Loft vinyl: 65 years on, Archie Fisher ushers in a new year
Who Knows Where the Time Goes - or where it went? Celebrating Sandy Denny's birthday

Cover Story (73): January Man

Andrew Curry writes: Colin’s New Year’s Day tribute to Archie Fisher’s version of Dave Goulder’s 1969 song January Man reminded me that a lot of distinguished folk artists have covered the song—from Martin Carthy’s unaccompanied vocal version in 1971 to Steeleye Span, and including Christy Moore, Rachel Unthank, Damien O’Kane, Bert Jansch (twice) and the Albion Christmas Band (also twice), among several—lots—more. There’s also an unaccompanied version by June Tabor with lyrics re-worked by Les Barker.

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There’s definitely enough here to call it a modern folk classic. And yet we’ve not covered it in our now large library of Cover Story posts. So I’m going to fill that gap here.

Christy Moore has actually done a couple of versions of this—once from his early years, once with a slightly bigger band and quite a subtle accompaniment. What I like about this later version—you might have to click through to youtube for it—is that his voice is terrific, and the arrangement is quite rich without being too intrusive. It’s quite hard to work out where this video came from but it’s close to the version on his ‘Box Set’ collection.

 

https://youtu.be/aDCejNGfK7M?feature=shared

There’s something about the song that lends itself to a female lead voice, and for that reason I like the Albion Christmas Band’s version, which has Kellie While singing on it. Again, the band is keeping it reasonably simple underneath, and listening to multiple versions of the song you realise that one of its strengths is the deceptive simplicity of the melody and the underlying chord structure.

I wanted to like Rachel Unthank’s version—she pushes the song along a bit faster—but the words get a little lost. For that reason I have selected here Siobhan Miller’s version, from her first record, Flight of Time. As with the Albion Country Band, the arrangement builds slowly underneath her voice as the song develops, with strings and a touch of harmonium in there. 

 

https://youtu.be/oHGiLd2e12g?feature=shared

 

The busiest arrangment here is by Mike Harding, on his 2005 Bomber’s Moon re- cord. The arrangement is given a bit of exoticism by Dave Hassel’s tabla playing and Harding’s own percussion. As folk band arrangements go, I preferred this to Steeleye Span’s recording on their 50th anniversary, (I realise that this is sacrilege on Salut!Live) but I’ve put them next to each other on the Spotify playlist below so you can make up your own mind. But it was also a reminder for me of Mike Harding’s contribution to folk music over the last 50 years.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gm5Eq8zXktg

 

 

So, Christy Moore? Albion Christmas Band? Siobhan Miller? Mike Harding? I think my call is going to Christy Moore, for the quality of the vocal and the subtlety of the understated arrangement. But as ever, please disagree in the comments or at the Facebook group.

Dave Goulder’s own version, sung unaccompanied, can be heard here on his January Man LP, made with Liz Dyer. The link should start at the right place on the LP (about 10’10” in).

https://youtu.be/GG4JiAjAv9k?t=608

 

 

There’s a detailed history of the song and its versions—of course there is!—on the Mainly Norfolk website. I’ve included as many versions as I could find on a Spotify playlist, in case you want to check out some of the other versions. All the same, putting it together was a reminder of how badly served the folk community is by Spotify. 

https://open.spotify.com/playlist/2Cj1Nui5e2zQeBOBpmRBCS? si=CzOc5FfmSAa4DnVtLG7WNg&pi=e-d1VYCnwDSmes

 

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