Bill Jones - acclaimed UK folksinger
teacher and workshop leader
2 The Manchester Angel 3.46
4 Goin' Back 3.24
5 The Hexham Lad & The Blackleg Miner 3.26
7 What am I Bid 3.48
9 Panchpuran 4.28
10 Blood and Gold & The Universal Soldier 5.34
12 The Tale of Tam Lin 5.36
14 Stor Mo Chroi 3.36
16 Farewell to Nova Scotia 4.20
17 Tuney Song Set 4.10
19 Never Be Mine 3.48
21 Long John Moore 5.19
23 Turn to Me 5.01
* (missing track numbers are spoken song introductions) *
The Bill Jones Band - Bill Jones (accordion, piano, vocals, whistle), Miranda Sykes (double bass, electric bass, harmony vocals), Roger Wilson (guitar, fiddle) and Keith Angel ( percussion), toured the UK in November/December 2001, with Oliver Knight on sound. A couple of the gigs were recorded straight off the PA onto minidisc, and one came out so well that the band decided to release it as a live album. It was recorded, appropriately, at the Live Theatre in Newcastle upon Tyne, on 2nd December 2001. After being mastered in June 2002 by Oliver Knight at Panda Sound, Robin Hood’s Bay, it went on general release in September 2002.
The CD contains new band arrangements of songs from Turn to Me, Panchpuran, and Bits & Pieces, and a song by one of Bill’s heroes, Kate Bush, called Never Be Mine.
Bill Jones has only been performing for a couple of years but already has a growing reputation as a singer of both contemporary and traditional songs. This, her fourth cd, draws on the previous three and presents familiar material in new, live arrangements.
Her pure and unaffected vocals are supported by her own accordion, whistle and piano playing as well as Roger Wilson's fiddle and guitar and Keith Angel's drums. Miranda Sykes on bass/double bass and harmony vocals adds some vital contributions too. These harmonies flesh out the acapella Panchpuran which I felt was too stark on the album of the same name. They also enhance Jones' delivery of Stor Mo Chroi which is even more haunting this time.
The Hexham Lad & The Blackleg Miner stand up well without the brass arrangements, in fact they benefit from Jones' own energetic whistle soloing. Similarly, the live version of The Tale Of Tam Lin doesn't have the string quartet accompaniment of the original. Jones' piano is set alongside fiddle and double bass allowing the purity of her voice to become more evident. I'm not sure why they thought it necessary to have parts of the song spoken behind her singing. I found it a bit distracting. Her own chat between songs, however, reflects how at ease she seems to be. The brief introductions are both intimate and confident. She doesn't over-explain the songs either, as some do.
Her choice of non-traditional songs may not please the purists but her take on the Goffin/King standard, Goin' Back, suits her voice. Equally poignant is the treatment of Brian Bedford's What Am I Bid. Her pairing of Blood and Gold & The Universal Soldier means that the songs are being heard again, which has to be a good thing. The latter is sung without any affected anger so that the words convey a message which still remains relevant, unfortunately. Including a Kate Bush song, Never Be Mine, probably won't endear her to the trad music police either but I don't suppose she cares. In fact her admission that she hasn't always been into folk is pretty refreshing. And thankfully the song isn't a vehicle for her to attempt Bush-like vocal histrionics either. So it's a bonus.
For someone whose career is still in its early days this is an assured performance ably supported by well-chosen musicians. I look forward to catching a live performance soon which, since she seems to be touring almost constantly, shouldn't be difficult.
In certain quarters, Bill Jones elicits a strange hostile response. Maybe it’s because her rise appears to have been so rapid and she has little of the pedigree of some of her peers, sometimes even gleaning songs from the internet with no qualms about changing tunes and words if she doesn’t like what’s there already. Unconcerned and possibly oblivious to popular convention, she’s evolved a highly individual style that’s a long long way from the rich oral vocal tradition that’s fuelled folk music for so long. Which is perhaps why she’s often regarded with suspicion and her last album Panchpuran got little of the credit it deserved.
If it makes you feel better, consider her not as a folk performer at all, but a singer-songwriter who got side-tracked by traditional song. She certainly has an ear for inventive piano arrangements, drawing on both classical and pop influences to give the music another edge entirely. Her fearlessness (or maybe it’s just innocence) is reflected in the refreshing way she sets Blood & Gold against Buffy Sainte-Marie’s classic protest song The Universal Soldier (albeit with a very different tune) and then launches into another very different treatment - new tune and all - of the mother of all ballads, Tam Lin.
Fulfilling a long-held ambition to form her own band, she’s fatured here with Miranda Sykes (bass, harmony vocals), Roger Wilson (guitar, fiddle) and Keith Angel (drums) at a concert in her adopted North East, at Newcastle. The album itself is a very straightforward reflection of the gig and within the limitations of live albums it does the job. But what’s interesting is the way her music develops with the extra musicians on stage. The harmony vocals of Sykes alone give Panchpuran, her own unaccompanied song telling the story of her aunt’s emigration from India to Britain, another side, and Roger Wilson’s flowing fiddle certainly keeps the narrative flowing through formidable material like Farewell to Nova Scotia and Long John Moore. Still not convinced about the merits of covering the Goffin/King classic Goin’ Back, or indeed Kate Bush’s Never Be Mine. . . the pop singer is far less intriguing grappling with pop songs than when she applies new values to old notions of folk music. That’s when she’s at her most exposed and most arresting. It also creates the potential for lots more adventures.