Steve Ashley,
Speedy Return
(1975; Market Square, 2003)

This a very welcome reissue of an album from 1975. Steve Ashley was a major writer-performer in those heady days of the folk revival and the folk-rock era. In fact, looking at the credits on this CD I was amazed to find the roll call of performers including Dave Mattaks and Dave Pegg, and one Maddy Prior credited on spoons.

All the tracks here are from the pen of Steve Ashley and although written almost three decades ago, they still sound fresh, relevant and thought-provoking.

His style is poetry set to music. Many of the lyrics would stand up in a book of verse. On the track "Well, well, well," he acknowledges, "words are the salesmen of reason," and goes on to deliver a very well-written piece on how the words are used.

One of my favourite tracks is called "Good Enemies." This is a beautifully crafted song about people parting who were once good friends and the hope is that all will not be lost. Like most of the best songs, it relates to the real lives of real people. The title track "Speedy Return" is an instrumental with the power to bring anyone who recalls the real folk festivals of the past back in time. It only lasts a little over a minute but it is a mental time machine.

"Old John England" is Ashley's tribute to collection of the old tunes by Cecil Sharp and I was stunned as I write this review in August 2003 to record that it was in August 1903 that Sharp heard a man called John England sing a song called "Seeds of Love." It was the first live performance of a song that the great collector heard. Imagine how much we have gained in that century.

That is another of the joys of this CD: the nuggets of information in the liner notes as well as the lyrics.

Ashley shows a wide range of influences and interests. "Travelling Through the Night" opens like a children's song with "the train is in the station, the station in the rain," but develops into another well-crafted song to make us think and still enjoy the music. "Broken Wing" is a song about a songwriter that is both simple and poignant.

It is almost like being at a music hall show as Ashley opens "Duke of Cambridge" with the words, "the first to come in is a randy dandy handler." He opens up the tale with wit and a feel for telling a story to hold your attention. A night at the pub was seldom so well related right down to "ain't you got no homes?" and the live sound of that tail end of a night of revels.

Although this is a reissue, Ashley has not been lazing about since 1975. His discography shows a range of work up to the present. However, it is great to be able to acquire some of the earlier works of talented performers like this.

- Rambles
written by Nicky Rossiter
published 20 September 2003

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