Darren Black and Deborah Peake joined forces in Hampshire in 2009. Fiddle player Deborah has previously enjoyed success with Bluehorses and Amalthea, while guitarist Darren has made his presence known in collabboration with Joe Broughton, Kevin Dempsey and Dave Swarbrick. In 2010 they released their debut EP, Tales We Might Know; which earned them much acclaim (not least, from Folk Radio UK) and a nomination in the 2010 Spiral Earth Awards. Their debut album, In Times Back When, expands on the promise of that release.
Tired & Ragged Souls opens the album and immediately the skill in Darren’s fingerstyle guitar is apparent, with a gentle touch reminiscent of Nick Drake. The Humble Bee comes across as a medieval dance that seems to emulate the humble bumblers own movement. A lovely, uplifting song that rejoices in their importance and warns us not to take them for granted.
Piper’s Shimmy presents a darker, instrumental side to their talents. In another instrumental track, An Phis Fhliuch, Deborah’s multi-layered fiddle strides out with a rousing and irresistible slip jig. This is the only track on the album not written by the duo, which is testament to the strength of their songcraft, and the chemistry they’ve clearly developed.
Darren’s poetic song writing is never short of social commentary; Bittercress asks dark questions of a theological nature and Prodigy reminds us we all have tales to tell, and should have time to listen. In a similar vein, Hand Me Downs closes the album on a very strong note, commenting on the perceived right of those with the means to buy, over those without. With guest instrumentalist Chris Gatland’s brushed snare and the melody bring to mind both Jethro Tull and Pentangle. This doesn’t, however, come across as an attempt at emulation of either; rather a successful blend of folk and jazz rhythms that are unavoidably associated with both.
Deborah’s layered fiddle arrangements are intricate and inviting, Darren’s decisive fingerstyle guitar is intense, in keeping with his commanding vocal style. Black Peak have presented a selection of finely crafted songs and instrumental tracks that entertain and give pause for thought. The song-writing is imaginative, the musicianship is rich and accomplished. In Times Back When is an album that, while fitting very comfortably within the spectrum of folk music, allows their individuality and skill to shine through.
Review by: Neil McFadyen
Thu 15th March – Alton Folk Club, The Railway Arms, 26 Anstey Road, Alton, Hampshire, GU34 2RB
Sun 8th April – Wickham Easter Festival, Wickham, Hampshire, Main Hall
Tue 12th June – Winchester Folk Club – Upstairs at The Railway, St Paul’s Hill, Winchester, SO22 5AE