Link to Living Tradition Homepage





Sleeve not available
422 "New Numbers" Fellside, FECD171

422 are an instrumental quintet from the north of England, whose musical pulse is located somewhere on the main artery that runs from Shetland to Sweden. "New Numbers" is their eagerly awaited sophomore release, following 2000's "One." The band comprises Emily and Sophy Ball (fiddles), Joey Oliver (whistles and oboe), Sam Pirt (accordion) and Ian Stephenson (guitar). Individually, they're all mighty players. Collectively, they're a force to be reckoned with. The measure of any instrumental group lies in their ability to create arrangements of sufficient complexity to demand repeated listening, while keeping the melodies totally accessible from the outset. 422 have that trick well and truly mastered, and apply it with an impressively deft touch across the ten tracks here.

While much of the repertoire is sourced from Scotland and Sweden, there are plenty of interesting side turns into Ireland, Canada and elsewhere. The tunes are traditional, contemporary and self-composed, and include reels, jigs, polkas, polskas, marches and hornpipes. There's a fabulous understanding of dynamics going on in the arrangements, allowing each instrument and indeed, each musician ample space in the music. Likewise, there's obviously been a lot of attention paid to the sequencing of the tracks. The contrasting and complementary eclecticism held this listener's attention from start to finish, and at 50.72 minutes total playing time, doesn't over stretch the attention span of those of us conditioned by vinyl L.Ps.

While there isn't a duff track or performance to be found, immediate highlights include Stephenson's guitar on "Rodney's" and "TV Set," where he gleefully grabs the opportunity to cut loose in best Peerie Willie / Hazel Wrigley fashion. His playing is crisp, inventive, and swings like a pendulum. "Kuati" features an authentically dense Scandinavian arrangement, with Oliver conjuring an impressive "spookiness" from his oboe. Almost any group with two fiddle players is going to get a "thumbs-up" from me. When, like Emily and Sophy Ball, those two fiddlers are also siblings (Galway's Liz and Yvonne Kane spring to mind here), the sense of musical empathy occasionally borders on the preternatural. In the right hands, the accordion is among the most versatile and expressive of instruments, capable of melody, harmony, counterpoint, rhythm, power, subtlety and all combinations thereof. Pirt's "Stomach Steinway" is definitely in the right hands. It's worth noting that the CD was recorded "live" with no overdubs or multi-tracking, just to emphasise this bands capabilities!

While it would be easy to continue in this laudatory vein to the very end, there is, perhaps a case for speculating that the band themselves believe that they're not yet "the finished article." The clues to these musings lie in the credits to some of their source musicians. La Vieille Maclotte was learnt, apparently, from "some mental Belgian musicians," while Anton and Erik Teljeback, we're informed, "are both mad, young fiddle players from Umea... they completely rock!" It's possible to detect faint notes of both aspiration and envy in those descriptions. There's certainly a "wildness" and "abandon" in the best Scandinavian music that's difficult to reproduce when tackling this music as a cultural "alien." 422's innately English politeness has (thankfully) resulted in an approach based on total immersion in the music, rather than one of simply "joy riding" it in search of kicks. Any perceived lack of the "mad" or "mental" factors (and this sounds tremendously exciting to me!) will surely come as a result of consistent touring, something that's thus far been denied them due to the necessity of turning up at their universities on a regular basis. On the evidence of "New Numbers," 422 definitely won't be short of gigs for the foreseeable future.

Stephen Hunt

Secure On-line mailorder service Buy this CD online from The Listening Post
The Listening Post is the CD mailorder service of The Living Tradition magazine.
This album was reviewed in Issue 52 of The Living Tradition magazine.