Filkin’s Drift – Rembard’s Retreat: EP Review (and tour news…)

A delightful short collection of tunes and songs from Anglo-Welsh duo Filkin’s Drift – and news of a very special carbon-clear tour!

Release Date:  3rd September 2023

Label: Self release

Formats: CD, Download, Streaming

Readers who keep a keen eye on happenings within the folk scene across the UK will probably be aware of Filkins Drift – they’ve been building quite a name for themselves just recently and news of their forthcoming adventures has already found its way onto our pages…

Gloucestershire fiddler Seth Bye and Cardiff-born guitarist Chris Roberts first met in Birmingham, where they continue to base themselves, and they work either as a duo – Filkin’s Drift – or, particularly at festivals, as a broader collective – Filkin’s Ensemble – that draws in the talents of vocalist Ellie Gowers, plus the presence of brass and woodwind.  It’s the duo to which our attention is currently focused.

Seth is a fiddler and composer of considerable ability.  Alongside the Filkin’s enterprises, he also plays with Balkan band The Destroyers and has toured – playing accordion and banjo alongside his fiddle – with the band that provides the music for Cal McCrystal’s Giffords Circus, a show that visits village greens the length and breadth of the UK each summer.  Chris is a guitar maestro who also tours with Tanita Tikaram when he isn’t otherwise occupied.  Rembard’s Retreat is the duo’s debut release in their Filkin’s Drift guise.

What makes Rembard’s Retreat particularly notable and creditable – apart from the stunning music contained within its grooves, that is – is the adventure that the guys have chosen to undertake in order to launch the EP.  The EP’s release coincides with the start of an 870-mile walking tour around the Welsh Coastal Path, from Connah’s Quay to Chepstow, during which the duo will be stopping off to play 40 shows at 40 different venues, including in churches, chapels, bookshops, museums – even folk clubs.  Anywhere that they can, really.  Their itinerary even includes a concert in an Anglesey chapel, accessible only by foot and at low tide.  The full itinerary for the tour can be found here, and you can watch Seth and Chris explain more about the rationale for taking such a novel approach to touring here:

The duo have dubbed their walking tour CERDD//ED, for reasons that will, no doubt, be blindingly obvious to Welsh speakers but, perhaps, less so to the rest of us.  In fact, Cerdd is the Welsh word for Music, and Cerdded means To walk.  Get it?  And, you know?  I love this novel approach to touring and I really hope that it catches on.  It’s a thoroughly admirable and exciting way to combine two great passions – music and walking – and to take some wonderful music to so many people without releasing a gramme of CO2.  And, best of all, Seth and Chris will collecting new songs as they make their way around the Welsh periphery AND they’ll be raising money for the Live Music Now charity, a cause that is close to both their hearts.

But, back to Rembard’s Retreat, a six-track EP that mixes band compositions and arrangements with Filkin’s Drift’s interpretations of a couple of well-known songs and tunes.  Seth and Chris are stunning musicians, and the EP is an enjoyable and engaging shop-window for their talents.

Fiddle air Just Yesterday Morning sets the scene.  Seth’s fiddle leaps and skips and Chris provides a percussive guitar accompaniment, and the effect is a light, airy tune that evokes the very coastal landscapes that the pair will soon be crossing during their walking adventure.  Just as light and airy is Annabel’s Jig, a tune that Seth composed for a friend he met whilst touring with Giffords Circus.  Chris’s light-touch guitar parts sound almost like a harp, before fiddle and guitar build towards the tune’s swirling crescendo.

The phrase Clywai’r Tabwrdd translates as Hear the Drum, and it’s the title of a poem written in 1826 by one T.I.Williams, a soldier in The Royal Welsh Fusiliers.  Seth and Chris have set the poem to music – to a melody called Can Aberhonddu (Song of Brecon) – and the resulting song is a farewell ballad to the town of Brecon (a town that will not be visited during the forthcoming tour, because it’s not on the coast…).  Now, I don’t speak Welsh, but listening to a song like this one makes me want to learn; Seth and Chris share the vocals and their pleasant voices are complemented perfectly by Seth’s scattered violin parts and Chris’s surging guitar runs.

Rembard’s Retreat, the collection’s glorious title track, takes its name from a smallholding at a Cotswold Manor that was managed by an Abbot named – you guessed it – Rembard.  The two tunes that make up the piece were composed, by Seth and Chris, in the walled garden that is the only part of the manor that now remains.  Seth’s flighty fiddle is shored up by some marvelous guitar from Chris in a tune that shows the duo at their very best, both individually and collectively, as the music ebbs and flows just like a gentle tide.

Filkin’s Drift: (l) Chris Roberts and (r) Seth Bye [photo: Tegan Foley]

And so, on to the familiar. The Filkin’s Drift reworking of Beeswing, surely one of the best songs that Richard Thompson ever wrote, is simply glorious.  The song’s subject matter – the free spirits of folk singer Anne Briggs and the Thompsons’ former gardener, Ted, who left their employ to seek adventure on the open road – is perfect for such a free-spirited album and is fully in tune with the duo’s forthcoming expedition, and the band’s version here is respectful and full of beauty.  It’s mellow and mild, with a subtle, pared-back guitar accompaniment, soft harmonies on the “She was a rare thing…” choruses and with lots of sprightly fiddle fills between the verses.  The delivery gets tempestuous as the song reaches its “We were drinking more in those days…” climax and I have no doubt whatsoever that Mr Thompson will thoroughly approve of this particular treatment of his work.

And, to finish off, an adaptation of a tune that is, perhaps, even more familiar to more people than one of Richard Thompson’s masterworks.  The Girl I Left Behind Me is a tune that has been widely known across England since Elizabethan times and has, amongst other things, been regularly used as an accompaniment to morris dance – including (apparently) in the village of Filkins in south-west Oxfordshire.  Chris leads the way on the Filkin’s Drift version, with some deftly fingerpicked guitar, before Seth’s fiddle joins the fun to take the tune to a rousing finale.

Filkin’s Drift deserve huge credit for producing an excellent and absorbing mini album and for taking their music on the road in such a time-honoured way.  Good luck on the tour, lads, from all of us at At The Barrier!

Watch Filkin’s Drift play Just Yesterday Morning and Annabel’s Jig – the two tunes that open Rembard’s Retreat – here:

Filkin’s Drift online: Website / Facebook / Instagram

More info on the website here:

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