The story of Tarren’s debut album, Revel, begins in lockdown, when three established members of the Bristol folk scene began to share compositions online. From those dark days, has come a truly joyful musical experience. Appropriately, for a project that began in a time of isolation, Revel was conceived as a celebration of togetherness, reflecting both the exuberance and tenderness found in acts of revelry. In short, it’s an album that really wants to live up to its name, and I’m happy to report that it succeeds. Even before taking the CD out, the spirit of celebration is wonderfully evoked by Imogen Pauley’s striking sleeve art. Her brightly coloured landscape shows images of folk dance in an urban setting, reflecting the album’s Bristolian origins.
Tarren might be a new name for many of us, but its members are already familiar. They are Alex Garden (fiddle, viola, and octave fiddle), Sid Goldsmith (cittern and concertina) and Danny Pedler (accordion and hurdy gurdy). All three are distinguished musicians, composers, and arrangers, and they’ve produced a varied selection of music for this album. Revel is mostly newly composed, but with a sprinkling of tradition. It’s primarily English, but with some continental forays. Of the thirteen tracks, ten are instrumental, with three songs, on which Sid provides lead vocals.
‘Hardwood,’ composed by Danny, starts with a pleasingly undulating sequence, which reminded me of the start of Benjamin Britten’s ‘Four Sea Interludes’ from ‘Peter Grimes.’ Variations around this theme continue as it builds to a sudden ending. Sudden endings are a theme of this album.
This is followed by two unmistakeably English tunes, under the joint title of ‘Salt and Sweet.’ The traditional ‘James Higgins’ is followed by another of Danny’s compositions, ‘The End of All Things.’ Curiously, given its sinister name, it’s the more cheerful of the two tunes.
The first song follows – a substantially re-written version of the Napoleonic protest song, ‘Rigs Of The Times’. This has been updated before, but I found the new lyrics here to be sharp and relevant. The original lyrics describe trading standards type issues, but it all comes down to exploitation and abuse of power by “Those who hold power with cunning and craft.” They’re still with us. The first line of the chorus, “Honesty’s all out of fashion,” has probably never sounded more relevant.
‘Hot Wax’ was composed by Alex. The start has a more melancholic feel, before a gentle, fiddle lead, tune develops. Here I began to appreciate the modular type of arrangements, with tunes and themes seamlessly overlapping. For me, this is one of the standout instrumental tracks.
‘De Rien’ is, as the name suggests, the first continental foray. Danny composed this fast, repetitive dance.
The next track – ‘The Stray Polska’ – was composed by Sid, as an acknowledgement of the Scandinavian origin of his cittern. Appropriately, the cittern opens it, with a soulful melody, before a stately dance tune develops. I know this has a Baltic theme, but it just reminded me of a Tudor court dance.
For anyone with an interest in English folk music, ‘Searching For Lambs’ probably doesn’t need any introduction. Numerous versions have been collected in Somerset, often containing small variations. For example, “Pretty little feet” in other versions, becomes “Nimble feet” here, but the meaning and the story are always the same. This version, with a new tune from Sid, ‘Lambage,’ added as an instrumental passage, is a worthy addition to the collection.
Listening to ‘Three Spring Polkas,’ it’s easy to imagine May revels in full flow. This is traditional English dance music, but it feels fresh and imaginative. The dreamy opening doesn’t sound like a dance tune, but the first polka emerges seamlessly, as if it was always forming within the notes of the opening passage. The polkas were all composed by Alex and named after spring flowers.
Another set of three tunes follows, ‘Bourées.’ These are all newly composed with the members of Tarren contributing one each. A bourée is a form of French traditional dance, originating in Auvergne. Fast and in double time, they’re danced with quick, skipping steps. From a slower opening, the tempo builds up to a suitable pace.
Next up is a set of three newly composed hornpipes. The slightly discordant opening passage contains not a hint of dance, and yet a recognisable hornpipe seems to effortlessly emerge from it. Another imaginative setting of traditional dance music.
The first of two Morris tunes follows, and it’s a quintessential Cotswold tune, ‘Old Tom of Oxford.’ This leads to the last song, Danny’s ‘You To Me.’ It starts with a long instrumental section and it’s more than two minutes before the tender, poetic lyrics begin. The first lines; “If I was a leaf and you were the wind, I’d fail and fall with the force you bring,” set the theme, and a series of allegories from nature symbolise the power and endurance of true love in times of trouble. That might sound optimistic, but this is an optimistic album.
The second Morris tune – ‘Orange In Bloom’ – is drawn from the less familiar Sherborne tradition and makes a suitable finale. This has another deceptive opening, from which the tune emerges, played at notably slower tempo. That works beautifully, allowing for added depth and complexity in the arrangement. For example, the delicate cittern playing in the middle section, probably wouldn’t have worked at regular Morris dance pace. This is another stand out instrumental track.
Tarren’s music feels traditional, but also fresh and original. It’s joyful, but with deep sensitivity. For me, Revel is an album that reveals itself slowly. Such is the quality of the musicianship and the complexity of the arrangements, that I noticed something new with each listening. My first thought was that this is primarily for established folk enthusiasts, but I found a freshness that deserves to have wider appeal.
With The Drystones, Jimmy Aldridge and Sid Goldsmith, Pedler // Russell and more, this trio all have plenty of commitments. I do hope though, that they find time to get together as Tarren again, it’s a combination of talents with lots to offer.
Artist website: www.tarrenmusic,com
‘De Rien’ – official video: