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David Kidman of Netrythms

reviews The Whitchurch Hornpipe by Neil Brookes and Tony Weatherall

Here's a wonderful record of two experienced musicians enjoying themselves thoroughly in bringing to our attention a host of rarely-heard compositions taken from a collection of manuscript tune books from North Shropshire, dating from the early-to-mid-19th-century. No dry dusty note-precise academic-style renditions here, just good honest committed playing from musicians who are steeped in the performance of music for dancing and adept at conveying its listenable qualities too. Neil's an excellent fiddle and flute player, an English dance music specialist who's also worked with Roy Clinging on Cheshire's musical heritage, while melodeonist Tony has been a mainstay of the British cajun scene for some years and is currently a member of the Boat Band. They work well together, and their sense of joy in the discovery and execution of these tunes is palpable: listening to them is like being present at a classy session with everyone enjoying every minute. The sense of momentum they generate (and importantly, maintain) is both natural and impressive, as is their use of instrumental texture; in particular, Neil's use of the octave fiddle to augment and thicken the basic melodic lines. And although there's necessarily an amount of sensible double-tracking of fiddle and flute parts, the effect is never one of over-decoration and I really appreciated the sheer variety of texture which Neil and Tony bring to their scoring of these pieces. The tunes themselves are a delightful mixture of hornpipes, waltzes, reels and polkas, with a good helping of military marches too (ranging from the grand to the elegant to the stirring). I particularly enjoyed the Nineteenth Century/Hanley's Hornpipe set and the following morris-like tune The Flock's In A Cluster, also The Kerry March (even if one debates its geographical reference!) and the wonderfully lyrical Albert Hughes' Waltz. And I'm intrigued by Neil's claim that the disc's title tune has a Welsh flavour. But whatever, this is a stimulating disc that should encourage more owners of obscure old manuscripts to make the music public.