- Tom and Barbara's CDs,
Where Umber Flows (2000), Prevailing Winds (2002),
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 -
West Country Night Out -
Prevailing Winds - reviews
Umber Flows - reviews
Tom's biography of John Short
A Sailor's Life - The life
and times of John Short of Watchet
Reviews of "A Sailor's Life" book
Folk North West
Ships in Focus
- TOP OF
English Dance and Song (ED&S). Winter 2014
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
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.
Exmoor Magazine no.69 - Winter 2014
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.
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.
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
Folk North West. November 2014
- 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.
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.
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
- 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:
halliards (the lines that raise sails)
- heaving on a
capstan (for example, to raise the anchor)
seawater from a ship’s leaky bilges (there were plenty of them,
particularly in the years before
- 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
- 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.
Ships in Focus Record 59. November 2014.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
Mardles. Feb-Apr 2015.
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
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
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
Reviews of "Just Another Day" CD
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
(English Dance & Song). Winter 2014.
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.
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
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
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.
R2. November 2014 Ian
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
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.
What’s Afoot. Winter 2014.
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.
Folk North West. October ‘14. Derek
- 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).
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
- 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!
- 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.
The Living Tradition.
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.
Shire Folk. Tony
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
The presentation with it’s booklet giving the background to the material
Folk Monthly Kath
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
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.
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.
Reviews of "Beyond The Quay" CD
Intheboatshed.net, October 2008. Gavin Atkin
Tom and Barbara Brown
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
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
Staffordshire, with additional
verses from the
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
is much harder to sing than the
one I know from
so much so that he gets extra points from me for making an excellent job
of it. I gather
it came originally from a
And I should also add that Tom and
Barbara have been lucky enough to be supported on this CD by our old
Keith Kendrick and young
musicians and singers
Emily and Hazel Askew.
Folk North West, October 2008
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
Folk London, December 2008 – January 2009
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
From reviews of "West Country Night Out" CD
Hotpress (Ireland), November 2007
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
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
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.
NetRhythms, August 2008 David
- 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!
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.
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.’
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
The Folk Mag, June 2006
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.
NetRythms.co.uk, June 2006
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.
The Living Tradition Issue 69 July/August 2006 ~
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.
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.
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.
Kevin McCarthy’s Celtic & Folk Music CD Reviews, August 2006 - Dai
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.
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.
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.
From reviews of "Where Umber Flows" CD
on Airs What's
On Folks English
Dance & Song
& Patches Folkwrite
'n' Reel Folk
- TOP OF
What's Afoot. Autumn 2000. Colin
- 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.
Folk North West. Summer 2000. Derek
- 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?
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.
www.freefolk.com/brown. September 2000.
- 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,
Shire Folk. September 2000. Tom Bell
- 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.
www.greenmanreview.com/umber. September 2000.
- 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.
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.
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'!
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.
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.
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.
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.
'n' Reel. JanuarylFebruary 2001.
- 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.
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.
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.
reviews of "Prevailing Winds" CD
& Patches Folk North West
- Shire Folk
Traditional Music Maker
- TOP OF
and Patches. May 2002. Carly Rose
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
- 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!
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.
Shire Folk. Sept/Dec 2002.
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.
Traditional Music Maker. July/August 2002.
A sweep through the
musical traditions of the West Country and beyond, songs largely
traditional, some accompanied, some unaccompanied, what more do you want
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
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
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.
EDS. Spring 2003.
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.