Top Floor Taivers – A Delicate Game
TFT Records – 2017
Top Floor Taviers are a four-piece outfit whose members hail from across the UK, comprising Claire Hastings (2015’s BBC Radio Scotland Young Traditional Musician of the Year), pianist Tina Jordan Rees, fiddler Gráinne Brady, and Heather Downie on clarsach. Showcasing their ability to handle a variety of styles, A Delicate Game is a confident debut album from a very talented bunch.
The varied background of the group gives rise to a wide range of inspirations, and one of the first things you notice about the Top Floor Taivers is their ability to tell a story through both words and instrumentation, no matter what its origin. On Johnnie O’ Braidislee, a traditional ballad that tells of a deer poacher’s last stand against a group of foresters, they use powerful chords and an interesting rhythm to create atmosphere, while the fiddle is played with real verve and style. This instrumentation carries through into Princess Rosanna, a more modern offering with a bluegrass feel. There is some great percussion on show, but the real standout is the vocals, particularly in the opening and closing sections of the track, which showcase the group’s a capella talent. The same can be said of Leonard Cohen’s Everybody Knows, an album highlight, which is punchy, topical and sounds completely different from the original.
Their innovation isn’t limited to reworking tradition; throughout the album are modern offerings including Johnnie and the Spider, an amusing story of a woman who refuses to conform to traditional notions of the ‘weaker sex’. It’s a shame that in a song composed by the band’s clarsach player, that the harp’s subtleties sound quite lost in the mix.
Thankfully, this isn’t the case on Campfires, a ballad of romantic nostalgia written by one of Heather’s oldest friends. The clarsach gets some space in the instrumentation, and the lyrics are touching, with some insightful observations on the troubles of modern youth (‘it’s a delicate game balancing knife crime and boredom’). It perfectly evokes the sense of a young woman trying to navigate her complex emotions.
Another notable original offering is 10 Little Men, written by Claire Hastings. The album notes state that this take on a nursery rhyme is “different from their usual style”. It’s an ingenious arrangement with an electronic feel, featuring haunting fiddle and ethereal vocals; it’s a surprising and clever finale.
There are some fantastic harmonies on show throughout ‘A Delicate Game’, and you know that this is a band where everyone can pull their weight vocally. It would have been great to hear the group making more use of their skills in close harmony as they’ve done on the penultimate track, Ramblin’ Rover. This is a fresh and lively take on a traditional classic, and the a capella section at the start is foot-tappingly infectious. The band say that this is one of their favourite songs to perform live, and I think they should follow their instinct and move in this direction; there are some truly beautiful moments when their vocals shine through.
The album is a promising start, but I would love to hear what the Top Floor Taivers could do if they took the decision to strip things down a little – they certainly have the talent to carry it off.
The band are touring the album through May and June 2017, visit their website for more details and dates: www.topfloortaivers.com