My own reviews
Recordings on which John Tams contributes or appears can be roughly divided into these categories:
However he also appears as a guest on many other albums and compilations. I am still researching!
There is some confusion over how closely involved John Tams was with this band, certainly they seem to have been the "house band" at the folk club he was running in the late sixties. He appears on...
Burnt Offering (1970) DMcG provides this review: "The album is billed as "The Druids" with John Tams and that is very much the flavour of the LP. Taking the cover as an example: The Druids names are in capitals, John's is in normal case; the Druid's photos are provided but none for John - all this is in keeping with John being 'second billing' on the LP. A similar approach is taken with the sleeve notes for the tracks themselves. Unlike the convention usually adopted a little later, there is no indication on the sleeve notes who is singing and playing what on each track. John is billed as "Whistle, chorus" and so it is quite difficult to determine which tracks he is singing on. The whistle is more obvious and can be most clearly heard on "The Christmas Hare" track. Even here, it seems to me to be mixed at a relatively low level. As a record for the Druids, then, I think this is excellent, but as example of John Tams early work it seems to have been approached quite tentatively."
In the early seventies John met up with Roger Watson and began touring semi-professionally with him. Joined by Helen Wainwright, they became Muckram Wakes. He only recorded one album with them...
A Map of Derbyshire (1973) ...And I've never clapped eyes on it! I am therefore indebted to Ian in Leicester who gives me these further details... Muckram Wakes at this point were Roger Watson, Helen Wainwright (later Watson) and John Tams. They all sang, and played various instruments including concertinas, fiddle, harmonium, banjo, bouzouki. The album has the Pulling Down Song by John Tams (recently revived by Coope Boyes and Simpson), three by Roger Watson and the rest more or less traditional. Includes the Squire of Tamworth, which Ian heard the band perform at Cleethorpes Folk Festival in '73 or '74 and thought it was the best thing he heard all weekend!
Roger Watson remembers those early days: "Influences on each other from Map of Derbyshire? - immediately I can say that I learned from Tam's influence while making that album that folk music didn't have to be recorded as 'straight' as it was in those days performed in clubs. Poor Old Horse, for instance uses techniques which were quite new in those days, and difficult to achieve with the technology of the time. The finding and fitting together of tunes and songs for arrangement has greatly enabled my thinking in the inter-cultural music with which I am now involved. Had we stayed together, the things which were being talked about for a subsequent album included even more soundscape and atmospheric work." John was also best man at the wedding of Roger and Helen in 1972.
For more information about this long lived and ever changing band, see my friend Michael's Albion pages. Thanks Michael for your help.
The Prospect Before Us (1977) Michael describes this as a good introduction to the early Albions, and so it is. I think I prefer Rise Up Like The Sun, though. This is a bit esoteric with its jingly Morris bits, having been recorded with dancing going on in front of the stage.
The Albion Band Live In Concert (1977 and 1982) Only the first half of this album features JT, singing and playing lovely free-running melodeon. He also introduces two of the songs in a very strange BBC Derbyshire accent, (if anybody can describe it better I'll amend that,) which is not quite how he sounds today. Great early Albion stuff.
Rise Up Like The Sun (1978) (Mine has four bonus tracks and the date 1992) I had terrible trouble getting hold of this one, but it was worth it. It's a classic if you're interested in the development of early folk-rock, and a cracking good album even if you're not. I love the combination of howling electric instruments and traditional style tunes.
Lark Rise to Candleford (1980) I approached this with caution, but was lucky enough to find a second hand CD. It took me one afternoon and I was lost in it. Loads of lovely hoppity melodeon and old fashioned sounding vocal harmonies. It's very like The Mysteries (see below) in its approach, but even more of the atmosphere of the play as there are chunks of narrative in it. John Tams? Oh yes, he is in it, but only lead vocal or melodeon on a few tracks. However he is often in the chorus and his voice shines through. I am struck again by how well his voice blends with Bill Caddick's
Songs from the Shows (recorded ? and 1991) Double album with loads of snippets from various radio recordings. It has some very good bits but I found it a bit of a mixed bag. JT only appears on a few tracks, mostly narration, which demonstrates that BBC Derbyshire accent again. The highlight for me is the last track on the second CD which is a long narrated piece about a North Lincolnshire custom called the Haxey Hood Game. The tension builds and finally explodes with an electric arrangement of the Sexte Estampie Real (sic - I'm not sure.)
1990(er...1990) JT appears as a guest singer on two tracks. The second - The Party's Over - I really like. I wonder whether the brass section attracts JT or the other way round. I'm not usually too fond of later Albion Band but I liked at least half the tracks on this one.
John Tams left the Albion Band to form Home Service (or the Albion Band left Home Service, depending on the version of events you prefer!) For more information compare the Music Encyclopaedia with the article in The Bees Knees
The Home Service (1984) (re-released as Early Transmissions, with two 1981 tracks, in 1996) Criticised by some as lacking in spontaneity because of time it took to record and the changing personnel in the band at the time. Unfortunately it's one of my favourite albums because it consistently ROCKS, all the way through, which makes it great in the car and I do a lot of driving. And the brass is fantastic.
The Mysteries (1984) Again, this has been criticised, this time as a mixed bag. That's because it is snipped out of a play. I do find it leaves me feeling I've missed something, but what there is has some very good bits to recommend it, such as "Lewk up, lewk up" and Bill Caddick and JT singing "Don't Be An Outlaw" together. "You have to remember we recorded that album in days. I fell asleep on the pool table at one point. And if you listen very carefully the saxophone player changes halfway through one track because Andy Findon's wife had a baby in the middle of it. Not actually in the studio, mind, or we'd have been using the pool table for that too!"John Tams
Alright Jack (1986) Now we're talking masterpiece status; John Tams has said this album restored the band to its proper character. It's a great big oil painting of an album, with loads going on. There's this electric arrangement of an orchestral piece by Percy Grainger, which was itself an arrangement of folk tunes... It also has one of the best songs I think JT has ever written, Scarecrow, which is a beautiful metaphor comparing the mechanisation of harvest time with the slaughter of the First World War.
Even John himself has probably lost count of the albums he has contributed to as producer, writer or performer. But until May 2000 he had never released one under his own name. The seeds of change were sown in the autumn of 1998 at the funeral of close friend and colleague Lal Waterson; it was time for a new start. Shortly afterwards a three record deal with Topic was signed.
Unity (2000) Almost universally acclaimed as being rather good, and won him some awards. As you might expect, after so many years contributing to albums ostensibly belonging to other people, it is beautifully smooth and professional, and shows off that voice to perfection. (Time for my liquorice toffee analogy here: dark, chewy and pungent. If you prefer chocolate it's 70% cocoa solids.) Everybody has their favourite track so I'm having two: From Where I Lie stands out up there with Scarecrow as a Tams classic, but my feelgood favourite is Girl In Texas 'cos it's sooo smoochy!
Home (2002) "That difficult second album" after thirty years in the business, sees Tams setting off into new territory - an oblique, intricate but ultimately compelling tour of dark moods, forgotten causes, unlikely heroes. There are some beautiful moments, like Tams' voice sliding creakily under the table at the end of "Bound East for Cardiff" - "...you're too drunk to stand but not drunk enough to fall..." or the sly, insistent polska that introduces "The Traveller". "Right On Line" is a fine tribute to the late John B. Spencer - unique so far as I know in being the only recording of Tams performing entirely solo. Overall the attention to detail and superbly unified musicianship of the whole band just never let up, yet the four tracks where he ventures out alone or with just one or two of the others are just as powerful. My only reservation is that, for me, the high point is the wonderful rendition of "Hugh Stenson and Molly Green" which leads me to wish that he had chosen to do his promised traditional album after Unity, and avoid the inevitable comparisons. They are two very different albums, and this one defies being put in a box labelled "follow-up".
Son Of Morris On (1976) Various Artists An Ashley Hutchings-steered project which as the name suggests is largely a celebration of the English Morris tradition. Plenty of jolly tunes and jingling going on in the background. JT sings on a handful of tracks but the unmissable one is the spoken "Bring Your Fiddle" where a young lad courts his wench, delivered in a wonderful, dry, lascivious tone.
Raggedy Rawney (1988) The soundtrack from the film of the same name, in which JT had a small part. There is one track where JT sings Rolling Home and two which he wrote and produced, I don't know if he made an instrumental contribution. Now the film I haven't seen but I know one ardent JT fan who says it is worth it so I suppose if you've seen the film you might enjoy having the music. It's very, er, atmospheric.
Circle Dance - the Hokey Pokey charity compilation My friend Michael says "This CD was a charity release in 1990, a compilation of 18 tracks largely based around ex and present Fairport members but with a strong supporting cast. So you get Fairport, Richard and Linda Thompson (separately), Ian Matthews, Sandy Denny, The Albion Band and of course (bearing in mind the subject of these pages) John Tams." Tams does "I'll Fly Away" in company with several of his usual friends and some plaintive electric guitar. The track is a classic, especially because it came in a period when he wasn't recording much. As a whole I think it's a great album too, with a mix of folk, folk rock, traditional and more contemporary styles. One to add to the collection!
Sway With Me (1991) Judy Dunlop and Ashley Hutchings Michael bought this for £2 in a Camden record shop. "Not Mr Hutchings' finest hour" is his verdict. But it does have a poem called the Woodburning Rhyme, recited by John Tams. Oh what a voice.
Over the Hills and Far Away (1996) This calls itself the music from the Sharpe TV films, but isn't quite word for word. There are four distinct flavours to the album, like one of those Neopolitan ice creams. JT singing, Kate Rusby singing, military brass and orchestral film score. You might not like it at first if you've come for one of the individual flavours, but it's worth a try if you can find it in the library. I like the whole thing.
Street Cries (2001) Ashley Hutchings Ashley describes this as rewriting traditional songs for modern times; what he has then done is got together some of the finest voices around to record his creations. John Tams, uniquely among the vocalists, appears on two tracks. One is the very first song, along with Coope Boyes and Simpson who provide a solid, methodical, almost hypnotic backdrop, reminiscent of a chain gang (the song is about prison). Against this Tams' voice weaves in and out beautifully. On the other track he sings verses alternately or so with Judy Dunlop. There is much else to commend the album, which is on the Topic label.Lots of skilled musicians but among the vocalists I particularly liked Cara Dillon, Vin Garbutt, (I'd like to hear those two skylarks sing a duet!) and Steve Knightley being, well, very Steve Knightley.
No. 47 Music of The Good Hope (2002) This EP, playing time just over 17 minutes, comprises the songs and tunes which were performed as part of the play The Good Hope. John Tams describes this as a play about community spirit, and the music as the way in which such a community might respond to the events the play portrays. Given that the play is essentially a tragedy, the overall tone is rather sombre. Although the material is a mixture of trad, Tams and trad/Tams, the style is firmly 1901; the ghostly Victorian tones of the hammered dulcimer, banjo and accordion predominate, plus powerful vocals from Chris Coe and Tams. For anyone who saw and enjoyed the play this is a must have, and All Clouds The Sky may yet prove to be a classic.
Mysterious Day (2002) Oliver Knight Despite the traditional "Go From My Window" featuring Eliza Carthy, this is not what I'd call folk. The words "all guitars, programming and sequencing by Oliver Knight" on the back of the liner notes are a hint of what's inside - introspective instrumentals and carefully crafted songs. It's very difficult to discuss this album without referring back to the two last Lal Waterson/Oliver Knight ones, which I thought were oustanding. This continues in a similar vein; it's beautifully put together but I'm still not entirely sure whether I like it. John Tams appears on two tracks and is a little low key on both of them, Barry Coope's in there too. It's a family and friends affair all round, really, with the likes of Norma Waterson, Maria Gilhooley and Jo Freya contributing. (Speaking of the latter, Oliver co-produced the recent Fraser Sisters CD "Going Around" with John Tams and played electric guitar. JT doesn't play but one of the songs is Trad/Tams and I like the album a lot. Oh and there's a nice little picture inside of our hero!)
Twenty-four Seven (2002) Coope Boyes and Simpson The masters of (almost) unaccompanied harmony strike again - can they put a foot wrong? John Tams joins in the choruses of two tracks.