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Private Label 768841

The Southgate Band lists its personnel on its otherwise distinctly uninformative website as Andy Laking (double bass, vocals), Sean Regan and Patricia Clarke (fiddles), Colm O’Caoimh and Bethany Waickman (guitars), Máiréad Phelan (vocals, flute) and Nic Gareiss (step dance). Their Facebook presence yields no further background information on the band either, beyond a short newspaper article from the Wairarapa News heralding October 2013 appearances at the Kokomai Creative Festival – from which I deduce that the band’s actually based in New Zealand. Whatever, The Southgate Band is described therein as blending traditional North American and Irish music with dance.

The names of Sean and Colm are probably most well-known, for their appearances with the likes of Solas and Sharon Shannon. The aforementioned article confuses matters further, however, by naming Emma Beaton (of Joy Kills Sorrow) as The Southgate Band’s lead singer; she’s nowhere listed among the personnel on this CD’s package, which credits all of the website-mentioned players except for Bethany, plus vocalist Lissa Schneckenburger and a further five individual musicians. So, since the date on the CD is 2014, are we to assume that the line-up on this disc can be regarded as the current one?…

Whatever the number and identity of the musicians involved in this CD, they together make a pleasingly animated, if perhaps at times slightly anonymous overall sound. It’s worth a spin, and pleasantly engages with its relaxed, open-hearted grooves, as the opening set of Princess Bay Hornpipes demonstrates, the fiddle-driven melody gently driven forward by a springy, swinging guitar part and gently insistent percussion. The disc’s mood and pace is cleverly managed to take in songs (The Moorlough Shore, Jimmy Whalan, Benjamin Deane), the mood piece Reef Street by Gerry Paul and the fleet-footed, highly shufflesome Island Reels set, but it might be viewed as a drawback that this general arrangement, balance and formula doesn’t vary over-much during the course of the record. The menu also includes one curiosity among the almost exclusively traditional fare, a laid-back and wistful, piano-and-guitar-backed rendition of John Conolly’s classic Fiddlers’ Green (sung by Andrew) that initially seems mildly uninvolving but turns out on closer acquaintance to be one of the record’s high points, along with the self-styled ‘bonus track’, Andrew’s ballad relating the tale of William H. Wakefield. So this may not be a spectacular disc, but as a taster of the music of The Southgate Band, it’s a good enough start to warrant following the outfit’s progress.

David Kidman

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This album was reviewed in Issue 103 of The Living Tradition magazine.