Saturday, 1 April 2017

"Dandelion Albums And BBC Collection" by BRIDGET ST. JOHN [feat John Martyn, Ric Sanders and John Peel] (2015 Cherry Red 4CD Box of Remasters) - A Review by Mark Barry...

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"…The Lady And The Gentle Man…"

Despite its flaws - I'm already thinking this is an early contender for Reissue Of The Year, 2015.

UK folky Bridget St. John made three albums for John Peel's Dandelion Records while only in her early twenties with one further record on Chrysalis in 1974 ("Jumble Queen"). This gorgeous little 5" square box set from Cherry Red of the UK offers up those the three Dandelion albums - "Ask Me No Questions" (1969), "Songs For The Gentle Man" (1971) and "Thank You For..." (1972) - with "Ask" and "Thank You" in expanded form ("Song" is just the 12-track album). 

There's also a fourth 19-track CD called "Live At The BBC (1968-1972)" (released I believe in 2010) which is in rough shape in some places it has to be said. The studio albums also include John Martyn, Andy Roberts, members of Quiver, Fairport Convention and The Occasional Word Ensemble. The BBC disc has three Kevin Ayers live duets - albeit in very crude form...

Eagle-eyed collectors will notice that these three albums have already been reissued by Cherry Red Records in late 2005 (so those remasters are used here) and the BBC disc (copyrighted 2010) is new. Cherry Red has simply put the albums into three single card sleeve Repros covers (no gatefolds unfortunately but lovely to look at nonetheless) sided with the BBC live disc (itself in unique card artwork). They've all been given a fact-filled/picture-strewn 12-paged booklet to round it all off. It's a properly lovely thing to behold and especially to listen to. And a nice touch is that each of the CDs reflects the differing label designs on the original LPs for the period while the BBC CD looks like a Tape Box. Here are the Folky shaggy dog details...

UK released February 2015 (March 2015 in the USA) - "Dandelion Albums And BBC Collection" by BRIDGET ST. JOHN on Cherry Red CRCDMBOX17 (Barcode 5013929101708) is a 4CD Mini Box Set with Card Repro Sleeves & Booklet that breaks down as follows:

Disc 1 - "Ask Me No Questions" (51:52 minutes):
1. To B Without A Hitch
2. Autumn Lullaby
3. Curl Your Toes
4. Like Never Before
5. The Curious Crystals Of Unusual Purity
6. Barefoot And Hot Pavements
7. I Like To Be With You In The Sun [Side 2]
8. Lizard-Long-Tongue Boy
9. Hello Again (Of Course)
10. Many Happy Returns
11. Broken Faith
12. Ask Me No Questions
Tracks 1 to 12 are her debut album "Ask Me No Questions" - Produced by JOHN PEEL - it was released September 1969 in the UK on Dandelion Records S 63750 and in the USA on Elektra D9-101. John Martyn plays Second Guitar on both "Curl You Toes" and "Ask Me No Questions" - Ric Sanders of The Occasional Word Ensemble (and later Fairport Convention) plays Second Guitar on both "Lizard-Long-Tongue Boy" and "Many Happy Returns". All songs are Bridget St. John originals.
13. Suzanne
14. The Road Was Lonely
Track 13 is a non-album track cover version of the Leonard Cohen classic. It's the first B-side to "There's A Place I Know" - a 1972 UK 3-track Maxi 7" Single on Dandelion/Polydor 2001 280. The second B-side is "Passin' Thru" - both it and the A-side are bonus tracks on the "Thank You For..." expanded CD.
Track 14 is a non-album B-side to "Passin' Thru" - released 1973 in the UK as a 7" single on MCA Records MUS 1203

Disc 2 - "Songs For The Gentle Man" (36:13 minutes):
1. A Day A Way
2. City-Crazy
3. Early-Morning Song
4. Back To Stay
5. Seagull-Sunday
6. If You'd Been There
7. Song For The Laird Of Connaught Hall Part 2 [Side 2]
8. Making Losing Better
9. The Lady And The Gentle Man
10. Downderry Daze
11. The Pebble And The Man
12. It Seems Very Strange
Tracks 1 to 12 are her second album "Songs For The Gentle Man" - Produced by RON GEESIN (of Pink Floyd fame) - it was released in the UK February 1971 on Dandelion Records S DAN 8007 and in the USA on Elektra EKS-74104. "Back To Stay" and "The Pebble And The Man" are John Martyn and Donovan cover versions respectively - "Seagull-Sunday" is co-written with Nigel Beresford - all other songs are Bridget St. John originals.

Disc 3 - "Thank You For..." (76:15 minutes):
1. Nice
2. Thank You For...
3. Lazarus
4. Good Baby Goodbye
5. Love Minus Zero, No Limit
6. Silver Coin
7. Happy day
8. Fly High
9. To Leave Your Cover
10. Every Day
11. A Song Is As Long As It Wants To Be
Tracks 1 to 11 are her 3rd album "Thank You For..." - Produced by JERRY BOYS - it was released June 1972 in the UK on Dandelion/Polydor 2310 193 (No US release). "Lazarus" is a Traditional arranged by St. John, "Goodbye Baby Goodbye" is written by Nick Beresford, "Love Minus Zero, No Limit" is a Bob Dylan cover, "Every Day" is a Buddy Holly cover, "Silver Coin" is written by Terry Hiscock of Hunter Muskett - all others are Bridget St. John originals.

12. Passin' Thru
13. There's A Place I Know
14. Nice (Live)
15. Silver Coin (Live)
16. Fly High (Live)
17. Lazarus (Live)
18. The River (Live)
19. Thank You For... (Live)
20. Ask Me No Questions (Live)
21. If You've Got Money (Live)

Disc 4 - "Bridget St. John At The BBC/Live At The BBC (1968-1972)" (59:42 minutes):
NIGHT RIDE SESSION, recorded and broadcast 28 August 1968
1. To B Without A Hitch
2. Ask me No Questions
3. Many Happy Returns
4. Hello Again (Of Course)
5. Rochefort
6. Lizard-Long-Tongue Boy
TOP GEAR SESSION, recorded and broadcast 24 August 1969
7. The River
8. Song To Keep You Company
9. Night In The City
10. Lazarus
11. Curl Your Toes
BOB HARRIS SESSION, recorded and broadcast 25 April 1972
12. Thank You For...
IN CONCERT, recorded 31 January 1972
13. Leaves Of Lime
14. City Crazy
15. The Pebble And The Man
16. Back To Stay
17. Song For The Laird Of Connaught Hall Part Two
18. Jolie Madame
19. The Spider And The Fly

Musically - her gut-string guitar-picking sounds like Nick Drake on his debut "Five Leaves Left" and her voice is deep and dark like a more sombre version of Sandy Denny. Most of the arrangements are just St. John and her guitar - very quiet, pretty folk songs. The mood isn't dark either, more reflective than that - the songs often sound like the countryside although she's from a capitol city. If I were to nitpick, I'd say the lyrics are sometimes weighed down with too many hippy-dippy ponderings about nature and 'buttercup sandwiches' that may sound twee to some ears now...others, however, will feel they are very much part of the music's charm.

Two notable contributors on the debut are JOHN MARTYN on "Curl Your Toes" and the stunning album title track "Ask Me No Questions" where he plays second guitar on both (no vocals unfortunately). There's also second guitar from Ric Sanders on "Lizard-Long-Tongue Boy" and "Many Happy Returns" (on which he also plays some wonderful Bottleneck Guitar).

Highlights include the forgiving relationship song "Broken Faith" (lyrics are the title of this review), the sweet "Barefeet And Hot Pavements" and Martyn's subtle backing on "Curl Your Toes". But the best is kept until last - the near eight-minute folk work out that is the album's title track - "Ask Me No Questions". The song's lovely guitar refrain fades into bird song and bells about three minutes in - only to come back again to the lilting music to great effect. It's still moving - 40 years after the event.

Recorded in December 1970 - the second album was released in February 1971 and saw a massive improvement in Production values courtesy of Ron Geesin fresh from knob twiddling on Pink Floyd's "Atom Heart Mother" in 1970. It also saw St. John settle down into an English pastoral vibe that suited her and her plaintive songs completely. If you take a tune as simple as "If You'd Been There" which is just her voice and guitars - it's gorgeous - a beautifully delicate and simple song given the audio quality it deserves. The two-minute "Early-Morning Song" is the same - exquisite in its simplicity with cleverly treated guitar sounds swirling in and out of the mix (what a sweetheart of a tune). Her cover of John Martyn's "Back To Stay" (from his October 1967 "London Conversation" album on Island Records) is the same - beautifully soulful Folk in that Nick Drake English countryside/pastoral Nico kind of way. And the "ba rump pa bum bum" vocal gymnastics on the Donovan cover "The Pebble And The Man" by a group of choral singers is genius and a very clever reworking of the song.

Album three has a lot of outside musician involvement - her cover of Dylan's "Love Minus Zero, No Limit" features Tim Renwick of Quiver on Guitar with Dave Mattacks of Fairport Convention on Drums. In fact Renwick along with other Quiver members - Bruce Thomas on Bass and Willie John Wilson on Drums - also turn up on the gorgeous "Happy Day" (an album highlight) and an ill-advised cover of Buddy Holly's "Every Day" that just doesn't work. Another absolute highlight is her very John Martyn influenced "To Leave Your Cover" which features Andy Roberts on String Organ. The mighty Scot (John Martyn) plays his trademark treated electric guitar on the single "Fly High" while the pretty piano on "Goodbaby Goodbye" makes for a nice change from the guitars (Electric Bass by Ian Whiteman). It ends on the short 1:11 minutes of "A Song Is As Long As It Wants To Go On" - her voice sounding like she's moved in permanently with Nico and family.

The live stuff on Disc 3 is excellent - introduced by a Frenchman trying his utmost to convince a meek Folk crowd (in both French and English intros) that they should listen up because our Bridget is Joan Baez and Joni Mitchell combined. But as she launches into an acoustic "Nice" and a delicate version of the Hunter Muskett song "Silver Coin" - she again sounds like a female Leonard Cohen (in a good way). The audio quality is uniformly superb throughout - real clarity on "Fly High" - and by the time she gets to the John Martyn cover of "The River" - she's won the day and the audience.

The BBC stuff is a very mixed bag indeed - not from a song-quality point of view - but from the audio front. The liner notes admit that the tapes have long since disappeared into history and the tracks are 'dubbed from best available sources'. In the case of "The Pebble And The Man" - if this is their 'best source' - I'd hate to hear a bad one. Covered in crackle and hiss - it resembles a passable bootleg at best. The first six are the same unfortunately and it's not until you get to "The River" (the Top Gear Session from 24 August 1969) do you get great sound quality. Her cover of Joni Mitchell's "Night In The City" is a definite highlight - lovely acoustic work and echoed vocals - eerily good. The rest of it is again merely bootleg and in the case of the final three - "Song For The Laird Of Connaught Hall Part Two", "Jolie Madame" and "The Spider And The Fly" - which excitingly have KEVIN AYERS on duet vocals and guitars - they're barely listenable but included for historic reasons.

So there you have it - three superb albums (number two a stone masterpiece) - with nice extras - and a curio BBC disc tagged on for good measure. Despite the let down of those flawed transfers on Disc 4 - it still feels to me like a huge release and one that deserves your attention.

As lovely as English Folk gets - Bridget St. John is a discovery you want to make. Well done to all involved at Cherry Red for getting this out there...

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