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Various ArtistsVarious Artists
Album: The Tale Of Ale - Revisited
Label: Free Reed
Tracks: 35

Beer is the most widely consumed, and probably the oldest, alcoholic drink in the world and there has long been a symbiotic relationship between music and this most popular beverage. Back in 1977 a group of performers including Peter Bellamy, The Dransfields, Roy Harris and Willie Rushton decided to explore the British love affair with Ale and Beer in music, poetry and prose. The result was a double album entitled The Tale Of Ale.

Now, for the 21st Century, a group of performers from Derbyshire have reworked and updated this concept, releasing a new CD, entitled The Tale Of Ale Revisited.

As the title suggests, this album is a history of alcoholic drinks told through the media of contemporary music, prose and verse. We are taken through history in a more or less chronological order, starting with two 16th Century Songs, Bring Us Good Ale and Jolly Good Ale And Old, before taking us through the ages, ending up with the High Level Ranters' lament for a passing age, (They're Knocking Them Down) The Old Pubs and Keith Kendrick's 1978 tune, The Barman's Waistcoat. Most of the songs included will be well known & loved, from We Be Soldiers Three through to John Barleycorn and the Temperance anthem Don't Go Out Tonight, Dear Father, which, perversely, became a popular music hall and drinking song. For me, the highlights are a couple of the more humorous songs, Doing The Manch is a tale of a Bradford lad being initiated into the world of drinking by his father and Charley Mopps, a Music Hall style homage to the invention of beer.

Good as the songs are in telling The Tale Of Ale are, the whole project is brought together by the intelligent selection of prose. Proving that denouncing change and new fangled ideas is nothing new, is the Sussex born 16th Century physician Andrew Boorde, who bemoans the modern fad for drinking the new Dutch beer at the expense of good English Ale to his perceived detriment to the nation's health. The moral dangers of overindulgence are given an airing courtesy of the Elizabethan Puritan Phillip Stubbes and an excerpt from his 1583 book The Anatomy Of Abuses. Even Shakespeare gets a look in, not from one of the comedies as you may expect, but rather from Macbeth, a scene in which we find MacDuff and the porter discussing the effects of drinking. Again, two pieces of prose really stand out for me. One is the newest piece to be included, an article from 2003 entitled God-Is-Good - The Magic Of Yeast, which manages to compare the properties of the fungus central to the brewing process to those of Douglas Adams' wondrous creation, the Babel Fish. The other is an extract from John Bickerdyke's 1889 book The Curiosities Of Ale And Beer, several extracts from this book appear on the CD, but my favourite is the account of the bursting of the great Porter Vat at the Meux brewery in 1814 which unleashed 270000 gallons of Porter on to Tottenham Court Road in central London.

Like any good beer, The Tale Of Ale Revisited is made up of a number of ingredients and this particular brew is rounded off nicely with some dance tunes, both Playford and Morris (an activity associated with the consumption of beer like no other), some beer pun based toasts to both the living and the dead and a couple of poems on the joys of drinking.

The performers and musicians; Roger Warren, John Titford, Keith Kendrick, Sylvia Needham, Peter Bullock, Sarah Matthews, Doug Eunson & Oli Matthews who perform on the CD as Musica Inebriata, are to be congratulated on taking the concept, updating it and making it their own.

The Tale Of Ale - Revisited is a gem of an album that would grace any collection. Get a copy, settle down with a suitable drink or two and prepare to be entertained. I can't recommend this release highly enough.

David Chamberlain