TIGER MOTH – Ostracon (Ghosts From The Basement GFTB 7060)

OstraconOstracon is a record for compleat lepidopterists and archaeologists. The first is obvious, the second because an ostracon is a potsherd on which writing has been scratched. The significance of the title may or may not become apparent. For those who were not there or those who were but still can’t remember it, Tiger Moth were the 80s rogue folk dance band who were big, loud, gave dancers a good time and didn’t go in for medleys but were happy to play, and play around with, a tune for ten minutes at a time as well as “adapting” titles. They also had amazing LP sleeves. The line-up was Ian A Anderson and Maggie Holland (formerly Hot Vultures), Rod Stradling, John Maxwell, Jon Moore and the late Chris Coe. In 2014 they released Mothballs Plus, a greatest hits collection from their two albums.

Tiger Moth didn’t record ten-minute versions of their tunes so the tracks here are relatively concise. The set opens with ‘Polka Volta’ led by Stradling’s melodeon, a good way to start a ceilidh if you’re young and fit. Next comes a tune so iconic that every band wants to play it and put their mark on it while treating it with respect. You can’t screw around with ‘Speed The Plough’. Tiger Moth approach it by beginning with Maggie’s banjo aided by John’s light touch on percussion; one repeat for the dancers to get up to speed and then the tune is passed around the melodeon and Chris’ hammered dulcimer (and clogs) before the banjo signifies that the end is nigh and fades away into the night.

You might be forgiven for thinking that Ostracon is just the leftovers of the band’s repertoire but that isn’t the case. In fact it shows a different aspect of Tiger Moth – after all you can’t play kicking-up-the-sawdust tunes for two solid hours without medical supervision and here we have the light and shade. Next comes ‘The First Wife’ with Jon displaying the Tex-Mex influences that were moving into their repertoire and even when Stradling bursts with in the melody it is still relatively restrained. ‘Hunt The Goat’ opens with a merry rattle from John’s percussion with lots of electric guitar and some strange noises while ‘Flor Marchita’ begins with Chris’ hammered dulcimer with Ian Carter’s piano pitching in.

‘The Electric Kettle’ is the slowest number and you could imagine it in a Regency drawing room if they had a slide guitar. Tiger Moth were always tight and sometimes it’s difficult to know who’s doing what and where some of the sounds are coming from. ‘Marshall Curwen’s Polka/Pepper In The Brandy’ is a jolly set led by Stradling while ‘Sestrina’ features synthesiser by Jon and heavy drums from John.

Finally, ‘The Duchess Dressed In Blue’ is a live track recorded live during Tiger Moth’s comeback in the early 00s. The line-up here included Martin Brinsford, Ben Mandelson, Danny Stradling and Fran Wade.

The cover illustration is by Lawrence Heath with inspiration from, and possibly apologies to, John Tenniel and certainly fits in with the feel of the music. It’s all good fun and a jolly good listen.

Dai Jeffries

Artists’ website: www.ghostsfromthebasement.bandcamp.com

‘Sloe Benga’ – live by the reformed band in 2004. This trak is on the other collection but it would seem to be the only video of Tiger Moth available: