The last time I saw Jack The Lad live was back in December 1975, and, from what I recall of the evening, most entertaining it was too, with bizarre monologues and almost absurd stage antics acting as a backdrop to some rather accomplished music; nice then to have another reissue from their catalogue to stimulate the reminiscences.
A little historical background - following successful hit albums and singles, folk-rock group Lindisfarne decided to split in 1973, and whilst two members claimed the group's name, three others, namely Rod Clements, Ray Laidlaw and Simon Cowe enticed guitarist and singer Billy Mitchell, who'd also played in an early Lindisfarne line-up, back from Canada and formed Jack The Lad.
Both groups remained under contract to Charisma records, and with a repertoire that owed much more to roots music than the more progressive folk-rock associated with Lindisfarne, Jack The Lad issued four L.P.s which incorporated elements of folk, blues, country, jug band, bluegrass and old-time jazz.
1974 was a busy year for the band. It saw them headline Cambridge Folk Festival, release two albums, their debut It's Jack The Lad together with The Old Straight Track, which was voted Melody Maker Folk Album of the year, (both of which are available in digitally remastered form from Talking Elephant Records). Additionally, Phil Murray and Ian Walter Fairburn, (previously with Hedgehog Pie), joined the line-up, as Rod Clements departed to concentrate upon session work. Rough Diamonds, their third release, was issued in 1975 and the version on review is a 2018 remastering of that original.
Two years in, and benefiting from a settled second line-up, in many ways this release is the group's most accomplished album, and the one which reflects best not only their musical ability and diversity, but also the often over-looked song-writing abilities of both Billy Mitchell and Si Crowe.
From opening track Rocking Chair, his wonderfully jaunty song featuring neat harp playing from guest Ray Jackson,(who also provided the cover art work), through My Friend The Drink and One For The Boy with its tasty guitar break, and the old-time jazz feel of A Letter From France, Billy's compositions show flair.
Similarly, Si's four songs, the somewhat fitting comment on the smoking habit in Smokers Coughin', the toe-tapping Gardener Of Eden, The Beachcomber which evokes an idyllic, pastoral image of England, rendolent of The Incredible String Band, and the lyrically clever album closer, Jackie Lusive, mark him out too as a deft composer.
The three remaining tracks, all Trad. arr., both reflect and benefit from the expertise of famed engineer Victor Gamm and producer Simon Nicol, (Fairport Convention). Instrumental, The Ballad Of Winston O'Flaherty is delivered with great gusto, Captain Grant, the true tale of highwayman Jeremiah Grant who enjoyed a Robin Hood-like reputation for giving to the poor, romps along at a cracking pace too, whilst the version of Gentleman Soldier delivered here is stunning, aided as it is by John Kirkpatrick's accordion. Furthermore, I'm not the only one to think so - John Peel had it as number 3 in his favourite singles list of 1975.
To my ears, these three tracks encapsulate what fine purveyors of traditional music Jack The Lad could be, and they stand up admirably against the best of the genre being released contemporaneously.
Rough Diamonds is a fulfilling album that has stood the test of time well and will reward the listener in spades.
|Will McNicol: Dragonflies, Frogs And Bumblebees||Ivor Game: Be Good To Yourself|
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