VICKI SWAN & JONNY DYER – A Sound Of Christmas Past (WetFoot Music)

swan and dyerChristmas is still three months away, but the shops are already stocked up with the usual festive trappings. Now, here’s the first of the year’s seasonal CDs to drop through the postbox. Since they spend hours performing Christmas carols and music throughout December, the pair decided to finally put together an album of their favourites, played in their own style and using material gathered from the Victorian period.

Although regarded as one of the best pipers in the business, Vicki’s left them at home this time round, bringing flute, nyckelharpa and oktavharpa (traditional Swedish stringed instruments) to the studio instead while Jonny plays bouzouki, accordion, spinet and bass in addition to guitar. A collection of 14 numbers, pretty much all of these will be instantly familiar, although, on several, the duo have added their own touches. Thus, led by jaunty accordion, opening track ‘I Saw Three Ships’ is rounded off with ‘Riddaren’, a Swedish polkette written by Swan, ‘Coventry Carol’ interpolates ‘Borealis’, a five-part nyckelharpa ensemble piece penned by Dyer, ‘Good Christian Men Rejoice’ (aka ‘In Dulci Jubilo’ with English lyrics from 1853) gets dance tune ‘Rum In The Pudding’ and ‘We Wish You A Merry Christmas’ plays the album out with a spinet and nyckleharpa ‘Minuet’ and ‘Hendingham Green’, a Playford-style dance tune.

Otherwise, the choices are unaugmented, embracing evergreen chestnuts ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’, ‘Good King Wenceslas’, a flute driven ‘Deck The Halls With Boughs of Holly’, ‘The Holly And The Ivy’, ‘Jingle Bells’! and ‘Silent Night’ alongside perhaps less well-known numbers as the medieval-styled 16th century Down In Yon Forest and the lively ‘Sussex Carol’, which, despite the title, hails from 17th century Ireland, both collected by Vaughn Williams, ‘Past Three O’Clock’, an early 1900s rework of the traditional ‘The London Waits’, and ‘Essex Wassail’, Dyer taking lead on an amalgamation of various wassails in service to seasonal celebration and drinking.

So, if you’re fed up with hearing Now! That’s What I Call Christmas for the umpteenth time and can’t bear the thought of a possible One Direction Christmas album, even for these not of a folk persuasion, this makes for wonderful jolly listening without a whisper of commercialism to it, performed in a manner reflective of how past generations would have heard the tunes. The inner sleeve contains a warning: not suitable for festival party poopers. To them, I say bah humbug.

Mike Davies

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Artists’ website: www.swan-dyer.co.uk