At a bumper fifteen tracks, containing all original songs, this twelfth album from Bernard Hoskin is a steal. The fact that he now follows his passion for music full time is an indication of the regard in which he is held in the British Folk Music world. Originally from Cambridgeshire, but now living South London, he travels to perform at clubs. festivals and arts centres all over the country.
Cambridgeshire can be particularly proud of it's record in producing fine singer songwriters. The epitome of those being Bernard Hoskin. I do not know another singer whose diction is so clear and guitar fingering so precise that you can hear and absorb every last word. This is good because all of Bernard's songs are particularly well observed, ranging from views of a rural idyll to a modern corporate mechanical world in which we are all "A Cog In The Wheel" They each tell the story clearly with simplicity and with an astute eye to real events. They may be about something as mundane as sitting on a bench dedicated to the memory of someone, or as horrific as child abuse. They may encompass ennui or delight, all of those feature on "All Good Things" I first encountered Bernard at one of the Newbold Chapel concerts, Sadly no more but it was amazing the quality of performers who came to this little venue to entertain the listening audience that assembled there every month. Bernard tells the story of the early days of the Cambridge Folk Festival when well-known international artists could just turn up and ask to sing. Jim Croce did so one year and it turned out to be his only ever UK appearance as he was killed in an accident a few days later. Jim's work is an influence upon Bernard and he often includes "Operator" in his sets.
"From Frank to Mary Jane" We have all sat for while on a dedicated bench in a park or by the river. This gentle song explores one such bench and the relationship that caused it to be. We rarely give much thought to such artefacts other than mild interest when we use them. In this song Bernard imagines the story that caused the dedication to be there in the first place.
"Magdalene Laundry", These laundries, state funded, in Ireland mostly, but run by "Sisters of Mercy" who were clearly no such thing, were institutions where young girls who gave birth out of wedlock were sent to suffer atrocities beyond measure. Uncertified deaths led to bodies being mass buried in the grounds. In this song we hear the story of Bernadette a young catholic girl who fell pregnant after being raped in a stairwell. She was sent to the laundry, effectively a prisoner doing time. Hard labour, beatings and sexual abuse at the hands of the priest meant that misery ensued. Escapees were hunted down by the Gardai, but Bernadette managed to get on the ferry to Liverpool. She never married but lived with the scars for the rest of her life. This song delivers the tale with stark reality, but has an enticing chorus which demonstrates how the girls were persuaded to join with the promise of love and Jesus. This is a most affecting song and is reminder that slavery is modern and still with us.
"Cog In The Wheel" Is also about being trapped, but in a mundane jog with no fulfilment. It is delivered in the form of a very effective twelve bar blues. This would seem to be a departure from Bernard's usual folk style. It is very convincing, although the Mississippi valley accent is missing, it's replacement with a Cambridgeshire brogue is pleasing.
In complete contrast "Monet's Garden" is a tour of great art that can only be admired by all, the painters who could illuminate a room. The singer has his own favourite, a previous lover who painted moments from their life. This track also serves to demonstrate Bernard's musical virtuosity, as along with all the other tracks, he plays all the instruments.
In the opening bars of "Dealer's Hand" the distinctive sound of Bernard's hand on the dobro can be heard, indeed it makes it's appearance throughout this number. It tells the tale of sitting round the gambler's table. He always believes in a forthcoming change of fortune, but wishes he could go back to the days when he was younger. He has to make the break now, for in the words of the song, "If it doesn't kill me, it'll make me stronger." Ever the gambler's dilemma. On this track as on others the voice of Bronwyn Ormsby can heard provide backing harmonies.
I have only mentioned a third of the fifteen tracks on this album, there is so much variety in content included, but the one consistency is the quality of the song writing and the singing. Bernard has been compared in the past to the likes of James Taylor and Paul Simon. His writing is taken from life, you will recognise some scenarios and wonder why you have not noticed others. One of his earlier songs is entitled "21 Swans" inspired by - you've guessed it a bank of swans on a lake. This album is similarly well observed. It is a good buy. It can be obtained from his website either as a digital download or as a hardcopy CD. Seek it out, if you like folk style music you will not be disappointed.
|Chiara Berardelli: Seamonster||John Stamp: Franklin 54|
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