There are two sides to Peter Skellern’s music ...
His ‘trademark’ sound is very much rooted in his Lancashire background, with many of his song arrangements featuring his piano accompanied by brass bands and male voice choirs from the collieries of Northern England, quite often complemented further by angelic-sounding church choirs too (Skellern used to be a choirmaster).
And added into the mix occasionally is his rather droll Northern wit, something I first encountered when I was sent a very entertaining recording of a Noel Edmonds BBC Radio One show which happened to feature Skellern as that week’s guest performer.
But prior to hearing that, my only impression of Skellern had been based entirely on his hit single "You’re A Lady" (the track that opens this compilation), which was a thoroughly maudlin and over-produced piece of balladic sludge! So the Peter Skellern that featured on the radio show was a bit of a pleasant contrast, and it prompted me to check him out further.
I’ve just detailed the two sides of Skellern mentioned in the first line. One is the aspiring ‘serious’ singer/songwriter, who frankly isn’t very good at either writing or singing ballads - he always seems to come across as a bit pathetic and wimpish - and unfortunately, half the songs on this collection are of that ilk, with Skellern kinda wringing his hands, and sobbing into his handkerchief at the same time.
In sharp contrast, there’s Skellern’s dry humour, something that emerges in his witty little ditties, which are often every bit as doomladen as his more ‘serious’ material, but with the gloom leavened no end by lashings of irony (on this release, obscure oldies "She Had to Go and Lose It at the Altar" and "Abdul Abulbul Amir").
And that is where Skellern really excels ... as an interpreter of old novelty numbers from the 1920's to 1940's - the pre-war era - recording the sort of material the likes of Noel Coward were renowned for (he of "Mad Dogs and Englishmen" fame, and represented here by the closing track "That is the End of the News").
The best version of Skellern though is where these two quite separate aspects of his music are combined. And that was realised most successfully in what must rank as easily his best-loved recording, the 5 star album Astaire
from 1979, made up of a collection of songs made famous by Fred Astaire, and very skillfully re-arranged and re-presented by Skellern, who draws upon all the elements of his Lancashire background to very fine musical effect - the brass bands, and the colliery choirs etc - resulting in an album that is well worth checking out.
As for this compilation - well, the two sides of Skellern’s musical persona remain completely polarised here, so this release epitomises both the dismal balladic drudgery and the more upbeat musical cariacatures.
So I’ve done what I always end up doing with his records - added the two clever ditties to my burgeoning collection of Skellern ephemera, and promptly dispensed with the rest. Rated:
by Reviewer: bluemoon13th May 2013