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What a wonderful way to celebrate the birthday of the world's greatest folk label! Since its birth as part of the aspirations of the Workers' Music Association, Topic has been the lifeline for folk music in Britain and beyond.

Hundreds of worthy musicians have recorded in their studios including Anne Briggs, The Watersons, Bob & Ron Copper, Shirley Collins, Nic Jones, Richard Thompson, High Level Ranters, Dick Gaughan, Jeannie Robertson, Fisher Family, Aly Bain, Joe Heaney, Margaret Barry, Seamus Ennis, Paddy Tunney, Willie Clancey and Jackie Daly. These are just a handful that are honoured to have had records issued under the Topic logo.

The label also released vintage records and in-the-field recordings from some of these island's National Treasures like Scan Tester, Walter Pardon, Sarah Makem, Billy Pigg, Sam Larner, William Kimber and Fred Jordan - all legendary performers sought out, recorded and documented by dedicated collectors and archivists. Really, only Folkways in America has ever come close to equalling Topic's reputation and dogged determination to preserving and promoting real quality folk music

The music isn't presented chronologically and that's an excellent idea. I love the way that Harry Cox's solo performance The Bonny Labouring Boy from the mid-60s follows Prince Heathen, the Carthy/Swarbrick classic from 1977 and shares the same space as John Tam's Bitter Withy (2005) and Davy Graham's stunning Angi which terrified guitar players in 1963. Now, after spending weeks tearing into this marvellous compilation I can't possibly imagine Margaret Barry's beautiful Factory Girl coming after anything but Seamus Ennis' spine-tingling uilleann pipes masterpiece The Blackbird. And the brash attack of Brass Monkey's The Maid And The Monkey perfectly introduces Louie Fuller's spirited solo Hopping Down In Kent.

If nothing else, Topic shows us that we have a hell of a lot to be proud of within our British folk traditions. There are seven glorious CDs in this set and they're enclosed in a heavy 100 page fact-filled hardback book which chronicles the history of the label, has features on classic Topic releases (and there's been plenty of them) and worthy articles on the people who spent years nurturing this fabulous company - including of course, Tony Engle who has kept Topic Records at the forefront of roots music in Great Britain and the world for forty years! The book is beautifully arranged with stacks of rare photographs, album artwork and early advertising ephemera.

This is obviously a huge labour of love and a wonderful tribute to a record label respected the world over. I'm dipping into my copy at every opportunity and now have a wish list of about twenty Topic CDs I desperately need to own. You know what? I know it's a bit early but this will make the most fabulous Christmas present for anyone who is remotely interested in our own folk heritage.


Review Date: September 2009

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