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Mary Humphreys of Mardles

reviews The Whitchurch Hornpipe by Neil Brookes and Tony Weatherall

I have been waiting, with pleasurable anticipation for this recording for a year. Ever since I heard Neil Brookes play the eponymous tune in a session at Sidmouth I have been impatient to be playing more where that came from. Unlike many longawaited events, this does not disappoint in any way. In fact the CD surpasses all my expectations. When I first got the recording I played it through 3 times non?stop (it WAS long car journey) but it never palled and new delights came my way each time I heard it.

The music on this CD comes from the 19th century handwritten manuscript books compiled by members of the family of Richard Hughes of Ash, near Whitchurch, Shropshire and John Clews of Stoke Heath, Stoke upon Tern, Shropshire. Very few of the tunes are well?known today ? more is the pity. I think this CD will remedy that.

The recording, extensively?researched notes on the manuscripts and mixing of tracks is by Neil Brookes, with the final mastering at WildGoose studios. The artwork and design is by Tony Weatherall. You might be interested to know that Neil is the nephew of Sam Steele who collected in East Anglia in the 1960s ? particularly Walter & Daisy Bulwer. He is obviously keeping the family tradition alive here. Having recently been to a workshop at Chester Folk Festival (it was packed!) to hear Neil and Tony talk about the research, selection, arrangement and recording of the tunes I was very impressed by the scholarship and dedication put into getting this CD published and available to a wide audience.

You might expect 200?year?old tunes to be a bit staid and stuffy. Not these! There is a lightness of touch . and musical sensitivity here in this duo which may surprise those who consider these tunes should be played on authentic period instruments ? a melodeon being anachronistic in early 19th century music. I defy such folks to listen to Tony's playing on the Hanley Hornpipe and the Kerry March or La Belle Jeanette on one-row and retain their point of view. The tunes transfer to modern ceilidh instruments perfectly. Just listen to The Shropshire Hero named after Lord Rowland Hill, one of Wellington's generals played by Neil double-tracking on on fiddle and octave fiddle lovely stuff!

Although the manuscripts had little in the way of harmonic indications, Tony and Neil have brought the tunes alive with a sparkle and gaiety that just beg to be danced to. There is swing a?plenty and impeccable timing. I confess that our ceilidh band has already appropriated some of the tunes. I am willing to bet that there will be a great dissemination of Shropshire tunes throughout the ceilidh circuit in the coming years as a result of this wonderful CD.