Various Three Score & Ten – A Voice to the People Review

Compilation. Released 2009.  

BBC Review

Anyone who appreciates great folk music should check this out.

Robin Denselow 2009

Topic Records is an extraordinary institution. Founded 70 years ago, it can rightly claim to be the oldest truly independent record label in the UK, and has had an enormous impact on the development of the folk music scene in Britain.

With folk now back in fashion, it’s appropriate that Topic should celebrate its birthday in style, and this elaborately packaged set does just that. The seven CDs are cleverly positioned within the hardback cover of a well-illustrated 100-page book that tells the story of the record label, from the late 30s through to the present day, with photos and features on the key figures involved. These include the singer and songwriter Ewan MacColl, whose 1952 recording of the classic Dirty Old Town is included, through to the Waterson Family and singer and guitarist Martin Carthy – and even that veteran American folk hero Pete Seeger.

Topic started out as a staunchly left-wing label. It was founded by the Workers’ Music Association, an offshoot of the British Marxist Party, at a time when the growth of fascism elsewhere in the world had led to an upsurge in socialism in Britain. Members of the WMA included such distinguished composers and musicians as Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears, and the aim of Topic was to promote music that “exerts an influence against the social injustices of our present society”. As the CDs here prove, the label did just that – and much more besides. It released, and continues to release, music by great folk singers, singer-songwriters and experimental musicians who have used the folk tradition as their starting point.

The first and last CDs in the set show off the label’s range, from the extraordinary guitar work of the late Davy Graham and his classic Angi (first recorded for Topic in 1963) through to the traditional singing of June Tabor and the classic American blues of Jesse Fuller. Other CDs are devoted solely to English traditional songs, with contributions from those great 60s stars Shirley Collins and Anne Briggs, or to Irish and Scottish songs, or to songwriters, with contribution here from Linda Thompson, guitarist Martin Simpson, and that adventurous contemporary singer-songwriter, Eliza Carthy. And, of course, there’s a CD of left-wing songs, including Topic’s first-ever release from back in 1939 – The Man That Waters the Workers’ Beer. 

Anyone who appreciates great folk music should check this out.

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