A musician once commented on social media that the word he hated seeing in a review was “interesting”. I was as guilty as anyone and resolved to stop using it but have to say that An Invitation To Dance is a very interesting concept. Purcell’s Polyphonic Party combines the instrumental talents of Vicki Swan, John Dipper and Jonny Dyer and the album comprises twelve tracks mostly drawn from John Playford’s collections. The thing is that the tempos are strict and the repeats are listed for the dancers among us. The tracks run to between four and six minutes although ‘St Margaret’s Hill’ and ‘Softly Good Tummas’ may tax the stamina a bit.
Fans of John Dipper’s other band, Methera, will love this and as a non-dancer I also approached the album as a listener. Dipper restricts himself to the viola d’amore making it the principal melody instrument and as well as her nyckelharpa, Vicki demonstrates her skill on double bass and various aerophones, including bagpipes. Jonny plays harpsichord and piano as well as guitar, bouzouki and citole.
Inevitably strings dominate but the tracks to which Vicki adds flute, pipes or recorder provide sufficient variety for the listener. My favourite tracks are ‘Terpsichore’, taken from Michael Praetorious – I’ve always preferred early music to modern classical – ‘Mount Hills’ with lots of bagpipes and Jonny’s hand in the composition and ‘Kesterne Gardens’ with a remarkably modern sounding introduction on guitar and bass. There are a couple of maggots, which I discovered a couple of weeks ago is what they called earworms in the 18th century because the tunes go round and round.
I will confess that it’s taken me a couple of plays to get into An Invitation To Dance but now I’m there I can safely say that I’m very happy.
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If you wish for an exemplar of the adage that less is more look no further than Tricks Of The Trade, the debut album from the duo of John Dipper and Dave Malkin. John is a maker and restorer of concertinas which may surprise those who know him only as a player of instruments of the bow and string persuasion with, for example, Methera. His trade goes some way to explaining the cover picture and the title which in full should be “don’t learn the tricks of the trade, learn the trade”. Dave is a singer and guitarist – a fine soloist and a remarkable accompanist.
Dave plays just guitar on this album whilst John plays only viola d’amore in a tuning variation of his own which can give the music a very baroque feel or sound like a regular fiddle. There are just two guest appearances. Tom Dennis plays flugelhorn on one track and Corrie Dick adds percussion to two, the latter being foot percussion on a set topped and tailed by two Quebecois tunes.
The opening track is ‘Wine & Women’, a triple-time hornpipe in which the two instruments duet on equal terms with each one taking it in turns to be the “leader”. That’s followed by the rather gloomy ‘King Storm’ sung as a lullaby over pizzicato viola d’amore and paired with a Playford tune, ‘Daniel Cowper’ which is where the flugelhorn comes in. ‘The King Of Poland’ is technically a jig, and the expected rhythm emerges from time to time although you probably wouldn’t want to dance to it.
‘Gravity’ and ‘Flower Of Kent’ are two of John’s tunes, the latter being given a particularly involved setting. The second song is ‘All Things Are Quite Silent’ which manages to keep the pastoral simplicity of the piece despite a rich accompaniment and finally we have Dave’s extensive rewrite of ‘The Parting Glass’ with a few modern twists. Tricks Of The Trade is an album of stunning musicianship without a single dull note.
I’ve had mixed feelings about Methera in the past. They are fine musicians, without doubt, who choose to play as a string quartet so why not dip into the classical repertoire? There are many traditional tunes appropriated by European composers and it wouldn’t be wrong to pinch one or two back. It does seem that by writing new music and playing it in this style they are actually producing modern classical music. Still, here they are celebrating their tenth anniversary with their third album, Vortex, so what do I know?
My favourite track is the pairing of two traditional jigs, ‘Da Shaalds O’ Foula’ and ‘Old Favourite’ and I suppose that is because it is traditional. In contrast, the eleven-minute title track seems dangerously modern and some might consider it self-indulgent. The opener, Emma Reid’s ‘Lily’, manages to squeeze three “movements” into a very short period – the temperament of a one-year-old is held to blame – and is an excellent piece to kick off with. Lucy Deakin’s ‘The Fox’ and Miranda Rutter’s ‘Blackbird Schottische’ make another good team with its opening pizzicato violin imitating the call of the titular bird.
‘Hagsätra Brudmarsch’, from the band Väsen, translates nicely from Swedish to English and John Dipper’s ‘Love Lies Bleeding’ is another top tune and one that modernises the style of the string quartet with the feel of traditional music which is, I suppose, what they set out to do. Finally, Paul Mack’s ‘Late Longings’, a dreamy, drifting tune, owes nothing to either the classical form or the traditional and is possibly where Methera are most at home. Vortex will undoubtedly please their many fans as Methera set out on their anniversary tour next month.
Once in a while, completely out of the blue, an unexpected gem turns up and this is one such. Bold is the debut album, well, a seven track taster album really, from Danny Pedler who plays accordion and hurdy-gurdy and Rosie Butler-Hall who plays five-string fiddle.
Their influences are a mixture of English and French so the first track pairs that story of a daring prison break, ‘Bold Archer’, with the tune ‘La Boite A Frissons’ (the box of shivers?) on which Rosie sings lead. She returns on the duo’s adaptation of ‘Hares On The Mountain’, a song which lays itself open to any simile you’d care to imagine. This one mentions T-shirts and ice-creams and I don’t believe those are traditional lyrics. It’s charming and clever. Danny takes lead vocal duties on a melancholy take on ‘Bold Riley’ paired with the traditional tune ‘Charlie’s March’. Danny and Rosie’s version has a verse and other lyrical variations that rarely appear elsewhere, certainly not in the texts popularised by Oysterband and Kate Rusby. It’s perhaps more a concatenation of versions than a rewrite but it is so atmospheric.
The tune sets include Cliff Stapleton’s ‘Man In The Brown Hat’ and the Anglo-French pairing of ‘Smith’s New Rant’ and ‘La Belle Jean’ both giving the hurdy-gurdy an outing. The album was produced by John Dipper and you’ll find a couple more interesting names on the sleeve. Danny and Rosie have friends in the right places. Great photo, too.
ESSENTIALLY INVISIBLE TO THE EYE is Karen Tweed’s latest recording and, in being entirely solo, is a departure from her extensive collaborative work which has dominated her career since the early 1990s.
Born in London in 1963 to an Irish mother and English father, Karen took up the accordion at the age of eleven. Since turning professional in the late 1980s, she has appeared on over thirty albums from her early days with The Kathryn Tickell Band to being a founding member of the pioneering all female Poozies, through the Anglo-Swedish ensemble SWAP, American collaboration Undertoe with Stuart Kenney, Marko Packard and Rodney Miller, to The Two Duos Quartet with Andy Cutting, Chris Wood and Ian Carr. Karen’s duo work with Ian Carr, Andy Cutting and also Roger Wilson and John Dipper has left many an audience mesmerised at her breathtaking musicianship, while her trios with Hannah James and Becky Price in Hell Said The Duchess and with Carolyn Robson and Kevin Dempsey are more examples of her diversity and creativity. Continue reading Karen Tweed – Essentially Invisible to the Eye