Penguin Eggs

28 Jun


Issued on Topic Records in 1980, ‘Penguin’ Eggs‘ was the final album made by Nic Jones before his career as a professional musician was ended in 1982 by an horrendous road traffic accident which left him comatose and broken.

Up until that time, he was a rising star on the British folk scene, guesting on several albums in my collection and I’d even got a fairly rare album he’d made in 1978 as part of an outfit called Bandoggs. But then, seemingly, that was it.  Much of his seventies material has never been properly re-issued (nor paid him any royalties)  because of legal disputes and, apart from this recording (which to my knowledge has never been out of print) the only way you’d have heard about him is via old live performances released by his wife.

But then, in 2010, he joined former bandmates to sing three songs at the Sidmouth folk festival which was holding an event in his honour. And last year he played just a few gigs. So it was, on August 3rd 2012, that I was at Wadebridge Town Hall in Cornwall to hear a concert for which I’d waited thirty-two years!

It was incredibly emotional to see Nic Jones on a stage, supported by his son Joe on guitar and Belinda O’Hooley on piano, both of whom also contributed vocals . Although Nic’s injuries and enforced absence mean that you can only guess how he would have been in his prime, it was still a privilege to see that he can still summon  a performer’s professionalism. His voice may be weaker but he can still carry a song – and an audience – indeed in January 2013, the BBC Radio 2 folk awards named him as singer of the year – an essentially sentimental but wholly sincere recognition of the affection in which he is held.

There are just nine tracks on ‘Penguin Eggs‘, which was folk album of the year in the UK when it was released. Most are traditional,  all are good and three are simply outstanding, featuring Nic Jones’s distinctive guitar style or fiddle with minimal additional instrumentation.  Although the opener (‘Canadee-i-o‘) is traditional, the arrangement is pretty much replicated by Bob Dylan on his’ Good As I Been To You‘ album in 1992 and by Blair Dunlop on his debut EP in 2010.’ Flandyke Shore‘ is of similar origin and Mr Jones’s arrangement is credited by the Albion Band whose 1993 album ‘Acousticity‘ opens with it.

The third wonderful track is the one which closed the show I saw last year. It had the audience, many of whom were in tears by this time, singing along with Nick . Written (or brought into the tradition I don’t know)  by Australian Harry Robertson, ‘The Little Pot Stove‘  is about whaling ships and contains the lyric that gives this album its title:

“We labored seven days a week, with cold hands and frozen feet.
Bitter days and lonely nights making grog and having fights
Salt fish and whalemeat sausage, fresh penguin eggs a treat
And we trudged along to work each day through icy winds and sleet.

In that little dark engine room,
Where the chill seeps through your soul,
How we huddled round that little pot stove
That burned oily rags and coal”.

If you haven’t heard this album, do seek it out and if you have, remind yourself how good it is.


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