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’:

PAGODA PROJECT Clarion (Sylvafield SYLVA001)

PAGODA PROJECT ClarionPaul Hutchinson is a man who frequently confuses the piano-accordion with a musical instrument. No, that isn’t a joke or a dig – if you’ve heard him play you’ll know what I mean. He plays so well that with Balshazzar’s Feast he can play badly without missing a note, take a tune off somewhere else before you’ve noticed what he’s doing and crack the audience and his musical partner up mercilessly. Karen Wimhurst is a clarinettist and composer who works in opera, theatre, jazz and folk with a huge body of work to her credit.

After a short introductory solo by Karen, the majority of the tracks are written by Paul although Karen gets the final word with ‘Wish List’. One of two of his compositions might have found a home with Belshazzar’s and ‘Lichfield Gamble’ might suit Hoover The Dog but these tunes frequently stray into Karen’s sphere of influence. ‘Bouzurka Waltz’ is a charming pastoral piece that claims to be a 3/2 hornpipe and ‘Shelley’s Waltz’ has something of a middle-European feel. In complete contrast ‘Irwins’, dedicated to Colin of that ilk, begins as a folky melody but expands into something wild and jazzy when Karen gets her hands on it.

Paul restricts his humour to titles although ‘It Takes Three To Tango’ is a bit weird but if the idea of accordion and clarinet duets makes your blood run cold, fear not. Clarion is very satisfying listening.

Dai Jeffries

Artists’ website: