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David Kidman of Netrythms

reviews Sea Strands by Tim Laycock

It’s been a very long time since Tim’s last solo album (True Colours), but to be fair he’s kept himself more than fully occupied with the New Scorpion Band, not to mention his active parallel career in the theatre as an actor/musician of some repute. For this new collection of songs and tunes with associations to Dorset (where he lives), Tim has enlisted the services of fiddle/viola player Colin Thompson (with whom he’d worked on the 2007 WildGoose disc of Hampshire Dance Tunes), fellow-New Scorpion Band member Robin Jeffrey (Victorian and alto guitars, mandolin, laouto, percussion), and Gabriel Laycock (12-string guitar), to flesh out the already quite sumptuous sound of his own duet concertina, melodeon and harmonica.

Tim, who’s also an excellent singer by the way, has long been recognised as a particularly sensitive and thoughtful interpreter of traditional song with a winning way with original compositions in the idiom, while he has a real gift for researching and preparing for performance his chosen repertoire. Which in this case is a well-balanced hour-long programme that contains some surprises nestled in the midst of its partially-familiar tracklisting. This “courtly” version of Write Me Down, for instance, which comes from the singing of Joseph Elliott from Todber, North Dorset, and an unusually jolly-sounding John Barleycorn (which was, bravely, collected by the Hammond brothers whilst on a cycling trip!).

The Turtle Dove takes the “collated” version from the pages of Frank Purslow’s Marrowbones volume, which itself was based around the brothers’ manuscript collections, from which emanate several other songs with distinctive and beautiful melodies, notably the closing item on the disc (the delightful Farewell She, from the singing of Marina Russell of Upwey near Weymouth). Outside of the source material from the Dorset song collections, Sea Strands contains three of Tim’s own settings: that of dialect poet William Barnes’ evocative The Bwoat is as gently compelling as that of Hardy’s The Night Of Trafalgar is melodiously stirring, and perhaps unexpectedly both of these eclipse the lengthier ballad Death In The Nut, which takes its inspiration from Duncan Williamson’s story. The CD’s menu also intersperses three life-affirming tune-sets that are full of enjoyable touches and neat textural contrasts.

Putting it simply, this is a wholly engaging disc, supremely well planned and performed, sympathetically recorded and well annotated: a veritable model of what a folk CD should ideally aspire to.