Rob Harbron and Emma Reid re-emerge; a phoenix from the ashes but more likely even in the guise of the Peter Gabriel of folk, with a gap between albums which is positively Gabriel-esque. Flock & Fly of course being the successor to their first effort together, New Dogs, Old Tricks.
It’s a long-awaited album indeed, their debut work together being initially released some ten years ago. More so when you consider the new album finally sees the light of day now despite being recorded in 2013. In the time between albums, Harbron has been busy in all manner of projects, embellishing a well-earned reputation far beyond his mastery of the English concertina. He takes care of production and the mix on this album too. Reid meanwhile, has continued to record, teach and tour with an impressive array of folk partners offering a unique blend of her Swedish heritage and her North East upbringing.
What makes their duo work so unique is that very cross-pollination which comes from their English roots and Emma’s Swedish musical influences and the inspiration she takes from Scandinavian musicians. Not surprising then that we see and hear hornpipes paired up with Southern Swedish polskas, although we’re assured that the two share similar rhythms and tonality.
It’s also perhaps an indication of the similarity between the musical cultures and the skill of the Harbron/Reid combo in knitting them together, that without the notes, you may well be hard-pressed to spot the joins between the two. Not only that, they also marry up the likes of the Somerset song Master Kilby with a Shetland bridal march. They blend together a pair of original tunes from both players, plus there’s a storming little polka set made up of tunes which may have been played in both England and Sweden during the 19th Century polka craze.
It’s also great to hear the dulcet Harbron tones, often featured as backing in various guises but less so in their own right, which also provides a break from the instrumental, which some may consider a challenge. Having said that, as pointed out there’s enough variety in the tunes to pique the interest and you’d also be hard-pushed to find a better tune this year than the Great Uncle Henry / Waiting For Rain combo, a perfect example of the blending of two original tunes from our protagonists.
Elsewhere, there are plenty of intricacies and detail to immerse yourself; Butcher’s Hornpipe comes from the John Of The Green tune book which has proved to be a rich source for Leveret, the trio which features Harbron with Sam Sweeney and Andy Cutting, whilst Moving Back Home has something akin to a melancholy country feel with the occasional distant twang of guitar. Its origins, as with the rest of the tunes, being detailed in copious notes in the album sleeve.
This is an album and a pairing which has its roots in England but comes decorated with the Swedish icing on the cake. It contains the journeys, places and traditions which have formed their experiences. They are two musicians whose diverse work with others is a delight, yet together they literally do fly. With the album title taken from William Turner in 1545, in a nutshell, the expression “birds of a feather flock and fly together” was never more apt .Mike Ainscoe
Recorded at Solviksskolan, Jarna, Sweden in November 2013.
Self-release, Spring 2016.
1. November Waltz
2. Great Uncle Harry / Waiting for Rain
3. Da Unst Bridal March / Master Kilby
4. Camberwell / Polska Fran Morko Efter Anders Gustaf Andersson
5. Brollopsmarsch efter Nils Bernhard Ljunggren
6. Upon a Summer’s Day / Bengts 50-ars vals
7. Squirrel in the Tree / Grand Hornpipe
8. Big Set - Rubbertoes / Polksa efter Andreas Dahlgren / Butcher’s Hornpipe / Blue John Hornpipe
10. Pretty Saro / Shove the Pig’s Foot a Little Further into the Fire
11. Moving Back Home