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Private Label CLYPE01CD

The Scots word ‘clype’- to tell tales - is an appropriate name for this collaboration, but probably not for the intended reasons. Some lyrics on Clype’s debut album, a collaboration between Simon Gall and Jonny Hardie, fully live up to the childish connotations of the word, particularly in the second track Down With May (Theresa May): “Her old hooked nose can smell tenderness for miles”… “Take the crown from May and her loyals too”. Childishness gives way to generic blandness in tracks such as Imperial Zeal, where Simon Gall’s uninspiring songwriting makes it hard to find any affinity for, or at times even see the links between, his lyrics and the subject matter. The duo shows itself to comprise two great instrumentalists, but the impressive musical content seems largely inappropriate for the original and adapted lyrics.

By far the most solid lyricism found on this self titled debut is in the re-imagining of the left-wing rallying cry The Internationale. Composed by French socialist revolutionary Eugene Pottier, the legendary song has been translated into countless languages and been performed by activists such as Pete Seeger and Billy Bragg. Known as ‘The Bard of Barking’, this version is much more musically refined than Bragg’s, retaining a sort of bluesy piano/vocal feel. The musical refinement of Clype’s rendition has, though, diminished the rousing nature of the lyrics, a quality which forms much of my attraction to a song such as this. This is a theme which also seems to run throughout; for me Gall and Hardie’s music never really seems to match the content of the lyrics. 

This being said, the combination of Jonny Hardie, the North-East fiddle player of Old Blind Dogs fame, and Simon Gall, best known for his work as a pianist with Salsa Celtica, does make for some interesting and admirable musical moments; the combination of two very different musical backgrounds creating some excitingly unpredictable melody lines and an ever-changing sense of interplay between the fiddle and piano. Well timed appearances by guests Ross Ainslie (whistle) and Jenny Sturgeon (vocals and shruti box) add to this strong musical collaboration. 

When discussing modern folk-song writing, particularly of a political nature, it’s hard not to draw comparisons with Karine Polwart, whose work is seen by many as the epitome of this genre. Her refined lyrics, sensitive, appropriate accompaniment and dignity of delivery have been a massive part of the modern Scottish folk scene for the last decade. Her albums, containing a variety of songs, on a variety of subject matter retain a sense of coherence due to the qualities listed above. It’s unfortunate that Clype seem to have fallen at the opposite end of this spectrum, due to fairly bland songwriting, on a wide range of seemingly totally unrelated topics. Combined with very accomplished, if somewhat inappropriate musical accompaniment, this album makes for a disappointing listen, neither musician doing themselves artistic justice.

Joseph Peach

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This album was reviewed in Issue 110 of The Living Tradition magazine.