Lewis Wood – Footwork: Album Review

Fiddle, frets and feet together for a frenzy of hornpipes and jigs to fill your ears and find your interest.

Release date: 25th April 2022

Label: Grimdon

Format: CD/digital (via Bandcamp)

You dancing? You asking? I’m asking. I’m dancing. And so it goes, but the ceremony of folk dance is always a bit different. God forbid you wall flower, or the caller will have you duly shamed and paraded out into the collide of the ceilidh. Of course, it isn’t just communal careering around the dance floor, there is also the exhibition dance, born of ritual, the morris, the molly, the clog and step, many and varied traditions of each. Folk music and folk dance are inextricably linked, whether you like it or not. As it happens, I do, and moved from listening to Morris On to joining a side, retaining a fondness for all aspects related, enjoying still the nods offered thereto by some of the stalwarts of the scene. Fairport Convention had a brief offshoot as the Fairport Ceilidh Band, drawing Beryl and Roger Marriott into their ranks. Current member Chris Leslie makes no secret of his morris roots. Plus the Oyster Band, of course, started life as the Oyster Ceilidh Band, so let’s not dismiss this as a mere heritage leftover of the past, forgetting neither how Rachel and Becky Unthank take to the hardboard during most concerts.

Lewis Wood knows this. As the fiddle player for the impossibly young yet seasoned trio, Granny’s Attic, he and his cohorts have been enlivening age-old tunes and songs as if their lives depended on it, all to our better good. Maybe less well known than their striking Struwelpeter headed concertina maestro, Cohen Braithwaite-Kilcoyne, his playing is an impressive mix of the taught and the intuitive. Here he has chosen to celebrate dance, with a bevy of new tunes, each written for existing styles and traditions. And, rather than have you merely imagine the dancers, pride of place is given to the audible presence of a team of dancers, who, individually and collectively, provide the percussive spring to this recording. With the sleeve notes giving extensive background, into lesser known styles, who knows, like Morris On, this may provoke and promote a whole new generation of dancers. Included also is the mysterious world of rapper, those sword dances that always intrigue me, even if having proven well outwith my limited capabilities and contortions.

The project kicks off with a lively polka, The Third Wednesday, Wood running through the tune first ahead the tell-tale tap of feet on wood, like a team of bodhrans all competing for the same space. Wood is here on violin, and it is an enticing tune. He then switches to five string banjo for a Lancashire hornpipe, Mel’s Hornpipe, after the owner of the dancing feet involved. Fiddle slots in after a few rounds and, shut your eyes, you could have a beer in your hand, such is your foot a’tapping.

Rapper expects a fast melody to guide through its intricacy, and the jigs here, 10 Things To Do In August, are all of that. Three dancers are represented in this one, one being Wood himself. The notes reveal how they layered the piece in different shoes, so as to give momentum. You can hear the metal of the swords striking, I think, unless that is the muscle memory of imagination. Double tracked fiddle provides the soundtrack, with a part two that switches into a solo jig, in clogs, a clog dance. The listener learns, again from the notes, that jigs and clog dancing seldom ever met in days gone by, it being an example of the ongoing evolution in folk dance, proving it again not dead, encompassing also aspects from contemporary US step dancing.

Continuing to broaden my knowledge, the next tunes, Trip To Middleton/Three Men On A Pink Stool, were written for the step dance tradition of Devon, brought back from near death as recently as the mid-1980s. Typically played fast, as hornpipes, this is a style finding much favour currently across the county. Melodeon and concertina provide the main propulsion on this one, played by Matt Quinn (Dovetail Trio). Slightly slower come a pair of waltzes, Maybe/Above The Ground, for north eastern clog, Wood giving it some jaunty on fiddle, it sounding redolent (to me) of the dance bands that feature in those Sunday night Thomas Hardy BBC adaptations of yore, however much the wrong part of the country by a fair distance. That mood trickles over into the next set, The Appreciated Violin. I was unfamiliar with Southern Step Dancing, it being handed down largely by the Traveller community, with more emphasis on improvisation than rigid adherence to structure, the sense born that the dancer leads the way, the musicians playing as long as the dancer lasts, extending the rounds as necessary.

Pakefield Polka is, surprise, surprise, another polka, for the equivalently Traveller maintained East Anglian tradition. it sounds like full-on Etchingham Steam Band for this one, missing only Shirley Collins adding vocals and Tyger’s bass, but is just Wood and Quinn. And a pair of feet, that sound positively like castanets. Suspension of Belief then capers back cross country to the North East, for some more clog, the intricacy of the tune reflecting, apparently, the intricacy of the stepwork. Guitar and fiddle give it a nice feel of syncopation, both played by Wood, presumably not at the same time.

As we begin to glow with the imagined exertion, Soup Of The Night, shock, horror, goes electric; full on Albion Band, if you will and to extend the metaphor. Duelling brogues might be the subtitle here, as the dancers were here given full rein to improvise to this triple-time hornpipe. A lovely track with a spooky treated midsection that would do Ric Sanders proud. I am also quite keen of the Jaws Harp effect from, I’m guessing, the guitar. All instruments here are, again, Wood. Kick Down The Door/Kairos is one of those bouncy melodies that sound part of the/a classical tradition, and is a Lakeland hornpipe buoyed along by fiddle(s). Some nice gaps allow the footwork to add in some fills, and it is a lively finale, with a whiff of Captain Pugwash about the gills. Except it isn’t the end, an uncredited track 11 unexpectedly closing the show. After the tutelage offered, I should be able to guess the style and steps. But, being a mere mortal…. Never mind, it fades after a minute and some, and rounds off this delightful project.

I suppose it all might sound a bit specialist, a bit niche, and, for sure, it will certainly appeal to the throngs who fill the dance tents across all the folk festivals at this time of year. But that shouldn’t put off the dyspraxics with two left feet, like me, as there is a wealth also of melody to weave between your ears. All in all, an intriguing and worthwhile exercise, and one to be applauded. It is hard to believe this was all recorded separately and remotely, Wood alone in Worcester, adding then in the additional instrumentation of Quinn, recorded in Sheffield, ahead the dancers joining on from further afield, in Southampton. Full credit, obviously, to Melanie Barber, Toby Bennett, Lynette Eldon, Lisa Sture and Simon and Jo Harmer, for their feet and what they can do with them. The project will hit the road in September, all playing and all dancing.

Here’s Kick Down The Door, featuring Wood an the dancing of Toby Bennett:

Lewis Wood online: website

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