The owner of that titular beard and hairless dome is Andy Rouse, Exeter folk singer and academic, turned exile. Rouse has lived in Hungary since 1979, and here he surrounds himself with Hungarian musicians in a richly rewarding collaboration.
He has the clearest voice and a winning sparkle, especially on the music hall turn of Suit of Corduroy. There are 12 songs here and all twinkle under the charming presence of the bearded one and include a winning take on that bawdy morris favourite, Cuckoo’s Nest – here given a Gypsy spin, taking the tune for a drive that goes faster and faster. The full English, with a sprinkle of Hungarian paprika, as it were.
The album begins in sturdy tunefulness with the Yeoman of Kent and winds up with the 1916 classic, If You Were The Only Girl In The World, here performed beautifully and affectingly by possibly the only long grey-bearded, bald-headed Hungarian man from Exeter in the world.
SIMPLY ENGLISH – Long Grey Beard And A Head That’s Bald
Private Label SPECD001
Well, for those of us who like their folk music same as their beer: clear, smooth, traditionally rooted and full bodied, there’s really nothing not to like about this new offering from this ‘spiffering’ Hungarian band. That is to say, Andy Rouse (lead vocal), being a thoroughbred Englishman and west country chappy to boot but, living very near Pecs for around 30 years, and the other two relatively younger and sparkling musicians: Bulcsu (guitar, ukulele, vocals) and Zsombor (fiddle, viola, mandolin, mando-cello, singing saw and vocals) both born and bred in Pecs – just about qualifies them as a Hungarian band…don’t yer think? And we need to see more of them over here, too.
What is most delightful about this talented trio is their dogged determination to do all they can to popularise or, at least, inject the psyche of the Hungarian population with their own interpretation of English traditional music and song – something they have succeeded most admirably in doing over time. Call it a crusade if you like – I think it’s a very healthy obsession, personally, that can, for me, spin out of control any time it likes. In particular, Andy’s penchant and love for the English song is plain to see here and something to behold.
You will discover for yourselves (when you get your copy) just how consummate and musical these three are when they get together – Andy sits very comfortably and authoritatively in the frontline vocal with a strong baritone/bass voice and unique style of delivery whilst the other two mostly book-end him and provide a rock-steady and comfy musical bed for the songs to sit on. And their harmony vocals and intuitive arrangements are nothing to sniff at either. There is also much variety and light and shade in the content – both in the material and treatment-wise.
I don’t have enough ‘character quota’ to effectively dissect the material/tracks, but suffice to say there isn’t one track that won’t draw you in to listen multiple times and every time you do, you will hear something you didn’t hear before. My only whinge is that there isn’t much representation of Hungarian music – but, I suspect that would kind of defeat the purpose of their union. That said, they make such a good job of the English stuff, my whinge is really quite superficial. All in all, a very worthwhile spin and purchase – get yer money out – you’ll not regret it!
This is a most unusual album in many ways. Not least because Andy Rouse has been based in Pec, Hungary, for more than 20 years, where, other than lecturing at the university, he performs English folk songs, with local musicians Barbarci Bulcsu and Zsombor Horvath.
His folk roots, however, go back to the Jolly Porter club in Exeter back in the early Seventies and he still has family and friends in the area. One might expect prominent Eastern European influences on the material but with a couple of exceptions this is not the case. Andy gives a distinctively individual treatment to many of the songs which would make the album stand out from those of other British folksingers, even without the predominantly fiddle and guitar accompanied that is quite distinctive but very melodic. I enjoyed the album on first playing, although surprised at some of the arrangements, but it grows on you with repeat playing.
Apart from one of his own songs, The Red Barn Murder, all the others are traditional, and many have gypsy connections.
John Barleycorn, the final song, is most unusually given a very slow and dramatic treatment rather than the usual jolly hearty style. The Chinese Maiden’s Lament is a bit quirky but very enjoyable. Oko Vela O Chavo is Bobby Shaftoe sung in Hungarian – the tune is instantly recognisable but I haven’t a clue what the words are all about!
My favourite track is the song The Maid And The Miller, which leads into The Maid Of The Mill (The Miller Put Her Hand On…) then to a catchy instrumental, Laura, which briefly morphs into a variation with Hungarian influence.
For more information about this and other albums and a little piece of foreign culture which is forever English, see Andy’s website.
Devon Folk, No. 115, Winter 2017-18
Andy Rouse – vocals
Bulcsú Babarci – guitar, vocals, ukulele
Zsombor Horváth – fiddle, viola, mandolin, tambura cello, singing saw
Béla Fenyvesi – recorder
Richárd Patkós – uilleann pipes
Áron Pilári – drums, shaker
November 1: Double CD launch with Keith Kendrick and Sylvia Needham
Old Oak Inn, Main Street, Horsley Woodhouse, Derbyshire DE7 6AW
Squirrel Inn, 33, Church Street, Rugby, CV21 3PU
Művészetek és Irodalom háza, 7621, Pécs, Széchenyi tér 7-8