Feast Of Fiddles – new studio album

Feast Of Fiddles

Feast Of Fiddles was formed in 1994 as a one-off concert ensemble as Hugh Crabtree thought it would be a good idea and Mike Sanderson of Nettlebed Folk Club thought so too!

Their first live recording Live 01 was released in 2002 – quite a long wait for the increasing number of fans of the band. However it was only another two years before the next CD appeared – Nicely Wrong. Three more years before yet another live recording Still Live and then after another three years the first studio album Walk Before You Fly. You guessed it, another three years for the second studio album Rise Above It and with a slight break with tradition it’s taken four years to get to studio album number three. Fast forward and in 2017 their sixth album entitled Sleight Of Elbow will be released.

Feast Of Fiddles embarks on its 24th annual spring tour in 2017 to coincide with the release of their new album.  The band that has been variously likened to a “group of geography teachers” or “Bellowhead with bus passes!” doesn’t seem to be slowing down any.  A band of musical friends that puts on a show of huge dynamic range performed with passion, joy and a liberal dose of fun. It all started at a folk club but has become a folk-rock institution with seven CDs to their name, several festival appearances and sell out shows up and down the UK. Typically, fiddlers Peter Knight (Steeleye Span), Chris Leslie (Fairport Convention), Phil Beer (Show of Hands), Brian McNeill (Battlefield Band), Ian Cutler (Bully Wee), Tom Leary (Lindisfarne) and Garry Blakeley (Band of Two) add their extensive range of fiddle playing styles to the rock back-line of guitars, keyboards, sax and accordion – all held together by legendary drummer Dave Mattacks. A live music entertainment like no other which is guaranteed to be enjoyed by even the most doubting of friends dragged along!

Feast Of Fiddles at the New Forest Folk Festival:

The new album Sleight Of Elbow is something of a departure for the band as it features a lot of original compositions from within the band and only a single traditional tune. One well established feature of the band is well exposed however and that is Feast Of Fiddles arrangements of tunes from other genres, film or TV.

The title track is one of two pieces by guitarist Martin Vincent which was first aired during the 2016 spring tour – the tour that Martin missed because he was in hospital getting a new valve for his heart. ‘McBrides’ is a tune from the band Moving Hearts and a real test piece for a big band. The Scottish band The McCalmans provide the first of only three songs on this recording – ‘Smugglers Song’, this rousing tale of smugglers going about their business complete with engaging chorus. The band’s arrangement of ‘String Of Pearls’ (best known through the Glen Miller Band) demonstrates perfectly the versatility of Feast Of Fiddles. Used as tour opener in 2016 it instigated immediate spontaneous applause at more than one venue. This is followed by the second song – a beautiful original from Alan Whetton who joined the band on sax and keyboards in 2012. ‘Butterfly’s Wing’ picks up the concept of chaos theory which suggests the brief flapping of a butterfly’s wing in England might result in a tornado in the mid-west of America. Another piece from Martin Vincent – ‘Paper Chase’ is probably the nearest the band has got to jazz. Written for a huge school band when Martin was teaching music the title reflects the frustration of most teachers these days dealing with increasing burden of paperwork. The next track, ‘Siamese Kashmir’, is a classic example of what Feast Of Fiddles is all about. A famous film tune segueing into classic rock. ‘The March Of The Siamese Princes And Princesses’ from the film The King And I somehow seemed to naturally lead to Led Zeppelin’s ‘Kashmir’…or so thought bass player Dave Harding a frequent provider of left field material choices to open the show. A great band tune from Alan Whetton – ‘Three Legged Race’ comes next. Then a past top of show track which starts with the theme music of TV series Mission Impossible and joins with another tune from the pen of Alan Whetton ‘Mission Statement’, together almost inevitably entitled ‘Mission Improbable’. The final track on the album is the only traditional tune and one that has been a feature of the band’s repertoire ever since the very beginning. Frequently introduced as a French dance tune that morphs into a drum solo it is ‘Branle Des Chevaux’ or ‘Horses’ Brawl’ as it is better known in the UK.

Artists’ website: http://www.feastoffiddles.co.uk/

“Britain’s fiddling supergroup” – Mark Radcliffe, BBC Radio 2

“The best fiddle players of a generation” – fRoots

STRAWBS – Acoustic Gold (Witchwood Media WMCD 2052)

As the blurb says, The Strawbs have created a unique niche for their progressive folk-rock sound but, stripped bare it is the ‘acoustic’ element that shows how strong these basic concepts were. Therefore, trawling their impressive back catalogue is by no means an indulgence but a necessity and as I listen once again to “Ghosts”, “Grace Darling”, and “A Glimpse Of Heaven” I marvel at the majesty of it all. There’s an inherent clarity from the instruments that drives everything along on a bed of string based accompaniment to Dave Cousins tortured vocals whether it be the chiming of his dulcimer/autoharp and banjo, Chas Cronk’s 12-string guitar or the lead lines provided by Brian Willoughby, Dave Lambert and even the inclusion of Ian Cutler’s fiddle is well placed for dramatic effect. OK, so the pomp element that always typified a Strawbs performance (much like it did with the Alan Parsons Project) may, on first hearing sound a little over the top at the end of the day it is these artistic flourishes that provides the listener with something more substantial than the often derided term ‘folk’ could ever hope to achieve. By the way, for those collectors out there, there are three unreleased tracks included as a bonus. 

PETE FYFE

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Artist web link: www.strawbsweb.co.uk