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MONSTER CEILIDH BAND - Mechanical Monster

MONSTER CEILIDH BAND - Mechanical Monster
Dave’s Flat Records MCB002CD

This Newcastle-based outfit came to heavy prominence last year with a home-recorded album that was nominated for best instrumental album by Spiral Earth, received a Time Out Critics’ Choice honour and had a track included on the British Music WOMEX official CD. Their specific brand of full-on, energetic acoustica may, however, perhaps not be quite what you’d expect from the “ceilidh band” tag – although it does consist entirely of instrumental good vibes and sets of lively trad-inspired tunes mostly composed by band members. It’s just that the MCB rather belies its name, at least in terms of size, for instead of the Bellowhead-type behemoth the handle conjures up in the reviewer’s mind we’re here confronted by a four-piece.

The sound they produce is anything but puny, I’ll admit, with the driven accordion-and-fiddle front-line (Amy Thatcher of The Shee, and Carly Blain from the Scottish Borders respectively) cohorting with David De La Haye (member of Jez Lowe’s Bad Pennies) on electric bass, and Kieran Szifris on mandocello, providing a suitably chunky, often very funky – and very busy – backdrop.

It’s an exhilarating mix, with plenty of touches of humour along the way (as on the Big Mig set), although (at any rate until the disc’s latter half, where the energy level seems to notch up a gear or two) there’s probably insufficient variety in the texture or mood to sustain a listener much beyond the first disc’s eight tracks (33 minutes). The second disc is arguably where the “monster” element more literally comes into play, whereby the full-on acoustica of disc one is augmented by Frankenstein-like programming activities (David DLH with the aid of further laptop wizardry from Joseph Truswell, aka drum’n’bass producer The Touch), all within a determinedly beats-driven dance mode. This turns out to be more rewarding that it might at first promise, due to the high energy and invention levels on display here. We’re looking at cranking up the beats to almost total-manic at times, almost never letting the tempo flag or the vibes chill out and away (even on the more extended, initially slower twirling moto-perpetuo of Proggit).

This stomping mayhem will doubtless go down a storm at festivals, and to be honest I find myself liking it a lot, especially played loud – for it sure makes an invigorating listen if you’re in the right mood. And I do believe the manic air of audience-wowing “electrofolkmageddon” has been punchily captured on these discs. But on some playthroughs – especially of the first disc – I still can’t entirely escape the feeling of “yes, this is great but so what?” that (as with so many instrumental albums) doesn’t tend to penetrate beyond the experience of the moment into lasting memory. For with any dance-based music, that tends to be the nature of the beast – or in this case the monster…

David Kidman

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This album was reviewed in Issue 88 of The Living Tradition magazine.