I drove back to Brighton from Devon on Monday, and immediately headed to The Greys, where the singing of Jim Causley made me feel, rather reassuringly, like I was still in the Westcountry.
Causley’s support came from Yorkshire’s Laura Hockenhull – now Brighton-based and a member of The Long Hill Ramblers. She sang a mostly unaccompanied, mostly traditional set with confidence and style. Chloe Overton of local group Hatful of Rain provided harmonies for a couple of songs and Jim joined them for a lovely version of The Constant Lovers (which is when I took the picture, above).
Since I last saw him play, Causley has been busy, with an album of his own songs as well as one based on poems by Jack Clemo released in the past year. Add to this his repertoire of traditional songs, covers, and of course his settings of pieces by another poet, Charles Causley, and there’s plenty of material with which he can compose a set.
We got a good selection, mostly backed by accordion, with which Causley lends texture and meaning to his songs. So ode to cider Old Uncle Whiteway was jolly and bouncy, a version of Ralph McTell’s Summer Girls woozy and warm, while Cyril Tawney’s biting In The Sidings – a post-Beeching lament – was suffused with bitter melancholy.
Causley gave the songs context with entertaining and knowledgeable introductions, educating the audience in the history and etymology of Launceston, the eccentric traditions of the Whimple Wassail, and the time he trod on John Craven’s glasses. The latter was by way of introduction to Pride of the Moor, which takes the perhaps unlikely subject of tin mining and turns it into a glorious, engrossing celebration.
A piano accompaniment gave some songs a sparser backing, most effectively on the haunting Eagle One, Eagle Two – based on a Charles Causley poem – which tells of the nocturnal stirrings of two avian statues. But, with his voice like molten caramel, Causley doesn’t really need any backing at all, as he proved with a couple of a capella numbers, including one in Welsh.
Sadly, the night was curtailed by the curfew, but Causley’s playing several shows and festivals this year – click here for dates – so there’ll be plenty of chances to hear more. A heartening thought.