Orkney Monster, title of the latest album from The Chair, references a large sea creature of dubious origin found washed up on the shores of Stronsay. But it could just as easily describe the eight piece band who over the last 17 years have become known for their riotous Orcadian trad far beyond their native isles.
Given their raucous reputation, opening tune The Beachcomber’s Polka might seem somewhat placid. But they soon step it up a gear or three for Tolka Polka before the appropriately furious Angry Seal closes the set.
The thunderous intro to the last tune, as with much of the album, features the twin fiddles of Kenny Ritch and Douglas Montgomery front and centre. They can be heard digging in on Swedish tune Appalachen, bowing epic sweeps on Fixing Jigs or hitting exuberant high notes on The Blue Lamp.
But what allows the melody to cut through the self-described Orkney Stomp of the four-strong rhythm section is the alternating banjo and mandolin provided by Brian Cromarty. Whether simply providing an accent, as on the cacophonous Festival Reels, or taking the lead on the tough and funky The Rose In The Gap, the precise plectrum work forms a vital ingredient to The Chair’s rollicking and distinctive sound.
Cromarty also contributes vocals on tale of homesickness at sea Shiver Me Timbers. Originally written by Tom Waits, the song serves to showcase the band’s more subtle side, along with wistful waltz Margaret Davidson and the steady but powerful Wee Davie set.
When a group contains such an array of instrumental talent and musicality, it might seem reductive to describe The Chair as simply a party band. But their ability to make as joyful a noise on this album as at their legendary live shows means that whatever setting you hear them in, a monstrously good time is guaranteed.Nick Brook
Released on CD and digitally December 4th 2020.
2. Norway to Sweden
3. Walk Beside Me
4. Wee Davie
5. Fixing Jigs
6. The Blue Lamp
7. The Rose In The Gap
8. Shiver Me Timbers
9. Turn The Handle
10. Margaret Davidson
11. Festival Reels