John Kirkpatrick: Coat-tails Flying
Fledg’ling – 22 September 2017
John Kirkpatrick’s one of those irrepressible artists who seems to have been around the English folk scene forever, and over the past four decades his presence has graced many prime outfits, from the Albion Band, Steeleye Span and Band Of Hope to Brass Monkey and now Home Service (whose ranks he joined just last year), as well as making countless appearances on other folks’ albums. But his career as a solo performer has flourished in parallel throughout, with an award-winning CV highlighting his status as one of the most entertaining all-rounders on the circuit, with a nigh unrivalled musicianship and a seriously tireless energy quotient.
Alongside consistently memorable live gigs, this ultra-prolific gentleman has to date given us a stunning succession of album releases, of which the last eleven (including two by his own JK Band) have appeared on the magnificent Fledg’ling label. Several of these have embraced a specific theme: farming, Christmas, songs from Shropshire, and the last one was autumn 2015’s Tunes From The Trenches.
It’s therefore mildly surprising, perhaps, that the latest, Coat-Tails Flying, doesn’t “strictly” (dare I use that word?!) match its evocative cover portrait of a ballroom dancing couple. But even so, you’ll quickly observe, the spirit of dance – which has always formed an integral part of (nay, permeated) John’s music-making – is present and correct throughout the whole CD in some guise or other. The disc contains only two purely instrumental items – a pair of wonderfully nifty self-penned morris tunes and a gloriously jaunty military march (Kenneth J. Alford’s sprightly, shipshape On The Quarter Deck) – and both are infused with the acute sense of correct rhythmic pulse (strict-tempo with bells, bounce and swing!) that characterises any John Kirkpatrick performance, and is fair guaranteed to get those feet tapping.
As is the case with the majority of the disc’s dozen songs (for even those of a slower pace are models of precise intonation and lack nothing in rhythmic impetus). The trademark Kirkpatrick ebullience and vigour is to be found in abundance on the more animated selections, from self-penned (The Middle Of The World, a catchy number written for singing in primary school classroom, and Ranging The Woods, a cocky bird’s-eye view of courtship) to vintage Victoriana (the terpsichorean-themed See Me Dance The Polka). Traditional song is represented by The Hi Ho Hare (a self-expanded version of a song learnt from the singing of Irish singer Geordie Hanna), the charming The Captain With The Whiskers (learnt from the singing of Shirley Collins) and the rumbustious (or should that be “bumrustious”?) Bum She Addity (a superb slice of naughty nonsense), and finally a real oddity, the wordy accumulative-song The House That Jack Built, which is accompanied by a prattling panoply of palpitating percussion. But there’s no slacking of rhythmic vigour, even on those songs of a more measured gait – witness the extraordinary pulsating accompaniment of Sing A Full Song (a revisit of the heartrending original composition first aired on 1984’s Three In A Row album) and the more delicate backdrop to My Soul Is Drowned In Sorrow, a beautiful old Icelandic hymn in the Phrygian mode. And the disc’s supremely stylish dance-floor finale, a jubilant take on the universal standard Blue Moon.
John’s note to the latter song tells us that it both occasioned, and now celebrates the beginning of, a new, far happier phase in his personal fortunes; this news will certainly gladden the heart of the listener. And yet the note to Blue Moon proves typical of every entry in the enclosed booklet – an appealing and readable blend of scholarly and refreshingly detailed erudition and candid personal reminiscence and gloriously opinionated commentary (replete with air-punching moments such as the discovery that John and I are confirmed, incurable fellow-ludophobes!). John’s booklet-writing is as skilful as his songwriting, with its relish in wordplay and delightful turns of phrase allied to his communicative sincerity. The booklet is just one element of the attractive state-of-the-art Fledg’ling house-standard packaging.
Coat-tails Flying is nothing less than a definitively signature solo album from the good Mr. K, on which he’s in splendid voice (robust and upfront) and both nimble and sparky in his perennially expert squeezeboxery (button accordion, treble and bass Anglo concertinas and custom-built two-row melodeon). The disc gives superlative value-for-money, not just in its full hour’s-worth of music but also in that although nominally and truthfully a solo record (in that John plays and sings every note of it) we get a number of Johns for the price of one. For instance, on some tracks John indulges in some selective double-tracking including chorus and other additional vocal parts, the latter occasionally feeling a touch overloaded, although inventively managed and obviously great fun in the studio. But then again, not a note or opportunity is wasted.
If there are any listeners who might harbour the thought that the presentation of “one man and his box” would by now be sounding a touch tired, then this thoroughly refreshing new John Kirkpatrick album should convince them otherwise. It may appear to be a further presentation of the “everyman’s guide to John Kirkpatrick”, in that it embodies something of a “mixture as before” formula, but this mixture is stirring: stirred and always well shaken to provide the most effective and entertaining and balanced result.
Out Now via Fledg’ling Records
Visit John’s website for details of his upcoming gigs, of which there are many: http://www.johnkirkpatrick.co.uk