Alex Monaghan of Folkworld
reviews Swan for the Money by The Old Swan BandIt's comforting to know that in today's music world of studio-sculpted perfection and ethnic pick'n'mix there's still room for The Old Swan Band. Formed in the mid seventies, the heyday of English Country Music, this eight-piece outfit has retained its original blend of authentic English rural music with bits of brass and Britpop. From the decade which spawned bands such as Umps & Dumps, Flowers & Frolics, Gas Mark 5 and the English Country Blues Band, when much of England was listening to electric morris dancing, The Old Swan Band included such influential figures as Rod and Danny Stradling, Jo Freya and Fi Fraser. The Stradlings have long since departed, but Jo and Fi are still part of the band's core.
The Old Swan Band has been fronted by three fiddles since the eighties - a powerful sound, but I still miss the buzz and wheeze of the melodeon from their first LP. About half the material here has been recorded on previous albums, not necessarily with the same line-up. I definitely don't miss the rustic monologues which used to accompany the tunes: there are no vocals at all on this release, a boon indeed. Fans of the band will find their memories jogged by Walter Bulwer's, The Sloe, The Swedish Dance and other tunes collected in southern England. New additions come from farther afield: a couple of Clare polkas, the stirring Scottish march The Earl of Mansfield, and Quebec's La Grande Chaine which works really well on triple fiddles. There are also several of the band's own tunes, many (like the band itself) named after pubs: The Vine Tree and The Woodcutters may be familiar, Grommet less so.
The clash of the tambourine, the ringing of the triangle, and the sound of a shakey egg in the hands of a master: these are an integral part of the Old Swan Band's charm, just as much as the pumping sax basslines and the eccentric trombone harmonies. There's piano and whistles in the mix too, and the band seems to have broadened its sound to embrace all that was good about 1970s English music.
For nostalgia, or just curiosity, if not for the outrageous pun in the title, Swan for the Money is worth a listen.