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Circle Of Sound COS329CD

Songs and tunes have always journeyed well. Pilgrims, soldiers, traders, migrants, minstrels and balladeers have taken them along a network of ancient routes, everywhere from Samarkand to Santiago de Compostela. This is the message of The Old Roads, a welcome debut album from Charles Spicer and Mark T. The duo have travelled many musical roads themselves. Charles (on small pipes and cor anglais) has pursued his interest in early music and English folk music with The Mellstock Band, the National Theatre and Royal Shakespeare Company. Mark Turauskis (on bouzouki and percussion) has played in Brickbats and Time Spanners and is a community musician with an interest in Celtic, Mediterranean and North African music and Anglo-Scottish ballads.

The tunes include the opening Saltarello (a jumping dance from 1380); Reading Ductia (a 13th century dance tune); Quant Je Vay Hiver Returner (the tune of a 13th century minstrel, Colin Muset); Stello Splendens and Los Set Goytxs (tunes of 14th century pilgrim songs; and a clutch of 17th century tunes from Playford’s Dancing Master. On more familiar ground, The Manchester Cuckoo is two Morris tunes. I enjoyed them all. The instrumentation is nicely judged - not strange or difficult for modern ears, but evoking the days of shawms and lutes. Mark adds subtle world music touches.

I found the songs less successful, on the whole. Charles and Mark share the vocals, with Charles being the more assured performer. It was interesting to hear Je Nus Hons Pris, written in 1194 by Richard The Lionheart while imprisoned returning from a crusade; and Cavalilly Man from 1640, in which a woman wants to go to war alongside her “dainty” and “finicking” man (sounds like he might need her). Ballads like Lord Ronald (a variant of Lord Randal) and The Lailly Worm are very old too but more familiar, and Mark’s voice struggles to do them justice.

This 48-minute album is clearly a labour of love. There is an almost live feel it, with very few overdubs. I’m sure that in performance the duo will deliver a great night as well as flying the flag for early music.

Tony Hendry

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This album was reviewed in Issue 105 of The Living Tradition magazine.