Full barks

26th March 2004 at 00:00
Gerald Haigh listens to old favourites with canine accompaniment

The Walking Oliver Sing-a-Long Hello, Michael Rosen! By Paul Austin Kelly Walking Oliver pound;10.99 each

Forget the Today programme and give Terry Wogan a break and play these in your car on the way to school. I promise you that you'll arrive with a smile big enough to survive the news that you have to cover 9W for RE in the hut at the other end of the playground.

Walking Oliver started in 2002 as a company devoted to what it calls "quality music for kids". These two CDs - there are others on their list, all aimed at children - bear that claim out triumphantly. Sing-a-Long has 25 favourites, from "This Old Man", through "Hush Little Baby" to "Polly Wolly Doodle". All those songs, in fact, that you vaguely know and wish you could find. Look no further, for here they are, beautifully sung by Paul Austin Kelly (with a little help from his friends and Oliver the dog) and immaculately recorded.

Hello, Michael Rosen! is a collection of settings of a dozen Michael Rosen poems. You wonder how some of them will work, for although Rosen's poem have powerful internal rhythms, they don't all go "tum-ti-tum" by any means. Kelly brings the trick off, though, and the result is, for example, a song like "Shmutter" ("OK, so laugh! OK, so I thought it was an English word. How should I know it isn't English?") which he renders in a wonderfully mock-apocalyptic style slightly, and appropriately, reminiscent of the synagogue. My favourite here, though, is "Mike's Wedding" - "My brother got married in an old Wimpy bara" that's performed as a joyful country-style romp.

The huge strength of these productions lies in the sheer musicianship that's on display. Kelly is a trained singer, but he has the facility, which many professionals do not, to use his voice in a range of styles from operatic to several versions of Country and Western. His "blue grass" sound, for example, is a delight - you can practically see the hand behind his ear. Accompaniments are a combination of instruments and clever studio work, and every song is treated with originality and sheer good taste.

You can use these songs in all sorts of ways - put the words upon the whiteboard or projector for example, and use them as motivators for reading. And if you already use Mike Rosen poems, then here's a completely new and fresh dimension to add to them.

Most of all, though, just enjoy the recordings. Keep playing them to the children, because there's enough inventiveness here to bear any amount of repetition.

TES Teacher and Walking Oliver are running a poetry in song competition for primary pupils, with the 10 winners being released on CD. See details in TES Teacher, March 19. Deadline for entries, May 21. Walking Oliver, Ferrers Road, Lewes BN7 1PY Email: poetryinsong@walkingoliver.comwww.walkingoliver.com

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