Following a season of smouldering live shows across the UK and Europe, acclaimed Anglo-French acoustic dance band Topette!! have been back in the studio to record a much-awaited second CD Rhododendron.
Capturing the atmosphere and spirit of those live shows, the new CD resonates with the wild energy of packed dancefloors, firing the five players’ imaginations and galvanising their playing. Rhododendron is a bold and exciting album, infused with good-time feeling, visceral, pulsing drive and joy! Of course it helps that those musicians are some of the finest on the European dance scene…
Andy Cutting – diatonic button accordion & melodeon (Blowzabella, Leveret)
James Delarre – violin (Mawkin, Eliza Carthy and the Wayward Band)
Barnaby Stradling – acoustic bass guitar (Blowzabella / Eliza Carthy and the Wayward Band / False Lights)
Rhododendron was recorded at Invada Studios in Bristol, with the band’s favourite producer / sound engineer, Joe Garcia.
Topette!! have been playing together for five years now, but still have the feeling of a box-fresh project. Geography dictates they can only get together a few times each year, but despite the distances involved in rehearsing or gigging, the group have become very close friends. Their celebration of musical and cultural differences and similarities shines through in their music-making; music that is by turns jubilant, rollicking, beautiful, mind-boggling and absolutely unique!
Following on from the success of their first album, C’est le Pompon… (2017) the new album, Rhododendron once again features an eclectic selection of material. Some traditional tunes, some of the musicians’ own compositions, and tunes from friends and heroes of the band. All semi-arranged, semi-improvised in the studio, these tracks are surprisingly varied, and have plenty to capture the ear of the keen listener, as much as the feet of the avid dancer.
This band continues to tear up dance floors across Europe with their intriguing and ever-expanding repertoire…Join in the party!
The second crop of fruit from the joint project between Sam Carter and Jim Moray brings in Stuart Provan on drums and adds Archie Churchill-Moss’s melodeon to Tom Moore’s violin with Barnaby Stradling on bass.
As with their Salvor debut, it’s rooted in traditional folk songs given a contemporary and often off-kilter treatment with contemporary resonance, case in point being album opener ‘Babylon’ which, opening with a radio broadcast sample, takes the shapenote hymn by the scruff of its neck and lurches into a driving rock drum beat bulked up with electric guitars and brass, the “Babylon’s falling” chorus refrain chiming with its described reaction to current British and US politics.
The drums and guitar solo may lean to the heavier side of folk rock, but there remains a definite traditional air to the 19th century transportation ballad, ‘Black Velvet Band’, set to a new, moody and slow-paced six minute plus tune by Moray that’s a far cry from the familiar rousing Dubliners’ version, the verse melody leeching off the similarly-themed ‘The Whitby Lad’.
The Roud collection also provides the source for ‘William Glenn’, Carter taking nasally lead on a nautical tale of mutiny, superstition and the crew casting overboard the captain they deemed responsible for the storms, a rousing, urgent shanty-founded interpretation learned from Nic Jones with the addition of new lines based on Tony Rose’s version as ‘Sir William Gower’.
Written by Moore, ‘The Ombudsman’ provides an instrumental break, violin naturally to the fore over a dampened bass drum thump, the initial nervy African-textured guitar work giving way to fierce, almost prog-folk riffs, the fury subsiding for the leaving song ‘Far In Distant Lands’, another shapenote hymnal, taken from The Southern Harmony 1854 as ‘328 Missionary Farewell’, it’s timely echoes of the migrant crisis delivered over a wheezing drone and a tinkling repeated keys pattern, building to a climax with wind effects before its final ebbing way.
It’s back to sea for the album’s lengthiest number, ‘Captain Kidd’, the Roud broadside about the legendary alleged pirate who was executed in politically controversial circumstances in 1701, the tune based on ‘159 Wondrous Love’ from The Sacred Harp, starting out in acoustic mode with Moray’s vocals accompanied by fiddle and drone before erupting around the two minute mark into steady-paced but full-blooded electric folk rock.
Another folk standard ballad, ‘Murder In The Red Barn’, the Suffolk-set true story of how Maria Marten was shot dead by her lover William Corder who was subsequently tracked down, found guilty and hung in 1828, events also giving rise to a popular melodrama and something of a local tourist industry, with even part of Corder’s scalp, ear attached, being displayed in Oxford Street. Unusually sung from Corder’s viewpoint, it’s set to a folk rock combination of ‘129 Heavenly Amor’ and ‘146 Hallelujah’, two tunes by shapenote composer William Walker that appear in The Sacred Harp, and featuring an almost Byrdsian jangling guitar solo. A fine companion piece to ‘The Murder Of Maria Marten’ recorded in 1971 by Shirley Collins and The Albion Band.
Featuring in both the Child and Roud collections, ‘Serving Man Become A Queen’ gets a sweeping rework, barreling along on both a newly written Moray tune and a borrowing from The New York Trader as it moves from high velocity drums-driven urgency to a slower passages with a brief touch of almost Bach organ.
The penultimate track and another nautical tale, here about one of three Scottish brothers who turned to piracy to support himself and his siblings, ‘Henry Martin’ begins with clattering African-styled percussion from Laurence Hung before Provan’s drums and glowering electric guitar take control, the number venturing into almost improvisational jazz rock territory towards the end. It ends in suitably jaunty form with melodeon akimbo and fiddle surging for ‘Drink Old England Dry’, a song originally written in response to Napoleon’s boastful threats to invade and drink the country dry, the French subsequently variously substituted by the Germans and Russians, but here reworked to tone down any pro-Brexit sentiments with Moray and Carter trading the new verses and joining together on the suitably rowdy, glasses raised chorus.
Invented in 1844 by Scottish mathematician Hugh Blackburn, a harmonograph is a mechanical device that uses two balanced swinging pendulums to draw geometric pictures, two different but equal forces working in perfect harmony to create a complex whole. What better metaphor for the musical symbiosis of False Lights could you ask!
From her debut solo album back in 1996, Carthy has never been predictable in her constant determination to both celebrate and reinvent the folk tradition and, while that may not have always endeared her to purists, it has produced a remarkable – and sometimes challenging – back catalogue. Her latest is no exception, here working with the big-band set up on her festival appearances, a 12-piece line –up that includes, among others, Beth Porter on cello, melodeonist Saul Rose, Mawkin’s David Delarre on guitar, bassist Barnaby Stradling from Blowzabella and former Bellowhead fiddler Sam Sweeney.
Aptly titled to reflect the sound, Carthy appearing on the front cover like some kind of folk Boudica leading her tooled-up army into battle, the material follows a similar pattern of self-penned originals, traditional reworks and covers, kicking off with a strident metronomic rhythm arrangement of one of ‘Fade & Fall (Love Not)’ complete with plucked cello and soaring brassy flourishes. It’s one of three Manchester Ballads, the others being equally strident shanty ‘The Sea’ with its martial beat and sweeping fiddle and, introduced with a cosmic keyboards whoosh, stumbling domestic violence number ‘Devil in the Woman’ with its repeated refrain chant ‘charming little woman”.
Staying in the traditional arena, the album’s longest and arguably most striking number sees her joined by Damien Dempsey for the eight-minute ‘I Wish That The Wars Were All Over’ (performed live onstage in the studio), a Roud ballad sung from the perspective of a soldier’s love, stemming from the American Revolution and referencing the Seven Years War, collected by the Reverend Sabine Baring-Gould, from Dartmoor miner Sam Fone. Featuring a tinkling repeated piano pattern, melodeon, fiddle it has Carthy in tender vocal form, counterpointed by Dempsey’s keening longing. Interestingly, it has also been recorded by American folk artist Tim Eriksen with whom she made 2015’s Bottle album.
Ewan MacColl’s cabaret-like lurching shanty ‘The Fitter’s Song’ provides the title source, the melody a variation on ‘When Johnny Comes Marching Home’, with the third cover seeing her joined by the scion of another folk family dynasty, Teddy Thompson lending his voice to a rousing gospel-blues shaded treatment of Rory McLeod’s ‘Hug You Like A Mountain’ providing a showcase fiddle spotlight.
The remaining numbers are all Carthy originals, indeed the whale-themed shanty ‘Great Grey Back’ is a new treatment of a song that originally featured on Wayward Daughter, here with massed vocal backing rather than just one voice. One is an instrumental, the rousing part vocalised but wordless ‘Jack Warrell’s (Exerpt) – Love Lane’, while, another big sound, ‘Mrs. Dyer the Baby Farmer’, with its fiddle lament intro, is essentially a murder ballad concerning Victorian serial killer Amelia Elizabeth Dyer who took in babies that were unwanted or could not be cared for, ostensibly to be adopted, and despatched them to Jesus. ‘Epitaph’ closes the album on another murder ballad, here a cabaret-like tale of death by custard poisoning, Willy Molleson providing the thundering drums. The remaining track again underlines Carthy’s willingness and thirst to experiment and push the folk envelope, ‘You Know Me’ a commentary on hospitality and the refugee crisis (“the door is always open and the fires are blazing, no one ever turned away, the fruit in our garden is always good”) that, with a scratch intro and set against a dub-styled rhythm, features a rap by MC Dizraeli. Arguably her best work since 2008’s Dreams of Breathing Underwater, it further confirms her as one of the fiercest and most striking voices in contemporary folk music.
The album also comes as a deluxe edition that includes ‘Aleppo in the Sun As It Was’ from last year’s English Electric EP as well as the demo of ‘The Fitter’s Song’ and five extra tracks, including both a fiddle and vocal version of ‘Three Day Millionaire’.