Pill Pilots is the follow up to the Kit Hawes and Aaron Catlow’s debut recording, The Fox; can the duo live up to Mark Radcliffe’s claim that the duo is “reminiscent of Martin Carthy and Dave Swarbrick.”
Release Date: 28th February 2020
Label: Big Badger Records
Formats: CD, DL
That’s quite some claim from Mr Radcliffe, who should know his folk music stuff. Having said that, maybe we’ll have to wait some forty years down the line to see if Kat and Aaron have really deserved his acclaim, or whether it was just attention-seeking bluster. Should the latter be the case, it may well be, as the title song says, “Damn the rascal and throw him overboard.”
There’s no doubt that if you scroll down and take a listen to I Know My Love that it’s a lovely song and as skillfully performed a traditional song (originally Irish and inspired via their own Appalachian travels) that you’ll find. In fact, as far as album highlights go, you’ll be pushed to find anything better amidst the further eight tracks.
But rewind briefly to clarify the puzzle of the album title, that refers to the group of highly-skilled mariners, who for over a thousand years guided tall ships through the treacherous waters of the Bristol Channel and the River Avon. Check the clues on the album art.
The album was recorded live in a single room and celebrates the time-honoured relationship between the fiddle and guitar. It’s reinforced in the up close and personal opening of The Yellow Handkerchief – Bellowhead mourners will recognise the Flash Company aspect.
Traditional narratives? You ‘ve got them with The Sheepfold telling of the squire using his power to seduce the milkmaid and the Cecil Sharp collected (and Martin Carthy influenced – you can sense his spirit in the delivery) Flames Of Fire. A song that recollects one of those familiar unfaithful sailors pursued by the ghost of his deceased lover.
The tunes sets, as expected, offer a series of delights. Kellaways develops into a lively guitar/fiddle duet that crosses swords with some funky guitar chops. The stately opening to Warreners similarly shifts gears in the same fashion as the concluding set of small pipes tunes Hacky Honey/Lads Of Alnwick
Some topical relevance, as always, comes in the 18th Century ballad, Hard Times Of Old England. Emotive, stark and touching, it’s not so much a sign of the times, but a sign of our times.
The duo has paid their dues with the likes of Seth Lakeman, Roni Size and the Afro Celts, but as a musical pairing, they seem to be finding a real empathy. Pill Pilots shows a certain ease and understanding (and add to that a strong element of exultation) of how they fit together as they apply their craft. Let’s be bold and hint that it might even rank beyond the Radcliffe prediction if we say it’s almost as if they were born to create music together.
Watch the opening track of the album, I Know My Love, here: