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Gerry McNeice - Small Town Boy (Self Release)

Star rating: 

I've been bumping into Otley based singer-songwriter, musician and bassist Gerry McNeice quite a lot just lately, who seems to be getting around just about everywhere. If he's not playing upright bass with the Duncan McFarlane Band or Morrising-On with some Flash Company, then he may well be appearing in your neighbourhood with a bunch of fine musicians who form his own band featuring Horizon Award nominated fiddler Katriona Gilmore, bassist Ruth Wilde and son Liam on guitar or with the vastly expanded Gerry McNeice Orchestra, who make an impressive noise and leave not much room to spare on stage. It's fortunate that Katriona is a slight little thing otherwise she would more than likely have partner Jamie Roberts' trombone in her ear at some stage! Somewhere in the middle of all this Gerry manages to produce records and SMALL TOWN BOY pops up fourth in a collection that already includes AUDIOGRAPHS (2000) CRAZY WORLD (2006) and a live album LIVE IN THE COURTHOUSE (2007). 

After a few runs through SMALL TOWN BOY has left a good impression on me and not just because it includes some familiar goodies such as the traditional Flash Company, reminiscent of the arrangement the young Martin Simpson created for June Tabor in the days we used to catch the genius guitarist seated next to her on small South Yorkshire stages in the early 1980s, complete with green snotocaster and sneering youthfulness! Nor is it the inclusion of Richard Thompson's sublime Beeswing, which in all fairness is a brave move, to put down on record such a well loved Thompson favourite, but I guess as long as we think in terms of 'homage', then everything is hunky dory. It's with the original songs though, that has caught my attention here and none more impressive than Danger Sign, a father/son song of warmth yet devoid of overt sentimentality, that stays in your head once heard.

Co-produced by Katriona Gilmore, another hard working musician who pops up so much I swear there's two of 'em, the album has a home-made feel but maintains a consistent 'sound' throughout, with a crisp acoustic guitar ground augmented by banjo, mandolin, fiddle and melodeon. On Home, the aforementioned Jamie Roberts provides some atmospheric trombone playing, which blends perfectly with Jude Rees oboe, bringing a beautifully nostalgic feel to an exceptionally good song. Katriona's I Know You finds its way onto the album and is given a suitably fine arrangement with Gerry and Kat playing all the parts Mike Oldfield-like.

The traditional songs that Gerry has carefully chosen for SMALL TOWN BOY, such as The White Cockade and Braw Sailing, sit so well beside Gerry's own songs, in particular The Legend of Black Jack and also with the stunning arrangement of Circle for Danny, written by Duncan McFarlane, that like Jez Lowe for example, it's difficult at first to tell what's new and what's as old as the hills. That's good folk music I reckon.

Allan Wilkinson
Northern Sky