THE OLD SWAN BAND – Fortyfived (Wild Goose WGS434CD)

FortyfivedThe Old Swan Band, rightly lauded for its longstanding championing of English dance music, broke a 20-year recording hiatus in 2014 to mark its 40-year anniversary. Fortyfived, the band’s latest album, celebrates this continued survival across four and a half decades. Much like the dwarf’s axe, some of the band’s original parts have been replaced over time but The Old Swan Band still stands proud as a pioneer in its field.

And yet, as Fortyfived amply demonstrates, the concept of “English” music may not be quite what might once have been assumed. There is growing evidence of a much greater musical cross-pollination with other lands. Consequently, Fortyfived sees English tunes nuzzle up close with their Celtic, North European, American and Australian relations. It’s a genuinely free-trade community where borrowing and adaptation is not just tolerated but forms part of the fabric of the music itself. And, really, wouldn’t it be more surprising if that were not the case? Turns out there’s no point getting too flag-waving and parochial about it, after all.

Here, then, is music for dancing to with unselfconscious abandon at whatever name you give to your local knees-up. No doubt it has already been gracing dance floors throughout the festive period, for those sage enough to have caught its December release. But even in the cold comedown of January, it lights up the gloom with reels, quadrilles, waltzes, two-steps, polkas and more, in a dizzying gallop where the pace never lets up for a moment. These are tunes simply crying out for the foot-tapping, beer-flowing exuberant whirl of live performance.

Performances are as tightly dynamic as you might expect, insistently nudging the tunesets along. Particular mention must go to Martin Brinsford’s eternally restless percussion and John Adams’s sensitive trombone punctuation, underpinning the vigorous frontline fiddle triple of Flos Headford, Paul Burgess and Fi Fraser.

On CD while, of course, it’s possible to pick out all the instruments, get contemplative over arrangements and performances, it can feel as if the warmth and feedback of a live audience is missing from the mix. Nonetheless, Fortyfived delivers up its well-considered dance music without borders, all intelligently combined and arranged, and given with an unabashed, heartfelt joy. Exactly the kind of tonic we could do with right now.

Su O’Brien

Artist website: www.facebook.com/TheOldSwanBand

A taster for the album:

JOHNNY COPPIN – All On A Winter’s Night (Red Sky Records RSKCD121)

all on a winter's nightChristmas is nearly upon us, and acclaimed Gloucestershire singer/ songwriter and Radio Gloucester presenter, Johnny Coppin is currently on his annual tour taking the All On A Winter’s Night Christmas concert to various place in the country. Johnny has been doing a run of Christmas concerts in December for a number of years, with various musicians in his band such as Paul Burgess, Dik Cadbury, Karen Tweed, and Geoff March. Sadly missing is the guitar playing of Mick Dolan, who died in 2014, and who had played in bands with Johnny for a number of years, going back to his Decameron days.

Johnny decided to put some of the lovely songs which are played at these concerts on an album, and it has now just been released.  All of the above artists play on the new album with the addition of Steve Trigg on flugelhorn and trumpet and percussionist David Pickering-Pick.

This album is a real treat to listen to, a selection of songs that warm you for the Festive season and midwinter.  Johnny has a lovely melodic voice that brings out the best in all these tunes, whilst playing his haunting keyboard in his own inimitable way.  I’m not a big fan of Christmas, but love this album, as it takes us back to the true value and meaning of Christmas.  Not about rushing out to feed retail outlets and less meaningful things.  It’s about the true tradition and anticipation of Christmas, of family and reunions, of loved ones not present, The Nativity and all things of midwinter including warm fires!

The tracks included on the album are ‘All On A Winter’s Night’ – a lovely intro, that conveys the joy of anticipation of Christmas, ‘Counting The Hours To Christmas’ – a song of reunion, ‘The Christmas Star’ ( by Kimmie Rhodes) which is one of my favourite tracks, ‘Halsway Carol’ (by Nigel Eaton) named so after Halsway Manor – the National Centre for Folk Arts based in Somerset, ‘Welcome In Another Year’ (by Zoe Mulford), ‘A Connemara Christmas’ written by the late Mick Dolan, especially for the Christmas shows, ‘Snow In The Street’ (from a poem by William Morris), and classics like ‘God Rest You Merry Gentlemen’, the traditional carol ‘In The Bleak Midwinter’ (to Gustav Holst’s tune ‘Cranham’) which we all know and which is a fabulous version on this album, ‘Gabriel’s Message’ (A Basque carol with English words by the Reverend Sabine Baring Gould from Devon), and ‘O Holy Night’ – which you may not know – is a 19th century carol.

All the photos on the album are by Martin Fry, who does the amazing pictures for the Christmas shows and the album is on sale at the Christmas concerts in December 2016. Alternatively purchase through Johnny’s website where you can also find out where Johnny is out on tour.

Jean Camp

Artist’s website: https://johnnycoppin.wordpress.com

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

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