A Review of the Barry Dransfield CD

by Barry Dransfield

(Violin Workshop 1CD)
copyright: Violin Workshop 2005 (except Tamlin Reel: copyright Davy Arthur).

This review is written by Dai Woosnam, daigress@hotmail.com, 5/05

There are occasions when a CD reviewer knows that he has stumbled upon something that, whilst not an unqualified success, will still be an album that at the end of the reviewing year will give him more pleasure than most. This is one such: an album that provides many pleasing moments, and one that just oozes gravitas throughout.

I have to declare an interest of sorts: I first saw Barry perform live as far back as 1970. I was hooked from the start: and I have purchased many of his albums since, and never been disappointed.

But I will not let that interfere with my role of Reviewer: my first duty here is to take the side of the potential purchaser. Would buying a copy of “Unruly” represent money well spent? In order to answer that question, let's look at some of the most significant tracks.

As the great Shirley Collins so perceptively says in an “overview” sent me by Barry's PR people, “my appreciation grew when Barry told me recently that he couldn't read music and was self-taught. Some people may think that this is a hindrance for a singer and musician, but I believe it gave Barry a head start […]every song he has learned BY HEART”.

We start with “Haul Away”. Talk about a song “redolent of place”! Just listening to it and I was back in Hastings on the south coast of England.

I was going up the East Cliff funicular railway again, looking down on the tall narrow wooden houses where the fishermen keep their nets. Having had their share of the sea, generations of fishermen now wanted their share of the sky (a fact that Barry zeroes in on, in his lyric). A lyric by the way set to the Largo from Telemann's Trumpet Concerto in D. (Are you beginning to see what I mean about “gravitas”?!)

Whilst the opening track puts down an impressive marker, Barry follows this with a song that is often regarded as an exercise in profundity. “The Grand Conversation On Napoleon” was a song collected by Vaughan Williams and sung my many famous names down the past. Barry learned what he calls “this blockbuster” from Gordon Hall at the famous Empress of Russia club in Islington, London. The song is perhaps most famously associated with Frank Harte.

Now, whilst he makes a great job of the delivery, I have to tell you that I have always been of the opinion that the song does not merit its usual epithet of a “mighty” song, but rather, I hold the view that it flatters to deceive. It is a song that borders on the pretentious and appears to say much more than it really is saying. But, such is its haunting melody, I can forgive it the overblown lyric.

We follow with one of several fiddle solos: here, I will cover all the instrumental tracks with a one sentence comment. They are all pieces played with passion and a very real artistry.

“Silent Worship” comes next. Composer G.F. Handel, no less. This is not your run-of-the-mill Folk CD, alright! Barry handles the lyric with aplomb.

Then the great Sussex favourite (Two) “Constant Lovers”. Never fails, this great song. Barry reminds us that this was a song written for the Tin Pan Alley of its day…and is not the pure folk song many of us think it to be.

The liner notes point out that here Barry not only has his vocals and simultaneous fiddle recorded, but also has 2 fiddles by him overdubbed.

Makes for a really atmospheric 4½ minutes, and was so evocative as to immediately take me back to my days 35 years ago as a lighthouse keeper on Sussex's Beachy Head lighthouse.

It would have been the best cut on the CD were it not for two numbers to come up on the rails and take it by a short-head. The first is another G.F. Handel biggie: his very famous “Where'er You Walk”. And golly, this really cuts the mustard. It is the first time I have ever heard ANYONE sing this aria who has not make me long for the glorious version by Kathleen Ferrier. So Barry should realise that coming from me, this is some tribute.

And then comes a curious little song for the walking wounded: “Harps in Heaven”. Never heard it before, nor had I read the novel by Mary Webb it was drawn from. Such was its ability to get under my skin, that I will immediately go to my local public library and put in a reservation for her book “Gone To Earth”.

Who needs to try to be a Renaissance Man and attempt the hopeless task of trying to immerse oneself in all branches of the Arts? After all, there are not enough hours in the day. Instead, on the basis of this CD at least, one can let Barry Dransfield take the strain and take you on his magical mystery tour of his potpourri of influences.

I end this review by highlighting a remark Barry makes at the end of his liner notes: “All the music on this recording was learned and played by ear. Any classical material herein is guaranteed to be played inaccurately and in an unruly fashion.”

Well, you can strike the “inaccurately”: that is just “modesty” talking!

But I'll go along with the word “unruly”. So indeed does Barry: he makes it his title for the album.

It is an “unruly” CD in its triumphant defiance of the rules of “Folk convention”: he ploughs his own furrow, and judging by the reaction of some of my Folkie friends to this album, it will be far from being a LONE one.

To purchase wordwide contact: http://www.barrydransfield.com

For UK purchases contact www.propermusic.com

Dai Woosnam
Grimsby, England

Track List:

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