An occasional series on buried treasure for the ears
The memory haunts me still. 1979, a Friday evening, at The General Elliot in South Hinksey — a folk club that, in the few years I loitered there, foster-parented Jumpleads, Magpie Lane, The Mellstock Band, and Edward II.
The guests that night were Pete and Chris Coe, with records for sale: Game of All Fours, plus the only album by Bandoggs. I yearned for both but, poor impoverished student saving funds for beer, could permit myself only one.
Tense moment as the raffle’s drawn . . . and nobody claims the winning ticket. In the bar? In the toilet? Who knows, who cares.
‘Draw it again,’ I cried. And they did. And I won. And snaffled two albums for the price of one and a 10p raffle ticket.
And I lie awake o’ nights, wracked with guilt at depriving someone — who, I’ll never know — of the joy of owning this marvellous thing.
Bandoggs were an authentic folk supergroup: Pete and Chris, with Nic Jones and Tony Rose. No coincidence that the three surviving members are all EFDSS Gold Badge holders, and we can be certain-sure that Tony Rose would have one, too, had he not died far too young in ’02. Like all the best supergroups, they recorded one album, toured briefly and broke up — largely from the pre-internet impossibility of co-ordinating the logistics of busy musicians based across three of Englands’s four corners.
Listening afresh, I’m struck by how perfectly it’s balanced; a genuinely ensemble piece, a band working together. Vocally no-one dominates. Each singer’s strong enough to lead, but the harmonies are tight, rich and close.
Instrumentally it’s varied but melds beautifully: strings (guitar, bouzouki, fiddle); reeds (concertina, melodeon, mouth organ); with occasional piano and harmonium, and John Adams adding guest trombone. But the listener probably homes in on two sounds: Pete’s driving squeezeboxes, and the happy jangle of Chris’s hammered dulcimer.
And the arrangements fuse songs and tune sets together — as in the opening Tailor in the tea chest, the familiar story of a randy tailor inadvertently press-ganged aboard ship, which segues into a pair of polkas Astley’s ride and Up and away. It’s an approach Pete would take into Red Shift, an equally super group, ten years later.
The material’s so strong that’s it’s almost unfair to pick highlights, but one is the set that makes up the last track on side two: Adam was a poacher (for its angular tune and rich harmonies); Hares in the old plantation; Hares and braces (which lollops most catchily) and Hunt the Hare.
But there is one absolute stand-out: The rose of Allendale, from the singing of the Copper family, led by Nic at the height of his powers. It’s a parlour ballad from the 1830s, a florid, even sentimental, song, but the treatment is restrained. By adding only concertina and chorus harmony to Nic’s vocal and his rolling guitar, it strikes just the right understated notes of loss and regret.
The album’s long been unavailable and may well never be released again — but it’s on YouTube. So whoever it was whose copy I usurped forty years ago can at least know what they’ve been missing.