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Andy Turner of EDS

reviews Fortyssimo by The Old Swan Band

In case you hadn’t gathered from its title, this CD celebrates forty years of The Old Swan Band. A driving force in the English country music revival of the 1970s, their first LP No Reels – one of the few albums to deserve the epithet ‘seminal’ – was a statement of the value of playing tunes from English country musicians, in a style heavily influenced by listening to traditional practitioners. And the tunes were played, famously, slowly. By the time I first saw the band in the early eighties, banjo had been replaced by piano, while Martin Brinsford’s tambourine had become part of something approaching a full drum kit. And I’m pretty sure the tempo had got faster. A few years later, the band became a melodeon-free zone, with fiddles leading the attack, comple mented by a growing, and at times quite funky, horn section. That’s what you get here.

Anyone who has seen the band over the last 25 years or so will know exactly what to expect, and won’t be disappointed. From the first notes of the ‘Bonny Breastknots’ set – a set which appeared back in 1977 on No Reels, but was slower in those days – my foot started to tap, and I just found myself grinning. It’s uplifting stuff: a mixture of well-known tunes and some fabulous new ones to add to the communal repertoire. I’ll make special mention of the minor key hornpipe set (which starts with Paul Burgess’ ‘Les Troits Puits’), as well as ‘Alexandra Park’ and the final tune, ‘March of St. Timothy’. Despite championing English music, the Swan Band have never been Little Englanders (there was at least one Irish tune on No Reels), and some of the best tunes here come from Australian and north American sources. Their Englishness is more about style – and what style they have. A fine record from a national institution.