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reviews Wreck off Scilly by Andy Clarke and Steve Tyler

I know local man Andy Clarke as an excellent guitarist and Steve Tyler as a brilliant hurdy-gurdy player also based in Devon who – with a small band – plays for great Balkan and Gypsy dance sessions in Exeter. He has been a member of bands Wendigo, Angles and Daughters of Elvin, playing everything from medieval tunes to French dances, Scandinavian polkas and English folk tunes. Andy now helps to run the Totnes folk club, and is also a fine singer whose voice is perfectly suited to the songs they have chosen. Tunes in which the hurdy- gurdy predominates alternate with songs, and Ruth Clarke plays fiddle on some of the tracks, adding another texture to the mix.

I am not sure whether this is their first (recorded) collaboration, but it works brilliantly, the hurdy-gurdy and cittern (played by Steve) providing a subtle and unusual accompaniment to Andy’s voice and guitar on some of the tracks. Andy has done his homework, going back to the Baring-Gould collection for original words and adding traditional tunes or writing his own. Songs from the collection include the title track, collected from the farm labourer James Parsons of Lewdown, the poem Childe the Hunter collected from the Dartmoor poet Jonas Coaker set to a tune by Andy, the singaround favoutite Bell Ringing, and a lovely version of The Unquiet Grave, here called Cold Blows the Winter Wind and with the addition of a fine chorus. The tunes include a French bourree written by bagpiper David Faulkner, the Playford tune Half Hannikin, two Danish polkas and Steve’s tune The Wendigo, inspired by a supernatural tale by Algernon Blackwood.

I hope this brief review gives some idea of the versatility and skill of these two musicians: for me, the strongest tracks are the haunting and powerful songs Poor Labourers (from an 1845 broadside), Wreck off Sicily, and Cold Blows the Winter Wind, and the tunes which prompt memories of dancing to the hurdy-gurdy! Highly recommended.