Treacle & Bread is a blessed glance at the magic of Rod Stradling’s musical transfusion into the very blood pulse of British folk music.
This all-instrumental album proves, to almost quote the Killer (aka Jerry Lee Lewis!), “There’s a whole lot of melodeon shakin’ going on”.
Not only that, but Treacle & Bread ups the blackjack ante and hits with twenty-one instrumentals and even betters the Oysterband’s rather brilliant record, 20 Golden Tie-Slackeners, with one more dancefloor melodic winning card played with gusto and is certainly, as Ashley Hutchings once named checked his album, “kickin’ up the sawdust”.
My friend, Kilda Defnut, simply announced this album to be “a musical X-ray of the Gordian Knot”.
Now, to the initiate: Rod Stradling’s weapon of choice is the melodeon – which the ever-faithful Wikipedia describes as “a type of button accordion”. Well, sure. But that “type of button accordion” bobs and weaves, talks folky trash, lectures on history, soundtracks any Thomas Hardy novel, drinks a bit too much, sweats and dances, laughs right out loud, prizefights, snaps a sepia photograph, sweats and dances some more, pumps lifeblood into the soul, and (sort of) explains the sincere meaning of the universe.
As said, this is a condensed glance at the life-long work of Rod Stradling, whose history includes the folk band Oak, The Old Swan Band, The English Country Blues Band, (the ever rocking) Tiger Moth, the reggae-spiced Edward II & The Red Hot Polkas, the Cotswold -based dance band Phoenix, and one solo record, Rhythms Of the Wold.
This glance all begins with ‘The Sloe’, from The Old Swan Band’s Gamesters, Pickpockets And Harlots record. And, while Rod’s jaunty melodeon is prominent, he’s joined with fiddle, piano, clarinet, hammered dulcimer, percussion, whistles, and sax.
And the album ends with ‘The Digital Watch’, taken from (my beloved!) Tiger Moth’s 1984 album (really nice cover, that one!). Any tune from this band rocked the odd polka up a bit. Once again, Rod is met in full flight by drums, electric and slide guitar, hammered dulcimer, bass, and banjo. This is, quite simply, joyous music!
In between those bookends, any number of great musicians played through the various configurations. Thankfully, the guys behind this compilation of a lifetime’s labour – Ian A. Anderson (he of my much-cherished vinyl copy of A Vulture Is Not A Bird You Can Trust on the Village Thing label fame!) and, of course, Rod Stradling, who is responsible, one way or another, for this wonderous music– have included extensive musician credits and really comprehensive info about all the tunes. That said, the inner sanctum (aka the other nineteen tunes!) includes, to suggest a few highlights, a live recording of the folk band Oak (from a 1971 Cheltenham date(!), a few tunes from Rod’s only solo record, Rhythms Of The Wold, a polka from the English Country Blues Band, a barn dance from the band, Phoenix, more music from The Old Swan Band’s many albums, a stepdance here and there, a Tiger Moth single, and a few demos and an Ethos cassette recording from the wonderfully weird concoction known as Edward The Second And The Red Hot Polkas.
To be quite honest, that’s the SparksNotes review of an album filled with sublime English folk music, but of course, from an old English teacher’s point of view, it’s always much better to read the actual book, or in this case, listen to the album.
My friend, Kilda Defnut, made a very rare second comment on an album, and said, “This music is a melodic musical labyrinth in some really nice parallel universe where the once evil Minotaur (with tie slackened!) is found to be a hurdy gurdy enthusiast, rather jovial in temperament, and a fun-loving and quite competent complete Morris dancing master”.
I suppose that Red Hot Polka Music – or a love of treacle and bread – can do that even to the most ferocious man/bull combo platter Minotaur monster.
By the way, the Scottish folk band Shooglenifty, in the opening grooves of their brilliant Live At Selwyn Hall, Box record, announced the prophetic words, “This is dance music”.
Ditto for the twenty-one melodeon-driven tunes in this compilation.
And, not that it really matters, but the live Oak recording of ‘See Me Dance The Polka/Oh Joe’ contains the very best enthusiastic “yelp!” I have heard since a young Dave Davies screamed with the sheer joy while playing the opening chords to The Kinks’ song, ‘Victoria’, on their (absolutely wonderful) Arthur album!
You know, it’s a lucky life to be “the empty vessel” who gets to pass on really decent human tradition to so many young people. I taught Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn for so many years. They kids laughed with the American humour, and they were sad when confronted with the American cruelty. And the kids were quiet when they heard the words of Jim, the runaway slave, as he passed his own bit of biblical wisdom to our Huckleberry, when he told him, “En trash is what people is dat puts dirt on de head er dey fren’s en makes ‘em ashamed”.
Treacle & Bread is all about friends who pumped ancient and really decent air into a lifetime’s devotion to music – music that sings with laughter, cries a little bit, is often times quite profound; but ultimately, it’s a blessed and gifted music used to paint a melodeon portrait of England: It’s Rod Stradling’s music that praises ‘Sweet Nell’, a ‘Curley Headed Ploughboy’, ‘Old Tom Of Oxford’, ‘Highland Mary, ‘Polly Putting The Kettle On’, and, of course, ‘The Trip We Took Over The Mountains—all of which give, to quote Dave Cousins, “a glimpse of heaven”.
Label website: www.ghostsfromthebasement.bandcamp.com
It’s hard to find an appropriate video but perhaps this will suffice – ‘Speed The Plough’: