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Maggie Moore of Mardles

reviews Fortyssimo by The Old Swan Band

Wow! Oh absolute Joy! (Have you guessed yet that I really like this CD??)

I was a fan of The Old Swan Band as soon as they began making LPs. When they visited the nearby village of Mendlesham for an English Country Music Weekend (1984?) I was reminded of how good they were.

Dancing to their band has always required the dancer to do a bit of actual dancing, i.e. stepping, skipping, hopping etc. and therefore get a bit more exercise than the perhaps more common walking that's quite prevalent at a lot of clubs and ceilidhs. The difference is how fast and with what kind of emphasis the band plays. Old Swan 'gloriously' (to my mind) plays at the same good old slower speed as they did when they started. Maybe that's because they were rooted in the Cotswold Morris tradition, where the steps are all important and require the musicians to adapt to the particular people dancing, and also the surface they're dancing on. However, bands like Old Swan (and thankfully there are quite a few in East Anglia) not only refrain from going at break neck speed, thereby allowing the tune to really shine, but also play with such vigour and energy that their music gives dancers a huge boost and loads of oomph to fling themselves around the floor to.

Now then... back to the actual CD in question! Listening to the start of Track 1 Devon Bonny Breastknot/Getting Upstairs/Blue Eyed Stranger, I was gripped with the band's usual previously mentioned 'Ooomph', and then suddenly got an attack of "Where is Martin Brinsford's mouth organ playing?". Then in he came with his brilliantly vibrant and unique addition to the second tune in this set... I'd recognise him anywhere.

I have to admit to really missing the wonderful melodeon playing of Rod Stradling, who was one of the founder members, and still very successfully runs the site for "Musical Traditions" at http://www.mustrad.org.uk/ However... the line up on this album is fabulous: Paul Burgess on fiddle, the aforementioned Martin Brinsford on percussion as well as mouth organ, Fi and Jo the Fraser sisters, on fiddle, saxophone, clarinet and whistles between them. (It's worth mentioning that Jo was only 13 when she joined the band all those years ago!) Also playing are John Adams on trombone, Neil Gledhill on bass saxophone, Flos Headford on fiddle and Heather Horsley on keyboard.

In case the title of the CD hasn't given it away or indeed if you are new to this band they are celebrating their 40th anniversary. Doug Bailey of WildGoose Records sums it up by saying that their tunes have that "distinctive Old Swan Band stamp", and those of you who know the band will, I'm sure, identify with that description. For those of you (possibly younger peeps) who haven't a clue what I'm talking about, then please please buy the CD and enjoy letting it soak into your musical pores.