Hampshire’s celebrated eight-piece ceilidh band returns with their fourth album of music that you don’t have to dance to…but you can if you wish. In the past I‘ve been critical of Threepenny Bit for taking things rather too speedily but with King Ahtu they have found the soft pedal which is to the benefit of the fine musicians in the band. Mustering flute, whistle, clarinet, saxophone and violin alongside the usual array of dance band instruments they have the flexibility to play just about any way they want…and do. Now about the title. I could make up some rubbish about king Ahtu of the ostriches like the band do but I won’t. I will say that I wouldn’t want to meet the ostrich that laid that monster on the cover.
The opening track, ‘Drummond Castle’ begins so quietly that I started to fiddle with connections until an almost ethereal sound began to build. The first half of this set is also the first borrowing of the album, ‘Icy Jig’ by Chris Dewhurst, with Steven Beaumont’s arrangement of ‘Drummond Castle’ bringing up the rear. The second track is ‘Sula’s’ by new drummer Ross Gordon – I say “new” but he’s been with the band since 2015 – and it’s the last thing you might expect a drummer to compose. I’m not sure what else Ross plays as he only admits to being a drummer but this tune is emblematic of Threepenny Bit’s current direction.
Most of tracks are pretty long so if you want to take around the floor to ‘Ballydesmond’ or Chris Nichols’ waltz, ‘Katie’s’, you have plenty of scope for doing so. The longest is ‘Cuckoo’s Nest’ which is paired with ‘The Two Rascals’ by Paul Sartin and the arrangement from the pen of Steven Troughton is spectacularly good. He manages to play around with the melody of ‘Cuckoo’s Nest’ while holding on to the essentials of its character. Steven is also responsible for the arrangement of ‘Old Mother Oxford’ which is another delight.
There is no doubt that Threepenny Bit are an excellent band and any festival looking to expand its dance line-up should look no further. Meanwhile, King Ahtu is a very fine album.
Artists’ website: https://threepennybit.com/
‘Drummond Castle’ – live in the studio: