Even in the modern era of digitised archives and online tune finders, there’s still a wealth of source material waiting to be rediscovered by present day folk musicians. A prime example of this is the recently released book of late 18th century English country dance tunes compiled by Paul Hutchinson from long out of print manuscripts, 10 of which feature on The Maniacs.
Working with a trio of clarinet, fiddle and cello, the Belshazzar’s Feast accordionist applies his characteristic boundary-free and esoteric approach to bringing the dots and lines back to life. This includes the kind of improvisation not always seen in English traditional music, with Karen Wimhurst’s clarinet dancing around the edges of the tunes, or breaking free altogether as on the pleasant meander through sprightly jig Roodulum.
Similarly, heavy variations on the given tune are used to provide interest within each track. In spite of the title, The Maniac has a surprisingly placid opening before launching into a full on klezmer reworking, while Hopeless Love moves from a foreboding cello lead through offbeat Latin American rhythms on to suspended solo accordion chords.
The ensemble shows a keen eye for drawing out the quirks already there in the tunes as written, with the snappy semiquaver figures of Sally Kelly proving the perfect basis for some Argentinian tango. Similarly the staccato jolts of General Suwarrow’s Strathspey are gradually stretched out into languid, rolling phrases.
For all that this creative treatment of the old melodies is an interesting musical exercise, possibly the most enjoyable segment of the album is the final two tracks, Whiskers and Barham Downs. Both more or less straightahead romps through jigs in major-minor form, these prove that many of the floorfillers of two centuries ago have plenty of character and charm in and of themselves.Nick Hart
Self released late 2019 on CD. Produced by Ed Bersey.
1. Admiral Mitchel’s Reel
2. Hopeless Love
4. Sally Kelly
5. Jackson’s Dream / Jackson’s Nightmare
6. General Suwarrow’s Strathspey
7. The Maniac / The Loon
8. Lover’s Vows
10. Barham Downs