Cally Callomon reviews Jack Sharp’s Good Times Older, released last month on From Here Records.
Sometimes music arrives just in time.
Whilst we play solitaire under house arrest, Jack Sharp’s solo debut waltzes in with the freshness of Spring. A mixture of thunder, rainbows, showers and sunlight – good, that’s both album and climate accounted for.
Dance Music has a bizarre dress-code whereby almost any such music can design its own clothes and give them a fresh name; be it House, Drill, Slap, Clap, Grime or just plain Disco. Sharp’s own club is guarded by the bouncer we call Folk and that word puts off many, yet also entices a broad clientele who will be confused by the F word allowing in Jack Sharp. Call it F Sharp or better still – call it Folc in tribute to Paul Kingsnorth’s epic book The Wake, for if that book had been a collection of songs then here it is. Good, glad we got the nomenclature sorted out.
Flying solo is not that new to Jack; we have been tantalised before by his Experiments With Mangled Tape and the odd EP that wouldn’t fit into his day job as member of the four piece Bedford Lorry known as Wolf People. Fans of the latter: no disappointment awaits you here.
Sharp is a fine songwriter, a distinctive singer in the Lau school and a superb guitar player, of which the lazy will quote Nick Drake – but it’s the intricacy of another Nick, Nic Jones, and the deliberate hesitancy of Martin Carthy that you get here. That’s more like it.
Guitar prowess abounds, along with Ian Carter as the mechanised rabbit in a greyhound stadium chase:
Though a solo flight, Sharp is accompanied by Stick In The Wheel (whose label this is on) and, most significantly, the concertina of the greatly underrated Laura Smyth, a woman who knows her history and is hell bent on not repeating it. Ford Concertina eh? There’s Folc for you.
It’s perfectly understandable and no less enjoyable when Folcers recreate scenes of times of olde in words and song; the Tradition (if not crushed into academic rubble) is a reliable crutch on which to lean, whittle further, even modernise. Beyond this something else stirs, less in meadows with maidens, more so in the grime of the bins at the back of a corner shop in Luton. These are the older good times.
Just as Drill and Grime adopt and translate an American Dance idiom, what we get with Sharp is peculiar to this country alone, stalking the same territory as Burial, an unruly urban-fox lore hitherto dominated by the nation’s youth gang obsessed with getting rich (or die trying). Meanwhile Sharp sings of an Oxford Street ‘covered in brambles’. The drinking song ‘Jug Of This’ could be sung by the Gavin Bryars ‘Jesus’ Blood’ down-and-out.
Eleven songs instay their welcome, the grand tradition represented by songs made famous by the Watersons and Steeleye Span, but a new tradition is created by Sharp’s own compositions. Those readers conversant with the mysterious radio broadcast numbers-code that uses ‘The Lincolnshire Poacher’ as a theme will find it rebirthed, here, as the Northamptonshire variety, overwriting a not-so-ancient myth. Poaching seems apt in these days of breaking and entering and the practised art features often, as does that of the gamekeeper – today he’s equipped by blues and twos. Being based in Bedfordshire, The Countryside (for want of a better term) creeps into the songs; almost all of them have creatures. Sharp’s own song ‘The Treecreeper’ will get the twitcher listeners itching (song birdspotters now have their time cut out). The front cover is of clouds, heavy ominous dull ones. There’s little in the way of bucol to be found here.
In danger of being THE stand out album of 2020; If you pass this Folc Club, ignore the bald-headed bouncer on the door, barge your way in and get lost: there’s real treasure to be found.
Good Times Older is out now and available here to stream or buy, on digital and/or CD.