Songs of the Sea and Folk
Benjamin Luxon (baritone)
Owen Branningan (bass)
David Willison (piano)
Climax Male Voice Choir/Edgar Kessell
Recording details not provided. GRIFFIN GCCD4084 [78:53]
If you enjoy the rollicking of the waves, the taste of ripe Jamaica and the heartiness of Vicars and Millers and don’t mind the sound of older recordings, you’ll enjoy this reissue. If, however, you are a stickler for detail, a discographic pedant, or merely a critic who wishes to draw attention to provenance (or indeed all three) you’ll be tearing your hair out.
I don’t suppose you’ll buy a disc which features music sung by Owen Brannigan and expect a digital recording. But nowhere, other a discreet reference to ‘stereo 1961/70’ on the silver disc itself, is there any indication of dates of recording or any precision as to accompanists, other than Gerald Moore. Fortunately, I have a couple of the LPs from which the Brannigan selections are sourced, but it’s pretty rough on Ernest Lush and Charles Mackerras, for example, that they go unmentioned (though the latter is noted as arranger on the two tracks in question). It would be enjoyable for the prospective purchaser to know this too, surely, notwithstanding the fact that this disc is clearly aimed at a more popular market.
That gripe over, the large-scale focus is Stanford and Benjamin Luxon’s Songs of the Sea. His famous recording of this is the EMI LP with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and Chorus directed by Norman del Mar but this earlier version comes from an Abbey disc (LPB689) released c.1970, as far as I can tell. Accompaniment comes from the always-excellent pianist David Willison, and vocal contributions from the Climax Male Voice Choir conducted by Edgar S. Kessell. The association of Luxon and Stanford was a happy one but this traversal is certainly robust in terms of the choir and the rather dry, leaden recording. Willison’s sensitive pianism is at its most pliant in Homeward Bound, where Luxon’s half voice is impressive too. The Old Superb is pretty blowsy stuff, with the choir hale and decidedly hearty and this is certainly a performance full of salt and brine and also a ration of choral approximation very different from spick and span metropolitan choral singing.
It’s good to hear Frederick Keel’s three Salt Water Ballads, especially the energetic and vivid Mother Carey. With Willison we also hear a brief selection of nauticalia – a particularly well characterised Captain Stratton’s Fancy included but Luxon shares space with chorus-only performances of The Skippers of St Ives and The Newquay Fisherman’s Song returning to extol life Over the Rolling Sea.
The Brannigan albums come from a sequence of EMI LPs and EPs; Folk Songs from Northumbria, Blaydon Races and other North Country Folk Songs, Sings the Songs of Britain, and Songs You Remember. I think one track, Blaydon Races, turns up on Griffin’s own 2012 Folk Songs of the British Isles compilation CD. The tracks with Moore and Lush were issued in the very early 1960s and they’re full of Brannigan’s resonant and avuncular charm, inimitable dialect and personable singing – Cushie Butterfield is a classic but it’s good to hear him in Linden Lea. The final two tracks return to the Climax Male Voice Choir ending, appropriately, with Time for us to go.
No texts, useful notes, good transfers.
Contents Charles Villiers STANFORD (1852-1924)
Songs of the Sea, Op.91 (1904)
Drake’s Drum [2:53]: Outward Bound [3:17]: Devon, O Devon [2:06]: Homeward Bound [6:02]: The Old Superb [3:16] Frederick KEEL (1871-1954)
Salt Water Ballads: Port of Many Ships [2:06]: Trade Winds (1919) [2:21]: Mother Carey [1:40] John IRELAND (1879-1962)
Sea Fever [2:57] Peter WARLOCK (1894-1930)
Captain Stratton’s Fancy [1:54] Joseph ROECKEL
The Skippers of St Ives [3:18] David MACKENZIE
The Newquay Fisherman’s Song [5:56] Harry PEPPER
Over the Rolling Sea [3:22]
Benjamin Luxon (baritone)/David Willison (piano)/Climax Male Voice Choir/Edgar S. Kessell:
Cushie Butterfield (Trad. arr. Brannigan) [2:38]
Dance to thee Daddy (Trad. arr. Haysom) [1:54]
The Keel Row (Trad. arr. Haysom) [1:27]
Blaydon Races (Trad./Ridley arr. Warrington) [3:40]
Linden Lea (Vaughan Williams/Barnes) [2:28]
Bay of Biscay (Davey/Cherry arr. Tomlinson) [2:30]
Heart of Oak (Boyce/Garrick arr. Tomlinson) [2:10]
On the Road to Mandalay (Speaks/Kipling) [4:52]
The Miller of Dee (Trad. arr. Mackerras) [1:28]
The Vicar of Bray (Trad. arr. Mackerras) [3:36]
Lavender’s Blue (Trad. arr. Russell) [1:29]
Cullercoats Bay (Trad. arr. Robson) [2:06]
Owen Brannigan (bass): with various artists including Gerald Moore, Ernest Lush (piano): Pro Arte Orchestra/Hendon Grammar School Choir/Charles Mackerras
Sacramento (Rowley) [3:04]
Time for us to go (Redman) [2:41]
Climax Male Voice Choir
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