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Chris Bartram : Yorkie

1. Banks of the Sweet Primroses
2. Marrowbones
3. The Yorkshire Horse Dealer
4. Jealousy [Poison in a Glass of Wine]
5. Abergronw
6. Lord Bateman
7. Take this Yellow Handkerchief
8. The Crocodile
9. I am John the Farmer/My Father was a Farmer
10. Ben was a Hackney Coachman Rare
11. Three Yorkshiremen went Hunting
12. The Ruffian Robber
13. Fare thee well, My Dearest Dear
14. The Bailiff’s Daughter of Heslington
15. The Death of Poor Bill Brown
16. A Jolly Sixpence

Chris Bartram

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Review by Rod Stradling

I had been looking forward to the release of Chris's solo CD for a good long time ... in fact, ever since I realised what a great singer he is. This realisation can take a while to develop: as he says at the start of the booklet notes 'Some people say I act the fool too much to be taken seriously - I play scrub-board in traditional sessions; I sing my own versions of dearly-loved old songs; I love puns and malapropisms; I wear unfolky shirts with bright colours and wild patterns - but my friends know it's just a facade. Secretly, I am very serious indeed about traditional English music'.

It's a mark of his seriousness that he considers exactly what and how he sings (and is willing to discuss it) more than any other singer I know. His day-job is all about 'people skills', and he puts these skills to the service of the songs; deciding exactly how lines should be phrased, which words to use, to achieve the effect he requires. This is done quite naturally and instinctively, and the process is not in any way academic - but the fact that he takes the trouble to do it says a lot about his ability to hold an audience's attention so effectively.

I well remember him coming to me and enthusing about a phrase I use in my version of You Seamen Bold - 'Casting out lots as to which should die'. I assumed I'd taken it from one of the several versions I'd used in the construction of my song, but it appears not. Obviously, I'd got it from somewhere else, and used it without realising it. The point is that Chris saw the dramatic effect of lots being hurled out at hapless crew members, 'til one receives the fateful blow ... which I had not. He also sees the humorous effects of things - like his brilliant line '... my ship is a tanker (long pause) my ship is at anchor ...'

Not only does he take care with the words he sings, he also modifies the tunes he uses - so that none of the 'dearly-loved old songs' in the listing above will be quite what you've heard before - and uses melodic variation freely throughout his performances.

No song exemplifies his skills and talent more readily than the version of Lord Bateman found here. Chris got this from his mother, Margaret, but all that she could remember were odd parts of seven verses - some 14 broken lines in all - and a tune. From this slender stock he has produced a wonderful short ballad, with a tune with about four different major melodic variations - all of which are to die for.

Another favourite of mine is Fare thee Well My Dearest Dear, the words of which haven't been too much altered from the Penguin version, although a telling final verse has been added. However, the splendid tune seems to be very much Chris's own.

I won't go on any more about what a great CD this is - buy it (from www.agpstudio.co.uk) and find out for yourselves. But I really must say how much pleasure it gives me that records like this are being made in the 21st century - only five years ago I wouldn't have believed it possible.

Rod Stradling - www.mustrad.org.uk - 31.7.05

Review by Derek Schofield, Editor of the English Folk Dance and Song Society magazine 'English Dance and Song'

With the recent deaths of Fred Jordan and Bob Copper, it could be argued that there are no more English traditional Singers left. Perhaps, then, it is time to re-cast our definition of the word 'traditional' in the context of still-living singers. Living Tradition magazine, largely based in Scotland, has recently used the term 'tradition bearers' to refer to 'singers who are genuinely carrying on a tradition. Singing in a traditional style does not mean a slavish copy'. In Scotland and Ireland, there are singers who are part of the revival but who also have links to the older tradition: singers such as Roisin White and Rosie Stewart in Ireland and Alison McMorland and Ellen Mitchell in Scotland. So what about England? Singers such as Will Noble and John Cocking clearly fit into that model. And here, I think, is another. Chris Bartram - nickname Yorkie to avoid confusion with the fiddle player of the same name - comes, as that nickname suggests, from Yorkshire, but is now settled in Shropshire. Here he has assembled a fine collection of traditional songs, including some less well-known versions, all sung unaccompanied: ‘The Yorkshire Horse Dealer'. 'Lord Bateman' and ‘Marrowbones' for example. There may be an argument for this to have been a live recording, with an audience to provide the choruses and atmosphere, but the CD works fine as a studio recording. It's a pity that the sleeve notes do not give more details of the songs, but instead Chris writes passionately of his love for the songs. Derek Schofield: EDS (English Dance and Song), the magazine of the EFDSS

Review by Paul Burgess from Shreds and Patches

During the summer festivals, I have had the opportunity of seeing and hearing many young musicians who were either taking or had graduated from the Folk-music course at Newcastle University. With a few shining exceptions, I was appalled at their lack of knowledge or interest in the background of the material they were performing. They seemed to feel it was there purely to have complicated backings added to show off their instrumental technique (which was, indeed, astonishing) and to get high-profile festival bookings. This CD should be made compulsory listening on the course and the students made to memorise and understand the two pages of sleeve notes which accompany it.

Although Chris "Yorkie" Bartram is a familiar face in Shropshire he is not a headline act at Festivals - or indeed Folk Clubs. However, he is an excellent singer and has produced an album which exemplifies all that is best in the English tradition, an album of gentle delight, of variety, humour and passion which will still be regularly played and enjoyed when the high-budget releases of the latest whizz-kids have long been consigned to the remainder bins.

Wisely, but bravely, eschewing accompaniment, he gives an object-lesson in how to construct an album of songs. Although his baritone voice is a very fine instrument, it is not one which immediately makes the listener say "wow!" - and all the better for that, as the listener is not distracted from the most important thing - the song. And with this singer pouring all his considerable skill into presenting the material in its best possible light, ballads like Lord Bateman rub shoulders with lighter material (Abergronw), sung stories (Bill Brown) with silliness (The Crocodile), well-known songs (Sweet Primroses) with rarer items (Ben Was A Hackney Coachman Rare), all of which adds up to an extremely satisfying whole. Thoroughly recommended.

Paul Burgess