CHURCH STREET SHUFFLE – The Five Day Weekend (own label CCS001)

The Five Day WeekendChurch Street Shuffle are the fiddle and guitar duo of Neil Ewart and Ali MacQuarrie. Their name is derived from the street in Inverness which is the centre of the live music scene – a band could play three gigs in one evening with careful shuffling. The Five Day Weekend, their debut album, refers to an old expression describing a musician’s life during the winter. Neil and Ali mix traditional tunes with modern sounds and textures and are supported by co-producer Barry Reid and bassist Kier Long. If that’s all clear we’ll turn our attention to the music.

They kick off with two traditional tunes, ‘Loch An Duin’ and ‘Sleepy Maggie’, with Neil’s fiddle flying above an hypnotic foundation led by Ali. In the middle of the set the backing takes on more percussion but the music still powers on. The second set begins with another traditional tune, the funky ‘91st On Modder River’, commemorating a battle during the Boer War in 1899. This links up with ‘Ashley’s Strathspey’ and ‘All The Rage’. The percussion is perhaps a bit heavy on the first two tunes but Neil’s playing is spot on and this is the longest track on the CD at almost eight minutes.

Next comes two of Neil’s compositions, ‘Hidden/The Aquarian Boys’, the first co-written with Jenn Butterworth. This set is rather lighter in tone than its predecessor with Ali’s guitar taking a more prominent role with percussion that I thought was Neil’s Nepalese instrument but may be something more conventional. The fourth track begins with Neil’s ‘The Spider And The Starfish’ merging with a traditional ‘Gavotte’ and ‘Angus John MacNeil Of Barra’. MacNeil, a piper, wrote this tune so I suppose if nobody writes a tune for you there is no option but to write it yourself.

‘Guillan Nam Bo/Cro Nam Gobhar’ (’The Cowboy/The Goat Pen’) are two more traditional tunes taken at a more leisurely pace but still with the echoey percussion in the background while Neil’s ‘The Life Aquatic/Ardslignish Island’ are two jolly tunes – I can see many a dance band picking up on this set. Finally, Neil’s ‘Vodka Teapot’ has the feel of a tune that is a perfect encore to send punters home happy and relaxed – until the mid-point when it builds up and takes off.

The Five Day Weekend didn’t turn out to be quite what I expected and that’s good for me. The tunes remain forefront and the strange synth noises are, for the most part, restrained and supportive which is how I like them. This is a nice album.

Dai Jeffries

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