A Review of the John Conolly & Bill Meek CD
"The Northern Trawl"

"The Northern Trawl"
by John Conolly & Bill Meek

(Independent label: MECON 2)

This review is written by Dai Woosnam, daigress@hotmail.com, 6/04

Perhaps you are many miles away from me when you read this review. Maybe you are a North American. Maybe you are in the Antipodes.

In fact the further you are away from the Humber Estuary in England the better. No, not that I think there is anything wrong with the place - ­ on the contrary, I wouldn't have chosen to live here otherwise! ­- but because the further away you are, the more of a revelation this album will be to you.

You see to us living here, and to Folkies throughout the UK, Conolly and Meek are a famous pairing. And the plight of the UK deep-sea fishing industry has been well chronicled in the British press.

But to those of you afar reading this, who are unaware of both artistes and subject, then a fascinating entrée into a whole new world awaits.

This CD is the digital re-mastering of a critically-acclaimed vinyl LP, augmented with some bonus tracks from John and Bill's back catalogue.

The LP in itself also sprang from another source: a 1985 play which toured the UK arts theatre circuit with much success.

There is more than the occasional nod to Ewan MacColl's “Singing the Fishing”: not surprising when you learn that BBC Radio Humberside specially recorded the reminiscences of 40 Hull and Grimsby fishermen, for their verbatim contributions to find their way into the content of the play. And some of their original words intersperse the songs here.

And what a CD it is. The songs catalogue first the tough working conditions, and then the decline of a whole industry. It is surely one of the saddest industrial stories of recent times: how pusillanimous UK governments (of both parties) bent the knee to a lone Icelandic gunboat: allowing them to get away with a 200 mile limit (on the grounds that the Icelandics would conserve fish stocks)…only to find that they have now grossly over-fished themselves.

And with that inability to stand up for their own people, British governments signed the death warrant of the deep-sea fishing industry of Grimsby, at one time the biggest fishing port in the whole of the British Empire.

Some wonderful songs include Conolly's sublime signature song “Fiddlers' Green”. Indeed, there are two songs that are at least its equal: Bill Meek's “North Sea Rollers”, and John's deeply affecting lament for an old deckie, “Willie Leonard”.

Good to hear the fine harmony singing of Jane Clark. I first wrote about her in issue 6 of The Living Tradition in July 1994. In those days she was called Jane Ludlam. The mystery to me is how that woman never became a major star on the UK Folk scene.

Wherever you are in the world, you can get this compelling album by mail order fromwww.chanteycabin.co.uk

Dai Woosnam
Grimsby, England

Track List:

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