THE OLD SWAN BAND – Fortyfived (Wild Goose WGS434CD)

FortyfivedThe Old Swan Band, rightly lauded for its longstanding championing of English dance music, broke a 20-year recording hiatus in 2014 to mark its 40-year anniversary. Fortyfived, the band’s latest album, celebrates this continued survival across four and a half decades. Much like the dwarf’s axe, some of the band’s original parts have been replaced over time but The Old Swan Band still stands proud as a pioneer in its field.

And yet, as Fortyfived amply demonstrates, the concept of “English” music may not be quite what might once have been assumed. There is growing evidence of a much greater musical cross-pollination with other lands. Consequently, Fortyfived sees English tunes nuzzle up close with their Celtic, North European, American and Australian relations. It’s a genuinely free-trade community where borrowing and adaptation is not just tolerated but forms part of the fabric of the music itself. And, really, wouldn’t it be more surprising if that were not the case? Turns out there’s no point getting too flag-waving and parochial about it, after all.

Here, then, is music for dancing to with unselfconscious abandon at whatever name you give to your local knees-up. No doubt it has already been gracing dance floors throughout the festive period, for those sage enough to have caught its December release. But even in the cold comedown of January, it lights up the gloom with reels, quadrilles, waltzes, two-steps, polkas and more, in a dizzying gallop where the pace never lets up for a moment. These are tunes simply crying out for the foot-tapping, beer-flowing exuberant whirl of live performance.

Performances are as tightly dynamic as you might expect, insistently nudging the tunesets along. Particular mention must go to Martin Brinsford’s eternally restless percussion and John Adams’s sensitive trombone punctuation, underpinning the vigorous frontline fiddle triple of Flos Headford, Paul Burgess and Fi Fraser.

On CD while, of course, it’s possible to pick out all the instruments, get contemplative over arrangements and performances, it can feel as if the warmth and feedback of a live audience is missing from the mix. Nonetheless, Fortyfived delivers up its well-considered dance music without borders, all intelligently combined and arranged, and given with an unabashed, heartfelt joy. Exactly the kind of tonic we could do with right now.

Su O’Brien

Artist website: www.facebook.com/TheOldSwanBand

A taster for the album:

Coope, Simpson, Fraser and Freya: Hark Hark

CSFFHark Hark – a festive feast to send you into Christmas with a feelgood factor. A rich mixture of old and new with a firm foundation of traditional Yorkshire and Derbyshire carols, the album is augmented by spicy instrumentals showing the links between carols and dance tunes, along with humour, original songs and joyful instrumentals.

Christmas comes but once a year, which means we only get one chance annually to see the Coope, Simpson, Fraser & Freya Christmas show – a pity, since the eclectic, funny, poignant and clever mixture would work even stripped of its seasonal theme. Luckily, they are releasing an album which captures the magic of the show.

Hark HarkThis is not just a bunch of folk with good voices belting out traditional carols. It’s a welcoming hotch-potch of stories, poetry and jokes threaded through with carolling and wassailing, both acapella and accompanied by a proper bagful of instruments, blown, plucked, bowed and struck.

The show is rich in the Variety tradition – there are various nods to music hall – and steeped in folk’s past and present, and the way the show veers effortlessly between solemnity and silliness makes it a wonderful, and wonderfully warm, winter night out.

My favourite, favourite Carol Singers, (Natalie Wheen, Classic FM)

Artist/Label website: www.nomasters.co.uk