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Clive Pownceby of Tradition

reviews Swan-Upmanship by The Old Swan Band

A new recording and the first in over 20 years from what was the seminal English Country Dance Band of the 70s with its No Reels album giving the impetus to so many groups to start playing for dances and drop the song clubs. Some familiar names remain - the Fraser sisters and Martin Brinsford, for instance, but of course Rod and Danny Stradling, considered the unit's prime movers, left as long ago as 1982. However the circle has stayed unbroken -there has never been a relocation to splitsville and the end has never been nigh.

Manifestly better at what they do than many of their upstart peers (except they don't make a fuss about it) this CD is packed to the brim with tunes as diverse as George Green's College Hornpipe - from the Little Downham Molly dancing tradition and Beatrice Hill's Three-Hand Reel from a 1952 recording made in Bromsberrrow Heath to more familiar fare a la Winster Gallop and Flowers Of Edinburgh. The erudite insert notes by Paul Burgess and John Adams make fascinating, informative reading and there are times during this CD when its diversity and ambition make 1977's No Reels masterpiece sound like a practice run. The net is cast wide and, playing with a fearsome conviction, the scope of this recording is truly eclectic. A vast ocean of music indeed, with the sheer joy of performance apparent throughout the album - you can't help but be caught up in it and I doubt that Old Swan has ever sounded this passionate, this committed to its material.

Using English Dance Music as a jumping off point, there's still a distinct 'own' take on the use of fiddles with: brass, percussion and keyboards to ensure what the band hopes we'll discover for ourselves "a tap to the foot and an inclination to dance." Rather than compete with its past, thanks and respect are accorded to all previous members of the band. "You can only build on solid foundations" they say. Swanupmanship is the triumph of a band that can do just that and wrest greatness from its own tradition.