Sleeve Notes etc - Two Ravens

Phil's second album Two Ravens is, like his first, mainly English Roots music and features his award-winning composition "Song For Jackie". Also included are his own arrangements of Traditional English songs such as "Two Ravens", "The Saucy Bold Robber", "Australia", "The Lancashire Lads", and his own 'Northern Industrial Blues' version of "The Bolinder Boatman". Along with four of his own compositions, the tracks are all English Roots except for one - his beautiful arrangement of the New Zealand Maori love song "Pokarekare Ana". This is a gutsy, down to earth album - honest and without frills.

Says  Phil "This project started in New Zealand earlier this year and meandered off track several times while my wife who is a New Zealander wrestled with the British Immigration System and then while we busied ourselves settling permanently in England.
I wanted it to be an album of honest-to-goodness English Roots music, a mix of Traditional and Contemporary but entirely relevant to my own English roots. I have also included a couple of songs that I have been performing ‘Live’ around the clubs this year that people have asked me to record, including Pokarekare Ana, which isn’t English Roots but everywhere I sing it, it gets a great reception."

Track listing: 1. The Saucy Bold Robber; 2. Civilization In Reverse; 3. Song For Jackie; 4. The Bolinder Boatman; 5. Pokarekare Ana; 6. Two Ravens; 7. The Lancashire Lads; 8. Last Train & Ride; 9. The Token; 10. The January Man; 11. Australia

From the English Tradition and the singing of Roy Harris this is an early 1800s English robber ballad from Norfolk There are variations on the title, it often being called The Jolly Bold Robber. This one was collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams from a fisherman called Anderson, of King's Lynn It can be found in his Folk Songs from the Eastern Counties or in Folk Song in England by A.L.Lloyd.

I wrote the music and lyrics 30 years ago, over on the West Coast of Ireland, where I fled to get away from the Scargill/ Thatcher miseries of Britain in the early 1980s. It never saw the light of day because friends said it was too depressing. I just thought I was telling it the way I saw it, and at that time things were pretty depressing. Little did I know then that I would be resurrecting the song 25 years later, and while I did change the tune, I haven’t changed any of the words. This is dedicated to an early McCann family reunion.

This song was inspired by a TV documentary about the coal miners’ strikes of the early ‘80s.
The programme focused not on the miners, but how the six month strike had affected their wives and children. I imagined a conversation between a miner and his wife where he has thoughts of blacklegging to save his family from starving, but his missus has other ideas.
Set in the Bradford coal pit, Manchester, near where I was brung up as a kid, it’s really a song about unity and community, and the strength of mining families. I affectionately call it the Brad Pit Song, but under its real name this song won the Saltburn (UK) Songwriting Competition 2008.

This is a modern version of what, in the English Tradition, is called an “Occupation Ballad”.
Written by Ian Woods in the 1960s, I have adapted the arrangement in the form of a Blues, and I think it stands up really well. It’s about the narrow boats and the broad boats that travelled around the English waterways since the Industrial Revolution and the star of the song, the Bolinder, is the diesel engine that powered many of these boats. There are many of them still around, over 150 years on, and working as good as ever. I call this my Northern Industrial Blues.

Having lived in New Zealand for 20 years the least I could do was learn a song from the Maori Tradition. Literally translated as “The waters (of this lake) are troubled”, this is the most famous of Maori love songs and I asked a Maori friend to teach it to me phonetically. Unfortunately I could only manage two verses. It is of uncertain origin, written about a hundred years ago and is a song about a Maori Princess and a warrior who loves her from afar. In Maori ‘Hine’ means girl, ‘Ka mate’ means to die, and ‘Aroha’ means love, so the chorus line “E hine e, hoki mai ra. Ka mate ahau I te aroha e” means “Oh girl, return to me, I will die for the love of you”.

The title track is a Northern English version of this much-travelled song, and concerns a dead knight (presumably English), a horse of unknown corporal state, and a couple of hungry ravens who have been endowed with the gift of speech. A well-known and much-recorded Scottish version of this song exists entitled Twa Corbies, whose words are frequently mangled by non-Scottish singers attempting to mimic Scots dialect. I’ve stuck to the Northern version.

Being a Lancashire lad by birth I had to record a version of this song from the English Tradition. The lyrics and tune were united by the wonderful Nic Jones and his band The Halliard. The 47th Lancashire Foot Regiment, otherwise known as 'The Lancashire Lads' was formed In 1782. Their uniform was a scarlet jacket with blue cuffs and unusual white facings on their lapels. They are now part of the Queen's Lancashire Regiment.

This song is a real English Roots, written by Ralph McTell back in the late 60s, and whenever I’m feeling a bit fidgety, I pick up my guitar and play it. I’ve been doing that for about the last 30 years but recently I’ve had to re-learn it in the key of A as I can’t sing it in C anymore. Now that’s what getting old does to you.

Since I was a kid, ordinary English people have stoically put up with Celtic extremism of one sort or another and, throughout, never exacted revenge on Celtic people living in England. When I came back from New Zealand 2 years ago I read about a 9 year old boy who was badly beaten up in Glasgow by two men because he was wearing an England football shirt. Then there was a woman in Aberdeen who had her jaw and ribs broken by a couple of blokes because she had an English accent, and altogether there have been 53 complaints laid by English people in Scotland over the past 3 years. Now we all like to believe that this is a small minority, but Sterlingshire police and politicians have admitted that they have an anti-English problem in many secondary schools. Last December an English family’s home was set on fire in Wales. I wrote this song to give these extremists a different view of history, and to remind us all that racism has ben illegal in this country for 35 years. Its protect all people from racial abuse, and that includes English people. No-one is exempt, and history is no longer an excuse.

This is a beautifully-crafted song by a great writer and, knowing how Dave feels about his work, I’ve stayed faithful to the words as he originally wrote them. Sorry to say, I wasn’t confident that I could do them justice unaccompanied. Maybe in a live performance sometime!!

In England in the 1850s, only four percent of Northern English people had the right to vote. The Industrial Revolution had created such deprivation that the average life expectancy in the North West of England had fallen from 50 in the 1700s to just 40, and life for agricultural workers, although longer, was little better.
At the same time, British Politicians were self-righteously condemning the American slave trade, while the British Justice system continued to deport English slaves to Australia (around 100,000 English men, women and children from 1780 to 1870), whose only crimes were poverty and starvation created by the same British Ruling Classes. In school I was taught about Greeks and Romans but was not allowed to learn about the social history of my own people. Today the British Government continues to ensure that, in England, English schoolchildren are taught very little about their Englishness, unlike Scottish, Welsh or Irish children. Few of these disgraceful episodes have been acknowledged by the British authorities, either with regret or apology, and I choose to sing songs like this one to keep the shame alive. Regretfully, we are constantly reminded that the ‘hypocrisy, corruption and greed’ of the British Ruling Classes continues to blight the working people of England.

Phil Drane, vocals & Lotus Yamaha guitars
Dan Pride, acoustic & fretless bass
Andre Hill, accordion & keyboards