John Dipper’s virtuosity on violin is well known as is his skill as a maker of concertinas. Of late he has turned his attention to the viola d’amore and on Unearthing he plays a fourteen string model made for him by Jonathan Hill. James Patterson was a member of Crows, one of the finest vocal groups of their day. John and James have worked together in various line-ups for many years and their rapport is evident in the music they make.
The unearthing that is happening here has nothing to do with rummaging through dusty library stacks and second-hand bookshops since much of the material is actually hiding in plain sight. What is new is the way they approach it, going back to settings by Butterworth and Somervell amongst others. Although Patterson Dipper aver that the majority of their material comes from folk song sources that isn’t so obvious here. The opening track, ‘I Will Go With My Father A-Ploughing’, has the structure of a traditional song and you might take it to be so but, in fact, the words are by Joseph Campbell and the music by Ivor Gurney. The chaps acquired it via a recording of Dame Janet Baker.
Supporting Dipper’s viola d’amore and Patterson’s guitar are Adrian Lever’s guitar, tambura and harmonium and cello from Emily Askew on one track. The musical complexity comes, rightly, from Dipper. The Playford tune, ‘King Of Poland’, for example, is taken far from the dancefloor – call it modern classical music if you wish.
Other lyrics come from Thomas Hardy (the appropriate ‘If It’s Ever Spring Again’) and A E Houseman with ‘In Summertime On Bredon’ and ‘The Lads In Their Hundreds’ boasting less familiar settings further arranged by John and James. The tradition provides ‘Rere’s Hill’. ‘The Isle Of France’ and ‘The Murdered Servant Man’ and from more recent times is Alastair Hulett’s ‘He Fades Away’ – not so much buried as lying in the long grass. It’s the kind of song that Crows would have gone for if it had been written at the time.
Unearthing is an album that combines traditional music, poetry, 20th century composers and refined musicianship. It really is delightful.
Artists’ website: www.pattersondipper.co.uk