My first album was released in 2012 to very good reviews.
Twelve great tracks showcasing the range and breadth of Russ’ repertoire including traditional folk tunes, ragtime banjo and songs from the likes of Ewan MacColl, Pete Atkin, Robb Johnson, Lou Reed and even Bob Marley.
“Simply a superb collection of songs that should provide a 21st Century blueprint for folkmusic & all its possibilities – any album that does a brilliant version of “Pale Blue Eyes” on banjo needs to be in your collection!” – Robb Johnson
Released on Unlabeled Records.
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“This eclectic disc showcases the voice, banjo and guitar of Walthamstow Folk Club mainstay Russ, who brings a deceptively undemonstrative yet knowingly responsive quality (and a nicely unhurried sense of pacing and timing) to his sparky, one might say Robb Johnson-esque treatments of anything from MacColl, Lou Reed, Bob Marley and Pete Atkin to minstrelsy and music-hall. Masterly.”
“East London bloke with banjo takes on all-comers and comes out alive: a little lesson in how wide ranging this stuff called ‘folk music’ can be. It’s all in here, Missus, from fingerpicked ballads to unlikely music hall sing-alongs, from Edwardian anti-war tunes to Bob Marley. It says “Unlabeled” on the label, so…
It’s hard to argue with a banjo led version of a Velvet Underground song (‘Pale Blue Eyes’) sitting mournfully beside 1930’s pianner-and-bow-tie classic “Ain’t it Grand to be Bloomin Well Dead” (written, incidentally, by Leslie Sarony, author of “Jollity Farm”). Elsewhere, Russ has a stab at Robb Johnson’s beautiful “Carrying Your Smile”.
Last Night in Babylon isn’t groundbreaking (and might be accused of dong littler more than showcasing Chandler’s range of influences) but it makes it’s case – in a hum-along fashion – for a folk music that champions inclusivity, eclecticism and experience.”
“With just a few exceptions, I like most types of ‘folk’ music and Russ Chandler, a regular at Walthamstow Folk Club, seems to be on the same wavelength. This album, his first, is a refreshing mix of traditional titles and material from the pens of Ewan McColl, Lou Reed, Lesley Sarony, Pete Atkin & Clive James, Robb Johnson and Bob Marley to name just a few. OK, most of these might not be ‘folk’ in the true sense of the word, but their songs can be heard regularly in a good many folk clubs.
Russ is a confident singer, playing guitar, banjo and spoons and he’s helped out by a team of equally talented musicians and singers.”
I’ll be absolutely honest in saying that I know almost nothing about Russ Chandler. I’ll also be honest by stating that, when I read in the sleeve notes that he could never settle on one style or direction, I really wasn’t looking forward to listening and had made my mind up not to like Last Night In Babylon.
I found out Russ is based in Essex and London and is a driving force behind the Walthamstow Folk Club. When I read he was a banjo player things had started to get worse. But you have to have an open mind I told myself and began to listen.
To say that the genres covered are diverse is an understatement. After four tracks we had experienced a medley of minstrel songs, a Ewan MacColl song, one of the more monotonous Lou Reed tracks about someone who had blue eyes but actually had hazel ones, and a humorous song about wishing you were dead!! The CD even finishes with a Bob Marley song!!
But, I have to say, reluctantly, that because of the care taken by Russ and those guests playing alongside him, IT WORKS. I presume Russ Chandler has, over the years, tried and tested the material on many audiences and taken his time to create Last Night In Babylon, if only others would do the same.
I have to say that I really enjoyed this and each time it is played something new is found. Perhaps it’s a good argument not to pigeonhole music and that different styles can sit side by side quite comfortably.
Track Listing and Notes
“I could never settle on any one style or direction that my music should take. Traditional, contemporary, music hall, old-timey, ragtime banjo or anywhere in between it all sounds good to me. In the end I decided not to choose any particular path but to make a virtue out of variation; to just do whatever the next tune or song seems most urgent to get out there and share. In the end it’s all folk music, at least to my mind. It lies like the water in great underground reservoirs of culture, leaking out through the cracks in history. All I’ve done is reach out my hands and try to catch hold of some of it for a while.”
1. Don’t Think I’m Santa Claus
3:50 Lil McClintock
A medley of four minstrel songs put together in the early twentieth century by Lil McClintock. I have this from the indispensable album “Good For What Ails You – Music of the Medicine Shows 1926 – 1937” (Old Hat CD 1005)
2. Nobody Knew She Was There
4:57 Ewan MacColl
Ewan wrote this song about his mother working as a cleaner in 1920’s Salford, but if you just swap the oil-cloth bag for one from Fitness-First it hasn’t aged a day.
3 .Pale Blue Eyes
6:57 Lou Reed
Apparently the lady who was the inspiration for this song actually had hazel eyes.
4 .Ain’t It Grand To Be Bloomin’ Well Dead
7:04 Lesley Sarony
Lesley Sarony wrote dozens of gloriously silly songs in the twenties and thirties. This is one of his best known.
5. My Father Had a Horse
3:42 Trad. arr. Chandler
My version is from the great tradition bearing singer Harry Cox, who didn’t live far away from where I grew up in Norfolk. Roud 850
6. Thief In The Night
2:55 Pete Atkin & Clive James
Together Pete and Clive have produced some of the finest pieces of songwriting I’ve ever come across.
7. Syncopatin’ Shuffle
3:01 Frank Lawes
An example of the sadly neglected “classic” style of banjo playing. The style is finger picked on an instrument fitted with nylon strings and was hugely popular around the Edwardian era.
8. The Crimea
4:44 Trad. arr. Chandler
The folksong equivalence of a red-top tabloid with the headline “Gotcha!”. And just like a good tabloid story big on jingoism but less so on historical accuracy. I found it in the Cecil Sharp collection and he collected it from Shepherd Hayden at Bampton in on 11 September 1909. For all its faults it must have stirred a few passions in the pubs of half a century previously. Roud 12851
9. Carrying Your Smile
3:55 Robb Johnson
A simple arrangement of this lovely Robb Johnson song.
10. The Gravedigger
5:38 Charles Chilton
Charles brewed this rich trifle of a song from uncertain sources for his 1963 book “Victorian Folk Songs”.
11. Time, You Old Gypsy Man
4:01 Frank Lee
My friend Frank Lee set Ralph Hodgson’s poem to this spooky tune. I put it on the banjo. That’ll teach him!
12. Get Up Stand Up
4:34 Bob Marley and Peter Tosh
An experiment that worked. I think. I hope nobody mistakes it for a novelty number because I mean this song to be deadly serious.
- Russ Chandler: Vocals, guitar, banjo and spoons.
- Sian Allen: Trumpet.
- Frankie Cleeve: Fiddle.
- Chris D’Souza: Drums.
- Jerry “Spangles” Fellman: Bass.
- Steve Foster: Saxaphone.
- Steve Honest: Pedal Steel.
- Michelle Sampson: Vocals & Piano.
- Marilisa Valtazanou: Vocals.
- Theresa van Straten: Vocals.
- Jim Younger: Mandolin and Concertina.
Cover design and artwork: Roger Huddle.
Produced by Steve Honest at Hackney Road Studios, London E2 in summer 2011