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CANNY FETTLE - Still Gannin' Canny

CANNY FETTLE - Still Gannin' Canny
Private Label CANNYCD001

Now here's a group with a real respect for the tradition. The group's origins date from the heyday of the revival in the Manchester area but their musical style is very Northumbrian, even when the material is of Lancashire, Yorkshire or Scots origin. Vocalist Bob Morton is from South Shields, and Northumbrian piper Gerry Murphy is from Durham City, so maybe that isn't so surprising, although such sympathy isn't always the case.

It's a great compliment to the lads (not forgetting Grace's contribution) that their combination of fiddle, pipes and concertina brings to mind the influential Glasgow band, The Clutha, and that's praise indeed. There was no nonsense or frills about The Clutha, who faithfully absorbed the Scots tradition, and is still an inspiration 50 years on. Reading the sleeve notes, it's apparent that Canny Fettle has similarly absorbed the song tradition from such as Harry Boardman and Louis Killen (at the time) and sharing musical time with such as Forster Charlton and Joe Hutton has done their music no harm at all.

There were few decent Northumbrian pipers in the sixties, and even less were capable of keeping time - Billy Pigg was a notable exception. One of my fondest memories is of the night when Billy, John Doonan and Forster Charlton (without his cat!) played at the Marsden Folk Club in South Shields. A little less Irish in style, but the cohesion of this CD is reminiscent of that group, mainly derived from years of playing together - that amazing night at Marsden is still to be heard on the Gateshead Library website, incidentally.

But back to this excellent CD - my innate prejudice against traditional music learned from the 'dots' has received a severe jolt here! In my experience, using such sources invariably results in sterility and lack of rhythm, but the band's respect for earlier musicians really shows here. It's simple really, just pay attention to the ones who have a lifetime's experience behind them, but bearing that in mind, go your own way.

There's hardly a duff track here - pipes, fiddle and concertina in unison and harmony, with a tasteful guitar at times too, but I'll point out a few good uns'. The first set on the CD is the Birks Of Endermay / Tae Gar Ye Lowp / Dunstanburgh Castle; three lovely understated tunes worthy of a place in anyone's repertoire and beautifully played here. There are Northumbrian songs like Bonny Pit Laddie and Aboot the Bush Willy, a stirring Joe Wilson song, We'll Soon Have Work Te Dee, and the classic Ellwood/Davenport mining song, The Old Miner. All of these are ably and effortlessly delivered by Bob Morton with band accompaniment. Mind you, on the last one, Bob Diehl's fiddle accompaniment is further enhanced by Grace’s clogging - I had thought until now that I was the only one daft enough to play for a clogdancer (Johnson Ellwood) on an audio recording, a BBC LP in about 1970! I'm not keen on the reworked last verse of the song here, but the clogdancing does work, so well done Grace.

An old mate of mine, Alex McKie (RIP) of Felling-on-Tyne had a lively song called the Gateshead Mashers and it was lovely to hear a Lancashire version, the Ashton Mashers, to conclude and finish as they say in many Irish songs. Fifteen tracks of quality music and song - all you need to know about the background of the musicians and the songs is in the 16 page booklet, so hadaway and buy a copy. You won't hear better in many a day.

Jim Bainbridge

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This album was reviewed in Issue 118 of The Living Tradition magazine.