CANNY FETTLE – Still Gannin’ Canny (Canny Fettle Records CANNYCD001)

Still Gannin' CannyYou know the kind of friendships where you don’t see one another for ages, yet when you next meet up, you just pick up right where you left off, like you’d never been away? Well, that’s the sound of Still Gannin’ Canny, right there.

It might be some 30 years since Canny Fettle last released an album, but it could just as well have been a week ago. There’s such an easy meshing of the musical talents, a comfortable way of playing together that simply shines through. The trio of Bobs Morton and Diehl, plus Gerry Murphy produce a rich, warm yet roomy sound that producer, Ian Stephenson, has captured superbly, ensuring each element has enough room to breathe and be heard clearly.

There’s a deliberate absence of technical whizz-bangs and gizmos, just an attempt to set down the tracks with honesty, care and respect. Accompaniments by Jane Diehl, Grace Smith, George Unthank, Peter Wood and Ian Stephenson add meaningful, subtle embellishments, including clogging, to the songs and tune sets.

And yet, there is something distinctly redolent of yesteryear here – and it’s not just the cover art’s very pleasing shade of 1970s mustard. There’s a certain quality to the band’s delivery of songs like ‘Old Miner’, ‘Happy Sam’ and the woozy fairground waltz of ‘Ashton Mashers’, that unleash something very Proustian, to these ears at least, taking me back to various dialect songs that fringed my Lancashire childhood.

The informative, extensive liner notes explain much more about the song choices, so I’m not going to regurgitate them here, only to say that they are very well worth the read.

This fine collection of music from Scotland, the North East and North West sounds as if it’s always been there, perhaps in a corner of our collective memories, just waiting for us to return and listen again. That it’s all a brand-new work somehow makes it even more remarkable. Still Gannin’ Canny has a timeless quality that fully deserves “instant classic” status.

Su O’Brien

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Canny Fettle release their first album in thirty years

Canny Fettle

This year sees the release of Still Gannin’ Canny, the first album in over 30 years from veteran folk band Canny Fettle. Their debut album Varry Canny, released in 1975 on the Tradition Records label was highly regarded at the time and has been out of print for decades, their second album Trip To Harrogate followed in 1977, a collection of repertoire from the then newly-discovered Joshua Jackson Manuscript, after which the group effectively disbanded to pursue their individual careers in industrial chemistry and the aeronautics industry, only to reform in 2016 with the idea of a new recording.

The new album is a tribute to those classic albums of the 1970s, recorded in a vintage style – all musicians together in one room, captured honestly with a natural blend. Producer Ian Stephenson remarks on the process:

“It was a total pleasure to work with Canny Fettle on this new recording – With no disrespect to the lads, it was a bit like going back in time, like finding an old album nobody knew existed! My part in the production involved capturing the brilliant performances in a totally honest, real-time way, offering general encouragement, as well as trying to use a style of production in keeping with their previous albums. Everything from the cover design through microphone choice and musical decisions was decided with this in mind. One surprising thing for me was how much unique repertoire they brought to the recording sessions – the early mixes and pre-release copies of the album have been doing the rounds on Tyneside and many seasoned folk performer has remarked on how these recordings sound like classics, but ones which have never been heard before.”

The material featured shows their usual North-East bias, along with some melodies from further afield. There are old melodies from William Vicker’s Manuscript (1770) and Joshua Jackson’s (1798) all mixed up with both traditional songs and music hall songs from Tyneside and Lancashire. One advantage of releasing on CD or digital over vinyl, is the inclusion of extensive, well-researched liner notes giving historical context to the music, placing the music in a visceral context and giving it the gravitas it deserves.

Canny Fettle had its origins in the Manchester area in the late 60s when fellow students Bob Diehl, Gerry Murphy, and Anthony Robb joined with Royton singer John Williamson to form a group. They were influenced at this time locally by Harry Boardman and from further afield by Martin Carthy and Dave Swarbrick and of course the High Level Ranters.

The line-up featured on Still Gannin’ Canny is Bob Diehl – fiddle, Gerry Murphy – English concertina, Northumbrian pipes, Bob Morton – guitar, voice, with special guests: Jane Diehl (accordion), Grace Smith (vocals, clog), Ian Stephenson (piano), George Unthank and Pete Wood (chorus singing).

News of the band’s resurgence has been spreading and has also resulted in Fellside Records re-releasing digital versions of both Varry Canny (1975) and Trip To Harrogate (1977), whilst Still Gannin’ Canny (2017) is available from the band’s own website where both digital and CD versions include full liner notes.

The intention behind the album can be best presented as in the notes:

“To record a selection of new and old songs as a tribute to the many people who influenced them throughout the years and endowed them with the joy of music. This is above all what they collectively hope to pass on “

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THE UNTHANKS – Archive Treasures (2005-2015) (RabbleRouser Music)

THE UNTHANKS  Archive TreasuresThe limited edition Memory Box is all sold and we lesser mortals must content ourselves with these fourteen tracks to celebrate The Unthanks’ tenth anniversary. Actually, the last piece dates from 2000 but that is The Unthank Family Band so we won’t be picky. All the tracks are rare or obscure – live, radio sessions or demos – making this record a real treasure trove for fans.

The album opens with Chrissie Hynde’s ‘2000 Miles’, their 2015 Christmas single, and is followed by three live songs dominated by hefty piano. ‘On A Monday Morning’ is probably by the newly-renamed Unthanks with Adrian McNally at the keyboard but ‘I Wish, I Wish’ and ‘Blue Bleezin Blind Drunk’ feature Stef Connor, who otherwise went unrecorded with The Winterset as they were back then.

Now we have the full band with ‘Close The Coalhouse Door’, ‘Alifib/Alifie’ and ‘The Gallowgate Lad’ all live with Robert Wyatt’s long composition departing a little from their usual arranging style: a big drum sound and gorgeous brass fading into gentle piano and strings and building up again to a mighty finish. ‘Felton Lonnin’ and ‘Tar Barrel In Dale’ are radio sessions and ‘Queen Of Hearts’ is an alternative demo from 2009.

Then come the outside projects. ‘Sexy Sadie’ comes from the Mojo reworking of The Beatles and given away with the magazine. ‘A Dream Of A Tree In A Spanish Graveyard’ was recorded with Ian MacMillan for the concept album Harbour Of Songs and ‘Oak, Ash And Thorn’ is from the project album of the same name and is possibly guilty of stretching the song out too much. Certainly it’s much more solemn than Peter Bellamy’s original. The Unthank Family track is something of a novelty – I guess that’s George Unthank singing but it’s definitely Becky and Rachel clogging.

Archive Treasures is certainly a fan album with sufficient unreleased tracks to guarantee its popularity. Its division into more or less four chapters makes for a coherent whole and it is essentially a record of highlights from a long career that has made The Unthanks one of the top acts on the folk scene today.

Dai Jeffries

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‘2000 Miles’ live at The Union Chapel: