BRACKENBURY & NEILSON – Crossings (Monoline MLRC1)

CrossingsCrossings is an album that falls into a category generally known as “music”. Faith Brackenbury and John Neilson have worked together for some time and bring together experience of classical music, folk, jazz and busking round Europe. This is their debut as a duo. Most of the material is self-composed except for ‘Fingal’, a pretty tune by Swedish fiddler Ellika Frisell.

The opening track, ‘New Invention’, could be a valid description of the record but it’s named after a small hamlet in Shropshire, which apparently consists of four houses and a crossroads. Quite why the place is so named or why Faith and John chose it to title a piece of music is anybody’s guess. Of course, many of the compositions are named after crossing points of one kind or another so it makes perfect sense.

The first long track, ‘The Plastic Bridge’, leans very much towards the jazz and improv which is Faith’s forte and she takes full advantage of the freedom to express herself over John’s piano patterns.

My favourite track is ‘The Devil’s Aeronaut’ – there’s a story there, too – for which John switches to accordion and there’s a bit of overdubbing going on. ‘Echo’s Bones’ is driven by John’s piano with Faith’s viola underscoring big chords before she switches to violin for the second half of the tune and John moves to the right hand end of the keyboard. ‘Enlli’ is named for Ynys Enlli – Bardsey Island for the English – and the piece perfectly evokes the treacherous waters that separate it from the Llŷn peninsula. It was once a holy place and pilgrims risked their lives to make the crossing.

The long closing piece is ‘Wladfa’, named after the Welsh colony in Patagonia – this is all true, you know – which represents the biggest crossing in the album and incorporates elements of Welsh traditional music and hints of a tango. At least, that’s what Faith and John say. It is a stunning way to finish an album.

I found Crossings very enjoyable listening. It’s not what you’d really call relaxing but it can conjure up some fascinating mental pictures and, like the weather over the Welsh border country where it was made, it’s always changing.

Dai Jeffries

Artists’ website: www.brackenburymusic.uk

‘Number Six’ – live:

Brackenbury And Neilson announce debut album

Brackenbury

The long-awaited first full-length album by Faith Brackenbury and John Neilson brings together nine of their own compositions, plus one short piece by the Swedish fiddler Ellika Frisell. Crossings is the fruit of a collaboration between two musicians with very different backgrounds in jazz, classical and traditional music. It’s an entirely instrumental album: Faith plays violin and viola, and John piano and accordion (and briefly concertina). All but one of the tracks are original compositions.

Travelling across the border of England and Wales to meet up for their first sessions some five years ago, Faith and John quickly established a musical rapport based on improvisation and experiment. The music which emerged is hard to categorise: pieces such as ‘Enlli’ and ‘New Invention’ are named after locations in Wales and the borders, whilst in ‘Wladfa’ and ‘Bonizac’ there are traces of tango and Breton dance music. ‘The Plastic Bridge’, full of Eastern European rhythms, commemorates a new suspension footbridge over the A5…

Faith studied classical music from a young age and diversified into jazz, folk and free improvisation at college. She has collaborated with alto saxophonist Martin Speake, recording the improvised album Zephyr, and plays with neo-classical electronica composer Tiny Leaves. A multi-media collaboration The Four Susans is ongoing in 2018, as is her own The KnifeAngel Project for jazz sextet and quartet.

John is a self-taught musician who has tinkered around on the piano since childhood. In his early twenties he bought a piano accordion and spent several months busking in Spain and France, and picking up tunes from further afield. Since those days he has co-founded various outfits (including Manticore, Francisco The Man, Bosco and most recently Half Six) who have all done their own thing with traditional music.

The album was recorded by the renowned Andy Bell (of Bellowhead fame) at Rhydycroesau Village Hall (the name means ‘ford of the crosses’ or ‘crossings’) and Wern Mill, both near Oswestry. The recording locations played a large part in the overall sound and atmosphere of the album.

…truly wonderful. It’s a masterpiece of musicianship and creativity…the instruments soar and settle in a most balanced and beautifully uplifting way. Eirene Craney (about Crossings)

From the moment that first track captured my ears, I realised that here was the start of something new that I’d been missing in instrumental music for so long… this music leads and enchants you, mesmerises and bewitches you so that you desire to have it near you, constantly. Joyous, enthralling, delicious music delivered in delicately detailed arrangements. I adore it. Karen Tweed (about the demo Faith and John recorded in 2015)

Artists’ website: www.brackenburymusic.uk

‘Number Six’ – live:

Johnny Coppin – Borderland (Red Sky Records RSKCD120)

BorderlandJohnny Coppin’s latest album, Borderland, is a collection of songs from England, Ireland Wales and the US. Johnny also has an impressive list of guests singing and playing on the album – Karen Tweed, Paul Burgess, Mike Silver, Geoff March, John Neilson, Kevin Harcourt and David Pickering Pick who all have their own successful careers in their own right.

Borderland is a stripped-down acoustic album with a ‘live’ feel.  Shut your eyes and you have him in your living room or as a passenger in your car. The songs are about ‘real’ people and experiences, about war, romance and feelings. Twelve songs for your delectation and all of them are superb.  The three songs in the “war” section are gut-wrenching and bring home the horrors of WW1 and dreaming of home, lying about their age to get to the front and death. I love Johnny’s voice as it is melodic, haunting and just plain fabulous, and he has done a great justice to this album, also playing guitars and piano in his own inimitable graceful style.

The other nine tracks include arrangements of traditional songs.  Self penned numbers include ‘When The Morning’s Here’, ‘Cariad Cyntaf (First Love)’ and the title track tune ‘Borderland’ in collaboration with John Neilson.

This album has not been off my player and is already a favourite in my extensive music collection.  Do buy the album, and better still, go see him live! Borderland was produced by having sponsors who are all mentioned on the album cover, and the cover and booklet illustrations were exquisitely produced by Johnny’s partner Katharine Neilson, with design by John Neilson. Very pleasantly packaged and presented.

Johnny will be taking his album out on a tour in the spring of 2014, and the official release date of the album is April 7th. A regular Festival favourite, Johnny also has his own long running successful Acoustic Music show on Radio Gloucestershire every Saturday at 17.30.

Jean Camp

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Check out his website for live gigs: johnnycoppin.co.uk