Just in case you thought we'd only shown you the best bits - here is conclusive proof....
"Notts Alliance describe themselves as "an unaccompanied harmony group with materials from the folk tradition and thereabouts", having first met up as solo performers at the famous Nottingham Traditional Music Club in the 70s and 80s, eventually becoming the club's resident group.
This new CD by the four-man team puts them up there with the likes of Coope, Boyes and Simpson - it's that good! The production by John Adams is top notch, too, and a special mention must go to the sound engineer, Matt Bernard, who manages to capture the group's "live" sound perfectly. They could almost be there with you in your own front room.
the singing though, by Sid Long, Chris Orme, Phil Hardcastle and Stephen
Bailey, which is so outstanding, helped by a wonderfully eclectic choice
of materal. In addition to four traditional titles, Notts Alliance
draw on the acknowledged songwriting talents of Pete Morton, Les Barker,
John Tams, Jim Woodland, Billy Bragg, Michael Marra, Maggie Holland,
Ewan McColl, Alex Glasgow and others which is slightly ironic when
one remembers that the Nottingham Traditional Music Club once had a
fierce reputation for not allowing anyone to sing non-traditional
According to the sleeve notes: "This CD has no theme. It consists of an eclectic mixture of songs, ranging from the traditional through social comment to the downright silly, with the occasional unashamed love song thrown in. They have only one thing in common - we enjoy singing them." There could not be a better way to describe this CD. Perhaps they should have done their own review. To name a few, they chose songs from Jim Woodland, Cyril Tawney, John Tams, Pete Morton, Maggie Holland and Les Barker, and all performed with their relaxed style. Longs years of singing together shows in their ease and comfort with each other, nothing scary or on the edge, but good steady reliable harmony singing. They vary some tracks with single voice intros but on the whole it's four part harmony throughout.
I did enjoy this CD, the songs are all well known and it's a CD you can sing along with. 18 tracks of good value for money and worth adding to anyone's collection.
Just one minor point, the track information on the sleeve notes has
been printed incorrectly, tracks 1-8 being on pages 5 & 6 and tracks
9-18 on pages 1-2, otherwise it's clearly written and well presented.
A small prize awaits Jenny for noticing the printing error.
"Notts Alliance is a four-piece which comprises Sid Long, Chris Orme, Phil Hardcastle and Stephen Bailey; its curious and perhaps confusing history is tantalisingly hinted at, with typically quirky humour, in the pithy insert note. Suffice to say that Notts’ current artistic policy is of only singing songs which they like—perfectly sound, that! And nowadays they perform totally unaccompanied. Thus, this CD consists of “an eclectic mixture of songs, ranging from the traditional through social comment to the downright silly, with the occasional unashamed love song thrown in”.
They choose songs with good strong tunes which will tolerate their “idiosyncratic approach to harmony singing”; well- written songs that can get a point across without preaching. Hence two each from the pens of Maggie Holland, Pete Morton and Ewan MacColl, one each by Jim Woodland, Michael Marra, Cyril Tawney, Alex Glasgow, John Tams, and two of the best of Les Barker’s parodies.
So, what you’ll be wondering is—does the Notts Alliance approach stand up to fifty-odd minutes of home listening? Well, there’s no doubting the strength of their individual and collective voices, even if some of the harmonic shifts are indeed startling and possibly unsettling (on first hearing, at certain points on the opening track, for instance, I wondered if they’d used the wrong take!)—although you do get used to their style and get to almost anticipate the strange twists and turns within the harmonies after a while. It’s not always a pretty sound, though, and occasionally the melody line (and its particular raison-d’être) is lost entirely in the adventuresome harmonic trials. And on several of the songs the impact of the lyrics is compromised by a metrical four-squareness in delivery.
while it’s not the formidable wall-of-sound of the Wilson Family,
or the more structured, stentorian and yes, cultured thrust of C,B&S,
Notts Alliance’s rather particular brand of drive can’t be
ignored, and, if you appreciate the idiom of unaccompanied singing being
stretched intuitively over a wide span of interesting repertoire, then
you’re likely to find much to enjoy in this release."
Here is a group name that’s been around for a long time but the current line-up has not. It says in the sleeve notes “Notts Alliance was formed by coincidence when four people accidentally sang the same song simultaneously. At that time, which was in the past, Notts Alliance was in fact four completely different people.” So – be warned – you may think you’ve seen them in the past but you may not have seen these four.
Their choice of material is eclectic and eccentric but includes some wonderful songs written by such worthies as Maggie Holland, Jim Woodland, Pete Morton and Ewan MacColl alongside that astoundingly prolific writer “Trad” and his almost equally prolific collaborator, Les Barker. The subjects range from The Terror Time to All the Hard Cheese of Old England. Most of the songs are quite familiar from the performances of better known groups or the authors who are still to be seen at various festivals. There are some less common songs by “Trad” such as Moreton Bay and The Bloody Gardner (sic) but it is the juxtaposition of old and new; funny and angry; happy and sad that makes the CD interesting and different. There is just one song that is completely new to me called Beefheart and Bones about the dividing of the record collection after the breakup of what has clearly been a longstanding relationship. It is a superbly witty – and strangely touching – piece by Michael Marra. “He gets the Beefheart; she gets the Stones. They’re willing to fight through every court in the land for the Hearts and Bones. They split the Motown, she sheds a tear…”
The singing is clear and tuneful
with precise diction and some very pleasant harmonies. Unfortunately,
at times the desire to have four different
notes distracts from the emotional dynamics of the lyrics. In particular,
funny songs such as Everything Glows lose some of their edge. Nevertheless,
this CD will appeal to anyone that likes good harmony singing. I would
place them somewhere between Coope, Boyes and Simpson and an English
Barbershop style. The CD is very well produced (by John Adams) and would
make a perfect memento of their repertoire. Watch out for them performing
live and buy it afterwards to remember what I’m sure you would
find has been a very enjoyable concert.
Photos by Andy Basford: www.ursamajor.co.uk