John Kirkpatrick

Venue: The Bothy Folk Club
Towns: Southport
Dates: 19/4/15

John Kirkpatrick first played the Bothy Folk Song Club in July 1972 at around the time that he released his first solo album "Jump at the Sun". I was not at that gig and had to wait until 1975 for my first encounter with this marvellously entertaining singer and musician.The concert in question took place on 8th November at Nottingham University and was, quite simply, one of the most memorable that I have experienced in forty five years of concert-going. The band was billed as Richard and Linda Thompson and Friends.The friends turned out to be John Kirkpatrick, Dave Pegg and Dave Mattacks who were touring to promote Richard and Linda's now-classic album "Pour Down Like Silver". The band was on fire and I was stunned by the almost telepathic interplay between Richard's guitar and John's accordion on extended versions of some of Richard's best songs like "Night Comes In", "For Shame Of Doing Wrong"and "Calvary Cross".

Since then I have had the pleasure of seeing John in many different musical guises: in a duo with Sue Harris; as a member of Steeleye Span and Brass Monkey [both with Martin Carthy]; with his own folk-rock band the John Kirkpatrick Band and, on many occasions, as a solo performer. Whatever the line-up, John has never failed to put on a great performance, full of gusto, passion and superb musicianship. Not for nothing does Shirley Collins call John "my favourite of all the English singers". Shirley also refers to John as "English music's Mighty Heart of Oak", which is, I think, a perfect description of John Kirkpatrick.

Originally from London, John has lived in Shropshire since 1973 and in 2012 released a superb album consisting entirely of songs and tunes from that county's rich musical heritage, "Every Mortal Place", on Fledg'ling Records. If you have not heard it, I can heartily recommend it.

Not surprisingly, John's two sets tonight at The Bothy featured many of the songs and tunes from this album. Indeed, the first four numbers mirrored the opening four tracks on the album, beginning with a set of tunes by Shropshire composers, called "Wednesday Night/ The Great Eastern Polka". This was followed by "The Packman's Staff" which is set in Shrewsbury and in which the Packman kills three road robbers who set upon him. This is followed by an even more grisly tale, that of "Lord Randal" who meets an unfortunate end after eating eels boiled in broth by his sweetheart. As on the album, this mournful song was beautifully sung by John, with his lovely concertina accompaniment.

In total contrast to "Lord Randal" was the dramatic "Soul, Soul" in which the spirits of the dead return to their old haunts on All Souls Day to be warmed and fed by the living. John's thunderous performance was such that he said it even scared him to sing it.

John's prowess at unaccompanied singing came to the fore on "The Pompalarie Jig", which describes the Battle of Waterloo and in which the English soldiers liken their defeat of Napoleon's army to a dance.

Continuing the Shropshire theme was a set of tunes "Shrewsbury Quarry/The Shrewsbury Lasses/The Shrewsbury Rakes". The middle tune achieved prominence when Percy Thrower [Britain's first television gardener] used it as the signature tune for his programme "Gardening Club".

Departing from his latest solo album, John performed a couple of numbers from the days of his excellent but expensive electric band, The John Kirkpatrick Band. The first of these was the rousing Chartist song "On The Road To Freedom" about a pottery workers' march in 1842, followed by the tragic story of the ill-fated "Oakham Poachers". Incidentally, both albums by the JK Band are now available on a single cd.

John finished his second set with a typically eclectic selection- an 18th century Icelandic hymn ["My Soul Is Beset With Woes"], an Argentinian Tango and a song about the Polka, that was sung for Queen Victoria !

Ever the showman, John encored with the tongue-in-cheek "Accordion Joe", which sent the members of the Bothy audience home with a smile on their faces.

No matter how many times I have seen John Kirkpatrick perform over the past forty years, I have never failed to marvel at his virtuosity, humour, integrity and enthusiasm.He is, indeed, English music's "Mighty Heart Of Oak".

Peter Cowley

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