MONSTER CEILIDH BAND – Mutation (Haystack Records HAYCD011)

MutationThere was a time when I would stand in front of a ceilidh band and when things were going well and you had a hall full of people who were into it it was the most fun you could have with your clothes on. When it comes to recording an album a ceilidh band has two choices: play the music four-square for dancing and teaching or spice it up a bit. The first option must be deadly for the band so, with Mutation, Monster Ceilidh Band have opted for the latter, recording this set live off the floor at Castle Sound under the watchful eye of Stuart Hamilton.

The band can boast four writers who are responsible for 80% of the record. There’s Amy Thatcher, purveyor of accordion to The Shee and Kathryn Tickell, fiddlers Shona Mooney (The Shee) and Grace Smith (The Rachel Hamer Band) and multi-instrumentalist Kieran Szifris, who restricts himself to octave mandolin on this album. Add a couple of traditional tunes and a borrow from Adam Sutherland and there you have it. Monster Ceilidh Band don’t go in for monster medleys only pairing tunes.

The opening set, ‘Venus’, is one such pairing, mating ‘Proximo B’ by Shona with ‘Venus’ by Amy. The others are ‘Mutated Beeswing’ pairing the essentially fiddle solo of ‘The Beeswing Hornpipe’ with Shona’s title track. It’s not clear who the soloist given but as Amy joins in after a couple of minutes I’m guessing it’s Shona. ‘Mutation’ is mutated by Joseph Truswell’s electronics which are a feature of the album. Here, there is something that could be accordion but could equally be distorted wordless vocals.

The band move seamless from that to the relatively conventional ‘All The Swingle Ladies’ by Keiran, half of which you could dance to if you could keep up the pace. Great titles include ‘Trouser Worrier’, ‘Octopus’ and ‘Disgrace’, the latter coming from the quill of Grace Smith as if you had to ask. Even past the record’s half-way mark we hear something new as ‘Never Will’ is introduced by snarling, distorted…what? Bass, I suppose as David de la Haye takes a brief solo.

No, you’re not going to dance (in any formal sense) to ‘Mutation’, although Joseph’s drums are rock solid throughout, but you will enjoy some musical invention.

Dai Jeffries

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DOWNLOAD – [CD]

Artists’ website: http://monsterceilidhband.co.uk/

‘Disgrace’:

Monster Ceilidh Band announce new album and live dates

Monster Ceilidh Band

Mutation: a new line-up unleashed; a greater, deeper exploration of Monster Ceilidh Band’s signature melding of traditional music and powerful, electronic beats. For the first time, Monster Ceilidh Band have tackled their new album live, showcasing the band in full frenetic flow. Mutation indicates why the band has been in such demand for festivals, club nights and ceilidhs, across the UK and Europe.

The musicianship is masterful but fans will be unsurprised at their virtuosity; after all, it’s only such careful, sensitive arrangement and instrumentation that enables their music to work – and the energy to remain consistently high.

Mutation shows off how great the band is at evolving tunes: building up, breaking down, and taking the listener – and dancer – to somewhere entirely new. Many of the tunes begin acoustically, with the fiddle or accordion leading the way, leaving the listener wondering how, where and when the inevitable beats will begin – like in lead single and album opener, ‘Venus’, where curious strings introduce a seemingly disparate beat before its becomes wholly more rounded and self-assured. Or there’s ‘Mutated Beeswing’, where an impossibly delicate, skipping fiddle slides into a new dimension with accordion, before beats and sample fly it to somewhere else altogether.

‘Never Will’ sees the gravitas and swagger of the rhythm section give way to a Chic-like breakdown, cheered on by an audience, while the fluid fiddle hands the baton to the accordion in ‘Reasoning’, before a pulsating ostinato brings home the main message. A thumping heartbeat ogles the acoustic instrument as they flirt by in ‘Lusty’, but the weighty octave mandolin and insistent drums keep the track in check.

Monster Ceilidh Band make much of their new recruits, fiddlers Shona Mooney and Grace Smith, with both contributing compositions and lead parts, including the powerful album closer, ‘Disgrace’, where pleading fiddle is chastened by sombre mandolin and accordion. Relentless drums retain the energy and keep the feet moving.

Mutation is another notch on Monster Ceilidh Band’s own brand of dance music: intelligent, hypnotic, wild.

Artists’ website: http://monsterceilidhband.co.uk/

‘Twisted Bridge’ – live in the studio:

Live dates

28 April Jam Jah, Durham

29 April Hug and Pint, Glasgow

5 May The Magic Garden, Battersea, London

6 May The Fox & Firkin, Lewisham, London

19 May Ace Space, Newbury

26 May Platform, Morcambe

1 July North East Chilli Festival, Seaton

29 July Warwick Folk Festival, Warwick

5 August  Wilderness Festival, Oxfordshire

12 August Lakefest, Herefordshire

8-10 September Bestival, Dorset

THE RACHEL HAMER BAND – Hard Ground (own label RHB01)

Hard GroundHard Ground is the debut album from The Rachel Hamer Band: Rachel, Graeme Armstrong, Grace Smith and Sam Partridge. The Newcastle based quartet are the current recipients of the English Folk Dance And Song Society’s Graeme Miles Bursary which helped to fund the project. Appropriately, then, they open with one of Graeme’s songs, ‘Blue Sunset’.

The hand ground of the title is the ground of industry although ‘What A Voice’ is rather more metaphorical. Graeme’s song celebrates, if that’s the right word, the effects that industrial pollution can have. The fumes from the factory chimneys turns the sunsets blue in summer, the Tees is amber-brown and reflects the skies in violet and orange. Hardship and death are common themes of the album and next up is Jean Ritchie’s ‘West Virginia’ an oddly matter-of-fact account of a woman’s response to a mine disaster.

‘The Digging Song’ is the first hint that there might be a lighter side to the band. It’s an old joke that you’ll quickly recognise. Later, Ewan MacColl’s ‘School Days Over’, lauding the nobility of labour contrasts with Alan Bell’s ‘Alice White’ which concerns the suffering and degradation of the women. Between then sits Rachel’s composite version of ‘Gypsie Laddie’, another few moments of lightness unless you happen to be the deserted lord, of course.

The chief melody instruments are Grace’s fiddle and Sam’s flute and whistles. Graeme’s guitar provides the rhythmic foundation with support from producer Ian Stephenson on double bass and cello and Richard Hammond’s percussion although the most notable percussive sound is that of Grace’s clogs! Throw in Sam’s harmonium and the band can produce a really solid sound to back Rachel strong, distinctive voice and can break out into decorative passages without missing a beat.

Hard Ground is an exceptional debut album by anybody’s standards and I predict a great future for The Rachel Hamer Band.

Dai Jeffries

Artists’ website: www.therachelhamerband.com

The Rachel Hamer Band live at Todmorden Festival:

Rachel Hamer Band record debut album

Rachel Hamer Band record debut album EFDSS Grace Smith Graeme Armstrong Graeme Miles Martyn Wyndham-Read Mike Nicholson Rachel Hamer Rachel Hamer Band Robin Dale Sam Partridge The Keelers The Unthanks The Wilsons The Young'uns

A Newcastle folk band with strong links to Teesside is set to record its first album, thanks to a bursary in memory of one of the North East’s most acclaimed songwriters.

The Rachel Hamer Band has been named as the latest recipient of the award made by the English Folk Dance and Song Society (EFDSS) and the award winning band The Unthanks in memory of Middlesbrough songwriter Graeme Miles who died in 2013.

This is the second memorial bursary, worth £1,200, to be given. The scheme is administered by EFDSS and supported by The Unthanks through fundraising concerts.
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