On June 9th, I took the Midlife songs back to Brum. Performing at Kitchen Garden Cafe, I was delighted to see folk writer and presenter, Mike Davies, in the audience. He subsequently sent me the following review. Thanks, Mike!
‘Wilks is the sort of performer folk circles mean when they talk of the living tradition’
Now based near Winchester, but making a welcome return to his hometown of Birmingham, Jon Wilks made an all too rare live outing in support of his album, Midlife. It’s a collection of traditional folk songs from in and around Birmingham, most of them pretty obscure, but it’s testimony to his passion for the English folk tradition that he’s not only tracked them down to record and perform but he’s learnt about their origins and the singers from whom they were collected.
That passion informs his live shows, the songs liberally sprinkled with anecdotes (‘babysitting’ Martin Carthy being a particular gem), humour and history, his singing and personality hugely engaging. Here were tales of a somewhat corporeal ghost called Colin, of night visiting in Navvy Boots, a 19th century Dudley protest about animal cruelty, wife selling and the particularly pertinent “I Can’t Find Brummagem”, about a chap returning home to find the city changed beyond all recognition. Not only Birmingham and the Black Country, his set took a tour around the Midlands, from Newbold to Staffordshire, even cajoling the audience into joining in with the slavery-themed shanty “Shallow Brown”, originally collected in Dartmouth.
Encoring with “Holly Ho”, collected in the 50s from long gone Halesowen pub The Cross Guns, new verses apparently added every week by the customers and quite possibly the only song to ever mention Phil Drabble, the original presenter of BBC’s One Man and His Dog, Wilks is the sort of performer folk circles mean when they talk of the living tradition.