Leveret – Forms: Album Review

Sublime structured spontaneity continues to be the calling card of power trio, Cutting, Harbron and Sweeney.

Release Date: 21st April 2023

Label: self-released

Format: CD / digital (bandcamp)

Anyone with half a hare brain will know what a leveret is. But how many will know that forms are the lairs or nests they live in? I didn’t, but I do now. What I do know, however, a reminder, really, is that this unassuming power trio are the bee’s knees of the business. Power trio? Two squeezers and a fiddle? You clearly ain’t heard ’em in full pelt then, for their mighty hedge of sound is more than capable of scattering the birds and scaring any timid horse. A wondrous melodic din. And to celebrate their 10 years of existence, Messrs. Cutting, Harbron and Sweeney have made this belter, their fifth studio album of all new material.

Do the band need an introduction? Andy Cutting, melodeon magician across any number of platforms, Blowzabella and Topette! to name but two, Rob Harbron, concertina king in The Full English and the guest of many a great, are they, together with Sam Sweeney, fiddle fandangist, with time also in Bellowhead and The Full English, but now an established solo performer, with his own band. (We like Sam.)

New material can mean a number of things to Leveret. They famously seldom rehearse, preferring to just start playing. So whether the start point is a staple of the trad.arr. canon, a 15th-century hymn or just the spark of an idea, the chances of getting the same result each time is slim. Which is how the live album, Variations Live, came to be anything other than a bland recreation of what they did earlier. So knowing this is a mix of old with some new, is immaterial, with any join well nigh indiscernible.

Bass Hornpipe jumps out the traps, much as it says on the tin, a low(er) register dance, controlled and stateley, with still enough spring in the step to lighten a heart and bring on, at the very least a smile. The interplay, as ever, is mercurial, the three instruments weaving in and around each other, each bobbing in and out the mainframe focus. Had any doubt existed as to their shine having dulled any, already and easily that is dispelled. For those that need to, it’s an “old”, the gist having been written by a Rev. Thomas Cowper in 1770, so a grand old tune. Filberts is then brand new, written by Harbron, a wistful air that has his accompanists apply atmospheric widescreen polish to his lead playing. A beauty of a piece, as it unfolds, so the background becomes indelibly drawn into the fore. (Is that dust in my eye?)

To many, melodeons mean Morris, and so it is with Blacksmith’s Morris, paired with Queen’s March they then process. I don’t think I ever danced to this tune, but I can certainly sense how the steps might go. I swear the shake of a bellpad is deep in the mix, possibly an auditory hallucination, so redolent is it of a balmy May morning, before it segues into John Clare’s (1793 – 1864) celebratory composition. A set of four continues, starting off with Woodstock Bower, Sweeney’s playing here the initial thrust, before Cutting joins him in harmony, Harbron pulling broad sweeps to add balance. This too comes from the Clare collection, along with third tune Scarlet And Green, with Harbron’s Alvins bridging the two. That bridge has him picking up the cudgel to link the three pieces, before Sweeney again takes charge, in his adaptation of the traditional Nelson’s Maggot, it all becoming a marvellous ensemble swirl. At a full 11 minutes long, this is quite the epic.(I feel I should add that maggot, in the context of folk dance, means more a fanciful idea than anything lurking in Horatio’s socket.)

Cotillion gives time for a breather; some of this music is as exhausting to listen to as to dance. Sounding new, this is another from three centuries back, the melodeon like a church organ, as Harbron and Sweeney pirouet together, the whole a glorious sway. If the title A Good Hornpipe begs the question as to what a bad one may be, don’t all shout out, merely luxuriate in the gradual swell of the ocean the trio conjure up. And whoever said a hornpipe had to be frantic? On balance, it is these slower and more thoughtful pieces that Leveret truly excel, even if the next fast one may have those words duly eaten. The layers here are just sublime. A fast one, you say? Princess Amelia’s Birthday, coupled with A Habit Of Hills is that, at least once she gets going, Amelia being the youngest daughter of George III, his fifteenth. I can well imagine the monarch cavorting, straight-faced, to this, wig a’flapping, powder melting down his face. Habit is a tune by Cutting that feeds off the original, becoming a little less structured and formal.

Untitled Waltz is a controlled and elegant construction, melodeon again pealing like a pipe organ, as Harbron lays down a magisterial lead, ahead of Sweeney, literally, bowing in with the same melody. The build is so balanced as to beguile, The Derby Hunt the jollier swagger that it leaps into. Oh The Days When I Was Young/Young Collins Rant perpetuates the lighter side of proceedings, lifting my hopes that the rant may be associated with Young Collins, the Morris tune. (A: Uncertain, but not impossible, but in the right field, if credited, I think, to one Samuel Dickson.) Which leaves only time for Mr. Lanes Minuet, arguably the oldest tune here, from Playford’s English Dancing Master. A regal air, full of pomp and ceremony, wouldn’t this be just the job for King, next month, rather than the likely selection of usual culprits? Which is a thought to close with, this accomplished set of virtuosi doing more to keep the dance music of old England alive than many a modern day Master of the Kings Music.

So, another triumph is the verdict here. The fact that it is recorded by Neil Ferguson again, their live sound man and, thus, likely the only person to be trusted with their intricate connections, must surely make him their 4th member. Great sound, wondrous playing; what’s not to like, English instrumental music at its zenith. Go. Buy. Dance.

Here’s the blunderbuss opener, Bass Hornpipe:

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