Rees Wesson of Shreds & Patches
reviews One Man Hand by Tony HallHere we have the Norfolk melodeon master Tony Hall proving yet again that he has three brains and sixteen fingers. It's thirty years or so since the release of his groundbreaking album "Fieldvole Music" which changed our perception of English melodeon playing forever. Since then he has continued to charm and amaze his listeners with his quirky, cutting humour and his complete mastery of the two?row melodeon. So it's business as usual with waltzes, reels, jigs plus a smattering of jazz and blues all played with the dexterity and soul that only Mr. Hall can coax from a battered Hohner Pokerwork.
Of the instrumental items I must recommend the opening track, an eerily atmospheric version of The Abbots Bromley Horn Dance. On previous releases the songs covered have been mostly of the traditional variety but here at last are no less than four original ditties composed by the man himself. Whenever I see Tony perform it is his own songs that are the highlight of the show. Now in the privacy of my own van I can once more enjoy Bynder Twyne - the moving story of an old man loved by the local children but eyed with suspicion as a potential sex offender by their parents, or The Enigma of the Southwold Tide - a surreal and hilarious description of this daily event (described by Tony as the most boxing song ever written!). Top song on the CD has to be The Haddock Song - a tribute to the smoke houses along the East Coast - "all I want is a ruddy great dish of that flakey, bakey haddocky fish".
Who ever would have thought that this pipe-smoking, pint-quaffing, motor-cycling, Norfolk squeeze-boxer would release a version of the Billie Holliday classic Strange Fruit- Well he has and it's brilliant. Incongruous but brilliant, just like himself.
Another first is the absence of accompanying musicians so everything you hear is Tony Hall with no overdubs. His technique is quite astonishing and I'm quite sure it will cause melodeonists throughout the land many hours of pain and anguish. How does he do it???
Of course, another aspect of the solo approach is that the particular clackiness of his chosen brand of melodeon is quite apparent. I have tried to convince him of the advantages of a superior Italian instrument but I'm afraid his reply was unprintable. Still, it all adds to the intimacy of the music. CD artwork, once again by Tony Hall and featuring the usual nutty cartoon send-up of himself plus entertaining sleeve notes. He's a talented artist in more ways than one.
A rare treat and as always, a breath of fresh air. He really is the melodeon fairy.