At the heart of the Monster Ceilidh Band is the word ceilidh. The word derives from the old Irish céle, which simply means partner and originally referred to any social gathering. Most commonly these were a mixture of story and song, ballads, poetry and proverbs that find echoes in the veillée of Brittany, but also played an important role in courtship, giving a chance for the young folk of rural and island communities to meet and mingle. Unsurprisingly the celebratory and in particular dance elements of these events got the upper hand, to the point where the word ceilidh is now primarily associated with folk dancing. That definition certainly seems appropriate for the Monster Ceilidh Band, who are primed to get you moving, but stripping back the etymology, the root in the word partner is also on the money, as they use a bold and unique fusion of the folk tradition and modern electronic dance music to achieve it.
[pullquote]If a fusion of the folk tradition and drum & bass sounds an unlikely marriage, then you’ve probably not had the pleasure of listening to the Monster Ceilidh Band.[/pullquote]If a fusion of the folk tradition and drum & bass sounds an unlikely marriage, then you’ve probably not had the pleasure of listening to the Monster Ceilidh Band. They belong to the progressive movement in folk music for whom there are few boundaries. For their fusion to work, it goes without saying that the individuals of the band are exceptionally talented musicians. They share an innate understanding of the tradition and the origins of the band owe much to the folk music degree course at Newcastle University. They also share a willingness to push the boundaries of where that tradition can be taken and while retaining the timbral range of traditional instruments, the beats and rhythms take equal inspiration from club culture.
Arguably it’s the only sensible route for folk music to go. Even if you take the basic definition of it being, ‘music for the folk,’ then surely it has to keep evolving, adapting to our changing culture. Otherwise it simply becomes outmoded and ‘music for the historian,’ which is surely self-defeating. There will doubtless be some out there who will disagree, but the Monster Ceilidh Band have been delighted that they are finding an audience of all ages and persuasions.
This really shouldn’t come as any surprise as the current popularity of the genre is surely about having the greatest diversity of quality music made under the folk umbrella that we have ever known. The likes of Bellowhead and the Imagined Village in England, Shooglenifty, Lau and The Peatbog Faeries north of the border, demonstrate the range of possibilities and have done much over the last few years to broaden folk music’s appeal. The Monster Ceilidh Band sit happily amongst them and geographically in between, with their borders’ locations and musical leanings.
But, besides all of that, when you listen to Charge, what is there not to like? The CD is built around strong tunes, most of which are composed by Amy Thatcher and Carly Blain, who lead the melodic attack on accordion and fiddle respectively. Amy is of course a member of The Shee, who should probably be included in the list of bands above, certainly on musical ability and inventiveness, if not yet on audience numbers. Carly Blain’s Border Fiddles meanwhile may be more bed-rock traditional, but feature no less than five of the region’s top fiddle players, which surely must keep her on her toes. Both are graduates of the aforementioned folk music degree course at Newcastle University.
The rhythmic drive is provided by bassist David De La Haye and the latest recruit Joseph ‘The Touch’ Truswell, who comes from the world of drum & bass, but is now putting the drum part of that into the band full time, bringing with him some of the sampling and electronic interference too – although that is meant in a positive way here. David originally hails from just about as far south as the British Isles go, being born on Jersey, but via Leeds he also gravitated to Newcastle University, earning a Masters in electronic music and also immersing himself in the local folk sessions he found in pubs and flats across the city. With his studio know how, David also mixed these sessions. Straddling rhythmic and melodic duties is Kieran Szifiris playing octave mandolin. His other band is Gathering Sky and their Americana/folk hybrid adds yet more diversity to the individual musical output of this quintet. Naturally, Kieran is also another of the success stories of the Newcastle University music course.
Despite or possibly because of the diversity of their interests and influences, when they come together musical magic happens. Although in fairness, Vralkada, sets off with a confident stride rather than anything out of the ordinary. It’s a tune by Swedish folk musician and composer Roger Tollroth, that Amy and Carly lead out in jaunty style, with Kieran adding a riff from his mandolin. There are just a few odd background noises that drop the first clues of something out of the ordinary is about to happen, but a couple of verses in, a voice emerges from the depths of the mix, extolling all to, “Make some noise,” and the whole thing kicks up to fifth gear with a skittering drum pattern.
80’s Ferret is both unusually titled and all together a thoroughly more unconventional beast, pumped full of fuzztones and squelching synths. It’s one of Kieran’s tunes so it’s perhaps in keeping that he plays the axe-hero, but more than that it really lifts the record. As the tracks unfold everyone gets their turn, but the funkiness of some of the interplay between bass, drums and mandolin is terrific, while the fiddle and accordion out front lead a merry dance into the spaces the rhythm boys leave. The harmonic layering is absolutely outstanding.
[pullquote]GYTO is proof of the wisdom of everything the Monster Ceilidh Band’s quintet have set their collective minds on.[/pullquote]Every bit as delightfully and chirpily cheesy as the title suggest Super Mario Smack Down, could well soundtrack the cartoonish rigmarole of the game-play. It blends naturally into Anti Gravity, which keeps the sense of fun high, while upping the levels of complexity again. Mr G and the curiously brilliant Cosmos No. 2 take things into to a slightly more moody direction with melancholic and wistful airs. The latter is especially good, with its oddly compelling echoing footfall. It gives way to GYTO, which to me is the absolute highlight of the album. In fact these two tracks will likely find themselves on heavy rotation on my iPod some time in the immediate future. GYTO is proof of the wisdom of everything the Monster Ceilidh Band’s quintet have set their collective minds on. It has the juice to make even the likes of Lau look on in envy, but is also great fun.
But then as for highlights, two minute into Jack’s Back, the track that is built around their interpretation of the drum & bass mega-hit, Bodyrock, the typing of this was interrupted by some impromptu and rather foolish shapes being thrown. Aaah, hell! It’s just impossible to resist!
Review by: Simon Holland
Performing for Newcastle Student Radio hosted by Alex Cumming’s who seems to pop up everywhere!