I've known Paul Vile for a few years now as he is one of those hero volunteers who run Twickfolk. When the guitarist from a local folk trio, Soiree, left, I suggested that they recruited Paul as he is such a brilliant guitarist and singer, but was told it would not be practical as Paul lives nowhere near Twickenham. He travels a long way each week just for the love of the club. So to start, I have to say a huge thanks to Paul and to all the other volunteers who run Twickfolk, and indeed to all volunteers who run any music club anywhere. Without you guys imagine how dull the world would be.
I don't think I'd seen John Prosser though, before the album release of "The Girl Always Wins", despite the fact that John and Paul have played together for years and that they have played together at Twickfolk before.
"The Girl Always Wins" is their debut album. All tracks were written by John and I get the feeling that John might be a fairly prolific songwriter, so I think there's every chance that there could be many more albums to come. There are thirteen tracks on this album several of which are over five minutes in length, so the album is around an hour in length, which is equivalent to three sides of an old vinyl LP.
As John wrote the songs he is the lead vocalist, with backing vocals by Paul. The combination of their voices does work extremely well, as John has a really good voice, but I do think there could be a bit more of Paul's voice. His voice is always quite low in the mix, and he generally only sings during a chorus. Perhaps they were trying to avoid comparisons with Simon and Garfunkel and didn't want to overladen the songs with harmonies.
However, Paul's superb guitar playing shines through, giving several songs a gentle jazz feel, which does give this album an edge over many other folk albums.
Many of the songs on this album, including the title track "The Girl Always Wins" seem to be about old relationships that have failed, but there is no bitterness in them. They all appear to look back fondly on the past without any hint of blame, or regret. Very refreshing.
However, I believe that not all of the tracks are straightforward, and may be based on subjects other than those that appear at a first listen. "Stranger In The Dance" tells of a 'ships that pass in the night' relationship in which John met a beautiful stranger, danced with her all night, and then they parted, never to meet again. Apparently, despite the fact that the lyrics are so realistic, the story is a complete work of fiction. The dance never occurred. That doesn't make it any less a beautiful song though, and I'm sure that many a listener will identify with the idea of a lost love.
"Turn And Walk Away" is definitely another fictional work. It concerns a male librarian, who is deeply in love with a female librarian, but gets insanely jealous when he sees her standing near bookshelves containing the works of certain authors! Not only has John invented the story, I think he has invented a brand new neurosis."Mr Cool" sounds as if it is based on a character like The Fonz, from the old TV show 'Happy Days'. We all know people like that, that seem to breeze through life looking good, making us look clumsy and foolish. This "Mr Cool" isn't one of them, though you'd never know from the lyrics. "Mr Cool" was inspired when John's saw his young son wearing a pair of sunglasses! Knowing that, the song feels even sweeter.
Even the title track, John claims, is based on the habits of a Preying Mantis, rather than any specific human. With the album cover being an image of the playing card, the Queen Of Hearts, "The Girl Always Wins" conjours up images of the glamour and excitement of a Las Vegas gambling house. You can see 'the girl' taking off a necklace of diamonds, and betting them on the turn of a card, or the spin of a roulette wheel. The song could so easily be the plot, theme tune, or title of the next James Bond movie. It would be worth buying the album solely for this track, it really is sensational.
Having said that though, this isn't the best track on the album. I am blown away by how brilliant "England's Glory" is. There are various events throughout history that have shaped the modern day working practices, and I thought I knew about most of them - the Tolpuddle Martyrs - The Dagenham worker's strike - but I had never heard of the Bryant and May match girl's strike. The Industrial revolution was founded on steam power, and to make the steam you needed fire, and to make fire you needed matches. Victorian Britian was built on the back of matches. Matchmaking though was deadly work. The girls were made to work 14 hours a day for very low wages, and were fined if they were sick, which happened often as they had to work with white phosphorous, which was highly poisonous. A newspaper article wrote about the poor conditions at Bryant and May. The management asked the women to sign a statement refuting the article which they refused, which led to someone being sacked which led to strikes. Bryant and May had to switch to using red phosporous (much safer than the deadly white phosphorous - though more expensive to process) and eventually, the UK Government banned the use of white phosphorous in matches.
I do love music that is educational, and this song is exceptional. These girls made the matches that gave Britain its empire. Without them, our transport would still be horses and carts. Our industry would be no more technical than hand weaving. The closest thing we'd have to a mobile phone would be listening to the town cryer, and the nearest thing to Youtube would be watching the local Morris dancers. And without them, there'd be no Health and Safety at work.
And without John and Paul, we'd be unaware of them. And without John and Paul we'd not have this beautiful music. The girl always wins? So do we all if we buy this album.
|Mike Vass: Save His Calm||Driftwood: Tree Of Shade|
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