In his nine year career, fiddler Tom Kitching has collaborated with an extensive array of musicians, notably singer/guitarist Gren Bartley and with Edwin Beasant, Lucy Wright and Jon Loomes as Pilgrim’s Way. With his latest project, Interloper, his aim has been to make a more personal statement, not of the introspective, singer/songwriter variety but by assembling ten tracks that seek to define the current state of the English tradition. To assist in realising this ambition he’s brought together a core trio of musicians: Percussionist Jim Molyneux (4Square, Old Dance School), Marit Fält on låtmandola, and Scottish flute and clarinet player, Freya Rae. This eclectic mix is maybe to be expected as Tom “places the English tradition at the heart of a web of traditions across time and territory”. Also joining them are four guest musicians: Andy Cutting on diatonic accordion, Lisa Watchorn (cello) Jon Loomes (hurdy gurdy) and Keiran Markham (throat singing).
So, time, yes, the chronological spread of the chosen music is easy enough to identify. Several tunes are taken from Playford’s Dancing Master, the classic 1651 source for English country dance, and one tune, La Rotta, is even older. These are interspersed with recent compositions, sometimes combined in a tune set such as on the opening track that links Rufty Tufty from Playford with The Way is Clear, a piece by that champion of Cornish tradition Neil Davey and closes with the traditional tune Whitefriars Hornpipe. Quite some thought has clearly been put into choosing the tunes to make up these sets, they show a continuity that belies the centuries that separate them. Making a nice contrast are consecutive and rather different tracks that, nevertheless, are both nominally hornpipes, Cobbler’s Hornpipe taken from Playford and Elvin Hornpipes, two quirky modern tunes by Cumbria’s Tim Elvin.
Tom’s exploration of geographical influences isn’t as overt, only the Italian tune, La Rotta is explicitly non-English and hardly counts as it has been part of the mainstream English repertoire for so long. But influences aplenty there are. His choice of partners for the project predetermined many of them, one would expect most obviously from Norwegian (with Swedish parents), Marit Fält. However, Marit’s influence is more subtle. Her chosen instrument, the låtmandola, is uniquely Swedish, an octave mandola with a 5th pair of strings adding to the bass. On Interloper it provides both rhythmic patterns behind the melodies and, from time to time, adds melody lines of its own, taking the place in the line up more usually occupied by an acoustic guitar. The effect can occasionally be masked by the melody instruments but many times it is startlingly different and always refreshing.
Sharing the melody work with Tom’s fiddle is Freya Rae with her flutes and clarinet. Freya’s speciality is traditional Scottish and Irish music but she also declares an interest in Balkan tunes. This influence can most obviously be heard in the closing track, Sean Heeley’s Sue and Adi’s Fast Dance. Tom credits this tune with being the inspiration for the whole Interloper project. Tom describes Sean, who died in 2011, as his fiddle mentor. He was Manchester Irish but was attracted to many different influences, Ukrainian in the case of this tune. Freya’s flute weaves patterns around Tom’s fiddle to great effect before taking centre stage, the whole arrangement imposing a decidedly Eastern European feel to the end of the album.
Integral to all of the tracks is the imaginative percussion provided by Jim Molyneux. I think I hear a cajon being used quite extensively and there’s no mistaking the cymbals. But there’s a lot more going on and, regrettably, the liner notes give no details of the instruments he’s using.
It’s clear from his liner notes that Tom wants this album to be thought provoking. So I listened to it with his questions in mind, “What are the new English tunes? What influences them? How do they fit in the continuum of English music?” But, do you know, you might just want to sit and listen to a collection of cracking tunes with intelligent, absorbing arrangements. If you do, you could soon be off the sofa, dancing round the living room with a smile on your lips.
Review by: Johnny Whalley
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