Tag Archives: Nic Jones

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.


Airs and Graces

26 Apr


This is June Tabor‘s first album from 1976 on the Topic label with the artist looking somewhat haughty and stern on the cover!  This is a one serious record – giving no quarter and expecting none!

I think I’d read a couple of reviews of June’s performances (probably in Melody Maker) and I knew she’d recorded an album with Maddy Prior from Steeleye Span. Anyway,  when I saw she was playing the Kings Arms in Old Amersham (a couple of miles down the hill from where I lived), I decided to check her out.  I was however unable to convince anyone I knew to join me – so I went on my own.   It wasn’t my first folk concert – but it was my first experience of a grassroots folk club (complete with floor singers and a raffle) so I was rather glad that the pubs in those days were fairly relaxed about licencing laws.

The week after attending  the concert, I went and bought this album – and have  acquired not everything she’s issued since – but certainly a majority.

There are ten tracks – most of which are traditional and sung without accompaniment. The instrumentation, when it appears, consists of  Nic Jones on guitar and fiddle, Tony Hall on melodeon and Jon Gillaspie on keyboards – all tasteful and restrained but the whole thing is dominated by That Voice!

June Tabor is without doubt one of the most powerful, distinctive and awesome voices I’ve heard – ever since I experienced it back then in the seventies. Combine this with an astute choice of material throughout her career and every collection is a winner. It’s not ‘easy listening’ – actually it can be damn difficult listening but, like hearing Dick Gaughan, it’s rewarding to hear a consumate singer make the material their own through the power of their  interpretation.

So the highlights: Well, the first is Eric Bogle’s ‘And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda’ is probably the outstanding track.  (June’s version may have been the first cover but certainly was the one that made people thing this song was traditional). Then there are also some genuine and powerful  trad songs (my favourites are  ‘While The Gamekeepers Are Sleeping’, ‘Plains of Waterloo’ and ‘Bonnie May’) . I always think of these first three tracks as June nailing her colours to the mast!

And finally the closer – ‘Pull Down Lads’ by John Tams – a wistful neo-trad track which made me notice Mr Tams whom I’d first seen in Derbyshire foursome Muckram Wakes but not registered and who I’d next encounter in the Albion Band. On this occasion though, his song closed a stunning debut which left me feeling rather shell-shocked. This was music a million miles from rock, pop or folk rock – it was a manifesto for The Singer and The Song.

I can’t say that I often listen to the other five tracks on this album – they are an acquired taste. In fact, I generally listen to them when someone else does a version – when more often than not, I realise that June Tabor’s version sets the bar for quality!