MATT NORMAN – Mr Onion’s Serenade (own label MNOR01CD)

Mr Onion's SerenadeMr Onion’s Serenade is the sort of project that Simon Mayor would have made his own had Matt Norman not thought of it first. Matt is a composer, multi-instrumentalist and big in the world of community choirs. The album is subtitled Mandolin Music Of The Edwardian Era and we are talking about Edward VII – the previous Edwards were at least three hundred years earlier. The Edwardian era lasted less than ten years and all the composers featured spanned his reign but let’s not get bogged down in copyright dates.

Matt plays a small orchestra: two mandolins, a hand built five-course mandola, a tenor banjo and a home-made bass banjo which really works to fill out the lower end of the musical spectrum. The first track ‘A Te…Povero Fiore’ by Angelo Ciglia sounds very Italian and older than it actually is. It’s a delightfully gentle, romantic piece which makes the start of the album rather unexpected but don’t settle down because it’s followed by ‘Polka Des Moineaux’ and ‘Serenata’ by Alfonso Cipollone – the Mr Onion of the album’s title.  He also composed the dreamy ‘Berceuse’ which appears later.

‘At Bay’ is a wonderful tune by American composer Will B Moyer that keeps up the pace and seems to quote ‘Keep The Home Fires Burning’ but that is probably just me. Matt plays it solo until the end when he brings the whole band in and you can really hear what his bass banjo can do. Then we are back in Europe with an Italian ‘Tarantella’ and ‘Papillonnette’ which my schoolboy French translates as little butterfly. It was written by an Italian who also worked in Brussels and London so I won’t be dogmatic about its meaning.

‘Lancashire Clogs’ is a splendid, brash tune originally written for banjo and which unexpectedly bursts into song at the end. According to Matt it’s easier on the banjo. ‘Tra Veglia E Sonno’ can still be heard played by traditional bands in Naples but ‘Boston Ideal March’ is distinctly American and Matt notes a similarity to Souza in its bouncing beat although the tune itself is more complex. Finally, ‘Tokaj’ is a dance tune from Hungary which could be played on the cymbalom. It starts slowly and almost sensuously but quickly picks up speed as though remembering that dancing is the “vertical expression of a horizontal desire” according to George Bernard Shaw or Oscar Wilde depending on who you believe.

Mr Onion’s Serenade has been on the market for a while but it’s only recently come our way although, sadly, that hasn’t given Matt a chance to produce a suitable video. It is the perfect record for a lazy summer’s afternoon and it would have suited an Edwardian garden party just as well – serious but also fun.

Dai Jeffries

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