Old Blind Dogs are veterans of almost thirty years. Co-founder Jonny Hardie is joined in the current line-up, which has been together since 2016, by Aaron Jones, piper Ali Hutton and percussionist Donald Hay on their fourteenth studio album, Knucklehead Circus.
The opening title track starts with a funky shuffle topped off with Hutton’s whistle and Hardie’s fiddle – Hardie wrote ‘Knucklehead Circus’ which slips into an old pipe tune, ‘Nan’s Jig’, which ends with the three singing members vocalising the skeleton of the tune. Good start.
For those of us here in the deep south hearing ‘John Barleycorn’ as a Scottish song comes as something of a culture shock. It shouldn’t, after all, barley has been one of Scotland’s chief crops for centuries. The tune is almost familiar but I haven’t heard this version before although it earns its pride of place as the longest track in the set. ‘Thin Man’ pairs a tune by Gordon Duncan with a traditional one and it really is Hutton’s turn in the spotlight to turn in a blistering performance. The pressure comes off a little with Davy Steele’s ‘Farewell Tae The Haven’, a song telling of a fisherman following his head rather than his heart to leave the sea to work on shore. It’s the right move but the song is filled with regret but not sentimentality – you wouldn’t expect that.
‘Suite Bretonne’ is just that, three Breton tunes, and ‘Here We Go Again’ by Mark Bloomer and Andrew Cadie of Broom Bezzums, is a song whose relevance has not diminished since they wrote it. It’s the rich what get the pleasure and the poor what get the blame. ‘Akins’ sees Hardie’s fiddle take the lead while ‘Wild Mountainside’ is a moving, timeless song written by John Douglas of The Trashcan Sinatras. Its subject isn’t explicitly stated but that doesn’t matter – you can use your own imagination. I thought of soldiers trying to get home from Culloden.
‘The Road’ is a trio of tunes by Hutton and ‘Harry Brewer’ finds the Dogs reaching south to Brighton for Nick Burbridge’s song about a soldier who died at Salonika, just one of many and as Nick has it, “I’m not saying you could have known better”. That was the way it was. Finally we have parts 1 and 2 of ‘Highland Lassie’, the first being the traditional tune and the second being two compositions by Hutton.
With Knucklehead Circus Old Blind Dogs wanted to create an album to get people on their feet again after a long period of lethargy and they have succeeded. The record is energy-rich and, as always, the band bring something of themselves to everything they play.
Artists’ website: https://www.oldblinddogs.co.uk/
‘Thin Man’ – live: