On John Jones: Never Stop Moving
I’ve been waiting, as have all the Ramblers, for this CD–and for a long part of the wait, since news of John Jones’ illness and surgery broke, with more of a sense of urgency than the usual pre-release expectation.
Never Stop Moving does not disappoint.
Perhaps my view is colored. Most of the songs are familiar to me because of my adventures with the Reluctant Ramblers: having heard them in live versions–at the Nettlebed Folk Club, at the Wickham Music Festival, at a rehearsal in the private lounge of the Lysses Hotel in Fareham–listening to them on the CD was like coming home. Like being in the arms of friends. There is a certain joy in closing my eyes and envisioning John Jones on stage–or in an ornately upholstered wing chair–singing these lyrics while holding out his hands to us; or in picking out Rowan Godel’s harmonies while remembering how she lifts her head and closes her eyes, holding the microphone in both hands; or how Lindsey Oliver plays bass barefoot (and has tattoos on her insteps); or any other performance moments with Tim Cotterell, Dil Davies, Benji Kirkpatrick, Al Scott, or Boff Whalley. Knowing the songs is all the richer for knowing the players.
By far my favorite has always been “Black and White Bird.” John Jones tells the story frequently behind this break-up song, with the horse, the stable, and the bird in a burlap sack. What he makes of these elements is a brilliant mixture of the eeriness of the setting and the sad reality of the end of a relationship: it’s art at its most haunting.
To the girl on the chestnut horse
Please tell her I’ll be gone tomorrow
I leave to her this black and white bird
Two for joy, one for sorrow
Al Scott’s obsessive guitar, and Tim Cotterell’s melancholy fiddle overlay, punctuate, decorate, emphasize:
On this flip side of this story is “Ferryman,” which might be overtaking “Black and White Bird” as my favorite song on this CD. While still haunting and melancholy, there’s something hopeful in this song, something which reaches out of John’s and Rowan’s harmonies on the refrain to grab me by the heart:
If you should need a guiding hand
when the sea of trouble is wide
If you should need a rock to cling to
when you’re struggling against the tide
I’ll be your ferryman and I’ll never ask you why
I’ll be your ferryman and I’ll carry you over,
over to the other side
This is the song that I long to have someone sing to me.
The entire CD is an immense treasure trove. As with any artist with a foot in the English folk tradition, John Jones includes a turn on the murder ballad: in “Pierrepoint’s Farewell,” an abused wife knifes her husband and is in turn executed by the hangman. In “Down by the Lake,” the death is accidental when a boy with a gun takes “one stupid shot” and kills a girl (a kind of updated version of “Blackwaterside,” if one wants to think of it that way). The social conscience, too, that Jones has given voice to all these years as the front man of Oysterband, appears here in “Ghosts of the Village,” angrily mourning a life that has been subverted by money:
A man from the city has bought these hills
Where we played as kids and wander still
And locked in time his rural dream
Locked out life and the chance to breathe
When John Jones chose the title for his second solo CD, from the song of the same name, he knew it was a wise selection. In these songs, he moves backwards and forwards, across the landscape, across the sea, across time, across a wealth of human emotions. Just as he takes people (including me, sometimes) on his regular perambulations across the footpaths of England, he takes his listeners (including me, all the time) with him in the music.
My copy of the CD made its way to me from the pre-release at the Shrewsbury Folk Festival, courtesy of one of my Rambler friends, Lesley Collett. Because of the nature of that Rambler friendship, she not only had John Jones sign the cover, but inside, on the front of the booklet, she had the rest of the band sign: Al, Tim, Dil, Rowan, Lindsey (missing were Benji, who was with Bellowhead, his other band, at Towersey; and Boff, who, Lesley said, had disappeared). To top it off, on the back of the booklet, she had members of the Rambler family sign: Anne and Paul, Lauren, Val and John, Hep, Fran, Rose, Bev, Steve, Kay, Judith, and many many others, including Lesley herself. Am I the luckiest person in the world, or what?