Pete Coe and Alice JonesPete Coe and Alice Jones
Album: The Search For Five Finger Frank
Label: Backshift
Tracks: 27

Born in Leeds in 1855, Frank Kidson was a renaissance man way before the term was even coined, during his life time he was many things, journalist, author, painter, bibliophile, historian, lecturer, broadcaster, editor and musical antiquarian. In the last of those rolls, he was contemporary with Cecil Sharp and was also a founder member of The Folk Song Society back in 1898.

By the time of his death in 1926, Frank Kidson had already amassed over 400 entries in the music bible, Grove's Directory Of Music & Musicians. During his lifetime he collected thousands of books and manuscripts, which upon his death were acquired by The Mitchell Library. He was also recognised with a blue plaque erected by the Leeds Civic Trust back in 2003.

"The Search For Five Finger Franks" follows a period of research from Pete Coe and Alice Jones and consists of a two cd, twenty seven song epic, that still barely registers the tip of the iceberg and leaves plenty of scope for return visits and sequels.

The songs have been lovingly recorded in the style of the first folk revival and that means they have a far jauntier feel than more modern interpretations. "The Songs Swim So Bonny" is an excellent example of this. A variation on "Two Sisters" complete with murder, hanging, burning at the stake and a ghostly harp, the song nonetheless comes across as quite up tempo and jolly, rather than darkly interpreted.

That tempo, even if it gives the songs an older sound, makes the songs and tunes on this album a bit easier on the ear and helps bring you closer to the music. It's very easy to imagine the songs being played in pubs and on village greens as there is more of an opportunity to join in with some gusto.

I found it very easy to do all 27 songs in a single sitting and similarly I've also found that both disks stand in their own right if you haven't got a 110 minutes to put to one side. The listenability is aided by a good variety of textures and instrumentation, but primarily through the musicianship and singing of Peter Coe and Alice Jones.

As with all good folk albums, particularly those in the traditional idiom, there is a fair old body count, moral depravation and yes good honest songs about falling in love, some straight forward, others laded with hidden messages and innuendo.

If you are from Leeds and its environs , there is a good chunk of local history and reference tied in, but you can't fault the universal nature of the selection. Peter and Alice have delivered an album that they can be rightly proud off and one that can be easily enjoyed. One of any serious collector of folk music undoubtedly, but also one for the casual follower of the acoustic spectrum.

Neil King