‘The Square & Compass’ by G.F. Philips with music from John Bushby

(December 15, 2015)

Take a collection of poems, give them to a musician and commit the product to an album. There is always a chance the result could be something of a mongrel … no chance of that when you combine the narrative bucolic poetry of G.F. Philips with the musical compositions of folksong John Bushby, because The Square & Compass:  A Folksong Cycle for St Mary’s Island and Its Surrounds, North Tyneside’ (to give it its full title) is an engaging and absorbing the square and compass 001piece of English folk.

The sixteen songs run through history to follow the compass point from North, North East and back to North to record the history of St Mary’s Island and the adjacent lands. Inspired by a rich vein of sources, Philips has taken stories from the 16th to the 21st century that run the gamut from gallows humour to shipping disasters, through home evictions and dedicated drinking to pirates and smugglers … all classic folk music fare. The navigation begins in 1722 with ‘Haul In The Brandy’, moves to 1739 and the history of Michael Curry and ‘Last Drop Of Ale’, towards 1861 telling of shipwrecks with ‘The Lovely Nellie/ The Cullercoats Fishwives’ and an archetypical drinking tale from 1862 about being stuck in a pub, ‘The Lock In Song’. Bringing the tone closer to home comes ‘Dodging Bullets’ and ‘We’re Fair Game’ before the gentle ‘The Stepping Stones’ from 1920 and ‘The Night Of The Hampden Bomber’ tells its sad tale from 1940. Throughout this album Bushby’s warm vocals and subtle melodies breathe life into the words.

Joining John Bushby (vocals, guitar, mandolin, ukelele, bouzouki, whistles, Scottish smallpipes, Uilleann pipes, percussion) are Malcolm Bushby (fiddle) Caroline Bushby (clarsach) and Rosie Lindsay (piano) together they make ‘The Square & Compass:  A Folksong Cycle for St Mary’s Island and Its Surrounds, North Tyneside’ a project you should listen to. Find the CD and booklet here:

Review: Charlie Elland

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