Tuesday 26 November 2013


Like a lot of English folksong, Spencer the Rover was written down and preserved by generations of the Copper Family of Sussex, to be revived by the likes of Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span and John Martyn. Martyn was part-gabshite, part-genius, his drinking, his contrariness and his diabetes leading eventually to amputation and early death; so far I've avoided both, more by luck than judgement, but have come closer than I'd like. Driving across Scotland recently with Martyn on the player I kinda re-evaluated him and his work; his own compositions are psalms for our times, hewn from his anger as he hurtled to the graveyard called Excess.
 These fuckers at Transatlantic Sessions manage to unfailingly over-syrup everything they touch, their company rich in virtuosity but not a musician amongst them. Spencer the Rover just manages to survive the sugar rush; the album version is far superior, worth however long it takes.


Anonymous said...

I fear I may get shot down in flames but here goes anyway: do you like Show of Hands, Mr Ishmael?

I shall not pretend to have the faintest idea about English folk music, and perhaps S of H are too polished, too commercial for afficianados, but they have at least put in the hours, the years and decades, trawling the pub scene for a few quid to make ends meet, before they achieved a measure of success.

Some of them are about ruin, Mr Ishmael, right up your street. Try 'Roots'.

I am of course making the galloping assumption that you are not familiar with them.

*adopts brace position*


call me ishmael said...

No, never heard of them but the English, in fact the British folk scene is huge. I'll take a look. Isn't Youtube wonderful, miraculous? JUst a few years back you would've had to send me a hard copy.

Anonymous said...

Yes, Mr Ishmael, youtube is very handy, but it is a two-edged sword.

Sensible people like to use it sensibly. To idiot children like my offspring it appears more addictive than crack and just as destructive to the mind, along with twitter and facebook, which should be banned, imho.

Galway Farmer is another great one from S of H.. The Blind Fiddler is one of my favourites.

The Dive is just brilliant. A masterpiece of song writing. If you only get time to listen to one, please listen to this one.


the noblest prospect said...

You're right of course, Mr Smith, the album version is by far the better.

Bought Mr Martyn a pint at the St Andrews' Student Union in 1978. Bought him a few down the years thereafter but then, so did everyone else.

call me ishmael said...

Yes, me too, mr tnp, around 78.

Yes, nice enough, mr vincent, show of hands, tgey, too, I guess, better on album than interacting with a load of boozers; an unusual sound, that, I'll listen to some more.

Mark said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
call me ishmael said...

Sorry, mr mnark, pressed the wrong button and deleted your post in error. it was to the effect that you were disappointed that I had, back-to-back, criticosed John Martyn and praised Owen Jones.

I criticised Martyn in the critical sense - that of a supporter of his art form, I think I said he was part-gabshite and part-geniue. If you look at the final documantary made while he was alive then, like me, you would shudder at the former and weep for the loss of the latter.

As for Jonesy, it was a piece of conversation, really, started off in one place and wound-up, after the comments, somewhere else entirely. That's why I write these commentaries, I hope that they mean a little more than just their words.