Sliptease – 2007
Sliptease from 2007
No teaser track or video diary, but we have the reviews!
Netrhythms.com David Kidman (Oct 2006)
Don’t be misled by the fresh-faced cover photos and silly chatty biog trivia,
for this scintillating young duo are deceptively long on experience,
as you can tell straightway from their playing and singing, which exudes
an unobtrusive confidence and authority that doesn’t need to shout its
credentials. Incredibly, the Scottish small pipes were not Vicki’s first
instrument; although her father Roddy was a renowned Pipe Major, Vicki
started out on double-bass and only switched to the pipes after being
inspired by a J. Scott Skinner tune (Hector The Hero, which she performs
on this CD); now she’s involved in spreading the gospel by teaching the
smallpipes all around the world via the internet! Jonny, on the other
hand, has been playing guitar (left-handed) for around 15 years as well
as singing (though only latterly both at once!); he’s also composed the lion’s share of the tunes he and Vicki perform on this CD. It may therefore
surprise you to learn that Scatter Pipes (named after a method of aide-memoire
used by Jonny to recall a tune he’d written!) is the duo’s first recording
in this combination – though they also perform as part of the trio Serious
Kitchen, whose rather good CD Tig I reviewed a couple of years back.
Lest you believe that an hour of smallpipes and guitar might turn out
to be dull or samey, let me try to convince you that it ain’t – in both
senses, for Vicki and Jonny cleverly vary the textures with extra instrumentation
(Vicki’s flute and double-bass, Jonny’s accordion, and another pair of
young guest musicians, bouzoukist Chris Green and oboist Jude Rees, both
of Isambarde). Mood and pace is sensibly varied too: the CD kicks off
with “the only set of entirely traditional tunes” in the duo’s repertoire – a lively enough start, but things get even better
thereafter. The aforementioned Hector and the sublime slow air from the
pibroch composed by Vicki herself on her father’s death in 1996 provide
captivating highlights which demonstrate the sheer expressive power of
the smallpipes. On several of the tune-sets, an initially leisurely pace
is supplanted by a more frenzied final canter, on which there’s a slight
feeling that tempos are running away from the musicians, but they always
rein in and keep control. Maybe some listeners will find Jonny’s driving,
open strummed guitar style a tad unvaried despite its evident accomplishment,
but I find its very solidity reassuring and any such relative lack of
stylistic variety is compensated for by the interest generated by the
edginess of the tunes themselves. Of these, I found The Broken Drone set and Answers On A Postcard possibly the most impressive, certainly
as a persuasive demonstration of the excellent blend Vicki and Jonny
achieve with their instruments. As well as the purely instrumental tracks,
there are three (traditional) songs, sung by Jonny with help from Vicki.
No complaints on that score, and I particularly liked the duo’s treatment
of The Hare’s Lament; the use of flute on this and other tracks is attractive,
and not merely as a tonal change from the ever-delightful sound of the
smallpipes. Whether taken as a whole or sampled on the basis of individual
tracks, Scatter Pipes is a very appealing collection indeed, most ably
showcasing Vicki and Jonny and their own special brand of musical magic.
Essex Folk News John New (Sept 2006)
By the end of the first bar of the first tune, Donald MacLeod’s Reel, my feet were tapping. Track one is the only completly traditional set of this
dynamic duo’s (who are now formally ‘an item’) second album. They have
put together a great compilation of sets of mainly their own music.
Track two, tune one, The Willows, is becoming a standard around sessions these days and aptly named after a pub
in their village. Those familiar with Vicki & Jonny know that they play to the highest standard. Vicki’s speciality being
the Scottish Smallpipes and flute, Jonny’s are guitar and accordion.
They are both excellent vocalists too and the first chance to hear
their close harmonies is on the Hare’s Lament. The fourth and longest set is probably the best which includes the title track, Scatter Pipes, inspired by scat jazz. Vicki herself plays the tune that inspired her to take
up the smallpipes, Hector the Hero, and there are more self penned tunes wrapped around traditional songs and music.
Track nine is a tribute to Vicki’s father, Pipe Major Roddy Swan and
includes The Bulgarian Bandit, with and eastern Eurpoean feel that Jonny says will completely throw any bodgran
player. The final set is their version of Wraggle Taggle Gypsies & Dark Eyed Gypsy that they call Seven Little Gypsies, great vocals.
The fact that this CD has spent so long in my car lays testament to it being
one of the better albums I get for review.
Folk London T.F. (Oct – Dec 2005)
Vicki Swan plays Scottish Smallpipes and has been playing with Jonny Dyer for
over ten years and I have to find a way to hear them play live. Most
of what they play on this CD is written by Jonny and is firmly in the
centre of the tradition. The second track The Willows / The Three Ashes are named for the two pubs in their village and have remained stuck on my head
since I first played them. These are tunes you don’t mind being stuck
there. Jonny is a fine singer and has good versions of both “The Hare’s Lament“, “The Tropper and the Maid” “The Seven Little Gypsies” has unusually, an ending in which instead of blood all over the floor the lady
succeeds in running away to join the gypsies.
For me the distinctive glory of this CD is the piping and flute playing. “Lament for the Lone Piper” is a slow air written by Vicki for her father Pipe Major Roddy Swan when he
died in 1996, it is immensley moving. I seem to have concentrated on
the slow tunes, but believe me the quick stuff is just as good. “Answers on a Postcard“, the traditional “Donald MacLeods Reel” and “Tigers Eye” are excellent examples.
The most lovely tune of all may be “Hector the Hero” – according to the sleeve notes this is the one that inspired Vicki to learn
the Scottish Smallpipes. Together they are finding new paths to keep
pipe music forward within the heart of the tradition. You will enjoy
it as much as I do.
Stirrings (Folk, roots and acoustic music in South Yorks and beyond)
Dave Sissons (Sept – Dec 2005)
Vicki Swan is the daughter of Pipe Major Roddy Swan, whose death in 1996 moved
her to compose Lament for the Lone Piper, written as a whole pibroch, or to give it the authentic Gaelic spelling, “piobareachd”. She studied double bass at the Royal College of Music, but took up the Scottish
Smallpipes after hearing J. Scott Skinner’s Hector the Hero. Both the latter tune and the slow air from Vicki’s piobroch are included on
this album, which she shares with Jonny Dyer. Jonny has sung in choirs
for mos of his life and has played guitar – left-handed [like your reviewer and, indeed your Editor. Gauchistes unirez! – Ed] -for fifteen years or so. Both have been playing together for more than ten
years, either as members of the group Serious Kitchen, or as a duo.
Flute fom Vicki and accordion from Jonny add a bit of variety to the
instrumentation, and there is som fairly unobtrusive support from Chris
Green on guitar and bouzuki, and Jude Rees on oboe.
The eleven tracks are made up of twenty tunes and three traditional songs: Seven
Little Gypsies,. The Trooper and the Maid and The Hare’s Lament, all
sung by Jonny with help from Vicki. An impressive fourteen of the tunes
are by Jonny, traditional in style but quite distinctive all the same.
Most tracks feature the Scottish Smallpipes backed by the driving strum
of an open tuned guitar, but this combination is nicely offset by quieter
flute tunes with accordion backing. It’s a well constructed album,
with lots of contrasts of mood and pace, and the instruments always
blend perfectly. The title track, Scatter Pipes, was composed by Jonny in a campervan, and in the absence of manuscript he had
to remember it using the jazz scat mehtod!
The only quibblesI have are minor ones. The tune called the Bulgarian Bandit
is claimed to have an East European sound, but it sounds Scottish to
me, despite the missing semi-quave in one bar. Also the gaps between
tracks are sometimes so generous that you could be excused for thinking
the CD has finished on more than one occasion. Perhaps it’s to give
us time to reflect on what is a pretty outstanding collections of tunes
Taplas (The voice of folk in Wales & the Borders) – Sally Clayden (October 2005)
I feel particularly stupid to have missed seeing this duo at Miskin an Fishguard
earlier this year. They play Scottish smallpipes and guitar in delicious
combination, together with some beautiful songs. And if that weren’t
enough, they also play flute, double bass and accordion. What is immediately
obvious from the CD is how well they collaborate, with what sounds like
an intuitive synergy
Jonny’s guitar playing has a distinctive style that is particularly effective
teamed with the smallpipes and he can switch from punchy, syncopated
rhythms to lyrical accompanist in a moment. Vicki’s piping is amazingly
fluid and, yes, haunting. they achieve a similar result with the pairing
of accordion and flute on the beautiful slow air Hemligheten and again on The Blue Man.
Only one quibble then. There’s no information about the tunes and songs on the
sleeve note, just a few biographical details; it would have be nice to
know more. s well as the traditional tunes and songs (I’m guessing between
a third and half of the tracks), according to the feature (Taplas 131, the rest were written by Jonny. He should give himself due credit. [The details
are there on the inside of the leaflet, Sally must have been given it
without the leaflet! – Vicki] Let’s see them here in Wales again soon.
Shreds and Patches – Rees Wesson (October 2005)
Scottish Smallpipes and flute are the chosen instruments of Vicki Swan. Her mastery
of these instruments is quite stunning. The smallpipes have a richer,
fruitier sound than their Northumbrian cousins, bringing a new depth
to this style of piping. She also adds some tasty double bass playing
to several of the tracks. In fact, my favourite track -Hector the Hero
by J. Scott Skinner – Vicki multitracks the pipes, flute and double bass.
What a soundl Doug Bailey certainly got the production right on this
Most of the tunes were written by jonny Dyer. These are some of the best contemporary
tunes in traditional style that I have heard for many’s the moon. Have
a look at their website www.smaUpiper.co.uk and there you will find notation
for all the tunes on this CD and more, ready to download. I’ll certainly
be learning a good few on the melodeon.
Jonny Dyer plays some great guitar and accordion parts, driving the tunes along
with a relaxed but highly rhythmic accompaniment. He sings too, but not
very well. The duo’s strength lies in the instrumental content. Simply
programme out the songs and bingo, the best piping record for years.
Racing up and down the M5 from Wales to Sidmouth festival and back (several times)
this was the CD that got the most repeat plays on the car stereo. Better
than Red Bull!
Mardles – Mike Everett (October 2005)
I fell in love with this album on first listening and couldn’t wait to hear them live, so I looked avidly through the artists’ lists for the festivals that I was going to this summer – and caught up with them at Whitby Folk Week. Vicki plays the Scottish smallpipes
and she explained to me how they differed from the better known Northumbrian
smallpipes, although I’ve now forgotten! Anyway, they produce a smoother and more mellow sound when
Vicki plays them. Jonny sings and plays guitar. This album is a fine
collection of tune sets, many of which were composed by Jonny, and traditional
songs including a lovely version of Seven Yellow Gypsies with the traditional
ending where the Lord hangs the gypsies but if you catch them live you
can vote to hear an alternate happy ending. There is well over an hour
of music on the CD, so at the album’s launch at Whitby they only had time to perform some of it, leaving a very appreciative
audience hungry to hear more and, hopefully, eager to buy this excellent
recording. Because of the nature of the smallpipes the music, which is
almost all English, sounds Scottish to me, although when Vicki and Jonny
tour Scotland they are told it is too English! Vicki has a wonderful
website at www.smallpiper.co.uk in case you’re interesting in learning how to play the pipes. And they’re based just across the border in Essex so hopefully there will be many opportunities
to see them.
Living Tradition – Andy Jurgis (September 2005)
The music of Vicki Swan and Jonny Dyer has an air of quiet confidence about it
despite its lack of show and adornment. Vicki is a highly-accomplished
player of the Scottish smallpipes and also contributes flute, double
bass and vocals to the album, while Jonny impresses on guitar as well
as accordion and vocals. Although their music is traditionally-based,
there is only one set of completely traditional tunes on the album – the opening track – while Jonny contributes the bulk of the rest of the material. These contemporary
sounding compositions always give the music a cutting edge with various
surprises along the way.
The song ‘The Hare’s Lament’ is impressively sung by both and perhaps more space could have been given on
the album for song to balance the instrumental numbers. The flute and
guitar combination on this track is very appealing. ‘The Broken Drone’ set is characteristic in the way it showcases Vicki’s fine pipe playing and Jonny’s distinctive modern guitar playing particularly in the faster paced third tune.
One of the highlights is another song, ‘The Trooper and the Maid’, with its superb extended instrumental conclusion in which Vicki’s pipes continue on from the song apparently seamlessly. The most distinguished
tune is Dyer’s ‘The Blue Man’ which suggests that Vicki’s flute should be heard more on the album. The pipes and guitar are excellent
throughout as is the more tantalising taste of vocals and flute – more of the latter in the future please!
Shire Folk Magazine – Chris Mills (September 2005)
guitar backing and vocals from Jonny Dyer. The album starts well with a
trio of Scottish tunes, ‘Donald Mcleod’s Reel/Stornoway Castle/Sandy Duff’,
which moves along and gets your feet tapping. The mood changes on track
two with a beautifully played pair of slow airs written by Jonny Dyer,
‘The Willows’ and ‘The Three Ashes’. Vicki Swan is clearly a very accomplished
and complete player of the Smallpipes who can deliver both a precisely
paced and well driven reel and a haunting slow air. The album features
many more excellent pieces such as the trio of tunes ‘Lament for the Lone
Piper’, written by Vicki, ‘The Bulgarian Bandit’, and ‘Answers on a Postcard’,
written by Jonny. These last two tunes feature some high quality rhythm
guitar to support the pipe playing. There’s also some fine flute from Vicki and songs from Jonny, including an original
version of ‘Seven Little Gypsies’. A delightful album.
Nice. The exact meaning of this particular word is, ‘precise or accurate’. Both
words fit this album. The playing is studied and masterly with technical
ability in abundance especially in the hands of Vicki Swan whose smallpipes
and flute playing are clearly ‘top drawer’ as we say round here. Nor
should I fail to mention the solid guitar work of Jonny Dyer. Altogether
a workman like job.
So why does this album fail to excite me? There are two main reasons. Firstly
the very precision of the playing gives an impression of musicians sitting
very comfortably within their limits. The second reason is a little more
personal. The songs are traditional yet have been given a rather dated
slightly ‘jazzy’ treatment which causes me to recall early incarnations
of Pentangle. Not a bad comparison but not really cutting edge 2005.
The songs bring no new observations on content and seem to be vehicles
for the singer rather than the other way round. If this sounds unnecessarily
harsh then one should remember that the choice of material and genre
lie with the artist.
Comparisons will be made and so Vicki and Jonny should really move a little closer
to the edge of their comfort zone.
All this being said, the album is soothing and makes few demands on the listener.
It is quality of its kind and could find a place as background rather
than full on serious listening. In a word nice.
If you happened to be over in Fishguard for the annual folk festivities back
in May, or visited Miskin at Easter this year, then you’re hardly likely to have missed the spellbinding musicianship of flautist/bassist/Scottish
smallpiper Vicki Swan and guitarist/accordionist Jonny Dyer. With their
second album, Scatter Pipes, just released and with combined fingers
twiddling in all manner of collaborative and intuitive pies, their shared
career in folk music is moving ever upwards.
Not that said career has been long-established, for Vicki was already a graduate
of the Royal College of Music before taking to the Scottish smallpipes,
whilst Jonny tells of a family history of force-fed classical and ecclesiastic
choral music, and confesses to being a late entrant onto the folk music
stage. The two actually started playing together within a classical music
environment, in a county youth orchestra. Despite the efforts of her
Scottish pipe-major father, Vicki had never resonated with the highland
pipes, and was resigned to a life as a peripatetic flute tutor (but with
an ever-open eye for the big break as a double-bass player with some
major orchestra) until Dad introduced her to the smallpipes. The resultant
Road-to-Damascus experience also helped Jonny in suddenly finding a means
of individual expression with the folk guitar, and the seeds of the ascendant partnership were sown.
Much of the material on Scatter Pipes was written by Jonny. I asked where the
tunes came from. Some, it seems, are written along a classical theme,
with a variation upon a few notes. Others appear in his head as complete
entities. In all cases, Jonny finds his writing resources within his
musical environment, and compositions often suggest themselves just by
playing or hearing a new instrument. Many of these tunes are available
on-line or in the Thumb Twiddling tunebook, and are used as a basis for
a smallpipes tutor that Vicki has just completed. Passing things on actually
plays a big part in their professional lives, and both remain deeply
involved in the education scene, working both in schools and at adult
workshops. In fact, Vicki is currently completing an on-line Masters
degree in education, focussing on teaching folk music – in particular the bagpipes – via the internet.
Scatter Pipes was produced at Doug Bailey’s Wild Goose studio, and Jonny is quick to praise Doug’s phenomenal understanding of just what works. “He instinctively knows how to get the best out of instruments and players.” Moving onwards from 2002’s Thumb Twiddling, they’ve woven a handful of songs within the instrumental sets, and also added Jonny’s cherished Pigini piano-accordion. Jonny again, “We’re very proud of the new album. There is a great deal more self-confidence and
security in both of us that is allowing us to explore our music.”
Besides their work as a duo, there’s regular involvement in Seriouskitchen, combining their talents with those of
acclaimed ballad-singer and harpist, Nick Hennessey. They also make up
the Cloudstreet Big Band whenever the Australian vocal duo are visiting
these shores. Vicki observes that collaborations are always extremely
rewarding. “We’ve learnt a lot about ourselves by playing with other people. It’s thanks to Cloudstreet that I dusted off the double bass again, which was wonderful
to play on the new album. We always seem to learn or develop new things
with other people that we can then bring back to the duo.”
Finally, I remarked that 2005 has seen return visits to two south Wales festivals,
both Fishguard and Miskin. Whilst Fishguard in particular entailed a
long trek from their present base in deepest Essex, they say they’ve thoroughly enjoyed both events. Miskin at Easter organiser Andy Jackson tells
me he’s hoping to have them back yet again soon, and I hope that Jonny will forgive
me for revealing a secret, that Andy now has a waltz named in his honour!
`Scatter Pipes’ is the worthy, though very different in many ways, successor
to Vicki and Jonny’s first album, `Thumb Twiddling’ (Chanter, Summer
2003, reviewed by Richard Reader). What strikes the listener almost immediately
is the greater variety on the new cd, achieved by a certain amount of
overdubbing on many of the tracks, plus the introduction of three songs
with Jonny taking the lead vocals. But to begin at the beginning…
I was lucky enough to see them performing the new material at the end of May,
at Fishguard Folk Festival, where we (Pibau Preseli) were also playing.
Vicki was struggling with a sore throat at the time so couldn’t do her
part of the vocals, but as ever with the duo, their instrumental performances
were impeccable. And so it should be; Vicki is a second generation piper
who has also studied double bass at the Royal College of Music, becoming
principal double bass, and as a piper has studied under Hamish Moore,
Davie Taylor and Gary West, while Jonny is a prolific composer and competition
The album starts with the only set of traditional tunes on it – Donald MacLeods
Reel, Stornaway Castle and Sandy Duff – Jonny’s guitar starting off over
the drones of Vicki’s smallpipes before Vicki joins in with the melody.
On Sandy Duff she achieves an impressive staccato effect I didn’t think
was possible on Scottish smallpipes, but somehow she manages it. Most
of the other tunes on the album are compositions by Jonny and written
scores can be found at their website – www.smallpiper.co.uk. As a musician
who finds it quite difficult to pick up all but the simplest tunes by
ear either at sessions or from Cds, I found this really helpful and I
wish other artists would do the same. Vicki’s one composition on the
Cd, a beautiful slow air played solo on the smallpipes `Lament for the
Lone Piper’, the sleeve notes tell us was written for her father Pipe Major Roddy Swan after his death. Although only
the slow air is on the Cd, it was originally written as a whole piobaireachd
and I can’t help wishing the whole thing was on the album as it is one
of my favourite bits.
A major change in direction since the last Cd, is the inclusion of songs. There
are three in all, all traditional, and all what could be described as
`old chestnuts’ – The hare’s lament, the trooper and the maid, and seven
little gypsies. Jonny does the bulk of the singing with Vicki coming
in for the refrains, their voices working together very well. Doubtless
this will be a continuing trend in their musical development.
In many respects my favourite parts of the album were those tracks with the simplest
arrangements, more representative of what you get when you see the duo
`live’, such as Jonny’s compositions, the slow airs `The blue man’ and
`Hemligheten’, performed on accordeon and flute only. Of course, the
other tracks featuring overdubbing are just as good musically and it
is quite understandable that with such talented multi-instrumentalists
there will always be a temptation to add in extra parts on other instruments.
`Hector the Hero’ by J. Scott Skinner is a good example, starting on
smallpipes, joined soon by guitar before Vicki joins in again on flute
and then again on double bass. It’s not really any different from having
guest musicians on your Cd and in fact they do have guest musicians on
three of the tracks as well – Jude Rees on oboe, and Chris Green on bouzouki and guitar.
Vicki Swan and Jonny Dyer are a perfect blending of musical talents, having been
playing together for over ten years both as a duo and as part of Serious
Kitchen. Whilst I personally consider Vicki Swan to be the principle
exponent of the Scottish Smallpipes ‘ south of the border’, she is also an extremely accomplished flautist and double bass player. Jonny
Dyer exhibits outstanding technical ability in his supporting guitar
work and also tastefully applies his Pigin72 accordion on a number of
tracks. This CD is not just about Scottish smallpiping. It is a CD packed
full with musical delights, songs, superlative smallpiping, brilliant
guitar and flute playing and beautiful innovative compositions. In fact
out of the eleven total tracks, only six are of pure piping. On tracks,
3, 7 and 11, Jonny Dyer sings The Hare’s Lament, The Trooper and the Maid, and Seven Little Gypsies respectively. Jonny
has a clear mellow appealing voice and uses it to give an imaginative
and contemporary interpretation to the three songs.
Vicki Swan’s piping is everything that one would expect from a musician of this calibre.
Her phrasing, gracing of and empathy with the music is a joy to hear.
For me, Vicky Swan’s interpretation of J. Scott Skinner’s Hector the Hero and Jonny Dyer’s The Willows can only be described as enchanting.
I have just two small moans. In the first instance, the sleeve notes simply credit
Vicki with playing the Scottish Smallpipes and as far as I am able to
determine, they are Smallpipes in ‘A’ throughout the recording. I would dearly have loved to hear Vicki play the Smallpipes
in ‘D’. Secondly, in the latter part of track 11, there is an instance of double-tracking
over Vicki’s flute playing. I feel that it is not necessary and does not enhance the charmingly
fluid purity of the flute.
For those readers with a myopic opinion of pipers and piping The Bulgarian Bandit
would be a musical revelation. The Bulgarian Bandit has a wonderful Eastern
European feel to it with a semi-quaver being missed out in one bar. To
quote the sleeve notes, “ Wonderful for bodhran players
to get completely confused.” I, as the reviewer of this CD, am lost in admiration for Vicki Swan’s technical ability.
Vicki and Jonny are two very talented musicians – he plays guitar and accordion,
she plays smallpipes, flute and double bass and they sing wonderfully
as well. ‘Scatter Pipes’ is an album dominated by tunes – of the 11 tracks,
only three are songs, which may discourage some, but even if tunes aren’t
usually your thing, this album still merits a listen. There is a very
good mix of material on the CD, with plenty of variety where mood and
melody are concerned.
Their performance is tight, with tunes and songs performed skilfully and supported
by sympathetic and very creative accompaniments. There’s some traditional
material, and some self-penned tunes, all of an excellent quality. In
the three songs, Vicki and Jonny prove to have appealing voices and their
talent for arrangements extends to some very good harmony singing. The
real highpoint of the CD for me is the song The Hare’s Lament, which is beautiful and haunting.
There is a quality of lightness and delicacy to this album, the only word I
can think of that gets close to expressing its effect is to call it ‘graceful’.
I would certainly recommend it. Here’s a track from the album.
These two free spirits are two-thirds of the group “Serious Kitchen” who produced a serious album that I had the pleasure to review a couple of years
ago. So when this album came my way, I naturally inserted the album into
the CD player with greater alacrity than usual.
And so dear Reader, you will want to know if I found it a rewarding experience.
Well before I answer that question, let me first detail some of the content.
It’s a mix of the traditional and the contemporary (mainly self-penned instrumentals
by Jonny), and a similar mix between song and instrumental (with the
emphasis more on the latter).
The voices blend together pretty well: the instruments however blend together
SUBLIMELY. Vicki’s Scottish smallpipes are so persuasive that they almost make me want to dash
out and buy a set! Jonny’s guitar always gives her room to express herself: not just on her pipes but
on her mesmeric flute also.
This is a very pleasant album on the ear. (“Pleasant? Isn’t that damning with faint praise?”) No, it is emphatically not. Trust me, it is not easy to find an album to fit
every mood, but I reckon this is one.
As I say, their voices harmonise well. As befits WildGoose, the sound quality
is top-notch: every breath and every nuance in the melody and lyric comes
through in vivid Technicolor. And this duo makes the most of the songs,
even though they are missing the more distinctive voice of their Serious
Kitchen colleague, Nick Hennessey. Indeed, the songs probably lend themselves
to their “Folk mainstream” voices more than they would to a singer with the somewhat special vocal DNA
of a Nick Hennessey.
If I am honest, I regret there is no song here that is the equal of “The Silkie of Sulle Skerrie” which proved the standout cut of the album of two years ago. But then, that
was made for Nick. And these songs are made for Jonny and Vicki. So there.
No question which is the best cut here. Vicki’s pipes and Jonny’s accordion really deliver on a number penned by Jonny. And what is the title?
Well, let me give you a clue. If two tunes could ever know each other biblically
– Jay Ungar’s “Ashokan Farewell” and Phil Cunningham’s “Quendale Bay” – then the offspring would be called “The Willows”.
Am I saying Jonny’s number is “derivative”? Well, er…yes.
But is being “derivative” a bad thing? When it sounds as good as this, certainly NOT.
An album for lazy summer afternoons, or winter evenings by the fire.
Vicki and Jonny have brought enthusiasm and dynamism to this recording, which
showcases Vicki’s excellent piping skills and Jonny’s incredible talent
as a tune writer. For instance: The Willows is a lovely, dreamy tune that stays with you long after the track has finished,
and The Three Ashes displays excellent and effective syncopation. Clearly pubs that inspire such
music should be visited (and often).
Broken Drone is another beautifully haunting tune – a true lament – with wonderfully understated
guitar harmonies blending effortlessly into the original melody and taking
the listener seamlessly on into the next tune (Chasing the Butterfly). The rousing Scatter Pipes might perhaps have been slightly more effective played on the ‘sharper’ Border
pipes, but great nonetheless.
I loved Hemligheten and the Cartmel Fell / Tigers Eye set, the former being a very thoughtful tune and beautifully played on flute
and accordion, and the latter again having a nice guitar introduction
and accompaniment, and an extra link into Tigers Eye. These tunes are particularly suited to the timbre and range of the small pipes,
and there are one or two good, crunchy dissonant harmonies.
It’s always difficult to make a comment about a track like Lament for the Lone Piper which is so personal to its composer, but I felt the slur at the end rather
detracted from its emotive feel. The Bulgarian Bandit [Murray Blair] was slightly reminiscent of Fleshmarket Close and it sounded
too fast for me, but the speed was right for Answers on a Postcard so perhaps I’m just being pedantic. I have to say that I also found Stornoway Castle [Trad] rather Mrs. MacLeod of Rasaay [Trad and not on the album] which was a
little off-putting – but a wonderful set nonetheless.
The songs were nice with gentle unobtrusive harmonies, but having learned two
of them myself to different (and perhaps more ‘traditional’ tunes) they
were more of a challenge to the ear. But the Hare’s lament certainly gives a testimony to why hare coursing should be ended – lovely double
tracking on flute and very sympathetic guitar work. I was a bit disappointed
that the CD ended on a sad note with the Seven Little Gypsies, and left
me rather flat – I would have preferred a rousing finish – but again,
that’s just a personal view.
I loved Jock’s Box [named after the box of reed revitalising instruments that Jock used to resuscitate
Vicki’s reed- Ed], but then as I am closely acquainted with that box
myself I know only too well what they mean!
I felt the insert was a bit disappointing – too many ‘hip’ words (‘imaginative
huh?’ being just two). And there were a number of typographical errors
in the text. I would also liked to have seen the song words, together
with the instruments / voices etc. used on each track.
But all that aside, this is a CD I will definitely have in my car to play loudly
with the hood down!