Amy Thatcher creates a squeezebox paean to her premature twins for when words are not enough.
Release date: 17th November 2021
Label: Self released
Format: CD/ Digital (Bandcamp)
When considering the pitfalls of being a touring musician, how many, I wonder, routinely factor in the risk of going into premature labour? For this is what happened to ace accordionist, Amy Thatcher, two years ago. Whilst touring with all female band, The Shee, in Germany, her twin children made an unexpected early bid for freedom, a full 11 weeks ahead of full term. Hence, I guess the title, but it refers also to the difficulty she had in trying to explain her feelings, not only around that event but the subsequent challenges of being the mother to two such tiny tots. A single premature child is one thing, two quite another when you already have a toddler to care for, let alone being some 1500 odd miles from home. These four tunes came out as a way of ‘explaining’ the experience.
Thatcher is a powerhouse on her chosen instrument, a member not only of the Shee, but also of the Darkening, Kathryn Tickell’s supergroup reinvigorating the Northumbrian tradition, and the Monster Ceilidh Band. And not content with merely blurring the boundaries between traditional and contemporary musics, she and Tickell are performing a Celtic Christmas next month in Brighton, a collaboration with and commission from the Brighton Philharmonic Orchestra. She is also an accomplished clog dancer. Quite when she found time to cut these four tracks is uncertain, but she has and we should be delighted.
Opener, Look At You Now, is dedicated to her twins, and starts with a piano and synthesiser tones, a clattering of electronic percussion behind, ahead of the entry of a contrastingly gentle accordion air, the frantic clatter remaining, before her voice, gently crooning a wordless lullaby, closes the proceedings. Indicative of the gamut of emotions involved: panic and contentment vying for attention, needing lulling in just the same way as do the babies themselves. Nee Musette, Pet follows, with Thatcher describing it as a geordie parody of the bal-musette style of music and dance of late 19th century Paris. Be that as it may, no bagpipes were harmed in this tune, the musette also being a French bellows driven bagpipe, and it is one of those gloriously complex melodies, all counterpoint and syncopation, that show off the full capabilities of the accordion. If the instrument were first derived to replace the expense of hiring a full orchestra, I like to think of it as a prototype synthesiser. Totally unaccompanied, this solo piece is a wonder.
Electronic birdsong ushers in the thoughtful and stately Unheard, dedicated likewise thereto, piano chipping in at the edges, having altogether a symphonic vibe as swathes of synthesiser add to the overall ambience, gradually building into a slow rhythmic energy. Which in no way prepares you for Finn’s Reel, a whimsy of folktronica, beats and programming courtesy Joe Truswell, Thatcher’s accordion dancing over the lively background. One I can imagine enlivening any concert performance; to get the full effect at home, I suspect you need to ramp up the volume and have someone flicking on and off the lights. Unexpected after the relative solemnity of the earlier tracks, I can imagine she and her partner, one babe apiece, jigging joyfully as this blares out the speakers.
I dare say it may be a while before she can flesh this out into a fuller album, but, all in all, plenty to be getting on with in the meantime. She, appropriately enough, launches this release on World Prematurity Day, on the 17th of November, a free event in Newcastle’s High Bridge Works. Details here.
Here’s Amy playing with Fran Knowles: