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Colin Irwin of fRoots

reviews Fortyssimo by The Old Swan Band

FORTYssimo…see what they did there? A lot can happen in 40 years. Walls can fall.
The same old wars can keep getting fought. Scotland can almost get independence.
And English country dance music can make a comeback. Big time. They can’t be held
responsible for the first three but much of the latter is involves a group called the Cotswold Liberation Front who, taking on the mantle of English music champions heroically fighting off the dominance of the all-conquering, all-powerful Celtic groups, evolved into the Old Swan Band.

And here they are, all these years later celebrating the big Four-O with a big, fat chunky selection of classic, wildly infectious dance tunes proving they’ve lost nothing in the way of verve, pizzazz, sense of mischief and joy of playing. The line-up has remained surprisingly constant in that time, the distinctive brass backbone supplied by John Adams on trombone, with Neil Gledhill and Jo Freya on sax, Jo’s sister Fi Fraser joining Paul Burgess and Flos Headford in the flowing front line of triple fiddles, while the key rhythmic charge is guided along by Heather Horsley’s piano and Martin Brinsford’s deliciously engaging shuffling percussion.

All, of course, also feature in numerous other bands but there’s such an easy familiarity about the way they unite on this, their first album since Swan For The Money three years ago, it feels like stumbling on a favourite pair of slippers, all warm and toasty from the fireside, and finding they still fit perfectly. Except you can’t dance in slippers and this is very much an orgy of toe-tapping dance tunes. Hornpipes from Dorset, Northumbrian marches, stirring morris tunes, Playford jigs, something from the Jimmy Shand repertoire, a rather fine Paul Burgess original tune and a wonderfully impudent performance of that great old grandstander Whistling Rufus, with the brass section building up an impressive head of steam.

Old Swan Band are an English folk music institution and this delightful collection shows exactly why. More power to their ankles.