The Lifeboat launched – the long version


The John Richards Band, from the left, Robin Tudor, Chris Drinan, John Richards, Jim Sutton and Emma

The John Richards Band, from the left, Robin Tudor, Chris Drinan, John Richards, Jim Sutton and Emma

The Lifeboat cover by John Crane

The Lifeboat cover by John Crane

A Black Country band whose material has been used by some of the biggest names in folk have launched their new CD The Lifeboat – and very good it is too.

The John Richards Band are led by singer/songwriter John Richards, from Coseley, who has been writing since the 1970s with bands such as Fairport Convention, Show of Hands, Michael Black, Damien Barber, Bill Caddick, Bram Taylor, Paul Downes, and other top folk acts performing his songs.

He and daughter Emma, along with Jim Sutton, Chris Drinan and Robin Tudor had copies of the new CD delivered from their production company in Plymouth despite the ‘white hell’ of some snow.

The title track The Lifeboat is very much a heartfelt protest which tells of John and his family’s difficulties in dealing with the financial sector following the crash of 2007/2008.

It deals with their attempts to get bank support – and failing – for a project to turn their home in Devon into one which could provide an income in these dark times.

Without going off into a rant (and there’s nothing wrong with Ranters -a great English tradition) he deals with the bankers and other suits in the financial sector who blew the world economy up and then demanded that the people who hadn’t caused the crisis in the first place pay for it – while they maintained their positions, lifestyles and bonuses.

He sticks it to them – but in a very tuneful and somewhat understated way (no whitewashed walls and Kalishnikovs here). It deserves a lot wider circulation as they are still at – and still getting away with tax avoidance, Libor fiddling and unadulterated greed thanks to supine financial regulation, a complicit and supportive media, light-touch politicians who slide onto boards of directors and a (for the most part) numbed populace.

The second track, No More Milk and Honey, bounces along as it deals with the way many ordinary people’s hopes of a decent retirement after a lifetime of work has have been dashed by having their pensions slashed so they have to work longer for much less.

It sounds upbeat but the content, again, is well directed and finds its targets.

If you thought from the first two tracks that this was protest songs central you would be wrong.

Emma Richards

Emma Richards

Emma chips in with sweet vocals on Fool In Love – which is exactly what it says on the tin.

She is well supported by former band member and fiddler Julia Disney with excellent harmonies.

Julia Disney

Julia Disney

Julia, now based in Manchester, will be back at the venue for the CD launch, The Newhampton Inn, Riches Street, Whitmore Reans, Wolverhampton, on Saturday, April 6, to perform with her partner Glen Bartley.

Tickets are £8 and are available from folk club website at http://www.newhamptonfolk.co.uk/Pages/contactus.aspx

After this haunting track the band go all instrumental on you with Hanging out to Dry, La Encantadora and Gassed and Gone.

These are all written by L.E. McCullough.

Chris Drinan is able to show off his skills on the flute with the Celtic tones to the fore. All very upbeat and uplifting,

By the final – and fifth – new track, This Home’s got a Heart, we’re getting very cheerful as they sing of the anticipation and joy of travelling home after being away.

After the five new tracks Emma is back on with one of the four bonus tracks The Smuggler’s Song.

With good beat and flute in the tune written by John it rolls out Rudyard Kipling‘s take on smugglers, their trade and how the population reacted to them.

It also reminded me of my failure to tackle the excellent Vin Garbutt when he appeared with John at the Newhampton Arts Centre folk club (not the pub one this time), Dunkley Street, Whitmore Reans.

As well as being a superb musician and singer Vin is also excellent value as a stand-up (or sit-down in this case) comedy act.

However, this time he was playing fast and loose with some nonsense about the name Rudyard (it comes from a lake near Leek, North Staffordshire where the Kiplings spent their honeymoon).

Shocking really as he was coming out with stuff only a few hundred yards away from where Rudyard’s mum used to live in Waterloo Road (a blue plaque job).

Alice MacDonald (1837-1910) married John Lockwood Kipling before producing Rudyard.

Strangely enough one of her other sisters – Louisa – married the industrialist Alfred Baldwin and their son – Stanley – went on to become Prime Minister.

All the sisters were hugely talented and Louisa wrote novels, short stories and poetry, Georgiana married the pre-Raphaelite painter Edward Burne-Jones. They and their brothers were in an artistic group of friends know as the Birmingham Set and also got on well with the artist/designer/visionary/ William Morris.

Anyway down with all that and back to the CD and Foundryman’s Daughter – a plaintive examination of how people can be subjected to casual misery because of their accent or background.

Emma excels on vocals again with former band member Allie Fellows providing some nice piano.

The balance of the CD is maintained as they get all jiggy with Road to Lisdoonvarna/Mrs Walsh’s Dinner/The Musical Priest before signing off with Missing with Emma and Allie (piano) – a haunting account of loss.

The Lifeboat can be heard on YouTube being performed at the Folk21 fundraising concert to help grassroots folk clubs in 2012 as well as being available on the band’s website for £7 at http://www.thejrbs.co.uk/

After running the college folk club John recorded with Bev Pegg from Kinver, Staffordshire, with the song Did You Like The Battle? emergine from their sessions. This was eventually covered by Robin Dransfield and then Paul Downes.

He met mandolin player Mike Tinsley and they joined forces in the 70s before joining Greenmantle, a Kidderminster-based traditional band who were wanting to expand a new electric lineup. This didn’t work but the band Springheel Jack emerged from this.

This was followed by the Ivor Smallpiece Big Band. After a split John recruited others for Maurice and The Minors.

Honour and Praise was his only song on their first album but Dave Pegg heard it and Fairport Convention recorded it on their Gladys’ Leap album.

Maurice’s vinyl LP Run By The Moon came out in 1987 but the band split in 1989 Three Desperate Men followed and they were joined in 1991 by Dave Jones and Paul Dowswell.

However, after thirteen years Dave decided to follow a dream and moved to Southern Ireland (Roaring Water Bay).

There he plays drums in a roots-based band and has been back to Wolverhampton, including the Newhampton Inn and Newhampton Arts Centre, with Two Time Polka.

Emma again

Emma again

Emma, John’s eldest daughter, has been singing with her father since her earliest days – she won a Methodist singing competition at the age of eight singing The Darkest Hour is Just Before Dawn by Ralph Stanley, which her father learned from an Emmylou Harris album.

She occasionally supported John – with her younger sister, Helen, joining in as well.

Through sixth form and university she was involved in musical theatre productions, working in the same group as Wolverhampton’s Beverley Knight.

In 1996 she joined John in Desperate Men full time adding harmony vocals.

After adding harmonies to the Third Light album producer Phil Beer described them as umbilical.

She started to front her own songs in the band Desperate Men’s final album, New Tricks, includes two numbers – Blessing in Disguise, a classic Gregson and Collister number and a song by Arkansas singer/songwriter Iris DeMent – Easy’s Getting Harder Every Day.

She also plays whistle.

Robin Tudor

Robin Tudor

The other ‘youngster’ in the band is Robin Tudor, from Halesowen, a classically trained violinist and pianist, guitarist, mandolin, banjo, fiddle and accordion player as well as a singer.

He has been playing in folk clubs since he was nine and the Lighthouse and Woodman folk clubs in the Black County gave him a regular chance to perform.

He formed the duo Wildfire with singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Alistair Stewart in 2004 and they began playing 1960s folk songs in school assemblies.

They even played a version of one of John’s songs long before joining him in the John Richards Band (the JRBs) years later. After recording two albums of original material for limited release they went off to university.

Robin has played regularly with Paul Edwards and has played with Chris Leslie and supported Eric Faulkner, the ex-Bay City Roller, who now plays Scottish folk music. Robin joined the JRBs in 2011 after a recommendation to John by Paul Edwards.

He replaced Julia Disney on fiddle and shares keyboard duties with Jim Sutton.

Jim Sutton

Jim Sutton

Double-bass player Jim Sutton, of Stourbridge, also has a background in heavy metal,rock and jazz – appearing as house bass player at The Trumpet, Bilston, but also playing keyboards.

He formed his first band, Tanhauser, while still at school but did his first gigs with Tony Sawford’s Reg Glob Allstar Showband on guitar and piano because cello, his main instrument at the time, was unsuitable.

His first folk job was with his double-bass teacher, Roger Grainger, and his band Sarabande. At the same time he was the first giggin bass player with Stourbridge heavy metal combo Diamond Head.

At university in Durham he performed with Wynters Armoury and rock band The Morones.

Back in the Midlands he partnered songwriter and singer Tony Jones and later The Ivor Smallpiece Big Band, before making the transition to Maurice and the Minors and the first Desperate Men. He also played jazz with vibist and drummer John Sparry.

After leaving the Desperates he also performed with Blue Train, Bryn Venus’ Key Largo Trio, the New Birmingham Bobcats and his own setups.

Jim has done catalogues of jazz dep gigs with bands such as Pendulum, the Swing Kings and the Crown Phoenix Big Band – plus three years with the Martinique Jazz Band.

He played on John’s solo release Behind The Lines and the promotional gigs for that album.

He was at Wolverhampton’s Emerald Club for the Desperates’ farewell appearance and contributed to the JRBs Walls of Hope and subsequently with them.

Chris Drinan

Chris Drinan

Chris Drinan, of Walsall, on flute, tenor sax, whistles and 5-string banjo learned flute classically at school but his Irish background meant a reel or a jig found more of an audience.

Friends at school, influenced by early Fairport albums asked him to join Ruthwell.

Working in clubs in Kent and Sussex ended as university life started in Leicester and he joined ceilidh band Sunshine. Back in Sussex after uni he worked the folk scene with Codpiece who played at mediavel banquets.

In Walsall, after solo spots in West Midlands clubs, he was asked to join Maurice and The Minors in 1983 but he also did a five year spell with The Old Parrot Band in Lincolnshire.

After Maurice and the Minors folded in 1991 he was a member of the band that emerged from the split, Three Desperate Men. After a break from music he joined the JRBs John, as well as playing guitar, also plays bouzouki.

The band recorded Walls of Hope in 2006 and have also recorded the For Love or Money albums with a slightly different lineup.

Bill Caddick has described John as: “One of our finest writers and singers.”

I thought of apologising for this ramble into long-form journalism but realise that I did put a health warning out when I did a ‘quick and dirty’ take on the launch of the CD at The Newhampton Inn.

For a more succinct and musically attuned review (I’m tone deaf, can’t read a note or sing – but know what I like) go to the excellent Danny Farragher’s Folk All blog at http://folkall.blogspot.co.uk/

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