fair enough, but there should surely have been some indication as to where the songs can be found in Sharp’s collection.  Also, I’m not sure what to make of the note to ‘The Bonny Bunch of Roses O’.  The author seems not to realise that the Act of Union, which incorporated Ireland into the UK and gave rise to the phrase ‘bonny bunch of roses’, was a separate piece of legislation to the one which had similarly incorporated Scotland almost a century earlier.  Finally, I should have waxed lyrical about the splendid sunset photos of the Minehead coast.  No matter.  You’ll see them yourself when you buy the CD.  BACK
 
 
www.brightyoungfolk.com. November 2014.       Paul Woodgate
 
According to various sources, Minehead’s first port can be traced to 1380.  If my maths is correct, Tom and Barbara Brown had 634 years of history to draw on when they embarked upon Just Another Day, their sixth album and one that focuses on the town, in particular its seafaring past.
 
At the album’s core are twelve songs found at Cecil Sharp House, collected from two sea captains a century ago.  The remaining three are originals, though you’d be hard pressed to tell the difference. It will not be a surprise to learn that Just Another Day includes all the ingredients of a classic traditional set.  The songs are story/history based, the majority with a chorus or bridge that encourages a sing-along from the floor, and most offer up either a social or political commentary in varying degree.
 
There’s a reason why these elements remain unchanged – they provide the default by which tales, opinion and a moral compass were passed from generation to generation.  You can hear it in the haunting flute melody of A Bonny Bunch of Roses O, the song arranged such that you can almost see Elizabethan villagers stepping formally through a dance routine, or the needs-no-introduction lyric of Spanish Ladies.
 
Tom and Barbara have treated the songs with a caretaker’s respect, tweaking and amending here and there but always staying true to their origins.  The Sea Captain has a nice twist towards the end of its tongue-in-cheek lyric, oll o’ the Wood employs some lovely squeezebox and The Isle of France is a beautiful rendering of the transportation ballad.
Two numbers, Hunting of the Hare and Greenland Fishery, deal with topics considered controversial in 2014, but these are not new songs and where the re-telling of stories are concerned, context is king.  In this instance, both act as historical reminders of a different cultural perspective that it whould shame us not to remember; forgetting is why history repeats itself.
 
It’s not all serious or demanding of discussion.  The Devonshire Girls is a light-hearted moment and if you want to imagine yourself in a portside ale house with returning seamen, Heave Away My Johnnie will have your blood coursing.  New or old, these are songs you can’t help but like.  It’s a lovely album by an accomplished and experienced duo doing their best to keep tradition going.  BACK
 
 
R2. November 2014         Ian Croft
Tom and Barbara Brown are established traditional singers from Devon, and this album is best explained by its subtitle, Songs from Minehead Then And Now.  They perform twelve songs collected by Cecil Sharp from two retired sea captains, along with three of their own, written for Minehead Harbour Maritime Heritage Project.
 
The traditional songs are mostly familiar, though here in a local variant.  ‘Franklin’ is quite different from the better known ‘Lord Franklin’ both in tune and length, and ‘The Devonshire Girls’ puts a local flavour to a song often found in Lancashire.  ‘Moll O’The Wood’ is one of the less common items apparently sharp was sung tune and chorus but verses were deemed too bawdy!
 
The three self composed songs compare well.  ‘A Minehead Lad’ is a jaunty tale of changing times.  ‘Heave Away My Johnny’ and ‘Just Another Day’ are Tom’s stories to existing tunes; the former traditional the latter ‘Lili Marlene’, which really suits Barbara’s voice.
 
Tom and Barbara take turns at lead vocals, and Tom accompanies all but three songs on guitar, melodeon or concertina.  There’s also instrumental support and lusty chorus singing from friends too numerous to mention, and it all contributes to a fine album of (largely) traditional material, yet another from the ever reliable WildGoose.  BACK

 

 

folking.com  Oct. ‘14    Dai Jeffries
 
Over the years Tom and Barbara Brown have become elder statespersons of the West Country folk music scene and have done so without ever forgetting what it was that drew them (and me for that matter) to traditional music in the first place. This is important as we will see.
 
Just Another Day… is a collection of songs connected with Minehead and if you think that concentrating on one small Somerset town is limiting you couldn’t be more wrong. Twelve of these songs were collected by Cecil Sharp from just two sources – retired sea captains Lewis and Vickery – and were unearthed by Tom and Barbara while researching the three records of Short Sharp Shanties, a collection of songs collected by Sharp from John Short of Watchet just along the coast. Incidentally, if you haven’t heard this marvellous set you should do so immediately, but I digress. The point is that you never know what you’ll find unless you look and listen.
 
The other three songs come from The Minehead Harbour Maritime Heritage Project and this is where the importance of knowledge, experience and, yes, status comes in. The opening track, ‘A Minehead Lad’, was written by Tom and Barbara for the project to illustrate the period around the Great War. Listen to it blind and you might say it came from the tradition; told you were wrong, you might hazard that Kipling had a hand in the lyric. For the final, title track, a song “from” World War II, Tom nicked the tune ‘Lili Marlene’– cheeky but with the ring of authenticity. You can’t fake that feeling for what is right.
 
The supporting musicians and singers are long-time friends: Anahata, Mary Eagle, Keith Kendrick, Barry Lister and Paul Sartin among them, and they play with the ease of experience and familiarity. You may recognise some of the titles but the versions will often be unfamiliar. Critics may call Just Another Day…old fashioned but that’s part of the joy of folk song. Here are choruses you can sing along with and stories to keep you enthralled – imagine, if you can, hearing ‘The Bonny Bunch O Roses O’ for the first time – and don’t say that a song like ‘Franklin’ isn’t relevant. Nearly 170 years on there are reports that one of the expedition’s ships has just been found. I’m sorry if this has turned into a seminar but Just Another Day… reminds me why I’ve been listening to this music for nearly fifty years and that’s more than enough to make me recommend it.  BACK

 

 

What’s Afoot. Winter 2014.         Jacqueline Patten
Tom and Barbara Brown have become immersed in the seafaring history of the West Somerset and North Devon coast along with the traditions and songs associated with it.  After the highly acclaimed series of CDs Short Sharp Shanties on which was recorded the entire repertoire of Watchet shantyman John Short, this album comprises eleven of the songs that Cecil Sharp collected from two retired sea Captains in Minehead, Robert Lewis and John [sic] Vickery, plus three that Tom and Barbara wrote for the Minehead Harbour Project.
 
The songs from Lewis and Vickery were diverse and by no means all maritime, some are rare, some more well known.  Of those chosen for this CD the maritime songs include ‘Spanish Ladies’, ‘The Sea Captain’, ‘Franklin’, and ‘The Greenland Fishery’; while those associated with the land include ‘The Bonny Bunch of Roses O’, ‘The Lark in the Morn’, and ‘The Devonshire Girls’.  Many of the songs can be heard on the folk scene today, rarely are they heard in these versions.  Both the opening and closing tracks, ‘A Minehead Lad’ and ‘Just Another Day’ were drawn from the MInehead Harbour Project.  They set the scene perfectly at the same time as setting the strong performance style that persists throughout.  The other taken from the same project is ‘Heave Away My Johnny’, new word by Tom put to a tune that Sharp collected from Cpt. Vickery.
 
Every track is refreshingly varied with strong vocals and accompaniment.  Careful thought has gone into the arrangements.  For the recording Tom and Barbara were joined by an array of talented friends: Barry Lister, Matt Norman, Paul Sartin, Keith Kendrick, Anahata, Brenda Burnside, Jon Dyer and Mary Eagle all make contributions.  Finally credit should be given to Doug Bailey for another excellent production from Wildgoose.  BACK

 

 

Folk North West. October ‘14.       Derek Gifford
The latest CD from this well known and respected duo features a splendid collection of songs from the town of Minehead in North Devon. The album opens with a jolly song called A Minehead Lad which was written by Tom for the Minehead Harbour Project and has an infectious chorus. There's a lively hare hunting song collected by Cecil Sharp from a certain Captain Vickery and another song from the same source well sung by Barbara called The Sea Captain which is an amusing tale of frolicsome seduction. Moll o'the Wood from the singing of another sea captain, Captain Lewis, is similarly up beat. The Isle of France was the old name for Mauritius and this song involves historical connections with transportation.
 
Many of the songs are different versions of well known songs such as The Bonny Bunch of Roses O, Spanish Ladies, The Lark in the Morn, Heave Away Me Johnnie and a particularly interesting version of Greenland Fishery (AKA The Greenland Whale Fishery as sung in another version from William (Bill) Bolton of Southport). Franklin, sung by Barbara however is a very different version from the well known Lord Franklin.   The title track Just Another Day is another of the Minehead Harbour Project songs appropriately set to the World War Two tune Lili Marlene which brings the album to an excellent finish.
 
All of the fifteen tracks are competently performed whether in unaccompanied harmony or with carefully arranged accompaniments in which Tom and Barbara are assisted on some of the tracks by the atmospheric cello playing of Anahata, Brenda Burnside's hammered dulcimer, Jon Dyer's flute and whistle, Keith Kendrick's Anglo concertina, Matt Norman's mandolin and Paul Sartin on fiddle, oboe and cor anglais. In fact a veritable orchestra! Choruses are also aided by Brenda, Keith, Matt, Mary Eagle and Barry Lister making a choir of distinction to say the least.
 
This is not 'just another' CD because it contains a wealth of fascinating material and, as Tom states in the erudite and comprehensive sleeve notes, this is a 'studio album' and is therefore more of a project rather than an attempt at illustrating Tom and Barbara's stage performances. Even so, the whole album has a feeling of relaxed enjoyment from all of the performers. There is something here for all tastes in traditional song and I highly recommend it. The cover is attractive too with photos of sunrise and sunset over Minehead nicely designed in the layout by Hilary Bix. All good stuff!   BACK

 

 

Folknews Kernow. Oct.-Dec.‘14.          Chris Ridley
 
These fine voices are joined by five more, along with six instruments, so the 15 tracks range from solos to grand choruses.  A dozen songs were collected by Cecil Sharp from two sea-captains while three more have been written by Tom and Barbara themselves.  The 8-page booklet is very informative; there are several interesting variants, for example Franklin, sung by Barbara, and Heave Away My Johnny with new words by Tom.  Standout track is the title track, words by Tom, tune Lilli Marlene.  Good one guys.  BACK

 

 

The Living Tradition.      Fiona Heywood
Tom and Barbara Brown are no strangers to the folk scene in England and beyond. Having already released five albums on the WIldGoose label, this recording only goes to strengthen their reputation as one of the best traditional song duos around.

They have a passion for the traditional songs of the West Country. The last few years have seen them work with WildGoose to create the Short Sharp Shanties series, which recorded the songs of Watchet shantyman, John Short. Tom has since published a biography of John Short which accompanies and augments the CDs. Now, their latest album sees them record 15 songs collected by Sharp from to sea captains in Minehead (James Vickery and Robert Lewis) along with three of their own songs about the area written as part of the Minehead Harbour Projext. 

Many of the songs here are familiar, but often the versions are slightly different, making for an intriguing listen. Tom and Barbara’s trademark strong voices and effortless harmony singing combine easily with tasteful but restrained accompaniment from a group of very talented friends. The friends also join them on some great choruses and refrains. Although Tom and Barbara have opted to record this as a studio album rather than trying to re-create the feel of a live performance, you can hear how these songs will fit perfectly into their live set. 

This is folk music at its best – great songs, solid singing, well-informed singers with good stories to tell.   BACK

 

 

 

Shire Folk.         Tony O'Neill
Tom and Barbara Brown live in Combe Martin’ in their beloved County of Devon and their repertoire draws heavily on the traditional songs of the West Country. This CD (their sixth) is collection of songs collected from two retired Minehead sea Captains, James Vickery and Robert Lewis over 100 years ago plus three written specially by Tom and Barbara for the 2014 Minehead Harbour Heritage Project.

As with their previous offerings, a considerable amount of research, ‘song archaeology’, not to mention lifetimes of knowledge has been needed on the arrangements to put this CD together.

The recordings, by the redoubtable Doug Bailey of ‘WildGoose’, have used a whole host of Folk performers and a host of instruments to give a full rounded feel to the presentation. Having said that I do rather like the only acappella track, a shanty sung by Barbara, ‘Heave Away My Johnny’ (words by Tom, tune trad). The overall result is a very pleasant listen.

The songs themselves are a varied bunch with a natural leaning towards the sea. I particularly liked ‘The Bonny Bunch of Roses O’, the rollicking ‘Moll O’ the Wood’, the pensive ‘The Isle of France’ and the very different ‘Franklin’.

The presentation with it’s booklet giving the background to the material is pleasing.   BACK

 

 

 

Folk Monthly     Kath Deighton
This is Tom and Barbara Brown's sixth CD on the independent English music label WildGoose and it takes us to the West Country and, in particular, to Minehead. Tom and Barbara specialise in traditional songs of the West Country and sea shanties are very much part of this tradition. The majority of the songs were collected by Cecil Sharp between 1904 and 1909 from two retired Minehead sea captains, James Vickery and Robert Lewis. Many of the songs will be familiar to folk club audiences, but Tom and Barbara have used lesser known tunes, particularly to Spanish Ladies, which Tom says he had difficulty in learning, as he was used to the version he had been brought up with.

The notes on the CD are interesting and enlightening. Apparently, Heave Away My Johnny was collected by Cecil Sharp from James Vickery twice, in 1904 and again in 1907 and the tune differed between the two collections. It reinforces the fact that traditional music has always evolved over time and whilst tradition should be respected, change is not necessarily a bad thing. 

Although the majority of the songs on Just Another Day are traditional, three come from the Minehead Harbour Maritime Heritage Project which Tom and Barbara were involved in. These songs fit in well with the overall theme. The sound is uncomplicated and has a folk club chorus sing feel to it. There are many luminaries of the folk world credited, but they don't overwhelm and I was particularly taken with the cello playing of Anahata on The Sea Captain.

Much research has gone into this album and its varied set of songs should appeal to traditional music lovers and those who love songs of the sea. I imagine some of this material will crop up in folk clubs before long.     BACK

 

 

 

Mardles      Val Haines
Most of the songs on this album are those collected by Cecil Sharp from two retired sea captains, Robert Lewis and James Vickery. In addition, there are three written by Tom and Barbara which are from a song series celebrating Minehead's maritime heritage. As with many studio albums the artists have enlisted an army of musicians to enhance their performance: Anahata on cello, Brenda Burnside on hammered dulcimer, Jon Dyer on flutes, Keith Kendrick on concertina, Matt Norman on mandolin and Paul Sartin on fiddle and oboe. Tom himself plays guitar, melodeon, concertina and harpeleik, a kind of zither. The added instrumentation does not detract from what we have come to know as the 'traditional style' of the songs. Those written by Tom also sound very traditional but they are the highlights of the album for me and I would have liked more.    BACK

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reviews of "Beyond The Quay" CD

Intheboatshed        Folk North West          NetRhythms
Shreds & Patches          EDS           What's Afoot             Folk London

 

 

 

 

 

 

Intheboatshed.net,  October 2008. Gavin Atkin

Tom and Barbara Brown are old friends, and I’m very pleased that they should put out a CD of sea-songs. Songs connected with the sea have been out of fashion around the folk scene’s clubs and festivals for far too long in this country.

Interestingly, even though I’ve recently heard the claim that sea shanties are the new Rock’n'Roll, there are none here. Instead, this CD is full of songs about ships, ports, sailors, and of course heroes and villains. Most are traditional and many belong to the West Country.  Tom and Barbara’s performances are marked by some very effective harmony singing, of which there are two excellent samples here: a classic English woman-dresses-as-man adventure Young Susan and a version of The Death of Nelson to a tune learned by the couple from traditional source singer George Dunn of Staffordshire, with additional verses from the broadside ballad.  Another aspect of this disk that I particularly like is that it includes a very nice but less well known version of one of my favourites, The Bold Princess Royal. Tom’s version from Bristol is much harder to sing than the one I know from Sam Larner - so much so that he gets extra points from me for making an excellent job of it. I gather it came originally from a singer called Albert Lightfoot.  

And I should also add that Tom and Barbara have been lucky enough to be supported on this CD by our old friend Keith Kendrick and young musicians and singers Emily and Hazel Askew.   BACK

Folk North West, October 2008    Derek Gifford
It’s always a pleasure to receive a CD from Wild Goose by these two good friends and this album is no exception. It’s down to the sea and all things nautical (the clue is in the CD title!) on this their 4th album with Wild Goose.
 
As always the performance on all the tracks is carefully arranged and excellently rendered showing both Tom and Barbara’s long standing experience with folk song, whether contemporary in traditional style or purely traditional, works. Tom accompanies with guitar, melodeon, English concertina and harpeleik (a fretless zither) on many tracks but they are also joined by my old partner in crime Keith Kendrick on some. The Askew Sisters have also been (willingly!) roped in with some lovely instrumental accompaniments as well as chorus singing. They’ve even got Doug Bailey to help fill in the choruses, Joan Holloway plays the ’nakkers’ (bones!) on a track or two and Malcolm Woods plays a tenor drum to good effect on the opening track.
 
The songs are varied and their version of ‘The Herring’s Head’ is almost type cast for these two... bickering in public.. whatever next! The idea of putting a few songs together in the track entitled ‘Short Song Set’ works very well with seamless changes from song to song.  One of my favourite tracks ‘The Bold Princess Royal‘, sung a capella by Tom, is a fine example of this song and superbly performed.  Likewise, Barbara’s empathic rendition of ‘Little Fishes’, with a subtle concertina accompaniment from Tom, is equally as appealing.
 
The careful programming of the variety of songs from sad to funny and from slow to up tempo and so on means the album never palls and over an hour of listening passes surprisingly quickly. Add to this interesting and informative sleeve notes from Tom and Barbara and an attractive sleeve design by the talented Hilary Bix and you have almost the perfect album!     BACK

 

NetRhythms, October 2008   David Kidman

For their fourth Wild Goose record, the companionable West Country couple have chosen to present an entire programme of songs with a maritime leaning - but with not a shanty in sight! And it's a resounding success.

Some of its songs have been in Tom and Barbara's repertoire for years in one form or other, but this themed disc furnishes an ideal opportunity to revisit them. Two sets of paired songs have their origins in Seascape, a show about North Devon maritime history which Tom and Barbara put together back in 1979: Padstow Bar To Lundy Light, an evocative travelogue, was specially composed by Tom for the project, as was The Wreck Of The Montagu, the true story of an embarrassing naval disaster. Other songs discovered by Tom & Barbara at around the same time include The Watchet Sailor (for which Tom provides Barbara with an imaginative guitar accompaniment) and the Newfoundland ballad The Spirits Of George's Bank. The latter, together with a further six of the disc's sixteen tracks, is sung unaccompanied - a testament to the excellence of the couple's sturdy singing voices. These are also heard to good effect on The Ship In Distress, for which the sole instrumental accompaniment is provided by some eerie harpeleik (Norwegian fretless zither) chordings. Although Tom and Barbara always treat their chosen (predominantly traditional) sources with respect, they're not averse to having fun with the material too, as their brilliantly characterised “argument” of The Herring's Head demonstrates, while they also relish Redd Sullivan's venomous Firing The Mauritania. Elsewhere, Barbara delights in singing The Blackbird “in the old way” (in the version collected by Fred Hamer from Shropshire singer May Bradley) - as also does Tom with The Bold Princess Royal.

Outside of the purely unaccompanied selections, the Browns are accorded some distinctly spirited backing from (among others) Keith Kendrick and the Askew Sisters, whose contributions so perfectly match Tom and Barbara's own lively, passionate delivery. For instance, I don't think I've heard a more infectious treatment of Ten Thousand Miles (Away): here you can virtually feel the salt spray in the wheezing bellows-action of Hazel's melodeon, with Keith's anglo concertina and Emily's breezy fiddle steering the gallant barque along on the morning tide.

Sporting informative (if somewhat discursive!) booklet notes, this is a superbly programmed, vitally performed collection that convinces on all levels: neither a dry, dusty ship's chest of maritime academia nor a hastily-cobbled set of songs to appeal to the sea-faring novice or tourist, but a significantly entertaining hour's worth of good songs well sung, proving that the traditional folk experience is very much alive and well.       BACK

 

Shreds & Patches, Autumn/Winter 2008/9   Nick Howard
Tom and Barbara have been active in the folk world for almost 40 years and many of the songs on this recording have been in their repertoire for many a year.  There’s a strong south-west theme to this collection of sea songs, “Beyond the Quay”, sixteen tracks, a good twenty songs.  There’s a good number of unusual songs they’ve dug out or come across and they also have refreshing versions of songs you think you know too well.   The Herring’s Head is a great duo version sung in an argumentative question and answer style, not the common aggregating chorus version which I hear often.  A couple of Tom’s own songs fit seamlessly in, including the jolliest shipwreck I’ve ever heard.  No shanties, the nearest they get is a medley of short silly songs.
 
Tom has a deep rich voice, a clearly phrased traditional style, sounding deceptively straightforward on first hearing, but with many fine inflections which make his songs a real joy on repeated listening.  Barbara to me has two distinct styles in her singing, a clear simpler style which works well when singing harmony with Tom and when singing most of her accompanied songs.  Best of all is her unaccompanied singing; clearly phrased, melodious with sensitive and subtle variations in pitch – quite equal to the Irish ‘sean nos’ style in its own way.
 
Altogether this recording grew on me with every listiening, their experience manifesting itself in the finely crafted detail of the singing.  There are also 4 past CDs available from their website.      BACK

 

What’s Afoot, Winter 2008/2009  Colin Andrews
Although they live just up the road at Combe Martin, it’s quite rarely that I hear Tom & Barbara sing, and it often takes a CD such as this to remind me what accomplished performers they are.
 
This album is, I think, their best yet, with the nautical theme offering a splendid variety of largely less well known traditional songs, of which I especially enjoyed Little Fishes and The Spirits of George’s Bank.  Even The Blackbird was  a poignant minor-key variation on the almost music hall sounding familiar version.  The Bonny Sailor Laddie is another song where a real gem of a tune hides behind an unremarkable title.  There’s ample light relief from the perils of the deep, transportation and unrequited love in The Herring’s Head, and the medley of short songs.  Tom’s own compositions, Padstow Bar to Lundy Light & Wreck of the Montagu are also particularly pleasing, with strong local connections.
 
With unaccompanied pieces, two-part harmony, Tom’s own accomplished guitar, melodeon and concertina accompaniment (also the harpeleik whatever that may be!), and support from Keith Kendrick, the Askew sisters, etc. on various instruments, this is a very well balanced album that further enhances Tom & Barbara’s already strong reputation as fine singers of great songs.  Colin Andrews   BACK
 
EDS, Winter 2008    John Bentham
You are cordially invited to join Tom and Barbara Brown on a cruise up the north coast of Devon and Cornwall.  From Padstow Bar up to Lundy Light you will be royally entertained by two stalwarts of these parts, ably assisted by a crew of accomplished musicians and singers.  Fine performances as you would expect from Tom and Barbara and the same must be said of the accompaniment.  Naturally, the fare will be nautical, but as there is no work to be done we have no need of shanties.  Now that’s a bit different.  This is a trip that, if you haven’t the sea-legs, can be equally enjoyed from the comfort of your armchair.  And a grand trip it is too.
 
There are songs that have been in their repertoire for years and some that are relatively new.  The subject range is wide and moves from the depth of storm to the lightest of airs.  Although you may think you know most of the songs on reading the play list, think again.  Years of collecting and writing mean that there are some very interesting versions offered on this, the fourth collaboration between the Browns and Wild Goose Records.
 
The insert notes were very interesting but had me scratching my head a bit as they bore no relevance to the running order of the CD.  Another minor irritant is the over printing of black text on a dark background.  Definitely one for grumpy old folkies!
 
A favourite Islay malt of mine has been described as ‘sea tangy’.  I think it would be fitting to have a glass of the aforesaid near to hand while enjoying this excellent CD.    BACK
 
Folk London, December 2008 – January 2009        Brian Cope
This is the fourth album from Tom and Barbara and unless one includes their popular compilation of West Country songs, the first one that is thematic in approach.  There is always a risk I feel with building an album around a subject, in making sure that the material is sufficiently varied to maintain interest.  The Browns have achieved this on a variety of fronts, using a successful balance of unaccompanied and accompanied songs, solo and duet performances, and versions of songs that span the familiar to the less so.  As might be expected, the majority of the material is traditional with the exception of Redd Sullivan’s heartfelt polemical ‘Firing the Mauritania’, Joseph Geoghegan’s ‘Ten Thousand Miles’ and Tom’s own 7-minute epic ‘Padstow Bar to Lundy Light’ cleverly coupled with ‘Wreck of the Montagu’.  Of the traditional material, the Devon variant of ‘The Herring’s Head’ nestles comfortably with ‘Little Fishes’ made famous by actor cum ‘folk singer’ Spencer Tracey, and Broadside Ballads ‘Ship in Distress’ and ‘Bold Princess Royal’.  Although their performance is competently complemented by musicians such as the Askew sisters and Keith Kendrick, the thing that is consistent with the Browns is, what you hear on the CD is what you heard in the club and what you heard in the club you take home on the CD.  Enjoy one and you can’t fail to enjoy the other.  BACK
 

From reviews of "West Country Night Out" CD

Hotpress       Shreds & Patches       NetRhythms         What's Afoot

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hotpress (Ireland), November 2007      Sarah McQuaid
Descended from musical families on both sides, Tom and Barbara Brown's new 21-track CD incorporates selections from three earlier albums alongside nine previously unreleased tracks to build up a musical portrait of this regions fertile folk tradition.

Alternating lead and backing vocal duties, the pair are both blessed with deep, powerful voices whose timbres are similar enough to generate the kind of rich, luxuriant harmony one associates more commonly with all-male ensembles. Brown is also an impressive instrumentalist, ably contributing on octave mandola, concertina, melodeon and more; his finger-picked guitar accompaniment on The Watchet Sailor is particularly tasty. BACK

 

Shreds & Patches, June 2008   Graham Oldham
Nearly 200 miles from Dorset to Cornwall - this is a vast area to draw from, but this CD centres on Devon, where Tom and Barbara have returned to live. This is a fine snapshot of their wares, enhanced by accompanied and unaccompanied, accomplished, precision singing, particularly Barbara’s rich, deep honey voice, uncluttered harmonising, and the unobtrusive but adroit work of musicians of noble standing, Ralph Jordan to name but one.

The whole is well-balanced, using all genres - there’s an adequate dash of Music Hall: Lamorna; When Mother and Me Joined In; Soap, Starch and Candles; comedy such as Old Game Cock, nationally famous ballads like Pleasant and Delightful and Farmer’s Boy (each beautifully and movingly executed); and the poignantly "true" Wives of St. Ives - an all-male song from an all-male choir - to name a few.

Of 21 tracks, 12 have been released on their previous CDs, but don’t let that deter you: the quality and value of this compilation makes it a real gem! Finally, for the record, my favourite is Sir Francis Drake / The Bold Privateer - the first being sung to a roped drum, the second with the addition of the fiddle - both awesomely presented.   BACK

NetRhythms, August 2008    David Kidman
This latest offering from Tom and Barbara, those irrepressible West Country singers who are perennially welcome visitors to folk clubs and festivals around this fair isle, has only just come to my attention - however, it was actually issued last year, as what the duo themselves term "a project specifically for the village hall circuit and for local sales".
 
It’s a generously-filled (72-minute) thematic compilation, which collects together a dozen tracks from the duo’s existing recorded output for WildGoose and nine newly-recorded tracks. Indeed, West Country Night Out proves a very attractive stand-alone release, even if you already own one or more of Tom and Barbara’s previous three CDs (and if not, then why not?!) - having said which, this compilation may well provide the incidental incentive to complete your collection!... For you can’t go wrong with these rich and characterful renditions of songs and tunes, both well-loved and lesser-known, originating from Somerset, Dorset, Devon and Cornwall. Tom and Barbara are the ideal interpreters of this indigenous material, and they can always be relied upon to bring warmth, affection, vital expression and a keen sense of fun to their renditions, whether acapella or with selective yet perfectly-judged instrumental accompaniment. The programme for this delightful "night out" encompasses typically bracing versions of "popular" (yet no less welcome) selections like Tavistock Goosey Fair, The Farmer’s Boy, Widecombe Fair and Lamorna, the original "west-ender’s song" (well, only because it namechecks Albert Square I guess!), and less well-trodden (though brilliant) comic creations like My Old Game Cock, Mortal Unlucky Ol’ Chap and Paul Wilson’s Bampton Fair, also the quite charming miniature Barnstaple Fair, within the context of which nestle comfortably more lyrical material like Seeds of Love, The Watchet Sailor and Barbara’s own lovely air Where Umber Flows.
 
The whole disc contains many neglected gems of repertoire that well balance the chestnuts - though even these are blessed with sterling performances that would be hard to better. Although Tom and Barbara are variously augmented by other fine musicians here and there, the freshly-recorded songs are true duo performances (well, virtually - for label boss Doug Baily adds some chorus vocals!) that really do reflect their companionable, unpretentiously captivating and thoroughly entertaining live act. Thankfully, you don’t need to go all the way to a far-flung west country village hall to get a copy of this excellent CD - just go to Tom and Barbara’s website... And now there’s even better news: Tom and Barbara’s next all-new CD, another themed collection (the maritime-flavoured Beyond the Quay), is due any time now - can’t wait!    BACK
What's Afoot, Summer 2008    Jacqueline Patten
The title of this album could not be more fitting: a West Country Night Out is exactly where this CD transports the listener. A night out that lifts the spirits and lingers well beyond the immediate experience. Moreover, with the album readily in their collection, a night out can be enjoyed at any time by anyone.
Comprising 21 tracks, many are firm favourites, associated with the West Country by people far and wide, such as Lamorna, Tavistock Guzie Fair and Widecombe Fair. Some will be new to the majority of the audience; for example, Bampton Fair, written by Paul Wilson in the 1970s, and Barnstaple Fair, first published in a local paper in the 1930s. There are three instrumental numbers, Dorset 4-hand Reel, Where Umber Flows by Barbara Brown and March of the Men of Devon; humour abounds in items like Mortal Unlucky Old Chap, and a song from the pen of ‘Jan Stewer’ (A.J.Coles of Puddington) When Mother and Me Joined In; while all will make nearly everyone join in or tap their feet.
 
This is a project that could so easily have been misguided, with many of the songs having a special place in the hearts of the listeners, there is the chance of disappointment or contempt. With the excellent understand of Tom & Barbara for both the material and their audience, there is no danger of that happening. The robust and enthusiastic performances, however, breathe new life to old songs. As the lyrics are available on the Umber Music website, everyone can join in while enjoying a West Country Night Out in their own home.    BACK
From reviews of "Tide of Change" CD
Taplas, June/July 2006  Roy Harris
Mr and Mrs Brown are true defenders of the faith when it comes to folk music. They love it, and they work hard for it. They tour the country, but also host local sessions, revitalize moribund traditions on their home patch, encourage fledgling musicians, and they make admirable albums such as this one.  Eric Bogle’s ‘Sound of Singing’ opens, and it’s an appropriate choice as the Browns’ love of singing shines out. Barbara hits all the spots with her ‘Barbara Allen’, while Tom brings out the gently bawdy humour in ‘Cluster of Nuts’, and plays excellent guitar backing.  To my delight they sing the ‘Song of the Flail’, a fine text along with Barbara’s own melody, and a lively ‘Bridgwater Fair’, grand songs both. Strong and honest singing from two of the best. A quality album throughout.’  BACK
Folk London, June-July 2006  Toby Freeman
This is a fine CD from Tom and Barbara, who are, of course, well known to all of us who love traditional English folk singing. Most of their repertoire comes from their native West Country tradition. I particularly like the a capella harmonies on Eric Bogle’s song "The Sound of Singing" but there is much fine stuff on this CD. The comic songs "Bread and Cheese and Cider" and "When Mother and Me Joined In" are very good and their final song "In Friendship’s Name" is a great one to end an evening or a CD with.’  BACK
The Folk Mag, June 2006 www.btinternet.com/~radical/thefolkmag Mick Bramich
The latest offering from Tom and Barbara Brown, those traditional club favourites, was full of surprises for me. A mix of old and new songs and a set of tunes produces something for everyone, whatever their particular tastes. [A] beautifully packaged collection.  If you are a fan of the ‘big sing’, then you will not find fault in this CD and I hope that it brings Tom and Barbara the recognition that it deserves from the folk club and festival audiences of Britain.’ BACK
Folk North West   Derek Gifford
There are some CDs that come up for review which you know from the very first track that you are going to enjoy. This is one such.  We have everything from grand chorus songs through to classic ballads and including humorous ditties [and] there are also songs of controversy including the title track Tide of Change a realistic and poignant work basically about rural de-population written by Hilary Bix.  All are sung with the usual professionalism and enthusiasm from these two with close harmonies, intelligent arrangements, lots of accompaniments from Tom’s wide repertoire of instruments and occasional help from Joan and Keith Holloway, Anahata, Lynne Heraud, Ralph Jordan, Barry Lister and Paul Sartin.  Erudite, attractively illustrated and sometimes highly amusing sleeve notes give a full account of the songs rounding off another superb album in good style.    BACK
NetRythms.co.uk, June 2006 www.netrhythms.co.uk/reviews.html  ~ David Kidman
Two of the finest singers on the folk scene; each is blessed with a wonderfully strong, rich and earthy tone of voice and a definitive, innate grasp of harmony to complement their solidity of melodic line. What’s more, they have an unerring instinct for a good song, and - every bit as important - a great sense of which songs truly suit their voices and style of presentation. Their richness of tone is mirrored in the rich diversity of material that they perform, all of which is represented on this delectable release, from juicy chorus songs both traditional and newly-composed to ancient ballads, from West Country dialect pieces  to songs from the village-hall circuit.  There’s also a fine example of a crafted, sensitive and inspirational modern song that so powerfully transcends easy nostalgia and "cuts to the quick" (the title track, which comes from the pen of the multi-talented Hilary Bix - who was also responsible for the album’s wonderful artwork, graphics and design by the way).  Not only the visual impact of the CD as a package is considered here, for the purely sequential design of the CD is thoughtful and attractive too - the running-order is neatly bookended, with a brilliant choice of opener that’s a kind of modern calling-on/come-all-ye and a suitably emotional "parting-song" as closer.  BACK
The Living Tradition Issue 69 July/August 2006 ~ Phil Thomas
Tom and Barbara Brown seem to have been around forever. Based in the delightful West Country village of Combe Martin they are two of the best traditional singers in Britain. For this recording they have enlisted the help of friends like Ralph Jordan and Paul Sartin but it remains essentially Tom and Barbara’s work. I use the word ‘work’ advisedly because they have clearly put in some effort in assembling this collection of songs.  I guess I have only one problem: the CD is well produced and engineered but, for me, nobody has yet been able capture on CD the way Barbara’s voice fills a room and you can’t record the twinkle in Tom’s eye as he performs. If you are already a fan you will love this CD. If you have not heard them before this is a good place to start.  BACK
EDS Autumn 2006 - Bonny Sartin
They are so very obviously at home in front of an audience after many years of touring that it seems their natural element and sometimes it’s very difficult to carry this ease of manner and professionalism over into the very different and sometimes stagnant atmosphere of a recording studio. However this is not the case and if you have enjoyed their music in the past you will be delighted with ‘Tide of Change’.  They have an impressive array of instrumentalists to augment their own talents and the tendency can be to over egg the pudding and bury the original when these are to hand but they have not fallen into this trap. Barbara’s unaccompanied singing of ‘Barbara Allen’ is as good as you’ll ever hear. There is no affectation in her style, every word is as clear as a bell.  In contrast there is the humour of A.J. Coles ‘When Mother & Me Joined In’ which is carrying on in a fine tradition of country entertainment ~ I’m sure, would be delighted that his song still has the capacity to stir an audience to laughter.  Two great voices, some cracking harmonies and behind the finished product some thoughtful arrangements. BACK
What’s Afoot Autumn/Winter 2006 - Jacqueline Patten
The pleasure of sitting down to write this review is enhanced by the knowledge and first-hand experience that Tom and Barbara have taken the traditions of the region to so many people. Their enthusiasm inspires others in a way that few people manage.  ‘Tide of Change’ is their third album. As before guests support them instrumentally and vocally, the arrangements, however, ensure that the song, the story and the tune are of paramount importance rather than the performers’ prowess. It is worth listing the guests as an indication of the quality of the album. In order not to let a perfect opportunity pass, in the sleeve notes they confess that they could not do a CD without including the Hypothetical Band, so on the penultimate track, Rusty Ol’ Knife followed by The March of the Men of Devon, this fine array of musicians give their listeners licence to tap their feet, dance and laugh, the enthusiasm is infectious.  Listening to the album for the first time I warmed to it, listening to it a number of times that initial appreciation has grown and will continue to do so, I am sure. BACK
Kevin McCarthy’s Celtic & Folk Music CD Reviews, August 2006 - Dai Woosnam
This is the third album from this fine duo based in Devon, England. And like the previous two, it contains a nice variety of songs and styles. Tom has a voice that is redolent of all the best qualities of English singers: a voice free from affectation, a voice seemingly with an effortless range, and a voice that shows there has been clear THOUGHT at what the words he delivers actually MEAN. You might say that this last quality is universal. Is it heck! Tom does not fall into this category. And nor certainly does Barbara. Her singing is a model in how to do it.

Two minutes into the CD, I would have put a wager on me saying no [because] they’d kicked-off the album with what must be the worst song the great Eric Bogle ever wrote.  But guess what? At the end of the album I felt that it had more than overcome the hurdles it had imposed on itself.  And, getting into the album now, let’s actually deal with those two seminal songs of the Folk Revival [Lowlands of Holland & Barbara Allen] and tell you that they were triumphs, especially Barbara’s Barbara Allen. When tackling them they apply a real INTENSITY that surprised me. Veteran singers making the songs sound [as though] they were written just yesterday. Not an easy thing to do.   The liner notes, as you would expect from WildGoose, are a model in how things should be done. With In Friendship’s Name, they end the CD by doing a version of a song from the singing of the great Borders shepherd, Willie Scott. But they refused to do a cod Scots Border accent! They insisted it be translated out of dialect, and into RP English. I salute them both.  BACK

Tradition, September 2006 - Lawrence Long
If you’re a fan of Tom and Barbara Brown’s well-crafted folk song, don’t think the title means they’ve gone heavy metal (not that anything in the packaging - nicely drawn by Hilary Bix - suggest this) - this album is as satisfying as a well-made piece of oak furniture.

Tom and Barbara mainly alternate on lead vocals. The song that gives the CD its title laments rather than welcomes what we amusingly know as progress. This is the default position of folk music when it comes to change.  Tom’s own lyric, Exe, Barle and Bray addresses them with vitriol, based on the chorus of an Exmoor hunting song, the song leaves no doubt as to the depth of the anger out there.

Some would ask: Why call an album Tide of Change then include a very traditional version of Barbara Allen, surely a song that everyone knows by heart from school? Er, no, they don’t. It’s perhaps embarrassing to say this but despite having a few hundred folk recordings from the past 30 year - this is the first time it’s appeared on any recording I own. It’s sung by Barbara - and it’s magnificent. There are a couple of fair songs - Bampton Fair and Bridgwater Fair. Sources and writers are credited. Also of note is the concluding In Friendship’s Name, a great singing song from a Scots original which bookends the album with Eric Bogle’s opener Sound of Singing. In between there’s the whole range of folk: comic, sad, protest, ballad, chorus, music hall. You couldn’t really want more. BACK

Mardles, November 2006 ~ Mike Everett
This album reminds you of one of those wonderful evenings you spend in a folk club. Eric Bogle’s song, The Sound of Singing opens the album, and it closes with a fine Anglicised version of In Friendship’s Name, a song of the border shepherd, Willie Scott, that I know from the magnificent singing of Gordeanna McCulloch.  Between these tracks is a feast of songs, mostly traditional and including versions of familiar favourites like Lowlands of Holland and Barbara Allen, a few light-hearted songs such as Bread & Cheese & Cider and When Mother and Me Joined In, and more from the West country.  As well as writing the thought-provoking title track lamenting the relentless Tide of Change that we call progress, Hilary Box also provides stunning artwork to accompany Tom and Barbara’s song notes. You can’t have Tom and Barbara at your local folk club every week so listen to them on this CD. BACK
Shreds & Patches, Spring 2007 ~ Alistair Gillies
This is a pleasant CD of well sung traditional songs accompanied by Tom on guitars, melodeon, and concertina as well as a number of musicians which range from Anahata (cello) to Ralph Jordan (duet concertina, bouzouki and mandolin) and Paul Sartin (fiddle). The songs range from Eric Bogle’s Sound of Singing to Lowlands of Holland and are a good snapshot of the songs that you will find in an accomplished singers session - rousing choruses (Bread and Cheese and Cider), fair songs (Bampton and Bridgwater Fairs), hunting songs (Exe, Barle and Bray) as well as a couple of ballads (Lowlands of Holland and a very nice version of Barbara Allen).  Tom and Barbara Brown are well enough known for many to know what to expect from this CD - if others have not heard them this is a fine, honest CD of fine honest songs. BACK
 

From reviews of  "Where Umber Flows" CD

Taplas     freefolk.com     Shirefolk     Folk London     Traditional Music Maker
     greenmanreview.com     Putting on Airs     What's On Folks     English Dance & Song
     Shreds & Patches     Folkwrite     Rock 'n' Reel     Folk North West 
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What's Afoot. Autumn 2000. Colin Andrews
I've always rated Tom & Barbara Brown highly as singers, but have only heard them do a few songs during an evening, never as guests. This CD, therefore, came as something of a surprise, and an absolutely delightful one at that! The album, with a definite West Country bias, is a superb selection of songs which do justice to their versatility... It's quite unusual to declare that I enjoyed every track on an album, but this is genuinely the case here.   BACK
Folk North West. Summer 2000. Derek Gifford.
You'll find some real gems here, Cornish versions of the Ox-driver's Song titled 'Cornish Ploughboys' and the White Cockade titled 'The Green Cockade'. There is also a Baring-Gould version of 'The Keenly Lode' and a couple of songs, 'The Wives of St. Ives' (Tom) and 'Take Your Time' (Barbara), learned from Mervyn (Farewell Shanty) Vincent who would have been pleased to know that he can still promote the battle of the sexes even from the grave! The CD has comprehensive notes on the songs and their origins as one would expect from such knowledgeable folk as these and is attractively produced by Doug & Co. at Wild Goose. Anything else? Oh yes, of course Tom and Barbara's singing - bloody marvelous - well, what else would you expect?     BACK
Taplas. August 2000. Bob Harragan
Never mind folk's brat-pack: here come the wrinklies. This turned out to be a treat... There are interesting variants on familiar songs - Unquiet Grave, The Flying Cloud, The Green Cockade, some with specially composed tunes - a song composed by Bob Cann and some fine tunes. If you like the recent Baring Gould collection and the whole ethos of Thomas Hardy-style music, risk a few quid on this.     BACK
 www.freefolk.com/brown. September 2000.  Roy Harris
Many will welcome this overdue CD. What we get on the 14 tracks included is a rundown of the things that have motivated Tom & Barbara's approach to music - west country songs, ballads, harmonising with friends, and love of a good tune... Tom & Barbara deliver their strong, clear, vocals throughout, giving us good honest singing without affectation. Would we had more of it in the self-conscious and starstruck folk scene of today. The Browns have been worthy of recording for a long time now. Well spotted, Wildgoose       BACK
Shire Folk. September 2000. Tom Bell Richards
Songs, and a couple of tunes out of the West Country from Silbury Hill down to St Ives. Tom and Barbara sing very naturally and put their material over well. An all female chorus is unusual and effective in 'The Green Cockade' and the sentimental 'Take your Time.' Tom's songs include the humorous 'Wives of St Ives' and 'Mortal Unlucky 'Ol Chap' which is sung in dialect with clodhopping melodeon and must be guaranteed to scatter any listening teenagers! (But also includes fine fiddle accompaniment by Chris Bartram.) These are unadorned but effective performances that leave any distinction between tradition and revival happily blurred.   BACK
www.greenmanreview.com/umber. September 2000. Tim Hoke
Tom and Barbara Brown are fine singers who specialize in the songs of England's West Country. While some of the songs showcase their solo voices, more of them feature lovely vocal harmonies. Voice, or rather, song, is the focus of this recording. The instrumental work is understated. It is there to support the singing and never interferes with the telling of the song lyrics. No one gets fancy, and they would sound out of place if they did. If you love English song or fine vocal harmonizing, you'll want to hear this.    BACK
Putting on Airs. (USA) August 2000. Jamie O'Brien.
This is a delightful album featuring a couple from the English west country... They have warm, moving voices and are often accompanied by some fine singers on choruses. Accompaniment includes melodeon, concertina and fiddle along with more modern instruments such as guitar and mandola, and the unusual but effective bass trombone. Songs on the album range from music hall through the humorous to sorrowful; but their version of "The Flying Cloud" is devastating, one of the best I've ever heard of this song.   BACK
What's On, Folks... February/March 2001. Rob Mitchell
Settle down with a glass in hand and enjoy listening to Tom and Barbara as if they're actually with you, performing musical tales of the West Country in a refreshing and straightforward style. The CD demonstrates a delightfully clean and light production touch with spot-on chorus and instrumental support by a host of friends. Tom & Barbara sing here with an infectious love and fervor which lifted this listener's spirits: try, if you can, to resist singing along with the joyous 'Norton New Bell Wake'! A great finisher, too, with T & B's many friends stomping away with 'Centenary March', rounding off a wide- ranging mix of traditional-style music of land, sea and 'air'!    BACK
English Dance and Song. Autumn 2000. Roy Harris
Tom and Barbara Brown have recorded a CD of their own after, at least, 25 years of activity on the folk scene. Many people will be saying "About time too" and thanking them for inspiration and encouragement given at some time during those years, for the Browns are that kind of people. As for this album, well it's a good one, full of handsome songs and tunes with something of a West country bias, not surprisingly, sung with the honest straightforwardness that is a Brown characteristic. They know when they have a good set of words and they let them do their work... Another nice touch among a whole album full of nice touches is that the title tune 'Where Umber Flows', played by Tom Brown, Keith Kendrick, and Chris Bartram, is named after a local river, and was written by Barbara.   BACK
Shreds and Patches. Autumn 2000. Bill Caddick 
Tom and Barbara have been stalwarts on the folk scene for ages. Then a couple of years ago they left London (wise) for Exmoor and this CD basically reflects their love of and interest in the traditional music of Devon, Cornwall and the West.  Good, solid singing and playing and a good variety of songs from Bob Cann's Dartmoor Song to a very nice version of The White Cockade (this time it's green) from Moe Keast of Bodmin which has Barbara with an all-girl chorus (countered later by Tom and all-male backing on The Wives of St. Ives from Mervyn Vincent of N. Cornwall)... It's all good, and with backing musicians like Dave Webber and Anni Fentiman, Keith Kendrick, Charlie Yarwood and Chris Bartram et al, it would be.    BACK
Folkwrite. Autumn 2000. Rod Penlington
Many of the titles on this collection will be familiar to anyone who enjoys a good sing. Tom and Barbara approach each song in a lusty, traditional, well-rounded style - as anyone who has heard them would expect... All the tracks are well presented and of equal merit... Nice songs, well sung - but don't take my word for it. Buy the CD and find out for yourself.    BACK
Traditional Music Maker. January 2001. Anne Lister
A treat - a real treat. Tom and Barbara have an unerring touch with a traditional song, and here they've assembled a fine repertoire with an even finer supporting cast for backing choruses. The words on the album are crystal clear, so no need to print them as well. It's a joy to listen to such good singing and such a good range of material, from songs that are fairly familiar to songs that are much less so. Highly recommended to anyone who has forgotten what good English folk music sounds like without electronic gimmickry and a drumbeat.    BACK
Rock 'n' Reel. JanuarylFebruary 2001. David Kidman
Tom and Barbara are familiar names to many folk enthusiasts. Here they present us with what is (incredibly) their debut release full of fine songs (and a couple of tunes), which mostly originate from Devon and Cornwall and represent the fruits of many years of research. Both Tom and Barbara sing well with plenty of character, and their lead vocals are supplemented by equally strong backing chorus and instrumental support from some of the cream of the English traditional folk scene - need I say more?! An immensely enjoyable 51 minutes.    BACK
Folk London. February/March 2001. Brian Cope
When one considers the speed with which artists put out CDs these days it's a little surprising that this duo have only just produced their first CD and have not got a back catalogue of vinyl waiting in the wings. However, as one might expect from an album that has been thirty something years in the making, the craftsmanship and quality shine through. In performance, Tom and Barbara set out to entertain with material firmly rooted in the tradition, and succeed in making their music accessible to a wide-ranging audience, through their infectious enthusiasm and love of the songs they sing, and this quality has successfully been captured on their recording. The singing is pleasantly powerful and Tom's accompaniment complementary but unobtrusive. I particularly like the guitar Tom puts beneath Barbara's super rendition of 'Jordan' - spine tingling stuff.  All in all a commendable showcase long overdue.    BACK
Dirty Linen. (USA) April/May 2001. Steve Winic
Where Umber Flows, provides a glimpse of what the folk revival looks like refracted through a strong local tradition. The songs here include local versions of widespread traditional songs, like 'The Green Cockade' and 'The Unquiet Grave', both unusual texts set to handsome tunes. There are also purely local songs like the ballad of tin speculation called 'The Keenly Lode', and the humorous ditty known as 'The Wives of St. Ives', which, as the Browns point out, could be about either the 'scourge of chattering wives', or the complete insignificance of husbands - you'll have to hear it and work it out for yourself. The Browns employ a full retinue of their friends, including Keith Holloway, Dave Webber, Anni Fentiman, Chris Bartram and Brenda Burnside (among others), ensuring that a full chorus and proper band of squeezeboxes, strings, and brass are on hand to back them up, which makes for both richness and variety in their settings.    BACK
From reviews of "Prevailing Winds" CD
Shreds & Patches   Folk North West    Folk London    What's Afoot
Shire Folk         Dirty Linen        EDS          Traditional Music Maker
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Shreds and Patches. May 2002. Carly Rose
This is a delightful album, which neatly gives the lie to the theory that all folk songs have to be miserable.  A well balanced selection from across the genre - from light hearted to serious, traditional to contemporary and all of them superbly well crafted.  The closing number is ‘Pleasant and Delightful’ (which some will know as ‘The Larks they sang Melodious/Melodeons’ - delete as required). Half way through the first chorus I suddenly discovered I was singing along at the top of my voice  - which says it all, I feel.  For me, this album captures the essence of a really good night in a Folk Club, with nothing pretentious or gimmicky about it - and what a refreshing change that is.  BACK
Folk North West. August 2002. Derek Gifford
This CD is full of warmth and homeliness as the opening tracks ‘Coming-in Song’ (Barrie Temple) and the traditional ‘A Cottage Well Thatched With Straw’ confirm.  Their continuing Battle of the Sexes is well represented both in the sleeve notes and the song ‘The Farmer and His Wife’ where Barbara maintains that men have problems with multi-tasking.  Rubbish (the concept, not the song), of course.  As with their first album many of the tracks are accompanied by Tom’s excellent guitar, mandola or English concertina arrangements and backed by a chorus.  There are also extra accompaniments on some tracks.  Even one of our ex-local lassies, champion clogger Melanie Barber, gets to step on ‘The Tithe Pig’!  All in all a fine follow up to their debut CD. BACK
Folk London. August/September 2002.  Gerry Milne
Tom and Barbara are a delightful duo to MC for: to say that this CD is pleasant would be an insult.  They’ve gone as far as possible to recreate, in a recording studio, the atmosphere of a live club performance.  With the first track, Barrie Temple’s ‘Coming-In Song’, the introductory chorus is sung by just the two of them.  Then the support singers start joining in, first one, next chorus two or three, until the whole ensemble are in and harmonising.  Just like a club learning a new refrain.  Tom and Barbara have called on an impressive line-up in support, not only for choruses, but also musicians to add to Tom’s accompaniments, especially effective on the link from ‘Sir Francis Drake’ to ‘The Bold Privateer’.  I particularly liked ‘Louisa’s Journey’, a true story of how a lifeboat from Lynmouth had to be dragged to a safe launching site, to pull of a successful rescue.  Thumbs up for this CD!  BACK
What’s Afoot. Summer/Autumn 2002. Colin Andrews
The album is every bit as good as their first one, with a well-researched and well-presented selection of material, some familiar and some less so.  Tom & Barbara have that rare knack of creating a folk club atmosphere on disc without a ‘live’ audience recording.  Although the first track, Coming In Song, written by Barrie Temple, is contemporary, it sets a jovial scene for the feast of predominantly traditional songs on the rest of the album, many of which have strong West-Country connections.  Space precludes mentioning other great tracks, though Nancy Myles, another modern song well sung by Barbara, is one I mean to learn.  Nothing is ordinary or dull about this CD.  BACK
Shire Folk. Sept/Dec 2002. Tom Bell-Richards
When the Browns produced their first CD (‘Where Umber Flows’) people asked why it had taken them 25 years!  The message went home and here’s the second volume two years later.  They know what they’re good at, and have stuck to it.  Solidly traditional songs, mostly from the West Country, sung in true traditional style, with fine instrumental support from Keith Holloway and others, including Melanie Barber’s dancing feet.  The arrangements of solo, duet, chorus and instruments are effective and subtle to the point that you forget they’re arranged at all.  These songs tell stories, and the Browns are master story-tellers, whether the subject be humorous, dramatic, sentimental or historical.  The one thing this CD demands is the time to hear each song through.  Either listen to it in the car, or sit comfortably and let the Browns begin.  They’re worth it.  BACK
Traditional Music Maker. July/August 2002. Peter Stevenson
A sweep through the musical traditions of the West Country and beyond, songs largely traditional, some accompanied, some unaccompanied, what more do you want to know?  Prevailing Winds is a rich collection of varied songs, and given their regional origins, most were new to this London layabout.  However, Tom and Barbara are so at home within the medium, that even the unfamiliar sounded reassuringly familiar.  In essence, the fifteen songs which comprise the CD are the epitome of the folk club tradition - a thoroughly enjoyable collection of warm songs which you might even find yourself joining in with. BACK
Dirty Linen. Feb/March 2003. Steve Winick     
Tom and Barbara Brown have been singing West Country songs for donkey's years. Their latest album, Prevailing Winds, brings to bear all their experience in selecting and arranging some of the region's best and most interesting songs. Apocryphal lyrics like "The Bitter Withy" were rarely collected but make great performance pieces, and Tom's rich voice and concertina do an unusually satisfying version. Barbara does a similarly round‑voiced rendition of "The Tithe Pig," the tale of a parson demanding a pig from a farmer, and the hilarity that ensues. With a few friends to add harmonies and instrumental accompaniments, the Browns handle it all with style, producing a simple but delightful folk album.  BACK
EDS. Spring 2003. Jennifer Stapleton
This CD contains a well thought out order of songs, with a good variety of solo, duo and chorus voices. I just feel at times that some of the spontaneity and enthusiasm for the songs, which is so much a part of Tom & Barbara's live performances, is missing from this studio recording. The raw edge of traditional music has been smoothed a little too much for my liking. BACK