NEW SCORPION BAND - Master Marenghi’s Music Machine

NEW SCORPION BAND - Master Marenghi’s Music Machine
Own Label NSB05

I’ll admit to being a touch misled at first by the title of this latest recorded offering from the indefatigable Tim Laycock and his merry troupe of master musicians, for it might lead one to expect a themed disc based around the mighty fairground organ as manufactured by Mr. Charles Marenghi of Paris. No worries however, for the “beast” is capably evoked during the course of the band’s gleefully theatrical rendition of the fairground song Bridgwater Fair (one verse of which mentions the man himself, you’ll recall). This track is quite typical of the New Scorpion Band approach, where serious professional musicianship goes hand in hand with intensely intelligent, consciously arranged settings, an exceptional sense of ensemble and an abundantly fresh-sounding spontaneity in realisation.

The musicians treat their sources with respect, but – importantly – also show a keen sense of fun. There’s always plenty going on in the instrumental texture, which is constantly varied to suit the expressive needs of each piece. A gloriously rich sound emanates from the five players, each of whom also happens to be a fine singer as well as an expert and versatile instrumentalist. Having said that, there are several instances when a more restrained scoring pays dividends too, as on the sparser accompaniment to Sharon Lindo’s characterful rendition of Rosebud In June.

As regards the disc’s theme, well let’s not concern ourselves that there isn’t one as such – it’s a ragbag-seeming but well-coordinated collection that contains some old favourites from the band’s repertoire that they’d not got round to recording hitherto, along with some items from their newest programmed shows (they’ve had a busy few years!). Around a third of the tracks are purely instrumental, and these use individual colours and timbres most creatively; highlights include Brian Gulland’s delicately moulded cor anglais portrayal of The Gentle Maiden, to which is appended Robert A. White’s excellent performance of Tom Clough’s Herd On The Hill, and, earlier on the disc, a daintily executed yet suitably spirited set of border-county tunes. The vocal items mostly comprise well-chosen variants of quite well-known songs (Hey! John Barleycorn, The Painful Plough, The Derby Ram), and the rousing marching-band ambience of Ye Tyrants Of England (dedicated to the memory of Brass Monkey’s Howard Evans) is particularly well conveyed in the NSB’s performance. This delightful disc presents just over an hour’s worth of top-class music, where folk naturally and unpretentiously meets pre-classical and baroque in a carefully considered but always supremely entertaining tapestry.

David Kidman
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This album was reviewed in Issue 82 of The Living Tradition magazine.