Album Review | Fellside | Review by Marc Higgins | Stars: 5/5
After 42 years and the release of over 600 albums Paul and Linda Adams, who have run Fellside almost single handed are moving into semi-retirement, with the label continuing in a lower key way. Destination is a taking stock and a celebration of Fellside one of the biggest independent Folk labels in the UK and Lake the biggest UK label for British Jazz. Both labels are institutions, providing excellent recordings of new and archive material, quietly making a lot of listeners and fans very happy. Across three discs, chosen to describe and celebrate the Adams’ and Fellside’s journey is a bewildering array of delights and gems. It isn’t a best of or a simple story of, neither is it a clear out. The proof and the sense of it is in the listening. Disc one opens with a beautifully live sounding instrumental by Geoff Purvis and Terry Docherty. Significantly Terry recorded the first Fellside release which was his own debut. More significantly the opener “Blackthorn Stick/Saddle the Pony” is from a rehearsal for an album that predated the label, but it was recorded at Fellside Recordings (the Adams’ front room) so is doubly worthy of inclusion. Other gems on the first disc include, Brian Peters’ excellent 2017 recording of “Draggle Tail Gypsies”, like many especially recorded for this collection. A personal favourite of mine is the atmospheric “Old Folks at Home” by Steve Turner. Another strong, striking performer is the strident live recording of “Turpin Hero” by Barry Skinner. Skinner went on to record an album for Fellside, but this track is, from a college concert recorded by Paul Adams in 1968, another milestone. Striking for its delicate vocals is the Jolly Jack live version of “Lovely Nancy”. Beautiful and put me mind of early Steeleye Span and the sadly departed Tim Hart. Steeleye’s Maddy Prior, long connected to Fellside delivers a stunning unaccompanied “Sheepcrook” and “Black Dog” with Rick Kemp along later. Fine too are the Appalachian sounding “Going to Leave This Country” by Sara Gray and Martyn Wyndham-Read’s Wainwright, both artists with a long connection to Fellside. Briefly a Steeleye and a stalwart of the Folk Scene is John Kirkpatrick, Paul Adams describes him as a serial hitchhiker, regularly turning up on Fellside releases, he contributes “The King and Tinker”, an a cappella festival performance. Similarly impressive is Benji Kirkpatrick’s “Nancy of London” on disc three. Masterclasses in guitar and vocal are Dave Goulder’s version of the traditional “Long Larkin”, “Land of the Leal” by Bobby Eaglesham and Jez Lowe’s “Town Tales”. Three performances and performers I could listen to all day. It’s a brave performer who takes on anything off Nic Jones’ Penguin Eggs and John Wright’s a cappella “Farewell to the Gold” is a delight. John’s rendition is delicate and light alongside the big voices of Jolly Jack, John Kirkpatrick, Swan Arcade and Jimmy Aldridge and Sid Goldsmith who appear in the collection. Disc Two contains three stripped back wonderful tracks Fellside licensed from other labels. Vin Garbutt does “Boulavogue” from a Folk Review magazine album Peggy Seeger “Single Girl” and Cherrington and Ward’s heavenly version of “I Live Not Where I Love”. If the 1958 Seeger track doesn’t send you rushing back to her early Topic, Folkways and HMV sides and Pamela Ward’s voice to the Brew House Records albums then I don’t know why. Running alongside Fellside is Lake, a label tasked with making available Trad and Mainstream Classic British Jazz from the 50s and 60s. Paul Adams has been a jazz fan since his teens, his love of the institution that is Chris Barber has led to putting out CDs of much of the Barber band’s input from their first 15 years and making live recordings for the Dutch Timeless label who handle some of Chris’ more recent output. The Lake label gives us a Djangoesque piece of jazz guitar and violin from Diz Disley recorded in 1959 for Doug Dobell’s 77 label based in his Charing Cross Road Jazz record shop. Someone who crossed, so to speak, from Fellside folk to Lake Jazz was Marilyn Middleton-Pollock, originally a folky she delivers an Ottile Patterson blues belter vocal on “Melancholy Blues” with beautiful playing from Phil Morris, Lake Records House Band trumpeter. This track is from a cassette only album, so most likely on available here. With a wonderfully swaggering vocal from the leader himself and some lewd Saxophone the Chris Barber Band live in Birmingham in 2001 roar through a Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee number “Cornbread, Black Peas and Molasses”. The closer on disc two is The Lake Records All-Star Jazz Band, an ensemble that grew out of the labels involvement with Keswick Jazz Festival. On a live sound check, playing it for only the second time, the band nails Ellington’s “Cotton Tail”. I’m sure that the Duke would of loved, madly or otherwise, Duke Heitger’s trumpet slurs and growls on a killer track. Disc Three opens with the contrasting and surprising “Spirit of the Dance” setting Paul Sartin’s violin against Jane Sartin’s beats and programming. Beguiling and indicative of the always changing nature of Folk, but seemingly at odds with the live club sound of a lot of the other performances. Across the three disc set you are spoilt for cracking duos, Spiers and Boden who recorded four albums for Fellside, Martin Carthy and Dave Swarbrick here with an unissued live track from the 1990s, Tom Kitching and Gren Bartley, Nancy Kerr and James Fagan blaze through Leon Rosselson’s “Across the Hills”. Top examples of songs that crackle with the joy of club performances are Bram Taylor’s “We May or Might Never All Meet Here Again”, James Findlay’s “Mantle of Green”, brilliant Pete Morton’s solo voice “The Cuckoo” and Hedy West’s wonderful rendition of “Little Sadie” taped live in 1967 by Barry Skinner after an impromptu banjo lesson. Also fine bands abound, very new to me were the excellent Elbow Jane and the quite unique The Hut People. Like Chris Barber’s live track, Alabama Blues by The Jake Leg Jug Band, is a rich, layered and powerful with none of the barefoot, addled, cider jug waving abandon of a Jug Band, another strong recommendation. Two powerful vocalists stand out for me on this final disc. First there is Ewan McLennan who delivers a chilling version of “Edwin in the Lowlands” that is simply stunning, like James Findlay he was discovered by Fellside on the Mike Harding Radio Two Folk Show. Secondly there is Bob Fox’s “Standing at the Door”, for a man who has often recorded as a duo he packs a powerful punch on his own and this is ‘just’ a 1998 unissued trial recording, stunning. “Please sir could I have some more… THATS ALL THERE IS!!” the impressively buoyant Jeff Barnhart and Thomas ‘Spats’ Langham, part George Melly grinning growl, part Jungle Book Louis Prima, irreverently clear the air at the end. Along with Landmarks and The Journey Continues and this Destination Paul and Linda Adams have put together a trio of sets of recordings marking the end of their era at Fellside. 42 years and 600 releases, taking a hobby and building it into a business doing something you love is impressive, even before you consider the quality that shines out of this three disc set. Paul maintains they don’t discover people that talent will out. Even if you believe that self-depravating account then Fellside have helped ‘out’ an impressive array of performers including, Brian Peters, Steve Turner, Bram Taylor, Spiers and Boden, Gren Bartley, Ewan McLennan, James Findlay, The Hut People and of course Jez Lowe. They have given a mid-career leg up to Hughie Jones, Bob Fox, Rick Kemp and many others. Fellside has begat Lake allowing people like me to revel in jazz recorded before we were born, like archaeologists or miners bringing gems from retired labels like 77 or Brewhouse. Smallfolk label was created just to allow the release of music from the kids TV show Bagpuss, songs of my youth. Extensive activity by Lake led to the BBC4 Jazz Britannia programme. Perhaps they might be interested in a Fellside one too. Compilations are wonderful things, chances to discover new things, rediscover old things. Like a planted seed roots and shoots fire off in different directions as you chase down more by new discoveries and more by people you are reacquainted with. Always tempered with mixed emotion when new discoveries of vintage material means missed opportunities and some sadness. “We’re singing for companions that time slipped away”, says Ian Walker on Companions. Paul Adams extensive notes are exhaustive and fascinating and too often record the passing of performers and people instrumental in the Fellside story. So it’s mixed emotions, happiness at hearing these recordings, happiness at such an amazing journey and fine recordings and sadness at peoples passing and the ending of an Era. Sunset or Sunrise though, only time will tell, you can’t keep good ideas down. “Thanks for your company thank you for your songs, take care until the next time you’re passing by this place, I’ll leave you with a smile she said and an honest warm embrace” Ian Walker Companions.