Setting poetry to music is not unusual and Peter Bellamy’s settings of Kipling have become folk standards. However, as a distant relative of Charles Causley, Jim Causley has a particular reason for arranging his. The album Cyprus Well marks the 10th anniversary of the poet’s death and was recorded in the house which gives the album its name, on his own piano.
The aforementioned piano has that “not quite in tune” quality of many a church hall instrument, but not enough to set the teeth on edge, and somehow it seems just right here. Fittingly, the last person to play this piano before Jim was Charles Causley himself.
It opens the album in the introduction to the delicate On All Soul’s Day where further accompaniment is provided by Ceri Owen Jones’ harp.
The following track, My Young Man’s a Cornishman, has a much fuller accompaniment, including accordion and rather unusually the clarinet, and ends with the singers and musicians in party mood.
Jim’s deep rich voice is either heard solo or blending beautifully with those of Julie Murphy and Ceri Owen-Jones. On two tracks, Rattler Morgan (accompanied by harp) and Sibbard’s Well the poems are recited rather than sung.
One really striking track is A Song of Truth, which is a poignant re-telling of the Christmas story. Charles Causley’s piano makes another appearance here, while Jim duets with Julie Murphy. The instrumental break includes some gentle trombone.
It was hearing Timothy Winters sung that inspired Jim to arrange Charles Causley’s poetry, and here it is given a gentle jazz feel with solo voice and light percussion.
Jim’s versatility is shown throughout the album - as well as fine instrumental arrangements. Who? is a gem of an unaccompanied piece, with an Americana feel to it. Angel Hill, a story of a sailor, sounds like it was always meant to be a folk song.
Jim is already widely known as an accomplished folk singer, but this album will serve to establish him as a talented composer and arranger, as well as introducing some of Charles Causley’s poetry to a new audience.