A school trip to Dublin the early 90s was to prove the catalyst for 20 years of music when classmates and subsequently husband wife Martin and Jenny Schaube fell in love with Celtic music. They formed West of Eden in 1995, releasing their debut album two years later. Since then, they’ve amassed a further eight studio recordings and a live Christmas album, settling into a conceptual stance with 2012’s Safe Crossing, a Scottish-coloured collection of shanties and sea faring tales, the Yorkshire folk flavours of Songs From Twisting River, and returning to the musical soul of Ireland for the immigration-themed Look To The West.
The current sextet, also featuring Lars Broman on fiddle, drummer Ola Karlavo, Henning Sernhede on guitars and mandolin with Martin Holmlund on bass, are celebrating two decades with No Time Like The Past, a career-spanning double CD set that comes in a hardback book featuring a chronological retrospective, archive photos and even a glossary of those who’ve been involved along the way. Over the course of 25 tracks, they go from their first to most recent album, the selections including two previously unreleased tracks, a new more prominent acoustic guitar version of the folksy waltzing ‘Where The Ivy Is Growing’ from the self-titled debut album and, setting things in motion, an all new song to mark the occasion, the suitably sprightly and upbeat fiddle-driven ‘Twenty Years of Travelling’.
There’s one other number from the debut, the almost Welsh hymnal-like ‘This Piece of Earth’ with its electric piano and strings arrangements, the first disc also featuring the puttering percussive jig ‘On She Goes’ and the title track off Safe Crossing, the Denny-like folk rock of ‘Immortal’ and, complete with tu ri lu ri lu chorus, the lively ‘True Believer’. Songs From Twisting River gets two cuts, the summery Celtic sway of ‘The Bee That Stung’ and the moodier, more reflective ‘Bird of Passage’. The most recent album gets two nods here, Jenny on accordion for the wistful instrumental ‘Tekl’s Tune’ and, Martin and Jenny trading verses, the train rhythm title track itself. The set also includes the 2015 non-album single ‘Glenntown,’ an almost hit celebration of Gothenburg which, featuring angelic choir, was written for a fan club tribute album to hometown soccer team that, the title referring to the fact that, at the time, four of the players were all called Glenn.
Over on the second CD, there’s two more from Look To The West, the driving folk rock of ‘Wilson Line’ with Martin on lead and the more sedate but slowly gathering five-minute slow waltz lullabying ‘Sweet Old Country’. Musically living up to its name, ‘Rollercoaster’, the title track of their second album, kicks this set off , the album also represented by the whistles summoning the Celtic mists on the slow building piano ballad ‘(I Still Remember) How To Forget’. There’s one more each from Safe Crossing and Songs From Twisting River, respectively ‘The Green Fields of Clover/The Homecoming’, Jenny singing the sparse, acoustic story of a ship caught in a storm at sea before fiddle picks up the play out coda, and the cobwebby folk of ‘Garden Out of Time’ recorded with Damien O’Kane in South Yorkshire.
The band acknowledging that, a combination of a working with an outside producer and the their lack of confidence in themselves meant it didn’t really deliver, the third album, A Stupid Thing To Do, is limited to one token track, ‘The Boy From Yesterday’. There’s nothing from their Christmas collection, but you do get four from the first of their conceptual albums, 2009’s The West of Eden Travelogue, their first with Broman on fiddle, the swayalong ‘In A Faraway Town’, the heavier, brooding ‘Hawthorne Heights’, the bouncy mandolin-led ‘Jimmy’s Van’ and electric piano accompanied reflective mood piece ‘Scottish Rain’.
The two remaining track as are both unreleased, ‘In A Faraway Town’, a lively nautical-themed jig from 2013 with definite Pogues shades, and, conjuring the MacGowan/McColl pairing, the terrific closing piano and whistle ballad, ‘The Captain’s Daughter,’ an outtake from the Safe Crossing sessions.
Quite why they aren’t far more internationally known and celebrated is a mystery, but this serves as a perfect introduction to discover on the folk world’s true undervalued treasures. Looking back in the opening song they sing, “It’s just twenty years of travelling and I wish for twenty more”; I’ll raise a glass of brännvin to that.
Artists’ website: www.westofeden.com
‘Twenty Years Of Travelling’ – official video: