THE MANIACS – The Maniacs (own label)

The ManiacsIf there is a band more miss-named than The Maniacs then I’ve yet to discover them, although those who know him will testify that Paul Hutchinson can be quite eccentric. Paul has spent many years working with old tunes from all over the country and this album may be the culmination of his sterling efforts. The ten pieces here come from three 18th century tune books which have been newly published as 60 Country Dance Tunes For The Year 1786 – 1800. To avoid further confusion; one volume is from 1786 and two are from 1800.

Paul, as you must know, plays accordion and he’s joined here by Seona Pritchard on violin and viola, cellist Gill Redmond and Paul’s partner in the Pagoda Project, Karen Wimhurst, on clarinets. The music was recorded live in an old Dorset church and would make a fine accompaniment to reading some Thomas Hardy.

Paul says that this album is dance music to listen to because it isn’t simply two As and two Bs four times through. So the opening track, ‘Admiral Mitchel’s Reel’, begins with slow and stately accordion and clarinet until, about half-way through, it bursts into a more familiar danceable rhythm. ‘Hopeless Love’, is set up in the same way, this time opening with cello before bursting out at about the ninety second mark. Your favourite track might depend on what sets your toes tapping; for me it’s ‘Jackson’s Dream/Jackson’s Nightmare’.

The arrangements employ a great deal of improvisation but it’s not clear how much was worked out in advance. I have to say, though, that you can’t make an arrangement like ‘Roodulum’ up as you go along. As to the band’s name, it actually comes from a tune, ‘The Maniac’, which is paired here with ‘The Loon’.  It could have been worse, I suppose.

Dai Jeffries

Artists’ website:

No video from The Maniacs available yet but here’s Paul and Sheona with ‘Jul’:

DEREK GIFFORD – Songs From The Past…Into The Future (WildGoose Records WGS412CD)

DEREK GIFFORD Songs From The Past Into The FutureIf you have spent any time in festival singarounds it’s pretty sure that you will have sung one of Derek Gifford’s tunes – the one he wrote for Keith Scowcroft’s poem, ‘When All Men Sing’. If you enjoyed those sessions and that song then you’ll love this album.

Oddly, there are none of Derek’s own compositions here. Other than two traditional songs – ‘Dives And Lazarus’ and ‘Bold Fisherman’ – this is collection of writers famous and (relatively) obscure, mostly British with one from across the Atlantic. The best songs, for me, are Pete Coe’s ‘Farewell To The Brine’ and ‘The Cocklers’ Song’ by Alan Bell. That said, Miles Wootton’s ‘Early One Evening’ is a piece of whimsy from bygone days that still resonates with beer-drinking men but oddly I’ve only heard it sung once in the last thirty-odd years.

The song that first caught my attention is ‘Songs They Used To Sing’ and I wondered, rather wickedly perhaps, if Derek sings it in post-modern ironic way or takes it seriously. Essentially the writer, Mike Bartram, is saying OK, I was never a sailor or farmer or a miner but those workers left us choruses we can sing and enjoy and that’s what we’re doing. I’d like to think that the singers appreciate the contradiction inherent in the song.

As usual with WildGoose recordings the production is clean and unfussy with Keith Kendrick’s concertinas, Gill Redmond’s cello and Paul Sartin’s oboe used sparingly. The chorus, including Tom and Barbara Brown, bridge the gap between studio and live although I think that Derek might be best served by recording in the latter environment. Perhaps a little more reverb next time.

Dai Jeffries

‘Spirit Of The Sea’ live at theRNLI Dungeness Memorial Concert: