It’s always a joy to bring debut albums to readers’ attention on Folk Radio UK, and it’s a particular joy to introduce the first album from London-based trio Teyr – Far From The Tree. From Ireland, Wales and Cornwall Dominic Henderson (uilleann pipes and whistles), Tommie Black-Roff (accordion), James Gavin (guitar and fiddle), have taken the Cornish word for ‘three’ as their name (pronounce it tay-er) and their influences from the innovative work of (among many others) Lau, KAN and Lúnasa. Their music combines captivating traditional songs with their own melodies, and tune sets that offer a perfect blend of trad and modern jigs, reels and airs. The apparent boundless energy, imagination and instrumental expertise is all their own.
That final trio of elements is in evidence as soon as the album opens with Reeds & Fipple. Dominic Henderson’s opening for uilleann pipes promises no shortage of pace and colour. Driven along from the start by James Gavin’s guitar, the lively pace is carried on through to a dazzling duet between pipes and Tommie Black-Roff’s accordion before the trio turn tradition on its head by following the fire and flare of the jig with a lament, The Wounded Hussar. Pipes take the lead, with the hushed drone of accordion and a melody that offers a truly different dimension among deep, questing atmospheres. From the outset, conceptions are tested.
With such a wide geographical spread and a broad range of influences, it’s hardly surprising Teyr take such an innovative approach to their music. Having met each other during sessions in and around London, and discovering a kindred fondness for freedom and innovation in their music, Far From The Tree is the result of two years playing and writing together; gently tugging at the threads of accepted traditions to weave something new and exciting that still identifies with its origins.
False Lady, for instance, was inspired by John Doyle’s take on Earl Richard, but adopts a pace not normally associated with the murder ballad. The vocals are evocative of the best traditions of the Celtic folk revival, while whistle and accordion exchange pleasantries on the harmonies before taking things a little more slowly for an extended, hypnotic bridge; expertly showcasing Teyr’s ability to create exceptional new melodies for traditional songs.
In Banks of the Newfoundland Tommie provides a new melody for an emigration song from Liverpool. The song has particular resonance in Cornwall, where in the 19th Century emigration was the only option for many following the collapse of the mining industry there. The layers of vocal and storming pipe solo picked up by accordion underline the message that Teyr are doing things their own way.
As for those carefully crafted tune sets, they provide just as many surprises. The Badge presents two tunes from Dominic, with the opening whistle melody, expertly picked up by Tommie’s accordion before the trio go off on a ramble toward the blistering reel Crash Helmet. Again, Dominic’s pipes take on the melody initially; then it’s passed to Tommie to see what his accordion makes of it. The interplay between the musicians is as spectacular as it is flawless.
There’s a gentle side to the band too, of course, and there’s something undeniably pleasing about a waltz played on accordion – it has a sound and a feel all of its own. Dominic’s Ivy Scarlett’s Waltz opens with solo accordion until the whistle picks out bright, colourful, exploratory strands. Paired up with Tommie’s Nordic-sounding Polska Backseat Driver, the pair provide an excellent set based around accordion and whistle that revels in the guitar’s rhythms and makes the feet long for a dance floor.
It’s surprising, at first, just how willing this trio of accomplished tune-smiths are when it comes to arranging traditional song, there’s such a wealth of it on the album. Not all strictly traditional, though – a shared love of poetry has evidently influenced Teyr’s choice of lyrical content and two poems benefit from the band’s collective writing ability. Nothing Grows is based around the poetry of Stephen Muldoon from Fermanagh, and the band’s melody seems to take the structure of the verse itself as the raw material with which to weave something exceptional…
Willow slipped, to multiply
Woven basket, turf supply
Mountain, ash, rowan berry
Gone you, the flowering cherry
And nothing grows where nothing’s been
Nothing grows where nothing’s been
In contrast to the light, organic sound of Nothing Grows, WB Yeats’ Hosting of the Sidhe enjoys a sumptuous supernatural feast of sound, opening with James’ haunting fiddle and a vocal delivery that seems to come from the voices of the ancients. Yeats’ faery host moves rowdily on, but the traditions continue to provide inspiration in the form of the Scottish traveller ballad, Huntley Town, delivered with a relaxed vocal/accordion; invitingly informal, but with increasing intensity from those carefully structured atmospheres.
With Gerry Diver in the producer’s chair, it’s hardly surprising that the sound is forged with such an expert touch. There’s a further injection (but not too much) of studio structure into some favourite session sets, spanning Ireland’s musical history. Brian Finnegan’s Hayden’s Rock joins The Old Maids of Galway at a relentless pace. Whistle harmonies move between a keening wind and a warm, sultry breeze over Tommie’s dazzling accordion in an extensive set that makes the most of every exhilarating moment.
In closing this exceptional album, Dean’s Banjo offers the kind of tune that can only be borne of outlandish encounters. It’s magnificent in its irreverence; it teases the senses, a thing of joy that plays havoc with any musical sensibilities. There’s a dance in there, trying to push its way beyond the rest of the party. There’s gorgeous detail from James’ guitar, a salty sea breeze in Tommie’s accordion and several springs in the step of Dominic’s pipes. It was, we’re told, composed on a banjo. This does not surprise me.
It’s impossible to pin Teyr down. There are archaic voices in there, but they’re heard through a mischievous grin. There’s deep meaning that’s evidenced not only by the singing, the playing, the writing but by the band’s entire approach to the creation of this album. Take the time to learn about the beautiful sycamore seed sculpture, created for the album cover by Cornish artist Billy Wynter, and you’ll find the embodiment of what Teyr represent. Teyr make folk music rooted firmly in the future; that future may indeed be Far From The Tree, but then, nothing grows where nothing’s been.
FAR FROM THE TREE – UK TOUR
28/09 London Old Queen’s Head* (London Album Launch)
29/09 Penzance The Acorn**
30/09 Totnes Acoustic Haven***
01/10 Bath St James Wine Vaults
02/10 Purbeck Square & Compass
02/10 Brighton Latest Music Barº
06/10 Bristol The Fringeºº
07/10 Priston Village Hallººº
16/10 Norwich Bicycle Shop
19/10 Miserden Carpenters Arms
20/10 Abingdon The Abbey
21/10 Matlock The Fishpond^
24/10 Edinburgh House Concert^^
25/10 Glasgow Hug & Pint
26/10 Aberdeen Blue Lamp
27/10 Inverness Hootananny
28/10 Skye Hotel Eilean Iarmain
31/10 Hawick String Theory
01/11 Newcastle Cumberland Arms^^^
03/11 Essex Loughton Folk Club
* Loïc Bléjean & Tad Sargent
** Loïc Bléjean & Tad Sargent and Theo Black
*** The Odd Folk
º Miriam and the Well
ºº Sid Goldsmith
ººº Jimmy Aldridge & Sid Goldsmith
^ Isembard’s Wheel
^^ Sink & Ilk
^^^ Niamh Boadle