Pete Coe, In Paper Houses (Backshift Music, 2004)

Today, in the United Kingdom, if you were to mention the name Pete Coe to just about any folk fan, I would be very surprised if they could honestly say that they have never seen or heard him perform. To perform is what Pete Coe really does best. He must be one of the hardest working, and most well-respected, real folk singers on the British folk scene. When he is not headlining at some folk festival or other, he is always to be found on the guest list of most major folk clubs. Make no mistake about it, to listen to or see Pete Coe live is to experience one of the best proponents of English traditional and contemporary folk songs performed as they should be. Mind you, he's had plenty of practice, for to my knowledge he has been at it for over 40 years, and the knowledge he's gained shows in his selection of songs and performance. This is demonstrated admirably by the collection of songs to be found on In Paper Houses. Truly, Pete has that uncanny knack of bringing attention to the lesser-known songs. A true master at his craft.

On this album, Pete has turned the clock back a little, for on 8 out of the 15 songs he has enlisted the help of his ex-wife and one time singing partner Christine Coe (a fine singer in her own right). The first song 'Seven Warnings' was written jointly by Pete and Chris for the band Red Shift in which they are both members. Written some years ago, it is based the theme of the Welsh song 'Seven Wonders.' Next comes 'An Acre of Land,' a traditional song which is another version of 'Scarborough Fair,' and some may recognise it as 'Sing Ivy' (as it's sometimes known). The first of my favourite songs from the album comes next. The song 'I Only Spoke Portuguese' is by Bill Worsfold. Pete met Bill and Kath Worsfold in New Zealand in 2002 and in the usual folk custom exchanged a few songs. Apparently, the song is the story of Bill's great grandfather, Jose Luis Santini de Souza, who was shanghaied, but jumped over the side of the ship in Cable Bay and swam ashore. Here the Maori chief took him in. He in turn fell in love with the chief's daughter. An amusing arrangement because he could only speak Portuguese and she could only speak Maori. He didn't do to badly though, because over 56 years she bore him 21 children.

Other Traditional songs such as 'Banks of Virgie' (AKA 'Babylon,' or in Scotland 'The Banks of Fordie'), 'Judas,' 'Catch Me If You Can,' 'Mermaid,' 'Outlandish Knight,' 'Boston Burglar,' 'Northill May Song,' 'Wassail Song' (from the singing of George Dunn from Quarry Bank in the West Midlands) and 'Old Mans Advice' (this tune will be recognised in the US as 'Grandfather's Clock') all grace the album and provide a nice balance. Needless to say, all are sung very well and have been expertly arranged by Pete.

A couple of the other songs I enjoyed are worthy of an extra mention. The first is 'Tower of Babel' which comes from the pen of Trevor Carter. It's a humorous song poking fun at the innocuous language or words civil servants, politicians, councillor, and businessmen use in presentations to make themselves sound important -- usually referred to as bullshit! The second will be no stranger to audiences in Holland and Belgium; it's the song 'Oregon' by Tucker Zimmerman. 'Oregon' is a superb song that deals with the heritage of early 'pioneers' and 'settlers' in the U.S.A. The third is a song that you could be forgiven for thinking it's traditional. I'm speaking of Colin Cater's 'Penny for the Ploughboys.' Pete sings it so well, it might have been written for him. You will hear a lot more of this song, believe me. The album ends with 'Wassail song' (trad.) in a very clever arrangement that builds to a climax using guest backing vocalist Johnny Adams along with Backshift Brass band, Ryburn 3 Step Chorus, and Sue Coe's feet with a clog dance. This song will be very familiar to the people of Ripponden, West Yorkshire, as it is used as the prelude to the performance of their mummers play 'Bring the New Year In.'

You can file Pete Coe firmly under real folk music. The ballad of 'Joseph Baker' was written by Pete, and has now become a world standard folk song. This album has a wealth of very interesting material that is certainly well worth hearing. Pete has done some research and come up with several different versions of traditional songs that may not have been recorded before. I have no hesitation in recommending you get this album; it's good -- very good.

[Peter Massey]

The album is available direct from
Pete Coe at 103, Oldham Road, Ripponden, Sowerby Bridge, West Yorkshire, England. HX6 4EB.
Email Pete
or visit his Web site for more details.