The 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.
Artist website: www.facebook.com/TheOldSwanBand
A taster for the album: