Ten Thousand Times Adieu review – beautiful old songs sung with love

Cecil Sharp House, London
‘Bobstock’, in honour of the folk singer Bob Copper, assembled a fine and exciting lineup featuring Shirley Collins, Linda Thompson, Robin Dransfield and Martin Carthy

It’s nearly 11 years since Bob Copper died, four days after receiving the MBE at Buckingham Palace, but with a new generation revelling in his legacy, his role as English folk song’s genial and unwitting patriarch has never been more cherished. Much of the revered treasure chest of traditional song lovingly preserved by his Sussex family for more than 200 years was refreshingly reinvented during an ambitious event – dubbed Bobstock – marking the centenary of his birth.

“Keeping a toehold on the past adds another dimension to the present and the future,” Copper said in one of the documentary films preceding the big evening concert, and the strands connecting “the authentic voice of ordinary people”, as Billy Bragg called the Copper family, with modern times were joyously underlined every time the nine-strong present incumbents of that family tradition stepped on stage. The link even extended to their trademark tuning forks, trusty songbooks and self-mocking humour, emphasising the irrelevance of vocal perfection when beautiful old songs with an historic role in rural local communities are sung with love and conviction.

At the evening concert, nostalgia blended with youth and modernity. Rabbits out of the hat were Shirley Collins and Linda Thompson, overcoming the dysphonia that has effectively kept them both off stage for decades, to remind us of Bob’s adoration of blues with an enjoyably ramshackle The Soul of a Man. Other blasts from the past included an Oak reunion (Peta Webb still singing with spine-tingling beauty); Robin Dransfield ably performing Spencer the Rover with his sons; Heather Wood reviving the spirit of Young Tradition with Jon Boden, Fay Hield and Neil McSweeney, and Martin Carthy singing unaccompanied with old Steeleye compadres Maddy Prior and Rick Kemp.

Fay Hield
The spirit of Young Tradition … Fay Hield. Photograph: pr

Most excitingly, though, were the profferings of a different generation. Instrumentalists Spiro compiled a mesmerising suite of Copper tunes; Stick in the Wheel produced an inspirationally abrasive Hard Times of Old England; and the collaboration between Lisa Knapp, Olivia Chaney and Nancy Wallace is far too wondrous to be confined to a one-off appearance. Bob would have loved it.


Colin Irwin

The GuardianTramp

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