Colin Irwin of fRoots
reviews Swan for the Money by The Old Swan BandThere's something reassuringly warm and familiar about the Old Swan Band. You know that, just as everything seems alright with the world while we still have the Shipping Forecast and Test Match Special, Old Swan represent a solid building block for English dance music... something of trust and good cheer to raise a beam of recognition if not an unseemly romp around the kitchen with Jim the postman.
Way back when, they did after all offer almost lone resistance to the remorseless march of Celtic music, championing and laying the groundwork for a wider appreciation of English tunes, leading to the more fashionable era in which we currently luxuriate not that they've been exactly prolific in the years since their first foray into the recording studio with the landmark No Reels in 1976. This is only their sixth album and their first since Swan Upmanship celebrated their 30th anniversary in 2004, but by now they sure as hell know what they're doing and yep, there's that big, bright, breezy, chunky sound and a confident wave of fiddles distinctively undercut by growly dollops of brass and a dashing array of cracking tunes. There's even another classic Tony Hall illustration on the sleeve to complement another excruciating title pun, so who, frankly, could ask for anything more?
Certainly the gang's all here the Fraser sisters on fiddle and sax, Paul Burgess, Flos Headford, John Adams, Neil Gledhill, Heather Horsley (supplying the lovely basic piano tempo at the root of it all) and Martin Brinsford on harmonica and occasionally unexpected percussion that even includes a jaunty hammering of skulls and cymbals on the joyous Queen's Jig/Basque Jig and they are clearly having a ball. There's no concession to modern technology or fancy techniques, and nor would we want it as they revisit a lot of early favourites Walter Bulwer's 2 & 1, Dashing White Sergeant/Brighton Camp, The Woodcutter's Jig/The Swedish Dance, Gloucestershire Hornpipe and The Matelot/Michael Turner's Jig among them.
They do spread their wings on the busy Quebecois reel Grand Chain, which neatly segues into Jo Freya's tune Grommet, while another highlight sees the stately pipe march Earl Of Mansfield gambol winningly into Bobby shaftoe, informative sleeve notes giving detailed provenance of each track.
It's fun. So smile, dance, throw the teapot out of the window. A carefree English folk institution bounds happily on...