It’s hard to teach new tricks to young dogs, but these guys could, Yorkshire’s new kids on the block.
Release Date: 27th June 2023
Format: CD / digital
I love it when a bunch of old blokes show the youngsters how it’s done, or when success beckons late in the day for seasoned grafters. We’ve seen that recently with Track Dogs, who are mere boys compared with this lot, but they share the same devil-may-care laxity around genre limitation avoidance, playing just what feels and sounds good. And they certainly manage that, on this, their debut recording.
OK, I’ll come clean, debut recording, maybe, as a band, but the fella on the extreme left of the picture, toting the uillean pipes, that is Mick Doonan, of, remember them, Hedgehog Pie and The Mighty Doonan’s. So, irrespective of his genes, being the son of an all-Ireland piccolo champion, he has nigh on fifty years of playing, probably more. A dude, he plays all the pipes, whistles and flutes, and is joined by Bob Thomas on percussion and harmonica, Chris Hanks on guitars and Tony Bacon on squeezeboxes and keyboards. All sing. A measure of their impact is that they have swiftly been snapped up for the stable of artists who appear on the Costa del Folk circuit.
Kicking off with Vin Garbutt’s amiable Not For The First Time, amiable as in the bouncy melody, carried by beat and box, it is a wry song full of irony about work and its lack. The feel is very much of early Lindisfarne, the accordion and pipes a healthy bonus. A couple of trad. arrs., Planxty Hewlett, paired with Banish Misfortune. follow, led by Hanks’ picked guitar and harmonics. The pipes peal in, bodhran picking up the beat, piano then an unexpected late to the party addition, which is positively delightful. Without showing off, Doonan’s fingers fly over every note available, ahead of switching to his father’s instrument for the second tune in the set. Hanks adds some fluid guitar and all is well with the world. Jon Strong’s Gunmetal Grey, up next, oozes all the requisite features of a classic anti-war folk anthem, the vocals, piano and pipes never less than majestic, abetted by the swirl of organ.
More trad with The Bonnie Ship The Diamond and Paddy Lay back each bring in new features, the former a flute-led roustabout, with the slightest hint of jazz lurking beneath the waves, à la Moving Hearts, the latter reprising the same concept, if from a different direction, with Django-esque guitar and music hall ragtime piano. Ragtime pipes, anyone? Also the first and welcome appearance of Thomas’s mouth harp. Are The Beatles old enough to be considered trad? Possibly not, but I challenge you to recognise this one. No spoilers, but I can honestly say I have never been quite so moved by quite such a staple of 60s listening. An acoustic setting and a totally different phrasing transform this song into a plaintive lament of no small beauty. The credits don’t tell me who sings, I’m assuming Doonan, but the mature voice hits the lyrics with a profundity never before realised.
Sticking with covers, it is Elvis up next. Not Costello, the other one, for a version of Little Sister that belies some familiarity with Ry Cooder’s version, if adding the Tex-Mex accordion from earlier Cooder. More fabulous harmonica. Clearly enjoying the hint of Latino, El Padre Musicales comes across as an old Inca reel, which becomes progressively more Hibernian, until twisting back on itself for a lively salsa jig, guitar the poncho-clad propellant, driving it ever faster. Odd and in a good way, which is, all in all, a good introduction for a quirky version of Joan Osborne’s sole UK hit, If God Was One Of Us. Stripped back to harmonica, hoarse voice, strummed guitar and piano, it becomes elegant and, yes, hymnal. With the earlier fab four number, another real high point, especially as the wistful bottleneck joins in, just before the pipes and harmonica joust.
More Lindisfarne-y capers for A Simple Life, mainly courtesy the raggedy-andy vocals, but reprising the unequivocal pleasure of pipes and accordion in full romp mode. Whistle further gilds the lily, bodhran levels the soil, and it is simple honest fun, four blokes down the pub playing the best after-hours session you’ve ever had. The closer, to follow that image, will have you weeping into your pint, a truly gorgeous version of I Shall Be Released. A song almost too well known and too often covered, the band manage to find some new traction, mainly by avoiding the join the dots cadence of the lyrical delivery over-employed by most. By stretching syllables and adding little pauses, new nuances are found, and it is a beauty. The pipe solo, towards the end, followed by harmonica, shows, again, just how well these seldom paired intruments fare together, the organ sweeps to make sure the strength of the join. And shows quite how well put together a unit is this four piece.
You may notice the date of release of this gem, the tardiness demonstrating a late discovery. But, with the ATB “Best Of The Year” selections bubbling in preparation, to appear in the list, it has first to appear here. Better late than never.
Here’s If God Was One Of Us: