Unless you live in the Essex area some explanation may be required. Arfur Doo & The Toerags have been together for twenty years but have maintained what you might call a low profile. In fact, Till Death Us Doo Part is only their second album and if it will bring them to a wider audience that can only be welcomed. The band was founded by Tim Bennett and his wife Judy, then joined by bassist Wayne Hunt. The latest recruits are Simon and Fran Foote of Stick In The Wheel and if that suggests quality to you then you’d be quite right.
The Toerags play folk-rock with a light touch and a sense of fun so the opener, ‘Doctor Doo’ begins with the Dr Who theme before bursting out into a lively jig. I first heard ‘Katy Shaw’ sung by Muckram Wakes (younger readers may need to look them up) and ‘Alison Gross’ by Steeleye Span. It’s difficult to separate the song from Steeleye and The Toerags borrow from their arrangement but speed the song up and finish with flute and hand percussion. It is tempting to suggest that should have started that way, too.
The album is heavy on instrumentals, several of which will be familiar. I didn’t know ‘Fit For A Mouse’s Ear’ which is paired with ‘Cúnla’ but ‘The Bear Dance/The Horse’s Brawl’ is an excellent example of the band’s arranging talents. ‘The Butterfly’ and ‘Hunting The Hare’ have been mated with ‘Another Jig Will Do’ which is apparently well-known among session players and the lyrics have been stripped from Van Morrison’s ‘Boffyflow & Spike’ which leads into Simon Jeffes’ ‘Music For A Found Harmonium’ – a powerful driving arrangement. Before them comes ‘Bushes & Briars’ and after is ‘The Widow Of Westmorland’ from one of Fairport’s lesser-known albums. ‘Fig For A Kiss/The Gas Almost Works’ – the latter from the pen of John Kirkpatrick – leads into the final track, initially a slow five-voice a cappella version of ‘Blackleg Miner’. That lasts for two verses before The Toerags kick some life into it.
Till Death Us Doo Part has been available for a couple of months now and I must apologise to Arfur and his mates for my tardiness. I’ve really enjoyed listening to it.
Artists’ website: www.arfurdoo.com
‘Katy Shaw’ – live on radio: