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Private Label CSCD002

Named after a terror figure of the 1830 farmworkers' riots in rural England and describing themselves as an English ceilidh band, this Worcestershire quartet is surprisingly gentle and unassuming. I was expecting something a lot more aggressive and in-your-face, but to be fair, the Swing riots never reached west of Sussex and there probably aren't a lot of farm labourers in this band. What there is instead are multiple recorders, saxophone, clarinet, concertina, melodeon, guitar and bass. When they go about the countryside playing for dances and conspicuously not burning hay ricks, Captain Swing have their own caller too - but there's no calling on this, their second album, just 15 sets of tunes for dancing or listening as you prefer. The band has been going for over two decades and has a growing reputation, but English Jam is my first taste of their music.

Consistent with the rural English vibe, most of the material here is in the keys of G and C rather than the more familiar D or A. There's quite a range of sources, predominantly Thomas Hardy and similar English manuscript collections, as well as a few Scottish melodies and some from further afield. Well known English titles such as Tink A Tink and Linky Lanky jostle with the more Irish-sounding Go To The Devil And Shake Yourself or Merrily Danced The Quaker's Wife. From France we get Branle De La Torche, Pas d'Eté and Chanson Des Scieurs De Long: nothing from Jamaica though. The recorders lend a renaissance or baroque sound to some tracks, including Paddy Carey and a fair handful of Northumbrian tunes, while the sax can turn a perfectly ordinary dance tune like The Sheffield Hornpipe into a low-down dirty swamp blues.

Most selections on this CD would go down well at the local hop, but like English beers, some are more hoppy than others. The band's own compositions such as Just Let Me Finish This Row and Trollhouse Hop are on the lively side, while Shrewsbury Waltz slows the pace considerably. Captain Swing's Hornpipe and a couple of others see the band take their foot off the bass, giving a more concert feel to these tracks, without the solid beat of a dance rhythm. The arrangements can be quite complex and varied, justifying Captain Swing's tendency to play one-tune wonders rather than the more usual medleys. The CD cover, notes and artwork are gently humorous, so you can enjoy this album without even opening the box, but I'd recommend a good listen to the music too. English Jam finishes with the rousing slip-jig Trip To Yorkshire, a version of Brose And Butter, and a final burst of almost folk rock in the style of Umps & Dumps or Flowers & Frolics, vintage stuff and good clean fun. There are more words and music over at if you've a mind to explore.

Alex Monaghan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 104 of The Living Tradition magazine.