Threaded – Fair Winds and Following Seas
Independent – 22 June 2017
Midlands acoustic trio Threaded were lavished with praise from several quarters on the release of their debut album, Of What We Spoke, in 2015. The band’s captivating blend of classically influenced contemporary folk instrumentals, dance sets and songs displayed an instant appeal that, on the surface, had a lot to do with the unique combination of guitar, fiddle and clarinet. Digging deeper into the music, though, it was clear that this refreshing and engaging sound had as much to do with their collective skills as musicians, tunesmiths and songwriters. It’s satisfying to discover this month that on the release of their second album, Fair Winds and Following Seas, Threaded have provided ample evidence of just how impressive that talent is.
The opening Bridge of Eagles is a bright and breezy instrumental where a lively fiddle is gently driven by acoustic guitar, before clarinet takes the melody, adding light and air to an already buoyant sound. To new listeners, the inclusion of Rosie Bott‘s clarinet provides a surprising, but instantly pleasing dimension. That unique instrumental combination is further enhanced as Jamie Rutherford’s guitar pushes the pace, the melody flowing from Ning-ning Li‘s fiddle responds in kind, and Rosie’s clarinet enriches the sound with lavish, bassy harmonies.
Threaded first came together during their classical training at the Birmingham Conservatoire. While there, they became members of Joe Broughton’s highly acclaimed 50-strong musical collective, The Conservatoire Folk Ensemble, who this month release their first full-length studio album (read about it here). Joe is well known for his virtuoso folk fiddle playing and several musical projects; not least, of course, as a founding member of Urban Folk Quartet. Joe took to the studio with Threaded as the producer on their 2015 debut and makes a welcome return to the hot seat for Fair Winds and Following Seas.
Bridge of Eagles was written by Ning-ning and Rosie and provides an instant introduction to the band’s collective flair for composition. Although Jamie Rutherford‘s songs and melodies provide the bulk of the album’s content, with each of the eleven tracks a Threaded original, it’s clearly as a unified creative force that the band shine.
Fair Winds and Following Seas is a perfectly balanced mix of instrumental tracks and songs, and the maritime theme of the title is reflected in the album’s first song, The Long Return (premiered below). Following on from the fog-horn call of the clarinet, Jamie embarks on a sombre-sounding shanty, evoking a feeling of the sailor’s exhausted relief at almost reaching home. Atmospheric fiddle heightens expectations as the song begins to take shape through the mist; picked guitar and clarinet both begin to tease out harmonies from the theme. Before long the pace picks up toward an excited, full head of steam, and the fiddle just about manages to contain its excitement as the vocal becomes exultant amid the ‘heave-ho’ chant.
That wonderful song succeeds in building from a lonely, single note to an exciting, energetic journey, and is only one example of the strength of the songwriting on the album. On and On Again takes a slightly more lively initial approach, with guitar backing a vocal performance from all three, comprising of Jamie’s lead and beautifully subtle harmonies from Rosie and Ning-ning. Gentle, even a little sleepy, Threaded are clearly savouring this song as Rosie’s clarinet dances around the guitar parts before heading off on a short exploration of its own before the emphatic close.
The value of love and friendship are recurring themes in Jamie’s songs. Look Me Up When You’re in Town opens with gorgeous three-part harmonies for a gentle song of lasting friendship, with a bonus layer of harmony from Ning-ning’s fiddle towards the close. The soft air that opens The Edge of the World has a little more pace and the same uplifting mix of voices, as the theme of friendship expands to embrace constant companionship and the arrangement expands to accommodate soaring fiddle and clarinet, before the beautifully soft close.
The instrumental tracks on Fair Winds and Following Seas have just as much variety and craft as the songs. Variety is perhaps most noticeable in Milonga Notalgia. Initially sombre, but as the classical training behind Jamie’s guitar and Rosie’s clarinet becomes immediately apparent, perhaps stately is a better description of the short, relaxed and perfectly executed dance. The same low, clear clarinet sound that closes Milonga Notalgia opens what could be the album’s most impressive achievement – In The Dawn. In The Dawn builds like the dawn chorus itself, from the solitary opening, a gentle dance of guitar and fiddle awakes with a definite feeling of light rising, and a noticeable highland voice in the fiddle’s exploration of the theme. Jamie’s guitar comes into its own among the fiddle’s soaring joy and the clarinet’s playful morning breeze. Then the whole piece finds an injection of pace and demonstrates just how effectively the simplest of themes, in the right hands, can be explored with expert arrangements. Sheer joy.
Under the Olive Tree evokes soft Mediterranean sunshine with a gentle theme on guitar and clarinet and soft, pizzicato violin. Soon fiddle and clarinet are embarking on a calm, almost hypnotic dance around each other’s soft tones. In contrast, the atmospheric, Scandinavian flavours of Tale of a Wyvern offer more mystery and adventure than sunshine.
The album comes to a close with a brace of instrumentals that emphatically underline the diversity of the band’s talent, and draw their inspiration from the work of poet, and friend of the trio, Molly Luke. Ning-ning Li’s Hidden Lights was inspired by Molly’s poem At The Aquarium. Opening as a fiddle air with guitar backing (and there’s that highland voice again), the track encompasses some soft jazz exploration; soothing and uplifting by turns with its troughs and peaks. Molly’s Summerhaven provided the inspiration for the album’s closing piece – Aspen Groves. Threaded certainly know how to go out in style. An opening guitar solo with no shortage of bass, and more than a hint of blues, soon expands to embrace the fiddle’s choppy rhythm with subtle flourishes that build towards fleet-footed finger-picked delight. Fiddle soars skyward through the branches with undisguised glee, as Rosie’s clarinet frolics excitedly in the undergrowth. Soon all three embark together on a final melody that provides the album with a pulsating, positive, perfect finish.
With their own impressive talent to underpin their passion for musical exploration, seemingly endless capacity to create music and song that appeals across multiple audiences, and with Joe Broughton as mentor and producer; Jamie Rutherford, Nign-ning Li and Rosie Bott seem capable of taking Threaded far beyond their Midlands roots, and have without a doubt raised the already high bar laid down by their debut album. Enjoying Fair Winds and Following Seas is like an evening spent at the best of dances among the best of company – you leave feeling fresh, elated, and eager for more.
Order Fair Winds & Following Seas (CD & Download) via their Threaded’s Shop here https://threadedmusic.com/shop
Sat, Jun 17 – Countryman Fair, Leeds
Wed, Jun 21 – Folkroom, The Harrison, London
Thu, Jun 22 – Threaded Album Launch, Guildhall Clubrooms, Derby
Fri, Jun 30 – Acoustic Roots, Wigan Parish Chuch, Wigan
Sun, Jul 16 – Folk On The Lawn, Chepstow
Wed, Jul 26 – Kitchen Garden Cafe, Kings Heath, Birmingham
Fri, Sep 1 – Off The Tracks Festival, Derby
Wed, Sep 13 – Seven Live, Seven Arts Centre, Leeds
Thu, Sep 14 – Alexanders, Chester
Fri, Sep 15 – Big Comfy Bookshop, Coventry
Sat, Sep 16 – Midland Country Fair, Shropshire
Sat, Sep 30 – Kettering Arts Centre, Kettering
Sat, Oct 14 – Artree Live, Berkshire
Sun, Oct 15 – Lichfield Folk Festival, The Guildhall, Lichfield
Sat, Nov 11 – Doncaster Little Theatre, Doncaster
Thu, Nov 30 – Uxbridge Folk Club, Uxbridge