after the fire
Firebird Records FBR 001
Smiling Dickie's Hornpipe / Trip to the Bar / Brown's Reel; Quick and Merry / Doncaster Races / Maids of Montgomery; Holywell Hornpipe / Alston Hornpipe / Gloucester Hornpipe; Champion Hornpipe / Stephen Baldwin's No 2 Schottische; Da Road to Houll / Controdanza; Lord Zouch's Masque / Gamle jes Sonnichsen's Styk; Miss Baker's Hornpipe / Miss Menager's Hornpipe; 'Tarantella' / Sbrando; Hambo på Logen; City of Savannah / Poppy Leaf Hornpipe; Tom Tully's Hornpipe / Weaver's March; Scan Tester's Stepdances Nos 1 & 2 / Sweet Nell; Schottische in A (formerly); Paganini's Hornpipe / Gavin Atkin's Hornpipe; Madelaine's Waltz; De St Paul a Terrebonne / Father Kelly's.Anyone reading this review, noting the personnel involved and seeing my name at the bottom will know that I was biased in favour of this CD as soon as I took it out of the envelope. English dance music played by a band featuring Rod Stradling and Martin Brinsford. Do I like it? Yes! The word 'featuring' is important here. There is no hogging the limelight for anyone. Rod's melodeon, the fiddle playing of Mike Pinder and Fran Wade and the outstanding harmonica playing of the ubiquitous Martin Brinsford blend together to make a most satisfying whole. And no less important is the accompanying vamp piano playing of Kevin Bown (who sensibly does exactly what he is supposed to do - accompany) and I'm a sucker for vamp piano. I am pleased to note that a real piano was used for this recording. The downside here is that a real one can rarely be found for gigs.
Phoenix has deliberately set out to find unfamiliar tunes, and there are some gems here. The opening set of Smiling Dickie's Hornpipe / Trip to the Bar / Brown's Reel is superb, as are Holywell Hornpipe and Lord Zouch's Masque. The new rubs shoulders with the old and it is a pleasure to see Scan Tester's Stepdances along with the Gloucester Hornpipe and tunes from Tom Anderson and Stephen Baldwin. Tunes Irish, Italian, French-Canadian and Danish are all thrown into the mix. For me, the album climaxes two tracks before the end with the wonderful pairing of Paganini's Hornpipe / Gavin Atkin's Hornpipe, two first-rate tunes played perfectly. (sound clip)
The musicians here are old hands at this sort of thing and don't disappoint. The music is played at a sensible pace, savouring the tunes, and in a relatively simple and straightforward way. True, there are the occasional forays into 'fiddle seconds' and harmony playing, but this in no way detracts from the overall excellence of the playing.
Sad to say, traditional music played well is becoming increasingly hard to find, so this CD is most welcome. This band clearly enjoys playing together and has a homogenous style - everything, be it English, Italian, Irish, Danish or French-Canadian, emerges from the scrambler as 'Phoenix Music' - and that is exactly as it should be.
Dan Quinn, in Musical Traditions
There's been a lot of talk in the last couple of years about young musicians bringing a new freshness to the folk scene. Well, here's a band of - oooh, how should I put this? - 'somewhat older' musicians bringing a new freshness. They are two free-reed players; two fiddlers and a pianist. There's no percussion! What ... ? It shouldn't be allowed! (In case you don't know - I play percussion!) But, despite this almost unbelievable omission, they are a wonderfully rhythmic dance-band.
Kevin Bown is perhaps best known at present as a bass-player (in 'Grand Union' for example) but here it's his piano-playing that provides the basis for the rest of the gang. Then there's the twin fiddles of Fran Wade ('Grand Union' and several other bands) and Mike Pinder (formerly with the superb Old-Timey band 'Grey Eagle' and currently with American Contra band 'Flying Clouds'). Add in Rod Stradling (member of, amongst others, 'The Old Swan Band', 'Edward the Second and the Red-Hot Polkas', 'English Country Blues Band', 'English Country Dance Band', and 'Tiger Moth') on melodeon and you have a group of some of the most experienced and talented musicians in England - and certainly the very topmost rank of English Traditional musicians. And then ... Martin Brinsford. Here we have THE BEST PERCUSSIONIST in the English traditional music scene, who plays in 'The Old Swan Band', 'Brass Monkey', Tiger Moth' and (guess what?) 'Grand Union', and here he is playing ... harmonica!!
Now, of course I knew that Martin plays harmonica (he plays other things too, in other bands) but he has never had such a central role as he does in Phoenix. Listen to the first track (Hmmm, I wish you could hear a sound sample ... but, of course, you can! Simply go to the website: www.firebirdrecords.co.uk and click on the sound samples there. Go on! Do it now!) Okay, NOW you can hear the first track. Good, isn't it? What a fabulous tune (as are all the tunes on this CD). Notice how the fiddles, melodeon and piano bounce along very nicely in Smiling Dickie's Hornpipe but then, as they go into Trip to the Bar - wonder of wonders - the music lifts into super-duper-hyperdrive as Martin's harmonica comes to the fore. Wow! This is simply not to be missed. When they're playing polka and step-dance rhythms with which they have long familiarity, this has to be, without doubt, the best English dance-band to emerge in the last five years - and there's a lot of excellent new bands out there.
There are moments when they all sound a bit tense - as if they've only recently learned the tunes. But of course, that is precisely the case - most of these tunes are 'new' - they are not the ones they, and we, are all familial with (at least, not in the South and Midlands of England.) In fact, apart from one or two, I'd never heard these tunes before and I've been listening to folk music for quite a few years. However, I can confidently predict that they will not be 'new' for long. These will be amongst the nation's favourite tunes within the next six months. So, if you're a musician that wants to join in at sessions, you'd better start learning them now.
Chris (Yorkie) Bartram, in Shreds and Patches