Topette!! – C’est Le Pompon
Self-Released – 2017
Topette!!, a band formed by Barnaby Stradling in 2014, have released their first full album, C’est Le Pompon…, giving full vent to their ability to play superb dance music. Using a mix of traditional and self-penned tunes the arrangements will, at times, leave you gasping for breath – and wondering how on earth you can move that quickly around the dance floor.
Stradling will be known to many as the bass player in another band famous for its dance tunes, Blowzabella, along with another Topette!! musician, Andy Cutting. Cutting is one of those artists that pops up all over the place having played with, amongst many others, Kate Rusby, Chris Wood and June Tabor. But it is in the dance band that he seems to really shine. It is not that I intend to demean his other recordings, but it his speed of delivery and the way his fingers fly over the buttons on the accordion that helps drive the pace – and are well worth admiring if you need to stop for breath.
Topette!!’s other members are Julien Cartonnet, James Delarre and Tania Buisse. Cartonnet has the rather odd pairing of playing both the French pipes and the banjo, though not at the same time I hasten to add. The pipes give that drone-based underlay so often connected with a contemporary view of traditional dance music as in La Pause (a slow waltz) or La Belle sur le Navire/Bouree des Cochettes. Buisee’s bodhran is a very subtle instrument, one of those sounds that if you took it out of the recording, you would notice that it was not there but whilst it is there you might be hard-pressed to pick it out. Some of that may also be due to the incredible power in Stradling’s acoustic bass, for example on There We Are Then or Hamouda. This bass is described by the manufacturers as a niche instrument but perhaps we may see more acoustic bands taking it on, if only because it cannot take up as much room in the van as a double-bass.
Delarre and his violin appear to have covered a lot of ground (Mawkin, Jim Moray, plus appearances in far From The Madding Crowd, Peaky Blinders and so on). His interplay with Cutting’s accordion is central to many of the tunes as in Venture, The Punisher/Spots Tail.
It may not have escaped your notice that there is a distinct French element in this band. Having met in a bar in France, Chez Michel, (also the name of their 2015 EP) they have come together to give us this wonderful melange of French, English, and all points East, West, North and South. At times it is easy to see where a tune hails from, by name and by music – Balfour Road and Old Molly Oxford. Easy, and yet is there not a touch of cajun in here, hints of Eastern Europe there? And North Africa definitely. Hamouda is based on a traditional tune from the Gnawa people and La Pause has Moroccan elements, echoes in the wind that blows across France to meet with the traditions of the British Isles.
I am also reminded of one of the early Alan Stivell albums, which must be the pipes, and then again English Morris tunes. It’s all here, beautifully whipped up and raring to go. Given the varied musical lives they all lead and the influences they have grown up with, it is not surprising that listening to Topette!! there is a feeling of universality, of music that is all-embracing and inclusive. That and the fact that at the root of a good tune is the need to move – your feet, your hands, your whole body, whatever. I might have to go and learn a few steps.
Topette!! feature in our show Lost in Transmission No. 34