Talking Elephant reissue OX15; the second solo album from the sadly missed multi-instrumentalist and former Fairport Convention & Jethro Tull man Maartin Allcock.
Release Date: 6th August 2021
Label: Talking Elephant
Well – I really don’t know ihow this one managed to pass me by when it was first released back in 1999, but it did. OX15 was the second solo album from the former Fairport Convention multi-instrumentalist, Maartin Allcock, and it’s a stunning album, a work of great beauty.
Recorded a couple of years after Maart’s sudden departure from Fairport, the album’s title refers, of course, to the postcode of the district to the south-west of Banbury – often referred to as The Folk/Rock Belt – that encompasses Maart’s (then) home village of Barford St. Michael and the location of the two studios in which the album was put together. The album was a belated follow-up to Maart’s well-received 1990 self-titled solo debut and his maturation as a composer, musician and even vocalist is evident and breathtaking.
And there was no stinting in the selection of guests invited to contribute to the album; with Ian Anderson, Chris Leslie, Gerry Conway, Clive Bunker, Simon Mayor, Troy Donockley, Anna Frazer, Chris Haigh, Nic France, Maart’s wife Gill and, probably best of all, Najma Akhtar, all helping out, the album’s dramatis personae reads like a who’s who of folk/rock, and, what’s more, every contribution is of the highest quality.
Maart was, of course, a masterful and versatile musician. Classically trained in Leeds and Huddersfield, he possessed the rare and enviable ability to read a music score and immediately hear not just one instrument but the entire orchestra play in his head. His musical career started as the double bass player in the Lancashire Schools Orchestra and went on to include adventures with Mike Harding and The Bully Wee Band, before culminating in an eleven-year tour of duty with Fairport and a place in the line-up of Jethro Tull.
In the years beyond OX15, he released further solo albums and collaborated with a plethora of other performers – people as diverse as Sally Barker, Kieran Halpin and Dave Swarbrick to Ade Edmondson’s Bad Shepherds and The Bar-Steward Sons of Val Doonican. He sadly and prematurely passed away in September 2018 after managing one final appearance at his beloved Cropredy Festival.
On OX15, Maart’s musical versatility is there for all to see. He plays a whole range of keyboards, acoustic and electric guitars, electric and double bass, piano, percussion and his self-christened bouzar, an instrument that combines a bouzouki and a guitar. The production is spot-on and the album’s welcome reappearance is a timely and fitting tribute to one of this country’s most accomplished yet under-rated musicians.
Things get off to blistering start with Diachovo Chara, a composition that Maart based upon a Bulgarian tune. With its 9/8 time signature, Maart described the piece as a “traditional pint-spilling tune.” The wonderful interaction between the principal instruments – electric guitar, fiddle, mandolin and uilleann pipes – give spine-tingling notice of the pleasures to come…
Ian Anderson joins the fray for the Jethro Tull-like Whenever We See The Dark, a rare song from Maart’s usually instrumental-packed compositional pen. Maart makes full use of the sound effects function on his Roland keyboard on the hilarious Crash Polka, although hidden amongst the various “funny noises” there’s a nice, danceable, tune that emerges from Maart’s bouzar and Anna Frazer’s cello.
The delightful Watermarks was originally composed as a commission from Sony, as an accompaniment to their Playstation game The Book of Watermarks. It’s a beautiful tune, highlighted by some imaginative touches on the bass guitar. Things then start to get really interesting with the version of Allan Taylor’s Chimes at Midnight. Gerry Conway provides some typically wonderful percussion behind Maart’s slightly ominous keyboard theme but the real surprise package is a marvelous vocal from Gill Allcock that, had we not been told otherwise, I would have assumed to have been delivered by Jacqui McShee. Talk about hiding your light under a bushel!!
It appears that it was Maart’s good mate Fergus Feely who came up with the idea of a medley that combines the Allman Brothers’ Jessica with a set of Irish tunes. Whatever… Jessica/The Wind That Shakes The Barley is a triumph – the twin fiddles of Chris’s Haigh and Leslie take the lead on an exhilarating experiment that really works! Maart’s instrumental piece, Untitled was composed to raise contributions to the Deddington Church Roof Fund and, appropriately, starts with a recording of the chiming church bell. Maart’s keyboard carries the chimes forward before the tune blossoms fiddle and guitar extravaganza that typifies, in many ways, Maart’s compositional style.
Chris Leslie demonstrates his own diversity by contributing percussion, as well as violin, to Kieran Halpin’s Simple, a laid-back song with great lyrics that takes us into the home straight. Maart, Chris, Gerry and Clive Bunker combine on Bean A’Tí Ar Lár, a set of Irish tunes that starts gently then builds into a frantic Celtic finale, with Clive’s bodhràn playing a starring role, before we’re treated to another of Maart’s eastern European pastiches, the Macedonian-inspired Sand Dancer. A highlight of a highlight-packed album, Sand Dancer features just Maart on piano, Simon Mayor on mandolin and Anna Frazer (a former co-alumni of the Lancashire Shcools Orchestra) on cello, and it’s simply divine.
Things get even better with A Dream, a co-composition between Maart and the excellent, genre-spanning singer Najmar Akhtar. Najmar delivers an awesome vocal on a track that I personally consider to be the album’s best, managing to sound both British and Indian at the same time – a quality she emphasizes by singing the last verse and chorus in Urdu. And if that’s not enough cross-cultural refinement for you, Troy Donockley’s whistle provides a Celtic dimension as well. Simply breathtaking!
After the delights of A Dream, anything would be an anti-climax, so Maart lets us down gently with the short, simple, Elementary to close the album. Another Playstation tune, it’s a soft, pastoral piece that Maart plays on acoustic guitar and a double bass (borrowed from Dave Pegg) and which Gerry supports with more of his exquisite trademark percussion.
OX15 is a wonderful album. Many thanks are due to Talking Elephant for making it available again and, if like me, you contrived to miss it first time around, don’t be caught out again. This album is a must-have for anyone with an interest in folk, folk/rock or just well-structured, well-played high-quality music.
Watch the video to Sand Dancer, a track from the album, here:
Gill Allcock: Website