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David Kidman of Folk Roundabout

reviews Swan for the Money by The Old Swan Band

What can a reviewer say about this intensely feelgood disc, other than it’s a 100% delight that keeps a big grin on your face from start to finish…? It’s one to convince the unbelievers that there is life in dance music, and that a whole 51 minutes of dance tunes can provide a scintillating and uplifting listening experience. For it’s an encapsulation of all the OSB does best, and delivers exactly what it promises in the most reassuring of manners – presenting the finest of tunes, (mostly but not exclusively) traditional in origin, chosen with care and imagination from the hidden recesses of the English dance repertoire and interspersed with tried-and-tested old favourites that have been in their collective repertoire for donkey’s years, all ingeniously arranged in what has become known as the unmistakable Old Swan style. That means ultra-spirited phrasing from experienced musicians who really understand the idiom and aren’t afraid to bring in elements of their own personalities (yet always in the service of the music); seriously together ensemble playing from musicians who are totally steeped in playing for the dance; an unerring feel for texture, pace and dynamics; all blessed with naturally bouncy, chunky rhythms that support rather than mask the wealth of gleeful incidental detail within the playing. The driving fiddle front-line of Fi Fraser, Paul Burgess and Flos Headford is augmented by Martin Brinsford’s spicy harmonica and Jo Freya’s colourful versatility on various saxes and whistles, while the trademark gloriously galumphing “fat” brass section (John Adams’ trombone and Neil Gledhill’s bass sax) is sweetened by Heather Horsley’s wonderfully pointed piano continuo, and last but defiantly not least Martin B’s signature all-over-the-shop percussion is as always in a class of its own. As for the repertoire, well I’ll bet you won’t hear a more invigorating take on dance-floor chestnuts Brighton Camp and The Sloe, while newer compositions like Flos’s marvellous Woodcutter’s Jig prove there’s plenty of life in the old tune-dogs yet! And they tirelessly reinvent the traditional “set” concept through creative combinations like Jo’s finale tune Grommet arising out of the rumba-esque Quebequoise reel Grande Châine (which may sound an unusual companion but which we learn has sneaked into the English session via Northumbrian pipers!). Everyone is clearly having a real good time, and the listener is carried along in a parade of flowery frolics that range from strict-tempo Jimmy Shand to cavorting cajun, down-home rock’n’roll to trusty rustic rumbustiousness. No individual set outstays its welcome (OK, one or two are even just a tad short!). The sleeve notes are a paragon of their kind, with an abundantly satisfying amount of detail on the provenance of the tunes that manages at the same time to be of interest to non-tune-anoraks (did you know the connection between Bobby Shaftoe and the Abbots Bromley Horn Dance?)! And the brilliant Tony Hall cartoons give exactly the right flavour to the whole beautifully punningly-titled package; octopus on the jukebox, anyone?!…