Tonight Pete Coe and Alice Jones presented their epic show "The Search For Five Finger Frank" at the Bothy Folk Club in Southport.
Now, you may be wondering who on earth is Five Finger Frank?
The identity of this person is, in fact, Frank Kidson [1855- 1926] , a pioneering folk song collector from Leeds and founder member of the Folk Song Society. Kidson was a major collector of folk songs ,which he obtained from a network of contributors , notably Charles Lolley , a builder and fiddle-player; Kate Thompson ,a charlady from Knaresborough; Charley Dickenson , a sailor from Whitby and Alan Wardill ,a railway pointsman in Goathland.
Pete and Alice embarked upon this project [ a live show and double album] because they felt that Frank Kidson has been overlooked and has not received the recognition that he deserves ,compared with later folk song collectors , notably Cecil Sharp.
It is worth noting that Frank published his most important work "Traditional Tunes - A Collection of Ballad Airs , Chiefly Obtained in Yorkshire and the South of Scotland" in 1891, whereas Sharp did not even start collecting folk songs until 1903, some twelve years later! In these circumstances, it does seem somewhat unfair that Cecil Sharp is regarded as "the founding father of the folk-song revival", whereas Kidson has virtually been forgotten. Pete's and Alice's mission has been to redress this situation and to "let people know where the songs come from".
This they did with considerable panache in a show which featured two one-hour sets , following excellent spots from Bothy residents Clive Pownceby, Keith Price, Bill Hackney and David Hirst.
Both Pete and Alice are fine singers and multi-instrumentalists ,with Pete playing bouzouki, melodeons, banjo and bansitar ,whilst Alice [wearing a dazzling multi-coloured, leopard print dress] showed her considerable skills on harmonium, piano, whistles ,clarinet and tap dancing [well she did start out as a dancer].
Several thoughts struck me as I watched this consummate performance. The first was the obvious enthusiasm that Pete and Alice have for Frank Kidson and the music that he "rescued from oblivion" . Quite clearly ,they have thoroughly researched the life and work of this remarkable man from Leeds . Their intuitive "feel" for this music is self-evident.
The second thought that struck me was that Kidson collected some of the best-known and best-loved songs in the English language, songs such as "Sprig O'Thyme" [ also known as "Let No One Steal Your Thyme" and which was sung beautifully by Alice]; "The Bonny Bunch Of Roses" ; "The Deserter"; "Scarborough Fair"[from the singing of Alan Wardill of Goathland] and "The Young Banker" .
What surprised and delighted the Southport audience was that one of Kidson's sources was a local man , Alfred Mooney of Liverpool , from whom Frank collected "Shule Agra"[aka "Johnny Has Gone For A Soldier"] , which featured Pete on banjo and Alice on rhythmic feet. Another song that Kidson obtained from Mooney was "The Swans Swim So Bonny",which tonight had an exotic raga feel to it, courtesy of Pete's bansitar [ which was , I believe, made by luthier Helmut Rheingans , father of Anna and Rowan Rheingans ,who I had seen in concert earlier in the week ,but I digress].
Poaching is a fertile source for traditional songs and tonight we had a brace of these, "The Death Of Bill Brown" and "Hares In The Old Plantation", both of which Kidson collected from his collaborator Charles Lolley ,who heard them in Goole.
Kate Thompson of Knaresborough provided "flippin' loads of songs" to Kidson , including "The Highwayman Outwitted" ,which tonight segued into "Turpin Hero" ,from the singing of T.C.Smith of Scarborough.
In case you are wondering where the nickname "Five Finger Frank" originated , it was Frank who gave it to himself ,with typical humility, on account of his "poor piano playing". In 1923, Frank accepted an honorary degree from Leeds University ,but he jokingly claimed that the M.A. stood for "Musical Ass".
Pete Coe and Alice Jones are to be congratulated on putting on a most enjoyable and enlightening show which highlighted the enormous contribution Frank Kidson made to the Folk Song Revival by collecting such wonderful tunes for posterity. Let us hope that the sterling work done by Pete and Alice will finally give Frank Kidson the recognition that he so richly deserves.
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