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Mike Wild of Stirrings

reviews Swan for the Money by The Old Swan Band

It was a pleasure to get this for review. The cover by Tony Hall (“who is as daft as the band”) of a swan in a Ted suit with a Tony Curtis haircut and a ducktail by a jukebox is a classic. The Old Swans kickstarted a new approach to communal dancing in the ‘70s and their Free Reed records were worn out and still form the staple fare of many “English” melodeon-driven sessions.
I wanted to see where they have got to and are going and was not disappointed. In the time since the Southern English Country Music revolution and reaction to “Celtic” domination we have had much research work on other regional English music and tunes from many sources and media and traditional functional music styles have re-evolved through the ‘90s and on to the present. Our own region has been important in the process with local collections such as the South Riding Collections.

The record reflects this and feels much like what one feels a village hop would have been in the heyday of social dancing in assembly rooms as well as village halls. Not quite Pride And Prejudice but the same era—and much more fiddle-driven, and here we have three such players, Fi Fraser, Paul Burgess and Flos Headford, and Martin Brinsford’s harmonica giving that drive with John Adams’ trombone and Brinsford’s unique percussion to ground it. Neil Gledhill and Jo Freya on saxes give it added oompah and Heather Horsley vamps away on piano, a worthy successor on the Joanna to the late great Beryl Marriott. You don’t notice a lack of the once ubiquitous melodeons.

Friends of the much-loved and greatly missed Barry Callaghan will recognise many tunes that are in his Hard Core English collection, and there are echoes of other sources and great bands playing in this way now the ‘70s lumpishness has been lifted for lively dancing.

All I can do is list some of the lovely tunes from the thirty--odd played. I expect to be playing some tonight in the sessions and village pubs after I have posted this to the Editor, at the Swaledale Squeeze if all goes well. Look out for The Queens’ Jig, Staffordshire Hornpipe, The Sloe, Michael Turner’s Jig, The Rose, Grand Chain, The Vine Tree, JB Milne etc.

As Ian Anderson of fRoots wrote, Old Swan “play like a well oiled machine...in more ways than one”. Well, they do and can, so long may they reign.