There 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.
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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.