In Search of Nic Jones

Regular readers of my blog will be well aware of my admiration for the music of the great Nic Jones. Nic was one of the leading lights on the folk music scene in England in the seventies and early eighties; he produced five superb solo albums of mainly traditional music, as well as a couple of earlier records with the group ‘The Halliard’. His 1980 album ‘Penguin Eggs‘ is one of the most influential folk albums of all time.

Unfortunately, because of a dispute with a record company Nic’s four earliest solo albums are not available for sale anywhere, which is a great pity because they really are little gems. The first two display an intricate guitar technique which he later abandoned in favour of a simpler style that drew more attention to the songs themselves. He had a very unusual way of playing, in that he did not keep his nails long; he used a thumb pick and then plucked the other strings with the flat of his fingers. This produced a very percussive style, underlined by the fact that he tended to use very low open tunings.

In 1982 a horrendous car accident hospitalised Nic for six months and brought his career to an unfortunate end. During the long recovery period he had difficulty remembering anything, and his wife Julia put out a request to the folk music world for any recordings of his songs, which could then be used to help jog his memory. The response was enormous and eventually over five hundred recorded tracks – some live, some from radio sessions with the BBC and other similar sources – were uncovered. Given the difficulty regarding Nic’s earlier albums and the continuing interest in his work, it was decided to begin releasing some of these recordings. To date, three of these compilation albums have been released: ‘In Search of Nic Jones‘ (1998), ‘Unearthed‘ (2001), and ‘Game, Set, and Match‘ (2006).

I’ve been working through them back to front, as it were; I got ‘Game, Set, and Match’ in 2007 in England, and ‘Unearthed’ earlier this year. I’ve now completed my collection as Marci bought me ‘In Search of Nic Jones’ for Christmas. The twelve tracks on this CD were intentionally chosen to give a broad representation of the sort of stuff Nic would play at a live event, and my first surprise was the number of cover tunes; I think of Nic mainly as an interpreter of traditional songs, and didn’t realise just how many cover tunes he did. So here we have songs by the likes of Randy Newman and Loudon Wainright III, shoulder to shoulder with Nic’s excellent arrangements of old classics like ‘Lord Franklin’, ‘Seven Yellow Gypsies’, ‘Ploughman Lads’ and ‘Rose of Allandale’, and also a couple of originals (‘Ruins by the Shore’, ‘Green to Grey’). Also included is Nic’s well-known instrumental arrangement of the ‘Teddy Bears’ Picnic’ tune.

I think this is destined to become one of my favourite CDs. I won’t review every single track, but to name just one: I’ve heard arrangements of ‘Lord Franklin’ by (to name just a few) John Renbourn, Martin Carthy, Eilis Kennedy, Duncan McFarlane, and Sinead O’Connor (and I’ve created one myself), but Nic’s simple version on this album has already rocketed to the top of my list.

All in all a wonderful album, and one I highly recommend for fans of Nic Jones and for others who might like to give him a try. Order it direct from Nic and Julia at the Molly Music website.

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