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BLACKBEARD’S TEA PARTY - Tomorrow We’ll Be Sober

BLACKBEARD’S TEA PARTY - Tomorrow We’ll Be Sober
Private Label  BTP002

Blackbeard’s Tea Party comprises six ultra-energetic young musicians who, as well as regularly playing for ceilidhs, are still often to be seen busking round York (where most of them originally attended uni). Two years ago, BBC Radio 2 broadcast a track from their debut EP Heavens To Betsy on the strength of a chance sighting on the York streets by a certain Mr. Harding, which occasioned a run of storming festival appearances and the impetus to record this full-length follow-up. Like that initial EP, it proclaims an exuberant combo that displays not only a great sense of musicianship but also a keen sense of purpose that communicates their overwhelming enthusiasm for the music and its performance. They’re clearly intent on us all having as good a time as they are, and equally clearly they’ve thought about where they’re taking us with their full-steam-ahead, defiantly loud and slightly quirky folk-rock that in approved pirate-speak might best be dubbed “arrr-tful”!

The signature BTP sound is characterised by a strong front-line (Paul Young’s spirited melodeon and Laura Barber’s whirling-dervish fiddle) driving (and being driven by) Martin Coumbe’s heavy-duty grinding, blinding electric guitar, with Tim Yates’ chunky, boomingly inventive bass lines and a perplexing panoply of percussionists (Dave Boston and Yom Hardy) together forming a mighty rearguard action. It’s not yer bog-standard, plodding folk-rockery by any stretch, for everything is grist to the BTP mill as far as musical gestures and byway influences are concerned. Any of the disc’s five instrumental cuts provides a powerhouse demonstration of the adventuresome BTP approach; the ship rocks like crazy, and with no sense of forcing into a metrical straitjacket.

The seven vocal tracks all benefit greatly from Paul’s authoritative singing, and the arrangements mostly show a sense of enterprise of which we’ve not heard the like since the halcyon days when folk-rock flirted with psych and prog, even if inevitably some songs work better than others: Stan Rogers’ Barrett’s Privateers is given a thoughtful pacing emphasising the narrative element (though perhaps losing a little in lusty chorus participation), while David Dodds’ I Can Hew keeps the fire well stoked from its arresting opening. BTP’s epic take on Cyril Tawney’s Chicken On A Raft enjoys a queasy, riff-and-fuzz-drenched and fiddle-thick workout that High Tide or East Of Eden would’ve been proud of, while On Board Of A Man Of War rescues this traditional ditty from the Davy Jones’ locker of hackneyed sea songs with a suitably sturdy retelling of its cautionary tale. On the other hand, Paul and his piratical chorus inject into rather too much jovial buffoonery into the “drunken singalong classic” Landlord, and I’ve also slight reservations with isolated effects elsewhere that irritate just a bit on repetition and compromise the hearty live-rave atmosphere of the gig in general. But by and large this surreal Looking-Glass tea-party is both vividly infectious and muzzily feelgood. Just one little footnote, though: the BTP lineup has recently undergone a change, with the gang’s “singing buddy and morris dancer extraordinaire” Stuart Giddens having replaced Paul, so Tomorrow We’ll Be Sober serves as a one-off memento of this vibrant snapshot in time.

David Kidman

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This album was reviewed in Issue 91 of The Living Tradition magazine.