Wednesday, 21 November 2012

The Critics Group - Sweet Thames Flow Softly (1966)

The Critics Group, also known as The London Critics Group, was a group of people who met to explore how best to apply the techniques of folk-music and drama to the folk revival under the direction of Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger, with some participation from Bert Lloyd and Charles Parker. Running for eight years from the mid 1960s to the early 1970s this was not a conventional musical group as it had no permanent line-up.
MacColl practised stark learning techniques and versed his students in Folk songs, theater and performance science, ethnography and the Marxist canon.

It started out as a study group for singers, meeting once a week at MacColl and Seeger's home in Beckenham, attempting to raise the standards of singing. One of the main activities of the meetings was group criticism and discussion of each other's performances which subsequently earned the group its name, coined by Charles Parker when pressed for a name by a radio interviewer.

Many of the meetings were recorded, and some of these recordings are held as part of the The Charles Parker Archive which is held in the Birmingham City Archive and Heritage Service.

The group organised regular Club nights at the Union Tavern in the Farringdon Road which attracted musicians from all over the world. The best part of these evenings was often the 'lock ins' which developed into impromptu musical sessions until the early hours of the morning. Under the guidance of McColl, a noted draatist, Seeger and Parker, they went on to produce an annual show called the Festival of Fools which always attracted critical notice in the national press. Staged each Christmas for five years, they satirised events of the previous year through sketches and songs, loosely based around folk customs and songs. They were performed in the back room of a North London pub, the New Merlin's Cave.

Members of the group included Frankie Armstrong, Bob Blair, Brian Byrne (UK), Helen Campbell (UK), Jim Carroll (UK), Ted Culver, John Faulkner (UK), Richard Humm, Allen Ives, Sandra Kerr, Paul Lenihan, Pat Mackenzie, Jim O'Connor, Maggie O'Murphy, Tom Paley, Brian Pearson, Michael Rosen, Buff Rosenthal, Susanna Steele, Denis Turner, Jack Warshaw, Terry Yarnell.

In 1972 the principal performing members of the Critics Group broke away from MacColl's leadership and formed the left-wing theatre group Combine, which produced weekly events in an east London pub, the Knave of Clubs. They created songs, plays and other events in a similar manner to the Critics, culminating in the Vietnam Victory Show of April 1975 which celebrated the final liberation of Saigon.

The folk music revival, which swept the US and Britain in the early 1960s, resulted in the new generation of musicians rediscovering the riches of musical tradition created over centuries passed. As opposed to Classical music, folklore was created outside of the musical "establishment" over the centuries, mostly by troubadours and non-professional authors, which of course doesn't make that this music is in any way inferior to the Classical heritage, it is simply different. Before Folk turned into Folk-Rock by the mid-1960s, hordes of musicians sang traditional material and created new songs in the spirit of the Folk tradition. This album documents the work of the British ensemble The Critics Group, which was quite well known at the time. This album, which collects folk songs from the streets of London, from Elizabethan times to present, is a beautiful example of how the folk tradition can be preserved and cherished. The group members are all excellent singers with splendid voices. The songs are mostly performed a cappella, as they were sung originally, but some have instrumental accompaniment. Overall this is a charming album, aimed at listeners who like traditional folklore.

Side One
1 Street Cries (trad)
2 Tottie (Dagonet aka G.R. Sims) – Terry Yarnell
3 Judges and Juries (trad) – Ted Culver (unaccompanied)
4 Parson Grocer (trad) – John Faulkner, Sandra Kerr, plus chorus, banjo
5 Betsy Baker (MacColl/Gardner) – John Faulkner (unaccompanied)
6 Plank Bed Ballad (Dagonet aka G.R. Sims) – Terry Yarnell, plus whistle, concertina
7 The Jail Song (trad) – Ted Culver, plus chorus, guitar
8 William and Phyllis (trad) – Sandra Kerr (unaccompanied)
9 Randolph Turpin, Sugar Ray Fight (MacColl/’The Professor’) – Terry Yarnell, plus chorus, guitars, spoons, yazoo, etc.

Side Two
1 Supermarket Song (Marigold/Turner/O’Connor/MacColl) – John Faulkner, Sandra Kerr, plus chorus, banjo
2 Ratcliffe Highway (trad) – Jim O’Connor (unaccompanied)
3 Outward Bound (trad) – John Faulkner, plus chorus, concertina
4 My Jolly Sailor Bold (trad) – Sandra Kerr, voice and autoharp
5 The Streets of London (Irish Trad/Hasted) – Jim O’Connor, plus chorus, concertina, guitar
6 The Colour-Bar Strike (MacColl/Mayo) – John Faulkner, plus two guitars
7 The Landlord’s Nine Questions (Seeger) – Sandra Kerr, plus chorus
8 Sweet Thames Flow Softly (MacColl) – John Faulkner, plus chorus, zither, guitar

The Critic´s Group - Sweet Thames Flow Softly (1966)
(256 kbps, front cover included)

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