Classic Recordings: Nic Jones – Penguin Eggs

Nick-Jones

Nic Jones – Penguin Eggs

Three Black Feathers (Vinyl)

By Paul Rigby

Although he was a member of two folk groups: Halliard during the 60s and Bandoggs during the late-70s, it was as an intermediary solo artist that Jones found fame and garnered acclaim and respect. In essence, Jones was part of the British folk revival movement that included artists like the Oyster Band and Pete Morton, finding his influences in the works of Martin Carthy and being immediately noticed for his prowess with the guitar and fiddle.

The highlight if his career was this album, released in 1982 and declared the Folk Album of the Year by the Melody Maker. Traditional in flavour it, nevertheless, imbues emotion and a certain freshness while his vocal delivery brings his reading of the folk genre right up to date. Some observers have declared it the best folk album ever created – such is the regard that music fans hold this album. The tragedy is that Jones never delivered a follow-up due to a bad car accident which forced his retirement.

Now reissued by a new UK vinyl outfit, Three Black Feathers (www.threeblackfeathers.co.uk), from a Topic Records original, the creation of the LP was an involved process. In fact, label owner, Chris Heard, had to approach the British Library to access the masters: the album is currently viewed as an artefact and is stored ‘for the nation’. In fact, Heard was not allowed to even hold the tapes, they were taxied directly to Abbey Road for mastering. Once there, Abbey Road mastered the tapes on the same console that Pink Floyd used to record Dark Side Of The Moon utilising one of the engineers that worked on the recently reissued Beatles CD box sets.

After some consultation, Abbey Road also recommended that the album should be remastered using the DMM process. Highly contentious, DMM (Direct Metal Mastering), developed jointly by Telefunken-Decca and Georg Neumann GmbH, demands that, instead of utilising a  lacquer-coated aluminum disk, the DMM process cuts straight to ‘metal’, normally copper. Reportedly, Abbey Road owns the only two working DMM lathes in the UK.

Listening tests for this LP were interesting. The DMM process reduces groove distortion, which on standard vinyl bends the groove wall into the next groove causing that all-too-familiar ‘pre-echo’  - there was none of that here. Also, DMM is supposed to reduce surface noise – again, the LP was deathly quiet during those ‘quiet’ periods. One of the potential problems of DMM, however, is an overly bright character but I found none of that here, which is a credit to the engineer. The top end was remarkably controlled and sibilance was noticeable by its absence.

In fact, such was the expansive nature of this recording that the mastering might just have fulfilled the DMM potential by actually expanding the frequency range a tad.

Beautifully produced, carefully mastered and well packaged, this is not only one of the best folk albums in existence, it’s also beautifully mastered and will prove a credit to anyone’s HiFi.

Tracklisting

Stand-out track: The Little Pot Stove

It’s a tough call but this track has everything and the show is stolen, not by Jones’ own clear and expressive performance, nor the emotive backing group that encourages you to join in but the beautifully simple acoustic guitar which trudges through its own simple lament and tugs at the heart.

3 Comments

  • Sally says:

    I’ve never heard of this artist but the album sounds amazing. I’m a big folk fan and am definitely going to buy it. The Three Black Feathers label looks really interesting too so thanks for introducing me to this – I don’t really know where to look for new music these days especially since my local record shop in Cambridge closed (after 30 years!)

  • Susanna says:

    Hi Sally,
    Although not from the UK, if you like folk, you may well like the Numero Group label’s Ladies from the Canyon. It’s a compilation of West Coast folk singers from the 70′s and is really stunning http://www.numerogroup.com/catalog_detail.php?uid=00255
    The label in general is well worth checking out if you’re interested in new music

  • David says:

    What a coincidence. Yesterday I transferred this album from one of my two(!) copies of the original Topic vinyl records to 24/96 flac and have been happily streaming it around the house since finishing. It was a real labour of love justified because this is indeed a classic album. Regards and happy listening.

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