The Albion Band
THE VICE OF THE PEOPLE
POWERED FLIGHT MUSIC 30.4.12
What is there to say about the Albion Band? Having been a founder member of and then moved on from Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span Ashley Hutchings, ιminence grise of 'folk rock' and bass player extra-ordinaire, set up the Albion franchise, starting with the Albion Country Band. Over the last forty years, we have seen many line-up changes for the Albion Band, almost a new version every year, together with variations including Albion Morris, the Albion Dance Band and the Albion Christmas Band. In addition, most members of Fairport Convention, past and present, seem to have floated through with the notable exception of bass player Dave Pegg who took over following Ashley's departure all those years ago and who went on to become the mainstay of the band and its annual Cropredy festival for many years.
So what of the Albion Band 2012? Well, first of all it seems to be a Hutchings-free zone! This is not entirely the case since, in a recent interview, Ashley indicated that, whilst a re-hash of the band as seen latterly was not something that he wished to do, a new generation, with his son, Blair Dunlop as a member, would seem to be the logical step to take. The members of the band are known to a greater or lesser extent, depending much on the age and location of the listener.
Blair Dunlop, guitar/vocals, already mentioned, probably made his first appearance in the booklet accompanying 'The Guv'nor Volume One', an Ashley retrospective issued in 1994.
Gavin Davenport, guitar vocals, is the member who seems to have had the major composing input into the album although our old friend Trad. arr. also features regularly.
Katriona Gilmore, vocals/fiddle/mandolin/co-producer, has already been seen supporting Fairport on their Wintour on two occasions, once as a member of Tiny Tin Lady, once in partnership with Jamie Roberts.
Tom Wright, drums/producer/vocals, acknowledges the influence of Dave Mattacks and Roger Swallow on the way in which the drum kit is used in this folk-rock setting. I also heard in there the influence of John Maxwell, drummer with the Albions at the time of 'Light Shining'.
Tim Yates, bass guitar/melodeon, has the most to live up to, being seen to step into Ashley's shoes. But he brings a new, different approach to the instrument, for which he is to be applauded. If you live in York, you might easily have seen Tim and his fellow members of Blackbeard's Tea Party busking at the corner of Parliament Street and High Ousegate; it used to be a pleasure to head towards the music emanating from that area on Saturday mornings.
Benjamin Trott, lead guitarist, has done a magnificent job in keeping under the radar! Other than a name-check on the album sleeve and, in the information provided with the CD 'and lead guitarist Benjamin Trott' there is nothing! Fortunately, there is more to be found on the band's website www.thealbionband.com , although not a great deal!
And so to the music. With a history such as that of the Albion Band, and all the major performers who have contributed, it is not surprising that influences can be heard, not least Richard Thompson, Jon Tams, John Kirkpatrick and Simon Care. However, in much the same way that there was no specific Albion sound because of the frequent changes of personnel, the folk-rock ethos remains with a mix of the Albion Band, circa late 1970s, modern contributions and trad. arr. subject to a new approach. However, other external influences are there: I was surprised to be reminded of Arthur Lee's band Love at one stage now where did that come from?
1. Intro: A Quarter Hour of Fame
2. Roll Over Vaughan Williams
A calling-on song introduction followed by a good, heavy rocker with two of the guys trading vocals, the second of whose vibrato nearly put me off the whole album! This tune evolves into a real folk-rocker before an abrupt ending. A Richard Thompson composition from 'Henry the Human Fly', his first post-Fairport album.
A Katriona Gilmore composition whose title gives away the subject matter. Not as rocky but sung beautifully by Katriona with gorgeous harmonising from her fellow band members.
4. The 2 x 2 Set
A band instrumental composition which nods to the Albion Dance Band era, driven well by the engine room of Tom Wright and Tim Yates.
5. Thieves Song
A modern take on 'The Beggar's Song', this is a Gavin Davenport composition with a hard rock backing.
6. How Many Miles to Babylon?
Another Gavin Davenport composition, this based on a nursery rhyme from the late 18th century. The vocal is shared between Gavin (presumably?) and Katriona with an almost marching drumbeat augmented by a much lighter instrumental backing. At six minutes this is the longest track on the album but makes good use of the time to tell its story and to build the instrumental background. At times I was reminded of the very early Steeleye Span, circa 'Hark! The Village Wait!'
7. Set Their Mouths To Twisting
A Francois Villon/Phil Beer composition of which I was not aware. Another hard rock backing with overlaid mandolin in places. A duetted vocal with more gorgeous harmonising.
A Nik Kershaw composition from 1984. An acapella introduction leads to a fiddle-led song. I could even detect the influence of Arthur Lee's band Love in this song.
9. The Skirmish Set
The first of a trio of tracks with composer input from 'Trad. arr.'. Again, the influence of the Albion Dance Band is apparent to me, which is not meant as a criticism: I really enjoyed this track.
10. Adieu to Old England
Gavin Davenport worked on this trad arr. Song. Melodeon starts this track and continues to provide support once the two vocalists trade verses and the rest of the band become involved, not least the fiddle of Katriona. Again, its roots are showing
11. One More Day
Another Gavin Davenport/Trad arr. song. Hard electric guitar introduces this track with which the band quickly joins in. A song immortalised by Jon Tams but now bearing the Albion Band 2012 imprint.
12. Wake a Little Wiser
Gavin Davenport and Tom Wright provide the closing track to the album. Gentle guitar introduction segues into folk rock with ragged heroes and tinpot idols forming the core of the lyric could this be anything to do with politics?
On first playing, the vocal vibrato early on put me off but, listening through the whole album, and then repeating the exercise several times, I am now really enjoying it, particularly the lead guitar playing of Benjamin Trott.. I must admit to having had misgivings before listening to it but it did not take long for these to disappear. It does not sound like the Albion band of old, nor should it, but it bodes well for the future of the spirit of the Albion Band.