(1966) The Critics Group – Sweet Thames Flow Softly

SweetThames argostrong>Argo issue number: DA 47 and ZDA 47, later re-issued as ZFB 61
Issued on CD: by Vocalion in 2006, available mid-May 2009 for ₤2.99 (bargain!)

Recording directed by: Ewan MacColl
Musical direction: Peggy Seeger

Jim O’Connor
Terry Yarnell
Sandra Kerr
John Faulkner
Ted Culver


Side One
1  Street Cries (trad)
2  Tottie (Dagonet aka G.R. Sims) – Terry Yarnell
3  Judges and Juries (trad) – Ted Culver (unaccompanied)
4  Parson Grocer (trad) – John Faulkner, Sandra Kerr, plus chorus, banjo  
5  Betsy Baker (MacColl/Gardner) – John Faulkner (unaccompanied)
6  Plank Bed Ballad (Dagonet aka G.R. Sims) – Terry Yarnell, plus whistle, concertina
7  The Jail Song (trad) – Ted Culver, plus chorus, guitar
8  William and Phyllis (trad) – Sandra Kerr (unaccompanied)   
9  Randolph Turpin, Sugar Ray Fight (MacColl/’The Professor’) – Terry Yarnell, plus chorus, guitars, spoons, yazoo, etc.

Side Two
1 Supermarket Song (Marigold/Turner/O’Connor/MacColl) – John Faulkner, Sandra Kerr, plus chorus, banjo
2  Ratcliffe Highway (trad) – Jim O’Connor (unaccompanied)  
3  Outward Bound (trad) – John Faulkner, plus chorus, concertina
4  My Jolly Sailor Bold (trad) – Sandra Kerr, voice and autoharp
5  The Streets of London (Irish Trad/Hasted) – Jim O’Connor, plus chorus, concertina, guitar
6  The Colour-Bar Strike (MacColl/Mayo) – John Faulkner, plus two guitars
7  The Landlord’s Nine Questions (Seeger) – Sandra Kerr, plus chorus   
8  Sweet Thames Flow Softly (MacColl) – John Faulkner, plus chorus, zither, guitar

A mix on this LP (the companion album to A Merry Progress to London) of 19th and 20th century songs. Amongst the latter a version (the first on disc?) of Ewan MacColl’s much-recorded Sweet Thames Flow Softly.

“Anti-romanticism is aimed at in the very first line (‘I met my girl at Woolwich pier, beneath a big crane standing’),” said Charles Fox reviewing the album for the Gramophone. “Yet the song falls into its own kind of sentimentality. A pity. It’s the work of Ewan MacColl, who also directed the entire project—and very excellently too.”

Fox preferred the 19th century songs on the LP, in particular Ratcliffe Highway, Outward Bound, Sandra Kerr and John Faulkner’s rendering of Parson Grocer and the two cockney slang ballads written by G. R. Sims and performed by Terry Yarnell.

“Most of the nineteenth-century material, in fact, is put across with the correct amount of vulgarity,” Fox said. “But the twentieth-century songs – The Colour-Bar Strike, Randolph Turpin-Sugar Ray Fight, the Super-Market Song and John Hasted’s Streets of London – all too often adopt an archaic stance, falling back on a ‘come-all-ye’ approach. This, it seems to me, is not the right way to go about making modem folk-songs.”

The two jolly ballads here by G.R. Sims appeared in an anthology of Canting Songs and Slang Rhymes published in 1896. There’s some great stuff in it and it’s online here.

Some other versions of Sweet Thames Flow Softly
1969 – The Johnstons on ‘Give a Damn’
1972 – Planxty on their first album ‘Planxty’
1978 – Dave Burland on ‘Songs of Ewan MacColl’
1983 – Ewan MacColl on ‘Freeborn Man’
2002 – Maddy Prior & The Girls on ‘Bib and Tuck’
2005 – Cherish The Ladies on ‘Woman of the House’

~ by folkcatalogue on May 19, 2009.

3 Responses to “(1966) The Critics Group – Sweet Thames Flow Softly”

  1. Great work. You may be interested in our project at http://www.raretunes.org

  2. Can you upload “My Jolly Sailor Bold (trad) – Sandra Kerr, voice and autoharp ” this song?

  3. I wish Vocalion had also reissued A Merry Progress to London, which I think is the better of the pair. But I gather sales were dire, and it’ll probably remain trapped in scratchy vinyl prison forever

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