VICKI SWAN & JONNY DYER – Twelve Months & A Day (WetFootMusic WFM190201)

Twelve Months & A DayVicki and Jonny usually build their albums around a theme and the theme of Twelve Months & A Day is … that there isn’t a theme. They freely describe the record as a bit of a mixed bag and it comprises the songs and music that they have been working on and enjoy playing. The odd thing is that it holds together perfectly. There is no straining to find material to fit an idea; this is a snapshot of two musicians in a few moments of time.

There is a greater emphasis on instrumentals than perhaps we’ve seen before and anyone who follows Vicki and Jonny on social media will be aware that they have a habit of collecting instruments. Vicki plays nyckelharpa – four different types – plus flute and double bass and Jonny has expanded his armoury to include strange, ancient wind instruments such as the cornu and the carnyx. The album opens with ‘Andy Clarke’s’ a set of three tunes, the first coming from Vicki’s Scandinavian heritage and the others being described as session tunes. The first song is ‘Gallows Tree’, the words being ‘The Demon Of The Gibbet’ by Fitz-James O’Brien. It’s described as the spooky one in the notes and it certainly is one of the creepiest tales you could wish for although I worry about a hero called Norman.

‘Dance All Night’ – two tunes and a song – banishes the shadows and the combination of tune and song occurs again in ‘Grandpa Joe – the nonsense contra reel one – and the mediaeval ‘Ai Vis Lo Lop’ on which Vicki takes the lead vocal. ‘John Lover’ is a gorgeous song that I hadn’t heard before; 19th century American in origin although it appears as an Irish tune and several people have claimed authorship of it. ‘Two Red Roses’ has words by William Morris, ‘Mary Free’ is an old Christmas carol and ‘Elegy’, possibly the top track, is a classically styled duet for piano and oktav nyckelharpa.

This “mixed bag” is an excellent representation of the music Vicki Swan and Jonny Dyer are capable of making when they set themselves free to follow their own passions. You’ll love it.

Dai Jeffries

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Artists’ website: www.swan-dyer.co.uk

Vicki and Jonny have now supplied us with video notes for the album:

and here’s a track from the record -‘Dance All Night’ – live:

VICKI SWAN & JONNY DYER – Paper Of Pins (WetFootMusic WFM160630)

Paper Of PinsPaper Of Pins, Vicki and Jonny’s latest album (something like their seventh), both follows and expands on its predecessors. They write songs and some serious music and mess about with traditional songs in a way that purists might frown upon. Their musical repertoire is ever-expanding but if you can play nyckelharpa and Swedish bagpipes, as Vicki does, there can’t be much to daunt you. Jonny, of course, seems to play anything with strings, keys or bellows.

The album opens with ‘The Golden Glove’, traditional words with a new tune by Jonny and it put me off a bit. I love the song and the new tune isn’t particularly radical. It’s not as though the song has been done to death so why not use the old tune? There’s nothing wrong with this version except that it isn’t quite right. The first tune set is ‘The Halsway Parade/The Quantock Reel’ by Vicki, a couple of lively tunes played with a light touch that blew away my misgivings. A couple of tracks later we have Jonny’s ‘Canon’, a masterpiece of multi-tracking written in the late baroque style. By now the arrangements are becoming more complex. ‘Hornlåt Om Mobil Saknas/ Bröllopsgåvan/ Piggelunkschottisen’ should be traditional Swedish tunes but the first was written by Jonny and the others by Vicki and Jonny’s cow-horn intro is stunning.

Of the other traditional songs; Jonny and Vicki have completely rewritten ‘The Bold Fisherman’ which is a blessing as it can be a terrible dirge and refreshed ‘Daddy Fox’, a welcome makeover. The real revelation is the title track. I don’t know where Jonny and Vicki got the lyrics but they don’t resemble the children’s song nor ‘The Keys Of Canterbury’ which follows a similar pattern; this is one that is all their own. There are two original songs by Jonny: ‘Friends’ and ‘All Hail’ and the album closes with the three-part ‘Wedding Suite’, a combination of original and traditional tunes and poetry by Robert Herrick.

I’m going to stick my neck out and say that this is the best of Vicki and Jonny’s albums to date. There are moments of great beauty, gorgeous arrangements and the record exudes a sense of contentment – something that music should always bring.

Dai Jeffries

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‘The Proposal’ and ‘The Bold Fisherman’ – live:

VICKI SWAN & JONNY DYER – A Sound Of Christmas Past (WetFoot Music)

swan and dyerChristmas is still three months away, but the shops are already stocked up with the usual festive trappings. Now, here’s the first of the year’s seasonal CDs to drop through the postbox. Since they spend hours performing Christmas carols and music throughout December, the pair decided to finally put together an album of their favourites, played in their own style and using material gathered from the Victorian period.

Although regarded as one of the best pipers in the business, Vicki’s left them at home this time round, bringing flute, nyckelharpa and oktavharpa (traditional Swedish stringed instruments) to the studio instead while Jonny plays bouzouki, accordion, spinet and bass in addition to guitar. A collection of 14 numbers, pretty much all of these will be instantly familiar, although, on several, the duo have added their own touches. Thus, led by jaunty accordion, opening track ‘I Saw Three Ships’ is rounded off with ‘Riddaren’, a Swedish polkette written by Swan, ‘Coventry Carol’ interpolates ‘Borealis’, a five-part nyckelharpa ensemble piece penned by Dyer, ‘Good Christian Men Rejoice’ (aka ‘In Dulci Jubilo’ with English lyrics from 1853) gets dance tune ‘Rum In The Pudding’ and ‘We Wish You A Merry Christmas’ plays the album out with a spinet and nyckleharpa ‘Minuet’ and ‘Hendingham Green’, a Playford-style dance tune.

Otherwise, the choices are unaugmented, embracing evergreen chestnuts ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’, ‘Good King Wenceslas’, a flute driven ‘Deck The Halls With Boughs of Holly’, ‘The Holly And The Ivy’, ‘Jingle Bells’! and ‘Silent Night’ alongside perhaps less well-known numbers as the medieval-styled 16th century Down In Yon Forest and the lively ‘Sussex Carol’, which, despite the title, hails from 17th century Ireland, both collected by Vaughn Williams, ‘Past Three O’Clock’, an early 1900s rework of the traditional ‘The London Waits’, and ‘Essex Wassail’, Dyer taking lead on an amalgamation of various wassails in service to seasonal celebration and drinking.

So, if you’re fed up with hearing Now! That’s What I Call Christmas for the umpteenth time and can’t bear the thought of a possible One Direction Christmas album, even for these not of a folk persuasion, this makes for wonderful jolly listening without a whisper of commercialism to it, performed in a manner reflective of how past generations would have heard the tunes. The inner sleeve contains a warning: not suitable for festival party poopers. To them, I say bah humbug.

Mike Davies

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Artists’ website: www.swan-dyer.co.uk