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David Kidman of Fatea

reviews Wreck off Scilly by Andy Clarke and Steve Tyler

Devon-born Andy has decades of experience of performing traditional song to his own bouzouki or guitar accompaniment, whereas Steve is a virtuoso on the hurdy gurdy (not to mention cittern, bagpipes, gothic harp and citole!), having founded the medieval music ensemble Misericordia (with Anne Marie Summers), The Wendigo (with Julian Sutton), and latterly joined both Daughters Of Elvin and Angles. However, both Andy's and Steve's names may be more familiar to Fatea readers from their recent work with Jackie Oates' band.

Their individual talents blend extremely well as it turns out, and their versatility within the folk field is well showcased on this satisfying collection of eight songs and five instrumental tracks. Andy specialises in unearthing little-known songs originally collected in the 19th century by Sabine Baring-Gould, and this disc contains some prime examples, notably Childe The Hunter, Cold Blows The Winter Wind and the CD's title track. Andy also turns in vital versions of Rosemary Fair (this one's a credible mix of variants of the famous "task" song) and Poor Labourers (here complete with the excellent Gordon Tyrrall tune), and by way of contrast there's the beautiful Over The Hills, a charming song penned by Rob Stevens from Torquay. Throughout the disc, Andy's powerful, individual vocal style expresses the songs' sentiments with grit and passion and an entirely natural command of phrasing. Accompaniments are finely judged and full of character; Steve more or less alternates between gurdy and cittern, and a small handful of tracks also involve some sensitive fiddle playing courtesy of Ruth Clarke.

The musicians wear their unquestioned virtuosity lightly on the disc's non-vocal selections, which range from the eerie danserye of The Wendigo (an original composition of Steve's inspired by supernatural tales) and the brief and cheery Half Hannikin to a transcription of a late-14th century pilgrim song (Mariam Matrem) and a pair of polskas by a Danish nyckelharpa player. The recorded sound is well engineered, rich but never overblown, and thoroughly listener-friendly - even, I suspect, to those listeners normally allergic to the unique but marvellous rasping, buzzing, droning sound of the hurdy gurdy! The disc's generous playing time proves no disadvantage and enables an unhurried demonstration of the complementary nature of Andy and Steve's musicianship. Definitely recommended.