Back in 2008 we saw Anglo-American duo Cath and Phil Tyler release their debut album ‘Dumb Supper’ to great critical acclaim across all divides of the modern folk landscape – as Plan B rightly noted, “Dumb Supper is one of those rare modern folk albums that will find a home both in the longstanding ‘traditional’ music community and among those attracted to the form’s more experimental and lo-fi possibilities”.
And so it was that they were feted by a bewilderingly multilateral mix of critics from The Wire to Mike Harding to Brainwashed to Bob Harris (for whom they recorded a session too). Fiona Talkington of BBC Radio 3’s Late Junction was especially ardent, even arranging their performance at the Royal Opera House, this similarly contrasting with their underground UK tour in the company of Finnish jouhikko player Pekko Kappi.
And the only thing that stopped them fulfilling their booking at 2008’s Green Man Festival was the early arrival of their son Byron…
With this their follow-up album, The Hind Wheels of Bad Luck Cath & Phil Tyler further enhance their reputation for raw and powerfully emotive folk music that goes direct to the source, mining through their own contacts and treasure troves such as the Anne & Frank Warner Collection and the Sacred Harp song book, re-interpreting or adding their own music, and surfacing with pure gold.
And while they continue down their own thrillingly sparse furrow, this second album brings with it an added assuredness in their craft that shows how they’ve grown in stature as performers and players. So fully engrossing and fulfilling is their minimal sound, for example the voice and guitar on Dearest Dear, that when the accordion comes in on the song’s later stages, its as affecting and rewarding as if it were an entire orchestra.
While many of the lyrics have been unearthed, the majority of the music has been composed by Cath and Phil. Tracks such as Golden Ace (which segues into the starkly contrasting Courting Is A Pleasure) and Whip Poor Will highlight their divine union of the joy they take in playing and their sublime ability to do so. Phil’s banjo playing provides an indestructible backbone to the songs it features on, while his guitar playing darts, dips and flourishes joyfully – listen to the teasingly abbreviated The Wind That Shakes The Barley or the way his dancing strings vie with the fiddle on Golden Ace.
Phil is an exquisite guitar and banjo player, and layered with Cath’s earthen voice and their haunted harmonies, plus Cath’s barebones fiddle playing, makes for an exquisitely minimal, beautifully scything delivery.
Whip Poor Will, a Tyler-penned instrumental, sounds like a soundtrack to Where The Wild Things Are that should have been, conjuring a sense of child-like theatricality and anticipation that truly highlights Cath and Phil’s compositional skills, brilliantly breaking up the rhythm of the surrounding ballads and throwing something unexpected into the album’s emotional make-up.
Fittingly, ‘The Hind Wheels Of Bad Luck’ was recorded over a long weekend in Morden Tower, the ancient and legendary miniature music venue built into Newcastle’s old town walls that has hosted everyone from Allen Ginsberg and Basil Bunting to The New Blockaders and Sir Richard Bishop. The album was produced by Newcastle-based producer Andrew Gardiner. There’s something very fitting about a place that’s been a (largely unsung) cornerstone of Newcastle’s cultural evolution, and even older than many of the stories told on this album, being the place for this album to be made. Morden Tower holds a timeless and undying magic for those who’ve been there, its enigma preserved through the centuries. Similarly, Cath and Phil Tyler have brought us some ancient musical diamonds, added some of their own sorcery, and created something profound and wonderful for the folk of today.
This interview was conducted by our good friends the Harmonic Rooms: