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

If you would like to order a copy of the one of the albums (in CD or Vinyl), download them or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click on the MONSTER CEILIDH BAND – Mutation link to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website. Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.

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 SHEE – Continuum (Shee Records SHEE4)

ContinuumThe concept behind Continuum, supported by Celtic Connections, was to celebrate their tenth anniversary by having each of them commission a musician of their choice to write a piece of music for the album. That’s only half the story, of course, for the band had then to arrange the music for six players and write some pieces to bind the whole thing together.

The opening song is ‘From The Shadows’ by Laura-Beth Salter. It’s a powerful call to arms to … ah, well. It could be a feminist piece, the logical first thought, but it could be a warning to the rich and powerful that the poor and oppressed aren’t going to take it any more. Next come two atmospheric pieces by Kathryn Tickell; one evoking the borders and the other with a Scandinavian feel. The playing, needless to say, is exquisite.

Rachel Newton commissioned Karine Polwart and the result is ‘Song For Mary’. The Mary in question is Mary Brooksbank, composer of ‘The Jute Mill Song’ and an archive recording of one verse forms the introduction. We’re not told that it’s Mary herself but I’d like to think it is. Amy Thatcher naturally turned to a box-player and who better than Andy Cutting? Olivia Ross’ choice was Chris Wood who shares the credit for ‘Cradle Song’ with lyricist Hugh Lupton. The Shee turns what could be a pretty little song into something quite strange so you’re not sure whether this a mother singing to her baby from the safety of a warm fireside or struggling home from the storm outside.

Laura-Beth, Amy and Shona Mooney provide the next two tune sets with Shona responsible for the wonderfully titled ‘The Vampire Rabbit Of Newcastle’. Olivia wrote ‘Precious Tears’, a song for children – possibly the band members’ own – and Brian Finnegan wrote a trio of tunes with Lillias- Kinsman-Blake’s flute and a journey through India in mind. Finally, we have Martin Simpson’s song for his mother. ‘Dance With Me’ might be seen as the companion-piece to ‘Never Any Good’. Laura-Beth sings it and plays mandolin where Martin would use guitar and the band play what is almost an orchestral accompaniment.

Continuum is a monument to musical collaboration and the exchange of ideas but more than that, it is a tribute to six exceptionally talented musicians.

Dai Jeffries

If you would like to order a copy of the one of the albums (in CD or Vinyl), download them or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click on the THE SHEE – Continuum link to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website. Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.

Artists’ website: https://theshee.com/

‘Ower Late For The Lasses/Sheepolska’ and more with Kathryn Tickell live at Celtic Connections 2016: