Somewhat like marmite, I expect you either love or hate Blowzabella. Whatever your taste, the band are undoubtably one of the icons of the Folk music revival in this country. To celebrate their 40 years on the circuit Blowzabella have released an album, aptly named, Two Score.
Two Score is performed by the line-up which has been in place since 2005, Andy Cutting – melodeon, triangle, Jo Freya – vocals, saxophones, clarinet, whistles, Paul James – vocals, bagpipes, saxophones, Gregory Jolivet – hurdy-gurdy, Dave Shepherd – violin, octave violin, viola, Barnaby Stradling – Bass, Jon Swayne – bagpipes, saxophones, whistle.
Being relatively new to both the folk arena and Blowzabella, I was entranced as soon as the disc went into the car player. Wow – the wall of sound is breathtaking, exciting, vibrant and captivating. Every member of the band has brought a plethora of instruments into the mix, and, as the sleeve notes state, they ‘develop arrangements together by gathering in a room, playing the melody and exploring tempo, keys, rhythm and harmony until we get to a point where it sounds like Blowzabella’.
There is something for everyone on this album – original tunes composed by the band members, arrangements of traditional tunes, songs a plenty as well as touches of drive, pathos, melancholy and occasionally humour.
Jo Freya proves herself skilled at adapting traditional song, on the Baring-Gould-collected Adam Was A Poacher and the “quintessentially English” song Blackberry Fold. The Lark Descending, is a double-homage to Vaughan Williams (whose own interest in English folksong was said to have been sparked by hearing that song sung in Essex in 1905).
Opening track Cé, composed by Gregory Jolivet , is described as “a fuzzy pentatonic rock waltz”. Jo Freya’s set of SCCS Polkas fairly charges along the roads of her local villages, while The Grenoside Processional Dance is a glorious minor-key hornpipe created by Dave Shepard’s father Dick from figures in traditional dance tunes used by that locality’s sword-dance team.
Coteeto, written by Paul James as part of his score for a production of Milton’s masque Comus, depicts “nocturnal sport and play”. Camdence is an affectionate little earworm which Gregory Jolivet composed for Barnaby Stradling, while closing track Colin is a “European-style waltz” written by Jo Freya in celebration of the birthday of Colin Taylor, a long-term fan of dance music.
Two Score is available to order direct from the band at http://blowzabella.co.uk/shop and from record shops and the usual digital music platforms.
They have also published a tune book that contains all the tunes and songs composed, arranged and recorded by Blowzabella on this album and “Strange News” (2013).