Jon Langford and his Men of Gwent
Buffalo Bar, London
August 2011

Once, I had the pleasure of seeing the famous Copper family sing their unaccompanied local folk ballads in the corner of a Sussex pub. Their repertoire had been handed down, through generation after generation of Copper clans, bringing centuries-old rural tales of hardship and farm work graft back to startling life. I was moved by the purity, the clarity, the soul of these songs. As anybody would have been.

During a break in performance, I nipped to the gents – and found myself stood next to one of the junior Copper boys. In his own way, a legend. I avoided eye contact, as one does, and tried to pee and leave as quickly as possible. But the Copper lad started talking anyway.

“We went to America once,” he announced over the porcelain. “They went bloody mad over it. Kept on and on about it being living history and bringing the old days to life and all that.” He roared with incredulous laughter. “Americans. All mad!”

Mekon and Three Johns founder Jon Langford also went to America (via South Wales and Leeds): and he, too, found our cousins from the former colonies enjoying his stuff.

Unlike the Coppers, though, Langford is more likely to be heard singing about the hard times of new England – not olde. With his mandolin and acoustic-guitar toting chums, he sings of modern heroic characters: like the ‘Pill Sailor’, John Sicolo, who left the merchant navy to open Newport’s legendary TJ’s club.

He offers sagely live touring advice, purloined from one of Pere Ubu, in “get the money – don’t leave anything behind” and, aided by Julian Hayman, offers an ‘answer’ to Tom Jones’ ‘Delilah’ – in which the lovely lady’s life is spared.

These are folk songs, drinking songs, swaggering singalongs, protest songs, biographies and – in the case of the ‘Pill Sailor’ – epitaphs for the righteous.

In this red-painted basement in Highbury, Jon is one of the boys. In Chicago, he’s a walking legend. Wherever he may roam, he’s got to be one of the best troubadours we’ve got.

Andy Barding

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