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The barn owl, silent spectral hunter in the darkest night, inspired this music in one of those rare but satisfying silver linings of pandemic lockdown. With no gigs in his diary, guitarist Brooks Williams snapped up the chance to write music for documentary films of owls. Straddling American and English traditions, Williams quickly decided that his compositions called for fiddle alongside the guitar, and enlisted Bristol fiddler Catlow whose name may be familiar from Sheelanagig and other folk outfits. Together they have taken a body of new music and turned it into a soundtrack to the nocturnal habits of a beautiful creature.

Night Shift is a quirky bluesy number which could describe the ungainly emergence of an owl from its treetop home, waking up to the fading light of dusk, twitching its clownish head. Hoolet is more assured, a ragtime saunter as the bird takes to the air, while the title track is a dance of death, the soundless killer swooping in on velvet wings. Billy Wix is a jaunty Charleston, perhaps for the unsuspecting prey cheerfully gathering seeds or munching grass. And so it goes - sweeping descriptive pieces, rhythmic dances, guitar and fiddle finely balanced, both smooth and rhythmic by turns. You can imagine the scenes behind each track - the wobbly young owlet teetering and tumbling in First Dusk, the high-flying huntress hanging in the chilly night, searching the fields below to the slow drag of Weary Of The Moon, the mournful Fenland Flyer calling out as it seeks a mate perhaps, and the gentle jazz of Johnny's Farewell as the birds head back to the barn. No savagery, no sudden death, no shrill screams, but a touching tribute to the barn owl. There's sensitivity here, great skill of course, and humour too - at times it's simply a hoot! Well worth a listen, and look out for the barn owl films produced by Simon Hurwitz.

Alex Monaghan


This review appeared in Issue 141 of The Living Tradition magazine