Reviews

Naomi BedfordNaomi Bedford
Album: A History Of Insolence
Label: Dusty Willow
Tracks: 12
Website: http://www.naomibedford.co.uk

"A History Of Insolence " is the new album by Naomi Bedford, the subtitle of which is "Songs Of Freedom, Dissent And Strife". Of course such songs are nothing new, as far back as the late medieval period people were singing songs that reflected the social upheavals of the time, right from the Peasants' Revolt, through to the Levellers [the movement, not the band], the Diggers, the Luddites and on to modern movements like CND, Anti-Vietnam War, Anti-Capitalist and so on.

Naomi is no stranger to political protest, she was an organiser in the Anti-Poll Tax movement and helped organise demonstrations, including the Hyde Park rally. Furthermore her partner Paul Simmonds of The Men They Couldn't Hang is well-known for his political songs. Paul wrote seven of the eleven songs on this album [one of which was a co-write with Naomi] and also produced all but two of the tracks [the other two were produced by Gerry Diver].

The album starts, in fine style, with Naomi's arrangement of a great song about strikebreaking, "Davison Wilder Blues" which was written by Tennessee miners in the 1930's. The song has an authentic old-timey feel, courtesy of Dan Stewart's banjo and some fine harmony singing. This is followed by another trad. arr. by Naomi Bedford, the well-known "Gypsy Davy" about the lord's lady who leaves him and runs off with her gypsy laddie, much to the lord's astonishment. The song has an almost country and western, wagon train feel to it, thanks to more banjo from Dan Stewart. Justin Currie of Del Amitri provides great harmonies to Naomi's lovely lead vocals. This track was mixed by Gerry Diver who also produced the next track, "The Wild and Charming Energy", a co-write by Naomi and Paul Simmonds, which features the atmospheric mariachi trumpets of Titch Walker. Gerry plays all the other instruments on this unusual song which seems to be about domestic violence.

Justin Currie also contributes an excellent song "We Are Not The People" about the disenfranchised. Justin cleverly reverses statements that are made by groups who seek to claim power, with lines like "we don't belong", "we don't hold the flag", "we don't exist". Justin also supplies piano and vocals and his harmonising with Naomi is quite superb especially when combined with the exquisite string arrangement by Ellie Wyatt. A truly lovely track.

As I mentioned earlier, a large proportion of the songs here were written by Paul Simmonds and they are uniformly excellent.

The first of these, "The Spider and the Wolf", sounds uncannily like the McGarrigle Sisters [and that's absolutely fine by me] but when you examine the lyrics, they reveal that they are about the darker side of modern life, about being caught in a web of "dealers, sheriffs and bailiffs" who are "breaking down my door". Jackie Oates provides fiddle and backing vocals with her customary dexterity.

Paul explores the theme of religious intolerance from the Crusades to the present day in his excellent song "Overseas", which Naomi says is her favourite song on the album and I can see why. Justin Currie again provides backing vocals.

Gerry Diver adds his production wizardry [and a whole array of instruments] to Paul's "Raise These Sails", which is based on the inventory of provisions taken on board The Mayflower by the Pilgrims in 1620 for their voyage to the New World. Paul shares vocals with Naomi on this atmospheric track. Mention must also be made of the terrific, spine-tingling backing vocals provided by Donna Edmead.

The most "rock and roll" track on the album is Paul's "Junktown" but the upbeat music is contrasted by the grim nature of the lyrics which describe the horrors of living in poverty whilst the privileged "grab all the pensions and the houses and the schools" and leave the rest "fighting each other in Junktown". It's a telling description/indictment of the inequalities in our society. Strong stuff.

Rather more sedate but no less relevant is Paul's "Fields of Clover", which, with its lush string arrangement by Ellie Wyatt, describes the life of a person who was "born in the war", who, now in a care home, looks back on their life through the "baby boom" years.

One my favourite songs here is Paul's "The Old Abandoned Road", which tells the story of a man who joins the Quaker army to fight in the English Civil War. The soldier is killed in the battle of Cheriton [near Winchester] in 1644 and lies by the old abandoned path, his bones rotting beneath a rusty pike and staff. Another great song by Paul.

The final song is "The Watches of the Night" which features Alastair Roberts on vocals and guitar. Alastair put the music to words by Trade Unionist Tom Maguire. Alastair's distinctive vocals blend beautifully with Naomi's to create a delightful track which is also enhanced by Ellie Wyatt's superb violin.

The album closes with a brief instrumental "Reprise".

This is an album that more than lives up to expectations. It is certainly one of the best that I have heard this year. The quality of the songwriting, singing and playing is excellent throughout and it is, by turns, thought-provoking, intriguing and charming. Insolence never sounded better.

Peter Cowley

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