Alan Bell,
The Definitive Collection
(Greentrax, 2005)

Forty years of experience condensed into 16 tracks is a wonderful feat and a marvelous album. Alan Bell is a consummate writer and performer whose love of not just music but of people and places comes across powerfully on this release, aptly titled The Definitive Collection.

His career is like a chronicle of the modern phase of the folk boom. Like many of the breed he started in a skiffle group, then graduated to a folk group and has contributed to the genre for more than four decades.

Opening with the lovely "The Lakeland Fiddler," his enthusiasm is infectious as he tells us of the joy of the performer. He returns to the theme on "The Minstrel" and makes the listener long for a career in entertainment.

"Windmills" is an evocative tale of the history of that use of wind power and it is wonderful to listen to it as we watch the rise of renewable wind power using that pastoral technology.

One of the saddest songs that I have listened to for a long time comes from Bell's pen but the voice of Liz Moore on this CD. "Alice White" brings us face to face with the reality of women who married or otherwise lived with the navvies who built Britain. Listen to a wonderful voice and profound words and you relive a little but essential piece of personal history.

Bell wrote 15 of the 16 tracks here and collaborated on the other. He addresses issues big and small on the tracks. His epic stories of the poet Wilfred Owen and his death a few days before the end of the Great War in the form of "Letters from Wilfred" to his mother couples ideally with "The Band in the Park," another story of the life of an ordinary couple. The fishing industry and its demise are recalled on tracks like "The Jacinta."

A favourite track of mine on the album -- a favourite among 16 favourites -- is "In My Homeland," followed closely by "So Here's to You."

Who among you thought that the song about Joseph and his wife Mary called "Bread and Fishes" was a traditional ballad? You were wrong, it comes from the pen of Alan Bell and is included here. It is also called "Wind in the Willows" or "All of Mankind."

Any aspiring folksinger could do worse than buying this album, learning all the songs and getting out there performing. Bell is up there with Bogle, Lowe and the giants of folk for writing and for heartfelt performance.

by Nicky Rossiter
24 September 2005