If you survive long enough in the profession your past eventually comes back to haunt you in the form of the re-appearance of recordings you may well have forgotten about (there’s even a couple in my catalogue that I didn’t even know I’d made). There’s a sliding scale of embarrassment – if you’re still aspirational when this starts to happen it can be pretty excruciating, but hang on in there and you eventually cross the pain threshold and just raise your eyes to heaven and nod knowingly.
I had a good nod recently when I was alerted (thankyou John Kennedy Melling) to a CD called Songs of England, released last year on a label called Portrait Classics. You rarely have any control over old recordings, and this one is a conflation of one of mine and one by the folk singer Jo Freya. My bit is a re-issue of English National Songs, which I recorded on Saydisc in 1993 with Lucy Skeaping and Jeremy Barlow’s Broadside Band. I loved working with the Band – terrific improvisers – we did lots of BBC work (and even found our way onto the cover of a Christmas issue of the World Service magazine). So I was very excited when we got the chance to record some of the traditional repertoire. The CD (Portrait Classics PCL1009) has Dibdin’s lovely Tom Bowling on it, among other earlier material. Jeremy Barlow later devised a radio programme based on Dibdin’s own writings and songs called The Whim of the Moment, in which I played Didbin to Jeremy’s accompaniment (later still this was re-worked into a theatre piece with David Timson). The album also has me singing Rule Britannia and what became the National Anthem. I was rather more idealistic in those days (a legacy from refusing to go to South Africa under apartheid or to sing in countries with oppressive regimes) and at first baulked at being asked to sing these two pieces, albeit in their pristine 18th century versions. But then I decided that this would be the first recording of these pieces by a marxist (which I then, in the middle of doing my PhD, considered myself to be…) – which, of course, would make it OK… I began to put this on my concert biography and discovered that it was a good way to ensure you don’t get asked back for too many Messiahs.
Almost everything we did with small independent labels was subsequently sold on to bigger outfits. Larger companies have a much more rigorous attitude: ECM doesn’t delete anything, and Hyperion re-releases on its own budget line. The old Hilliard EMI catalogue was bought by Virgin and there’s been quite a lot of re-packaging there. The most satisfying recent re-release was the Hilliard Live Collection on The 16’s Coro label. This is a set of four live recordings (Perotin, Ockeghem, Brumel and Dufay) made between 1996 and 1998 at a time when the group felt it needed more of its favourite repertoire represented on disc. The original albums were in A5 sleeves, beautifully designed and packaged by Gordon Jones, and came with a copy of the legendary Hilliard Newsletter. We mostly sold them at gigs, and they’re now collectors’ items and virtually unobtainable, so it’s great to have the actual music now available as a box set. It’s the group at one of its many peaks.