Friday, 2 February 2018

"Bitter Green/Colours Of The Dawn/If I Sang My Song + Bonus Tracks" by THE JOHNSTONS (September 2017 Beat Goes On 2CD Set - 3LPs and More onto 2CDs - Andrew Thompson Remasters) - A Review by Mark Barry...






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"...So Long Ago..."

A companion volume to the 2CD reissue "The Johnstons/Give A Damn/The Barley Corn" from May 2013 on Beat Goes On BGOCD 1086 (it gave fans three studio LPs from 1968 and 1969 on Transatlantic Records) - what you get here are the remaining three JOHNSTONS albums for that iconic British Folk label before they disbanded in 1973 - "Bitter Green" (1969), "Colours Of The Dawn" (1971) and "If I Sang My Song" (1972) as well as Thirteen Bonus Tracks spanning their entire career from 1966 to 1972 – twelve singles sides and a rare US-only LP track.

The Irish Folk and Folk-Rock band combined the singing, playing and songwriting talents of Paul Brady, Adrienne Johnston and Mick Maloney as well as the American Chris McCloud for the final two platters - the last of which saw Paul Brady's songwriting talent fully emerge. Here are the colourful tales...

UK released Friday, 8 September 2017 (15 Sept 2018 in the USA) - "Bitter Green/Colours Of The Dawn/If I Sang My Song + Bonus Tracks" by THE JOHNSTONS on Beat Goes On BGOCD 1297 (Barcode 5017261212979) is a 2CD Reissue and Remaster offering three full albums and 13 Bonus Tracks and plays out as follows:

Disc 1 (78:23 minutes):
1. Jesus Was A Carpenter [Side 1]
2. The Gypsy
3. Lord Thomas & Fair Ellender
4. The Kilfenora Jig
5. Fiddler’s Green
6. The Story Of Isaac [Side 2]
7. Bitter Green
8. The Penny Wager
9. Marcie
10. Reels: The Fair Haired Boy/Kiss The Maid Behind The Barrel/The Dawn
11. The Spanish Lady
Tracks 1 to 11 are their fifth studio album "Bitter Green" - released December 1969 in the UK on Transatlantic Records TRA 211 (no US release).
PAUL BRADY - Vocals, Guitar, Dulcimer and Harmonica
ADRIENNE JOHNSTON - Lead Vocals
MICK MALONEY - Vocals, Guitar, Banjo and Mandolin
DARYL RUNSWICK - Bass

12. Hello Friend [Side 1]
13. Crazy Anne
14. Brightness She Came
15. If I Could
16. Angela Davis
17. Colours Of The Dawn [Side 2]
18. I'll Be Gone In The Morning
19. Seems So Long Ago, Nancy
20. The Old Man's Tale
Tracks 12 to 20 are their sixth studio album "Colours Of The Dawn" - released January 1971 in the UK on Transatlantic Records TRA 231 and March 1971 in the USA on Vanguard VSD 6572.
PAUL BRADY - Lead Vocals and Guitars
MICK MALONEY - Lead Vocals and Guitars
ADRIENNE JOHNSTON - Lead Vocals
CHRIS McCLOUD - Produced and Wrote "Crazy Anne" and "Angela Davis" - co-wrote "Colours Of The Dawn" and "I'll Be Gone In The Morning" with Paul Brady

Note: the 1971 US version of "Colours Of The Dawn" on Vanguard Records was a 10-track LP and had a different running order to the 9-song UK version. The extra song was "Aiseiri" and the US LP can be sequenced from this 2CD set using the following:
Side 1: Tracks 16, 15, 18, 19 from Disc 1 and Track 22 from Disc 2
Side 2: Tracks 17, 12, 14, 13 and 20 from Disc 1

Disc 2 (76:42 minutes):
1. The Wind In My Hands [Side 1]
2. Won't You Come With Me
3. Border Child
4. If I Sang My Song
5. December Windows
6. I Get To Thinking [Side 2]
7. Continental Trailways Bus
8. Bread And Wine
9. You Ought to Know
Tracks 1 to 9 are their seventh and final studio album "If I Sang My Song" - released 1972 in the UK on Transatlantic Records TRA 251 (no US issue).
PAUL BRADY - Acoustic and Electric Guitars, Harmonium, Electric Piano, Whistle and Backing Vocals
ADRIENNE JOHNSTON - Lead Vocals
JOSEPH TEMPLETON - Fiddle / FRANK NOLAN - Flute / HALLVARD KVALE and PETER ABRAHAMSEN - Kazoo
RICK KEMP - Bass / KEITH BLEASBY - Congas / PHIL CHESTERTON - Drums
TIM HART (of Steeleye Span) and ROYSTON WOOD (of The Young Tradition) - Backing Vocals

BONUS TRACKS (single-sides and LP rarities from 1966 to 1972):
10. Going Home
11. The Travelling People
Tracks 10 and 11 are the non-album A&B-sides of their debut 7” single released July 1966 in the UK and Ireland on Pye Records 7N 17144.
A-side by Geiff - the B-side is a Ewan MacColl song
12. The Alamo
13. The Life Of The Rover
Tracks 12 and 13 are the non-album A&B-sides of a UK 7" single released November 1966 on Pye Records 7N 17205.
A-Side is a Traditional arranged by The Johnstons - the B-side is a Ewan MacColl song
14. I Will Never Marry
15. Banks Of Claudy
Tracks 14 and 15 are the non-album A&B-sides of a UK 7" single released November 1967 on Pye Records 7N 17430
Both sides are Traditional Songs arranged by The Johnstons
16. The Curragh Of Kildare
17. Leaving London
Tracks 16 and 17 are the non-album A&B-sides of a UK 7" single released May 1967 on Pye Records 7N 17315
The A-side is a Traditional - the B-side is a Tom Paxton cover
18. My House
19. The Wherefore And The Why
Tracks 18 and 19 are the non-album A&B-sides of a UK 7" single released April 1969 on Big T Records BIG 121
The A-side a Peter Sarstedt cover - the B-side is a Gordon Lightfoot cover
20. Streets Of London
Track 20 is the A-side to a UK 7" single released April 1970 on Big T Records BIG 132 - re-issued September 1972 on Transatlantic Records BIG 505 - it's a Ralph McTell cover - the B-side in both cases was "The Spanish Lady" from the "Bitter Green" album
21. The Morning Of Our Love
Track 21 is the non-album B-side to "Continental Trailways Bus" released a UK 7" single March 1972 on Transatlantic Records BIG 501
22. Aiseiri
Included on the US LP version of "Colours Of The Dawn" on Vanguard VSD 6572 (for placing see 'Note' above)

An outer card slipcase (default for most BGO releases these days) and a 24-page booklet await you with hugely informative set of liner notes from noted writer JOHN O’REGAN (includes words with Paul Brady). The artwork is there – musician and production credits, the song-by-song breakdown on the rear sleeve of "Bitter Green" – the Chris McCloud liner notes to the "Colours Of The Dawn" album and the lyrics to the "If I Sang My Song" LP that were printed on the inner gatefold of its striking red cover. Long-standing BGO Audio Engineer ANDREW THOMPSON has handled the Transfers and Remasters and they gorgeous – especially the first time on CD "If I Sang My Song" album.

Starting out a 4-piece Folk Band from Ireland’s Co. Meath (just north of Dublin)  – Adrienne and her young sister Lucy Johnston teamed up with the multi-instrumentalist lads – Paul Brady and Mick Moloney. The "Bitter Green" album is the most 'Traditional' of the LPs on offer here. While you would expect such a band to tap into Ewan MacColl's beautiful Folk melodies ("Jesus Was A Carpenter") - it's impressive to see the young Johnstons covering and introducing future songwriter lights-in-the-darkness like Gordon Lightfoot ("The Gypsy" and "Bitter Green"), Joni Mitchell ("Marcie") and Leonard Cohen ("The Story Of Isaac") amidst all those Reels, Jigs and tales of penniless immigrant woe.

1971's "Colours Of The Dawn" debuts a radically re-arranged band and sound - more Folk Rock than just purist Traditional interpretations. The album was all done with the domineering American Chris McCloud at the helm - who by all accounts doesn't come out of anything well. Brady describes writing songs and working with him as a sort of 'oil poured over my soul' moment that took him years to recover from - and after McCloud's marriage to Adrienne Johnston and her sad and controversial death in 1981 (which apparently only came to light a decade later) - his name took on darker tones indeed. The album does however mark the first flowering of Brady's knack with a melody where he pens "Brightness She Comes" on his own and co-writes "Colours Of The Dawn" and "I'll Be Gone In The Morning" with McCloud. The album also taps into Folkies Ian Campbell with "The Old Man's Tale", Pete Seeger with "Hello Friend" and again Gordon Lightfoot with his lovely but cutting "If I Could".

First time on CD for "If I Sang My Song" and again Paul Brady spreads his songwriting wings. He co-writes four with Chris McCloud - "The Wind in My Hands", "Won't You Come With Me", "If I Sang My Song" and "You Ought To Know. He also co-authored "Bread And Wine" with Adrienne Johnston while penning "December Windows" and "Continental Trailways Bus" on his own. The LP was a conscious effort to get away from Traditionals (only "Border Child" gives that a nod) so is almost entirely original material and is impressive for being so. I love the gorgeous Acoustic Guitar, Penny Whistle interludes and harmonies between Paul and Adrienne on "Won't You Come With Me" – the duo searching for gentler times. Even the Traditional "Border Child" comes over like a James Taylor or plaintive Bob Dylan strum where politics and borders make you feel he’s hurting for what was happening to his friend and family in the Six Counties. Elton John type piano notes complete with arranged Strings make both "The Wind in My Hands" and "December Windows" moving experiences – such a long way from the Folk of old. And amidst the plentiful single-sides in the Bonus Tracks on Disc 2 is the Irish No. 1 from 1966 "The Travelling People" (a flipside that caught a nation's heart) and many more tunes/covers that will please his Folk Music based fans.

Never the coolest or hippest of groups (Pentangle jump to mind) - nevertheless the harmonies and clever arrangements (the three voices would often make the most beautiful Mellow Candle kind of vibe) - the smart songwriter choices they covered and championed until they ultimately branched out into their own original material - means that The Johnstons should be reassessed and given a bit of musical TLC (for me the "If I Sang My Song" set is an undiscovered nugget of an album on this reissue).

The best you can say is that this fab-sounding jam-packed twofer for THE JOHNSTONS from those nice chappies over at Beat Goes On has done their unfairly forgotten musical legacy a proper solid. Paul Brady would go on to have cover versions of his Rock sides done by huge artists Tina Turner, Santana and Bonnie Raitt - but this is where that great soulful singer-songwriter journey really began to flourish. Nicely done and recommended...

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