Review by Val Haines
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Vicki and Jonny are among the hardest working musicians on the folk scene. In addition to their vast performance schedule (sadly now covid-19 depleted), they have a back catalogue of 10 albums (some with supporting musicians) and eight books of tunes. When not playing the true folk stuff, they can be found in medieval garb at castles, Victorian costume at Christmas markets and in 17th century finery for the Playford experience. Jonny has even done a stint at the Globe Theatre. I’m guessing that for 'contra' they dress in their own clothes.
Sleep deprivation is an album for contra dancing. If you don’t know what contra dancing is, and I didn’t, this is an explanation from an American site:
Contra dance is a folk dance where lines of couples participate. It incorporates English country dances with Scottish and French dance styles from the 17th century but it also has influences of African dance and the Appalachian Mountain region of the U.S. Contra dance includes everything from Irish tunes to French-Canadian folk tunes; the music almost always features a fiddle, but banjo and bass can be included. In fact, it is sometimes referred to as New England folk dance or Appalachian folk dance. They are popular in the United Kingdom and North America. In those areas, regular dance events are common.
The title Sleep deprivation derives from times that musicians begin the long drive home after a gig, but I suppose it could also apply to doctors or parents of small children... If you have seen or heard Vicki and Jonny, you will know that the bedrock of their sound is nyckelharpa and guitar. But on an album they get to show off their full range of instruments, which here are: nyckelharpa, double bass, flute, pipes (Vicki), piano, bouzouki, guitar, mandolin, citole, lyre and percussion (Jonny). My lack of experience with the contra tradition helped me to listen to this as just another perfect album from the duo.
The album is formed of one continuous track although all the tracks are numbered so you can find individual tracks. Each track has a well thought-out link to join the various tunes, predominantly on piano, which effortlessly moves to the next track so you are quite unaware that the track has changed. I like the links, especially the piano/double bass jazzy ones. The album has a fine collection of polkas, reels, jigs and waltzes as you might expect. My favourites are the ones that move out of the expected nyckelharpa groove. Anastasia begins with an Irish flute/piano jig. Waltz for Shari/The Kindness of Thwaite starts on piano and is joined by flute and nyckelharpa playing some gorgeous harmonies reminiscent of 18th century baroque. Driving Home Chapelloise is an Italian style jig played exuberantly on border pipes.
There is a fun song, Jiggle the Old Bones, a song about dancing. The chorus lyrics are printed on the cover so you can sing along while dancing. The two most unusual pieces are Medieval Contra which makes use of the lyre and citole, stringed instruments with a sound truly medieval, and Caucasia Contra. This is reminiscent of a Turkish holiday we had when we sat in a nomad tent listening to the saz and Turkish singing. For this track I had to look at the credits to see who was singing, not realising at first that it had to be Jonny, not a traditional Turkish singer. Brilliant!
All the music was written and produced by Jonny. As usual, it is brilliantly played and produced without losing the live feel. If you go to www.swan-dyer.co.uk/sleep you can find details of the album, downloadable versions, single danceable versions of the tracks, a link to download the sheet music of the tunes and the lyrics to the song.
Sleep Deprivation – Wet Foot Music – WFM200201