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CLIFF STAPLETON & FRIENDS - The Tumbling Of Creatures

CLIFF STAPLETON & FRIENDS - The Tumbling Of Creatures
Woodbird WB001

I don’t know about you, but for me there has always been something mysterious, alluring even, about hurdy-gurdy music, and over several decades Cliff Stapleton has been one of the instrument’s finest and most original exponents. This album, which Cliff describes as a retrospective, takes us through his musical journey from its beginnings, through the extraordinary success of the Blowzabella years and on via his other musical collaborations to the world of music for the modern theatre and his more recent work in the band Coil.

With the exception of one traditional item on the Blowzabella track, virtually every item was either composed by Cliff alone, or in collaboration with his musical partners, which means the album gives a fascinating insight into one man’s musical development. When that man is one of the instrument’s more prominent and creative exponents, you know it’s likely to be an interesting and pleasurable journey.

Starting with a couple of Eastern European-inspired tracks, the move across Europe can be traced in the Blowzabella piece, where Dave Roberts’ (of fond memory) English melodeon gives way to a more continental feel and ends in a mediaeval mood. More recent contributions from Angles, The Drones, Primæval and The Duellists bring mood changes culminating in the entirely different tone of The Labyrinth, from a theatre production. After that, things change radically and the listener is plunged into a brooding, introspective and often dark world of new music which is certainly not ‘easy listening’, but which does reward further playing – it certainly makes you think.

Throughout this tour de force, Cliff’s role ranges from that of composer to lead musician to accompanist, and this underlines the variety of the music itself. Any attempt at sleeve notes would, I guess, have resulted in an entire biography, so the decision was taken to limit the written information to credits and an enumeration of the personnel on each track. The sleeve itself is beautifully designed and produced – nothing slipshod here – and sets the CD off well.

If you like European music and dance, hurdy-gurdies and music to make you sit up and take notice, very professionally arranged and performed by some of the most acclaimed musicians in their field, this could well be just what you’ve been looking for.

John Waltham

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This album was reviewed in Issue 116 of The Living Tradition magazine.