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Scroll down to read about the making
of The Reckoning in John's own words.

To buy this album please contact us
direct on

For a full list of Johns work and associated
projects go to the discog page.

Listen to tracks:


Safe House - The Reckoning, John Tams - 2005
A Man of Constant Sorrow - The Reckoning, John Tams - 2005

The Reckoning
- John Tams & The Reckoning Band

Barry Coope, Graeme Taylor, Andy Seward, Keith Angel, Roger Wilson, Steve Dawson

Topic Records


1. Written in the Book
2. Safe House
3. Amelia
4. How High the Price/All Clouds the Sky/St. Hilda's Waltz
5. Bitter Withy
6. A Man of Constent Sorrow
7. The Sea: Pretty Nancy
- The Sea: A Sailor's Life
- The Sea: One More Day
- The Sea: As I Looked East, As I Looked West
8. Including Love


The making of 'The Reckoning' in Johns words


I knew I wanted this album to deal with the tradition - it's my source and my "home" - but I also knew I had to make some new songs. These are harder to find. Okay I've got a start. Written in the Book - auto biographical. I'm on the road. Now I've made a mark I can start to make a shape.

There's a song that Barry Coope and I have dallied with for some time. Percussionist Keith Angel starts to hit the sides of Andy Seward's somnolent string bass. Andy meanwhile adjusting his role to being one of the finest recording engineers grabs the pattern -result - a rhythm track. Moments later Andy becomes a bouzouki player - Keith transfers to Udu, Barry pulls in some keyboards, Graeme Taylor adds his guitars and we have Safe House. In truth the meaning of this song changes - sometimes it's about statelessness, homelessness, sometimes migrancy, but mostly it's about heart and home. Try Amelia. Call fiddler/guitarist Roger Wilson and we do it in one take. He majestically adds a few passes of fiddles - An accumulation of verses some borrowed from the tradition on both sides of the Atlantic, some made. What's it about? Love and separation.

How High the Price / All Clouds the Sky, St Hilda's Waltz
Tried it this way, tried it that, settled for simple - much the way Barry and I perform it live. Steve Dawson turned up, brass player- background in Brighouse and Rastrick and Berkeley, California. I thought the outgoing tune was built for Northumbrian pipes, but it wasn't. Steve took ownership with flugel horn and trumpet.


Bitter Withy
Originally from the singing of the late and loved Peter Bellamy - here in a new setting. I knew for such a long story I wanted to divide it into three acts with two interludes but the foot should stay. Andy's investigation of the 5 string banjo part proved central to the 1st act. The second act introduced other characters to the story (Barry) with echoes of Andy's 1st Act banjo theme. Graeme Taylor had just days before taken ownership of a beautiful 1960s Gibson 335. I knew he was burning to use it. I also knew the noise it made was awesome. If it was in the right hands. It was definitely in the right hands.


A Man of Constant Sorrow
Trying to deal with this song had brought up issues from my own past about revisiting locations I had known as a lad. I use the springboard of the tradition to bounce me into an investigation of my own community. In some ways it completes the Harry Stone arc and brings me face-up to the wasteland - a reminder of the spirit that's gone, and how central it was to the soul of community.


The Sea
Three songs and a tune. I couldn't live further from the coast if I tried yet the sea is so fundamental to us all that I wanted to make a representation of it here. In terms of traditional music the sea plays an epic role - shanties, fishing, battles - the distance between shores - the life aboard and beyond. Our current repertoires would be mightily reduced but for the sea.


Here then a triptych of songs and a tune.


a) Pretty Nancy : A tune learned from the great Derek Pearce with a cobbled lyric.
b) A Sailor's Life : A collision between the classic ballad and The Sailor's Alphabet.
c) One More Day : From generous Geoff Harris of Chelmsford.
d) As I Looked East, As I Looked West : From the playing of Julia Clifford


Including Love
I was lucky enough to be busy simultaneously working on two theatre shows, one with Albert Finney and Max Wall at the Old Vic (Sergeant Musgrave's Dance) and the other at The Lyttleton at the National Theatre with Bill Bryden. The latter was Clifford Odett's Golden Boy - set in late 20s America. I came up with the first verse and chorus to give time and place to the overture and let the customers know where they were when the curtain rose!.





Colin Hall, Music Journalist
"If you are looking for Album of the Year, this is it. John Tams is in mighty form."

Mike Harding Show, BBC Radio 27th July 2005
John Tams is one of our finest musicians and singers and one of our greatest songwriters. He can sing traditional material wonderfully and at the same time has written some of our best songs ever. Harry Stone, otherwise known as Hearts of Coal and the beautiful Hugh Stenson and Molly Green are just two of his songs that have entered the canon in the last few years. He's got a new CD called The Reckoning and it is absolutely superb. One of the main folk happenings of the year in my opinion. A re-working of the old traditional song "Man of Constant Sorrow," is set in the coal fields of this country around the 80s and the 90s. There's a lovely image of the colliers tending their gardens in their free time and going underground to gather, as he says in the song, ancient summers. Wonderful image that. Man of Constant Sorrow

James Turner, Classic Rock Magazine

Received this album this morning, and it's absolutely superb. His version of A man of constant sorrow (as played on the MH show a few weeks ago) is superb, and the song suite The Sea is worth buying the album for alone. Not to mention all the other wonderful tracks on this album. IMHO this is Tams best album yet. Probably album of the year!

David Kidman, Net Rhythms Review
As you'd expect from any work bearing the Tams byline, the album's title has been thoughtfully chosen to delineate his central theme: the Reckoning is in the final account, the price man must pay (man is weighed in the balance and found wanting), and the gloomy, pensively resigned pose John adopts in the finely-textured booklet photographs probably gives more than a clue as to the nature of his personal take on this theme.

On the opening track Written In The Book John expounds the theme on a personal and autobiographical level with archetypal Tamsian succinctness in just a few key nuggets of well-turned phrase. Then, simultaneously unsettling and curiously comforting in its shifting musical and lyrical ambiguity, we encounter Safe House, set to an eerie box-tapping rhythm, capped with a trumpet coda riddled with fanfare motifs that makes you wonder whether the safe house is situated in Penny Lane (yes, Lennon and McCartney do have a lot to answer for, don't they?!)...

A brief respite from John's gloomy prognosis is provided by the first of the album's adaptations of traditional songs: Amelia is a beautiful take on the sea-song moire commonly known as Across The Western Ocean, where John's voice is joined by Barry Coope and blessed with a gorgeous fiddle-rich backing courtesy of Roger Wilson. Then it's back to the universal irony of the reckoning with a vengeance, with the chilling assessment How High The Price, which in just four lines encapsulates the reckoning of fishermen's lives against the preservation of our own lives through the fish they catch. This leaves the ensuing All Clouds The Sky to explore and address the issue further where now "the reckoning sky calls down some heavy weather" before the Brighouse bugle blows a kind of last-post (St. Hilda's Waltz) for the men who risk their lives at sea.

Then we're back to the tradition where a classic ballad provides the ready-made reckoning; The Bitter Withy is given a sparse yet epic reading, where a primitive backwoods foot-tapped rhythm and 5-string banjo backing develops a sinister overtone with the introduction of Barry Coope's harmony vocal from verse three on, John's own almost oriental-sounding acoustic guitar subsequently offset by Graeme Taylor's soft and sensitive electric Gibson and Barry's majestic, dramatic keyboard chords - a very potent mixture to cloak the drama of the narrative.

For the next track, John returns to interweaving tradition with more contemporary issues: A Man Of Constant Sorrow tellingly uses the traditional source as a springboard for a powerful and evocative investigation into John's own (ex-mining) community. In John's own words: "In some ways it completes the Harry Stone arc and brings me face-up to the wasteland - a reminder of the spirit that's gone and how central it was to the soul of community." After this comes a Home-Service-style 13-minute sequence The Sea, put together in recognition of the fundamental role that the sea plays in traditional song. It moves from an acappella Pretty Nancy through A Sailor's Life (whereon the actual ballad steers itself into the Sailor's Alphabet) and a soft folk-rock treatment of One More Day, then sailing off into the sunset to the strains of a gently rockin'-and-rollin' squeezy-brassy nautical-sounding hornpipe.

In complete contrast, the album's finale is a mere squib of a jaunty, jazzy soft-shoe-shuffle on which John plays the poor man's Fred Astaire in depression-era America and laments that "everything goes up in price including love" - thus bringing his own personal Reckoning full (philosophical) circle. A masterly CD, every bit a worthy successor to Unity and Home, on which John and his select "band" (Barry Coope, Graeme Taylor, Keith Angel, Andy Seward, Roger Wilson and Steve Dawson) captivate our senses and sensibilities.

David Bott, Holbrook News
The one thing you can guarantee with Tam is his constant ability to surprise.

His excellence as a wordsmith is legendary but remember the gems he threw into "Unity" with the introduction of vocals from Barry Coope and Linda Thompson and the gorgeous love song "Who Will Blow the Candle Out Tonight", or the tempo changes in "Yonder Down the Winding Road" and "The Traveller" from "Home?"

I am happy to tell you that he has done it again with "The Reckoning". It is pure Tam throughout - unmistakable voice; wonderful words, beautiful harmonies with Barry Coope; excellent instrumental balance and contrasts, and interesting tempo changes. (I love the jazz touch in "Including love") Those of us lucky enough to be at the Pride Park concert last year will remember the track "Amelia, where you bound to?" It's worth having the record for that one track alone.

Don't miss out. This is a must for your collection.

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