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Mike Greenwood of Taplas

reviews Swan-Upmanship by The Old Swan Band

ITS A red letter day when the first new recording for over twenty years by the best dance band on the planet drops through the letterbox. Swan?Upmanship lives up to all expectations. Born out of the Cheltenham music scene of the mid?1970s, Old Swan Band took a radical swing in direction in the early 80s, going for a three?fiddle lead with a brass backing. This is their first album since that move ? and well worth the wait.

With an unerring knack of starting a set with a straight up?and?down arrangement, they gradually introduce an element of swing that threatens, but is never allowed to hide the beat from the dancers feet. Typically, Heather Horsleys vamping keyboard kicks off Flowers of Edinburgh, while the massed fiddles perform accentuated slides up to the leading melody notes. By the time this set segues into Morpeth Rant, Martin Brinsfords positively martial percussion style has been abandoned for jazzy off?beats and Johnny Adams trombone comes in to push everything over the edge.
Aside from its sustained listenability, this album is a must?have for and? musician looking to bag a quintessential repertoire for that rare non?Irish pub session.

While Cheltenham was the undisputed centre of gravity of the English music scene three decades ago, these days the buzz seems to emanate from South Yorkshire. The enthusiasm and exuberance of Sheffields youthful Morris and sword teams overspills into bands such as Jabadaw and Crucible, with Richard and Jess Arrowsmith usually to be found at the hub of things. Within Hekety, their melodeons and fiddle/viola are bolstered by a cittern/guitar and bass rhythm section and counterpointed by the klezmeric swing of Jo Veals clarinet. Furze Cat has spent several years in gestation and this string of well?matured arrangements is the result of playing a shedful of ceilidhs at mainline festivals and beyond.
But this is music for both head and feet, its hallmark being a strong, rhythmic pulse from bass and cittern, allied to inv