A Lighter Touch
Robin Dransfield is primarily known as (with his brother Barry) one-half of the British folk duo the Dransfields, who recorded several albums in the 1970s. Although Robin performed intermittently as a solo act for several periods in the 1960s and 1970s, Tidewave, released in 1980, was his only solo LP. The two-CD set A Lighter Touch is essentially an expanded version of Tidewave, with the first disc presenting that album, and the second offering a previously unreleased live show recorded in Kent on November 14, 1972. Though Tidewave was actually started in 1974 in Paris, five years passed before work resumed and the sessions were finished in London in 1979 and 1980. It's a low-key, pleasant affair split between traditional folk songs and more contemporary material, some of it written by Dransfield, with other tunes written by esteemed cult folk singer Anne Briggs (who penned the title track) and the yet more obscure Steve Sproxton and Paul Parrish. The arrangements are generally inclined toward sparse acoustic folk, despite others (including Procol Harum keyboardist Chris Copping) helping out on piano, cello, hurdy-gurdy, concertina, bass, trumpet, bass trombone, and euphonium. The jaunty, banjo-driven "When It's Night-Time in Italy, It's Wednesday Over Here" and brass band-backed "Spencer the Rover" make for the most adventurous departures from the more conventional folk arrangements typical of the rest of the album. This is a nice record with some of the positive attributes one expects of an LP from a respected British folkie of the '60s/'70s, particularly moving, lilting vocals, and wistfully reflective melodies. But it's kind of underwhelming compared to what you might expect given how fervently Dransfield (or, more properly, the Dransfields) are revered by some British folk fans.
The November 1972 concert featured on disc two, on which Dransfield sings accompanied by nothing other than his own guitar and banjo (with much of the between-song banter preserved), is more in line with the traditional British folk sound. Though the liner notes lead you to worry that the sound quality might be on the bootleg level, actually the fidelity is fairly good and listenable without difficulty. Here too, much of the material (including four songs later done on Tidewave) is traditional, "Scarborough Fair" being by far the most familiar song, though there are also contemporary compositions by Allan Taylor, Alasdair Clayre, "Black Stan" Ellison, and (far less expectedly) American cult singer/songwriter David Ackles ("Be My Friend"). Again this recording falls in the good but not remarkable category, but at least it adds considerably to the audio legacy of how Robin Dransfield sounded on his own, as he offers respectful interpretations in his pleasingly engaging northern British folk voice. The package includes lengthy liner notes by Dransfield himself in which he provides comments about each of the specific tracks.