Recommended restorative listening from the children’s TV classic, review by Barney Harsent
In 1974, a saggy old cloth cat and his rag-tag bunch of friends managed, in just 13 episodes, to influence a generation. Ask pretty much anyone who watched Bagpuss what their first experience of traditional folk music was and the answer is unlikely to be Fairport Convention or Steeleye Span. The music of Sandra Kerr and John Faulkner, multi-instrumentalists with links to Ewan MacColl, Peggy Seeger and the London Critics Group, earwormed its way into a nation’s consciousness via a cloth cat, a rag doll, a carved wooden bookend in the shape of a woodpecker and colony of mice who were more likely to yarn bomb your sitting room than shit in your cornflakes.
The Music From Bagpuss is nothing if not exhaustive, bringing together all of the songs featured in the series, plus outtakes and alternate versions. A mixture of traditional pieces, original compositions and improvisations – often in the space of just one song – it is a Proustian journey back to childhood and a bone fide bucolic folk-roots classic.
The album is littered with sophisticated playing, intricate instrumentation and playful phrasing, but above all is the sheer strength of the songs. Whether it’s renosing traditional folk standards, as Kerr and Faulkner did for “The Weaving Song” and “Uncle Feedle” (adapted from “The Tailor and the Mouse”) or inspired original compositions such as the “The Miller’s Song”, one can’t help feeling that, these days, such care, craft and experimental bravery simply wouldn’t feature on music created for a children’s television show. It’s certainly absent from 90% of the Mercury short list.
Of course, there’s nostalgia at play, but that isn’t incidental – it is this music’s strength. A yearning for something lost to childhood is, I suspect, universal. There are times when we can all feel a bit tired, a bit saggy and loose at the seams. It’s getting old. The music that Sandra Kerr and John Faulkner wrote for the 13 episodes of this wonderful series manages to find that part of us, bind it, stick it with glue glue glue, and leave us feeling like new again. Recommended restorative listening.
The Chas and Dave singer, who has died at the age of 74, gave voice to working-class London
Chas Hodges – in company with Dave Peacock – was one of the most original British musicians to have come out of the rock’n’roll era. Chas and Dave did something that had never occurred to anyone else: combining rock, blues, country and music hall with the sound of a London that was already disappearing by the time they released their first album, One Fing ’n’ Anuvver, in 1975.
You might, justifiably, compare the best of their writing to Ronnie Lane, or to Ray Davies, the difference being that Chas and Dave sounded less like a Kinks song than the music one of Davies’ characters might have made.
The best of their songs were the memories of the yellowed wallpaper of the public bar – never the saloon bar – given voice: overheard arguments, declarations of love and shady deals, conducted over two pints of mild and a pack of fags.
Hodges, of course, had a long pedigree before Chas and Dave: he had recorded with Joe Meek, been in the Outlaws with Ritchie Blackmore (which later led to him playing bass for Deep Purple at one show). He played with Jerry Lee Lewis and Gene Vincent. Most famously, the hook he and Peacock recorded for Labi Siffre’s I Got The … became the chassis of Eminem’s first hit, My Name Is [ . . . ]
The ‘token’ jazz, folk and avant garde nominees for the UK’s most prestigious music prize are the ones who stand to gain the most from it – but they are being ignored
The question posed most often, and most crabbily, in the history of the Mercury prize is: what’s the point of the “token” acts on the shortlist? Jazz, folk and classical nominees are only ever there to make the judges of the UK’s most prestigious music award look clever; they certainly never win.Talk to the acts themselves, however, and a different story emerges. “I don’t care if we’re called a token jazz act if we sell 3,000 more records,” says Shabaka Hutchings, whose jazz group, Sons of Kemet, are among the favourites to win. “And it might be a coincidence, but I’ve noticed things happening since we were nominated this year.” Their gigs are selling out more consistently and the band are getting better stages at events. They’re getting support they don’t get from the Mobos, Hutchings argues, as he has before, and don’t start him on the Brits. “That side of the industry doesn’t care. But this is like a little stamp: you are given a level of validation that reverberates. And if it sells more albums or tickets, it helps subsidise our music and push our scene as far as it can go.”
Gwenifer Raymond has a PhD in astrophysics, lives in Brighton and designs video games for a living. No ordinary human, she also has mercury in her fingertips. You can just about see it glisten as she plays guitar on There Will Be Blood for an introductory 2016 acoustic session. By early 2018, the song had evolved into Sometimes There’s Blood, and a video treatment with creepy Victoriana and taxidermy. Such is the Welsh-born Raymond’s very British take on a niche form known as the American primitive style, where guitars embark on flowing instrumental extemporisations, often ending up somewhere very eastern, sometimes sounding like Indian ragas.
Having discovered the guitar aged eight, when her mother gave her a cassette of Nirvana’s Nevermind, Raymond traced the idols of her idols back to the Delta blues, and then sideways into this folk form. Her immersive debut album pays tribute to the Delta and Appalachia at the same time, on the banjo workouts Bleeding Finger Blues and Idumea, and raises a battered hat to the godfather of the primitive scene on Requiem for John Fahey. Throughout, Raymond takes this roiling, rhythmic traditional sound and stamps her own imprimatur on it.