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Val Haines of Mardles

reviews Wreck off Scilly by Andy Clarke and Steve Tyler

Andy Clarke is a singer from Devon with a mellow voice well suited to the ballads he loves to sing. Steve Tyler is a gifted hurdy gurdy player who has done much to push this instrument from obscurity to mainstream. It sounds initially like a strange combination English folk songs accompanied by hurdy gurdy but the result is a very pleasant listen. In addition, Andy also plays guitar and bouzouki, Steve plays the cittern and Ruth Clarke adds fiddle on a couple of tracks.

Many of the songs focus on life in the West Country of the 19th century. Four are from the Baring Gould collection; the title track Wreck off Scilly, Childe the Hunter, with melody composed by Andy, Cold Blows the Winter Wind, which Andy set to a tune collected by Cecil Sharp, and Bell Ringing, here restored to its original tune. At the other end of the country, the opening track, Coal Owner and the Poor Pitman's Wife, is a powerful ballad by collier William Hornsby about the 1844 Durham strike. It's interesting to see how Andy changes and adds melodies to suit the song. In Rosemary Fair he 'slowed it down, took out the "dots" and fitted a set of words'.

Between the songs lies a variety of lovely tunes. Lilene and Beanfield are French style bourrees composed by David Faulkner and Jon Swayne respectively, Half Hannikin is from a Playford collection, Mariam Matrem is 14th century Spanish and Midnatspolskal Morgenpolska are by Danish nyckelharpa player Lasse Vaever Jacobsen. Luckily, Steve has also included his greatest hit The Wendigo to show everybody what a hurdy gurdy can do in the right hands.

This is a great album full of variety and thoughtful arrangements. Hopefully we will hear more of this duo in the future.