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Gerald Porter: SIMPLY ENGLISH Jolly Rogues Together

September 7, 2000


edsa2000Most of us have got used to the idea that the recordings we buy are not available in the shops but have to be supplied from someone's garden shed. The present cassette is a good example. Simply English is a duo based in Hungary, where they have been actively performing for some years. They actively record material trawled up by the lead singer Andy Rouse, first from his childhood in Somerset, and now increasingly from his own research. Their first CD was A Story So Merry, and now they have produced a CD of Christmas songs and this cassette Jolly Rogues Together in quick succession. Although Simply Engliush is a duo, there is a good mix and variation of instruments, mostly played by the other member of the duo, Fenyvesi Béla. By singing two scurrilous songs from D'Urfey's Wit and Mirth (always referred to by its subtitle Pills to Purge Melancholy) in the style of the salons they were written for, with flute and chamber arrangements, they make the elaborate sexual metaphors seem like a subversive intrusion from another world, which they were. Although about half the tracks are unaccompanied, Andy Rouse's voice, and the melodies he has chosen (or in one case composed) are never monotonous. He uses multi-tracking of his voice to add harmonies to Tommy Armstrong's 'Stanley Market' (very effective) and, less successfully in my opinion, a whole shanty crew in 'So Early in the Morning.'

It used to be said of Cisco Houston that his voice was too good, and this could almost be said of Rouse, except that he constantly guys it by using an instrument or a setting that turns the song to humour. This is best seen in 'The Lock-Out' (from Roy Palmer's A Touch on the Times, a book overdue for reissue), where a farmer's dire treatment of his labourers is rendered as a hymn with organ accompaniment. By singing against the grain of the words in this way he makes an acid commentary on the farmer's mock-piety.

One or two of the fifteen songs are folk club standards - we might have been spared another version of 'Byker Hill' - but he has also made some great finds. Rouse has added the melody which the fifteenth century lyric 'Bring us in Good Ale' was crying out for. It would work well as a round. As he comments, it 'provides us with a remarkable insight into the medieval diet.' 'Bilberry Town', coupled with the morris tune 'Ring of Bells', was new to me and makes a magical start to the second side. It is also the only track where extra musicians have been brought in, adding an accordion, Celtic harp and mouth music.

Finally, Simply English have solved one of the problems of cassettes - impossibility of including the lyrics in a cramped liner - by supplying them on their website ( It is only there that we find that the song billed as 'Lilliburlero' is not actually the Orange taunt of that name but 'The Farmer's Curst Wife' sung to that tune. Otherwise no complaints: this is an excellent recording very well produced.

Gerald Porter

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