For the benefit of those outside of the UK, let me introduce to you Yardarm Offa. Originally known as Yardarm, from Wrexham in North Wales, they are John Evans, vocals, six-string guitar, and electric bass; Goff Jones, vocals, 12 string guitar; and Ian Chesterman, vocals, six-string guitar, banjo and mandolin. I have been known to credit the Spinners and the Black Diamond Folk group for introducing me to real music and saving me from the evils of rock ‘n’ roll, but in point of fact The Yardarm played a huge part as well.
Sadly, as this CD was being mixed and the cover notes prepared, John Evans, after a short illness, died of cancer. John was a gifted singer and musician and will be greatly missed. The band therefore dedicate this recording to John and hope it will serve as a fitting memorial to the joy and inspiration he gave to so many through his singing and performing of folk songs.
Thirty-five years ago Yardarm ran a folk club in the upstairs room of the Bull & Stirrup pub in Chester. Held every Sunday night, those were magical times when Yardarm sang as a duo. John Evans — who was far too good looking for my liking — and his younger stepbrother Goff Jones would amaze the audience with their natural ability to sing in harmony. Two completely different voices, but they blended together well. I think being brothers had something to do with it. Yardarm’s strong point back then, and still today, is an ‘ear’ for a good song. The end result is a superb repertoire. Plus they never try to be too clever and perform the songs in the fashion that the so called ‘purists’ would have us all listening to. Instead they sing them honestly and from the heart with a feeling for the tune.
So it was at Chester Folk Festival that Goff asked me if I would mind reviewing the new CD from Yardarm Offa. Why are they called Yardarm Offa? What a strange name, you might be thinking! The name Offa is taken from the Welsh medieval name for Offas’ Dyke, an 8th century earthwork marking the boundary between England and Wales. Built by King Offa of Mercia, it extends 140 miles from Prestatyn in North Wales to the River Severn near Chepstow. In about 1978 Goff and John had ceased to perform full time as Yardarm. Years later in about 1989 Goff and Ken Prydderch joined forces with Ian Chesterman and formed Offa. A few years later after Ken Prydderch departed Offa, Goff and John reformed Yardarm and in 2000 they decided to amalgamate the duos and become Yardarm Offa. Er, simple.
Once Upon a Winters Night was recorded live by Mo Plume while Tony Pugh engineered the P.A. system at Wrexham Folk Club in the Nags Head, in December 2001. The quality of the recording is excellent; indeed if not for the audience singing the choruses, it would be hard to distinguish it from a studio recording. But the band singing live and responding to the reaction and mood of the audience as they are enjoying the songs and joining in, is a joy to behold. It lifts the band, and you get that extra sparkle in the performance that is impossible to recreate in a cold studio recording. This is true folk music, as it should be, and what you hear in a real folk club.
There are 17 songs on the album, but only four are traditional; the others are so well chosen the diversity never stops and it holds the audience throughout. From ‘Together Forever’ by Rab Noakes, which starts the album, to ‘Next Time Around’ that ends it, there are a lot of old favourites here, like ‘The Deserter’, ‘If Wishes were Fishes’, ‘Calico Printer’s Clerk’, ‘Bedlam Boys’, ‘The Pirate Serenade’, ‘The Dutchman’ — all of them given the Yardarm treatment. These sit nicely with five songs written by Ian Chesterman. They are ‘Australia Bound’, a song of leaving; ‘Ladies of Llangollen’ celebrating the home of the Welsh International Eisteddfod; ‘Rainbows’, a reflection on life song; and ‘Old Letters’, inspired by some old letters written in 1914 by Ian’s grandmother to her brother in San Francisco. The album ends with ‘Next Time Around’, a song of farewell till the next time. Goff Jones also writes one, ‘If I Write to You’ a song of unrequited love for an old flame.
There is no doubt in my mind that this really is one of the nicest albums that you are likely to hear these days.
(Dyn Caer Music 2003)
[Update: We haven’t been able to find this one on any streaming services, but there are two albums by The Yardarm on Spotify.]