FLOOK – Ancora (Flatfish 006)

Ancora“Ancora impara” said Michaelangelo, aged 82, and I probably don’t need to tell you that means “I am always learning”.  [I suspect you might – Ed.] That’s something that Flook have taken on board with their first album since Haven in 2005. Flook didn’t go away in those 14 years, playing festivals, live shows and tours so why the lack of studio material? As Brian Finnegan says, “We…took a break in 2008, followed our hearts and instincts and went our separate ways; had kids, got hitched, loved, lost, explored the musical world…” Now they’re back with a Ancora, an album that shows that even iconic bands don’t rest on their laurels but continue to look for the new. This album will delight their many fans, attract new ones and be listened to by anyone who loves tradition as played by four experts.

Flook formed over 20 years ago, winning Best Band at the BBC Folk Awards in 2006 and at their heart still retain original flute and pipers Sarah Allen and Brian Finnegan, now joined by Ed Boyd (guitar, piano) and John Joe Kelly (bodhran). As well as the band the album includes a who’s who of guest musicians including Phil Cunningham, Philip Henry, Patsy Reid and Niall Murphy. There’s even Mark Tucker playing the theramin. The quality shines through and every track, none traditional, on the album is spot on. Hang on, didn’t I say the traditionalists will love it? Yes, I did because tradition doesn’t just mean it has to have been around for years. The 12 tracks on the album are formed from twenty tunes of which the majority are written by Allen and Finnegan but they also use works of contemporaries such as Jarleth Henderson, Sam Lakeman and John McSherry. It’s a living, breathing tradition.

The overall impression of the album is quality musicianship. The playing is precise and tight, they make it sound all very easy and natural, with the music flowing seamlessly. As an album of purely instrumental work it gives you, as the listener, a choice of dipping in and out or listening straight through. I’ve found it ideal to put into the car stereo for the trip to work, it has a running time of just under 50 minutes, and arriving in a much better frame of mind than I would normally do. Opening the album are two tunes by Finnegan; ‘Reel For Rubik’ and ‘Toward The Sun’. As expected the flutes dominate but the piece moves up through tempo and intensity and introducing the other instrumentalists.

This change in pace and style is common throughout the album, but never becomes rollicking. Probably my favourite piece, although a difficult choice to make, is Allen’s ‘Companion Star’ which is absolutely beautiful. It flows so well, at a gentle pace, and it’s very easy to imagine oneself on a boat just drifting along following that star. The segue into ‘Coral Castle’, co-written by Finnegan and Ashley Broder lifts the pace and introduces further instruments but again the title fits the piece, and anyone who has dived a coral reef will recognise the rhythm of life within it. .
I could easily have chosen ‘Turquoise Girl’ as another favourite track. This is a set of four tunes by four different composers, again flowing smoothly, with a faster pace that certainly gets the toes tapping. I can imagine it going down very well during a live performance.

This is certainly an album you should buy, a milestone from an iconic band, and get it now so that you can say you had it before the inevitable awards come along, because it will gain many Instrumental Album of the Year plaudits if there’s any justice in the world.

The album will be released on April 12th but is available to pre-order now through the website. Alternatively I’m certain it will be available at live shows and Flook will be taking it on tour throughout 2019, covering most of the country from Findhorn to Sidmouth.

Tony Birch

Artists’ website: https://flook.co.uk/

‘Reel For Rubik/Unto The Sun’ – live:

NINEBARROW – The Waters & The Wild (own label)

The Waters & The WildIf music be the food of love, then prepare for indigestion … was the title of a 1967 album by a band I’m not prepared to mention here. It’s not quite appropriate in this case for although The Waters & The Wild serves up some rich fare it is very digestible indeed. I think I’ll stop now before I stretch the metaphor with remarks about loosening the top trouser button and sleeping in an armchair with a newspaper over your face. You get the idea.

If you haven’t caught up with them yet, Ninebarrow are Jon Whitley and Jay LaBouchardiere. They are from Dorset and Dorset is a part of them and very much a part of this album. The record begins with two very contrasting songs. The first, ‘The Hour Of The Blackbird’, is a pastoral piece heralding the coming of spring and expanding the pagan idea of the winter and summer kings. It’s followed by ‘Halsewell’, the story of Dorset’s worst shipping disaster with dramatic vocals and a suitably thunderous accompaniment.

Jon’s multi-instrumental skills are augmented by James’ reed organ and various basses and drums, notably from Evan Carson, Joe Limburn and producer Mark Tucker with backing vocals from The Teacups. The biggest sound, however, comes from Barney Morse-Brown’s string arrangements recorded by him and Jane Griffiths and when I say big, I mean big.

‘Prickle-Eye Bush’ is a song that has come back into fashion again – or maybe it never went away – and I’m always tempted to skip over it on an album. Ninebarrow try to do something different with it and the hand percussion breathes some life back into it. That’s followed by ‘While Gamekeepers Lie Sleeping’ as borrowed from June Tabor. Neither of these songs are necessarily from Dorset but they could be. Jon and James immediately return home or ‘Hwome’ with that most Dorset of poets, William Barnes, but the song doesn’t overly rely on dialect and the arrangement is really nice, particularly in the outro section.

The title track is definitely an immigrant being derived from W B Yeats’ ‘The Stolen Child’ but the tune of ‘Row On’ was composed by another local, Tim Laycock and ‘Gather It In’ is a catalogue of old harvest customs. The last track is John Kirkpatrick’s ‘Sing A Full Song’, a song with a universal emotional appeal.

The lyrics and background information can be downloaded for free – lucky me, I received a pukka copy with the album; a rare case of a generous press agent. You know who you are. Although the words are not essential to the enjoyment of the album they, and the song notes, help to draw you into Ninebarrow’s musical world which is a very good place to be.

Dai Jeffries

Artists’ website: www.ninebarrow.co.uk

‘Prickle-Eye Bush’ – live:

GREG RUSSELL & CIARAN ALGAR – Utopia And Wasteland (Rootbeat RBRCD40)

Utopia And WastelandThe ink is barely dry on Greg and Ciaran’s previous album and they are back with Utopia And Wasteland. The mix is pretty much as before; original songs, judiciously chosen covers and three tune sets. The title isn’t just a randomly chosen three words: it is at the heart of the record and exemplified by Ciaran Algar’s ‘We Are Leaving’. There has always been a political slant to their writing but there is a real feeling of suppressed anger here as well as carefully considered ideas.

The anger only really surfaces on the opening track, Gregg Russell’s ‘Line Two’, a bitter skewering of HS2 and all that goes with it: bent bankers, corrupt politicians and overwhelming greed. Here the album title is represented by the utopia of high-speed luxury travel for the rich and the wasteland for the poor whose homes will be bulldozed to make it possible. Next is the first instrumental set, ‘Warwick Road’ with multitracked fiddle and banjo, to remind us that music should also be entertainment.

The third track is the first cover; Stan Rogers’ ‘Lock Keeper’. I sometimes have trouble with Rogers’ covers, his voice with that hint of a Maritime accent is so distinctive. Greg’s interpretation isn’t as robust as Stan’s. Where the original lock-keeper is defiant, Greg’s is initially more thoughtful and quieter in his responses. The song is really about the pleasures of home in contrast with the adventurous life of the sailor and his tropic maids and Greg muses further on the theme of home in ‘Seven Hills’, a song written abroad but full of thoughts of his home in Sheffield.

‘We Are Leaving’ is about the Grenfell disaster but is really about racist views, a theme Greg turns to in ‘Walter’. Walter Tull was a soldier of afro-Caribbean heritage who was a second lieutenant in the Great War and killed in action. Despite repeated petitioning he was refused a Military Medal and such monuments as he has were mostly erected without official co-operation.

Greg and Ciaran don’t really need much support but producer Mark Tucker adds bass, percussion and backing vocals when required. His contributions are mostly unobtrusive but now and again you notice that a song which started quietly has risen to a mighty roar without drawing attention away from the vocals. That’s clever engineering that adds greatly to a very fine album.

Dai Jeffries

Artists’ website: www.russellalgar.co.uk

‘Seven Hills’ – official video:

GILMORE & ROBERTS – Conflict Tourism (GR! Records GRR006)

GILMORE & ROBERTS Conflict TourismI remember once, in Ireland, hearing that some American tourists’ idea of a fun day out was a taxi ride down the Falls Road. That kind of “thinking” forms the theme of this album, the fourth from Katriona Gilmore and Jamie Roberts.

The opening track, ‘Cecilia’, is a very powerful way to start with double bass from Matt Downer and all manner of additions from producer Mark Tucker, notably the percussive crack presumably imitating gunfire. It’s followed by ‘Jack O Lantern’ which starts out quietly and builds up to a big finish with Phillip Henry on lap steel. It has the Devil ruminating on being tricked not once but twice by the titular Jack. Next come a song from each writer which seem to link: Katriona’s ‘She Doesn’t Like Silence’ and Jamie’s ‘Selfish Man’ and here’s where I need to turn to the lyrics which are available on their duo’s website. Both are about internal conflict: the former is decorated by Phillip Henry’s lap steel and Dobro while the latter once more benefits from mark Tucker’s programming. As a man brought up in Derbyshire I should really like ‘Stumble On The Seam’ more than I do but by now I was beginning to find that the music was overwhelming the songs.

‘Peggy Airey’ is about a 19th century Barnsley character with the narrator regretting his former cruelty to her and ‘Peter Pan’ is dedicated to Jamie’s cousin who died prematurely – another aspect of internal conflict – and the one song in the set that doesn’t try too hard. Katriona and Jamie seem bent on moving towards the mainstream and, while I can’t deny them their ambition, where they’re going may not be where I want to follow.

Dai Jeffries

Artists’ website: www.gilmoreroberts.co.uk

‘Cecilia’ – the official video:

SHOW OF HANDS – Wake The Union (Hands On Music HMCD36)

Steve Knightley and Phil Beer (with long time collaborator Miranda Sykes) certainly know how to stir things up opening with a powerful song of bitter recrimination in the hard-hitting and spiteful “Haunt You”. You can just hear the angst as Knightly spits out the lyric with such venom that it will make you wonder if he has personal experience of the subject matter. Continuing the duo’s/trio’s no nonsense approach in having a dig at the ‘fat cats’ that still inhabit the earth carried over from their previous album Arrogance, Ignorance And Greed they include the laid-back blues styled “Company Town” reminiscent of  “Buddy Can You Spare A Dime?” but in place of a full-on New Orleans Dixie Band they introduce the sound of Paul Sartin’s Cor Anglais (perhaps, in view of the recession the budget wouldn’t stretch to a full band) and Paul Downes tenor banjo this is only the start of what turns out to be a veritable box of delights of which there’s not a duff track to be found. With more than a touch of Americana liberally sprinkled throughout the recording and images of Dust Bowl tumbleweed blowing about courtesy of sampled instruments this really could be the CD that sets Show Of Hands alight in the good old US of A. Personally for me this album really is a turning point in my appreciation for all things American styled and congratulations must go to the other musicians involved in the project namely Seth Lakeman, Cormac Byrne, Martin Simpson, Andy Cutting, B.J. Cole, Hannah Martin, Phil Henry, Leonard Podolak and Jenna Witts. On a final point congratulations to Mark Tucker in the production chair, photographer Rob O’Connor and the stunning art design by Mark Higenbottam. Unreservedly ten out of ten!

PETE FYFE

See Artist web link for current tour details: www.showofhands.co.uk