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David Kidman of fRoots

reviews Wreck off Scilly by Andy Clarke and Steve Tyler

A teaming of two musicians whose talents have long gone undersung. Devon-born Andy has extensive experience of performing traditional song to his own bouzouki or guitar accompaniment, and specialises in unearthing gems from the manuscripts of Sabine Baring-Gould. Steve is a virtuoso exponent of the hurdy gurdy (and cittern, bagpipes, gothic harp and citole), founder of medieval music ensemble Misericordia (with Anne Marie Summers), The Wendigo (with Julian Sutton), and latterly Daughters Of Elvin and Angles. Coincidentally, both men have recently worked with the Jackie Oates band, which may well have been a catalyst for their present collaboration.

Theirs is a good combination of talents, all facets of which are generously showcased on this almost near equal-handed selection of songs and instrumental pieces. Among the songs, the principal interest lies in those collected by the aforementioned Baring-Gould, especially Childe The Hunter (for which Andy himself has composed an apt and suspenseful melody), Cold Blows The Winter Wind (set to a tune from Cecil Sharp’s Somerset collection) and the disc’s title track. Andy also turns in earthy accounts of Rosemary Fair (a credible new amalgam of variants of the ‘task’ song) and the broadsheet Poor Labourers, but for many I suspect a highlight of this collection will be the charming, beautiful Over The Hills, penned by Torquay native Rob Stevens. Here, as throughout, Andy’s powerful, individual voice expresses the song’s sentiments with grit and passion (and more than a hint of Pete Coe at times too, I thought), and a natural command of phrasing. Accompaniments are finely judged and full of character. Steve migrates between gurdy and cittern, and some tracks also feature some sensitive and often melodically adventurous fiddle work courtesy of Ruth Clarke.

The non-vocal selections range from the eerie danserye of The Wendigo (Steve’s original composition inspired by tales of the supernatural), Mariam Matrem (a late-14th Century pilgrim song) to a pair of Danish nyckelharpa polskas. The well-engineered sound is rich and detailed but never overblown, and proves as listener-friendly as its material is inspirational and satisfying.