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WOODWOSE - Dancing Stones

WOODWOSE - Dancing Stones
Private Label RUFUS3

Wild men - not to be confused with green men - were a common ingredient of mediaeval tales, and around 1400 such a creature was called a woodwose. Shorter and broader than ordinary humans, the woodwose was usually depicted with long unkempt hair and beard, ragged clothing, and nails in need of a trip to the pooch parlour. Nowadays, of course, these creatures are known as folkies. A certain number of folkies also enjoy dressing up: hats, cloaks, boots and long flowing robes, preferably in red and black, although green and purple are also acceptable. This CD depicts four such figures on the front cover, standing in a stone circle and brandishing offensive weapons: behold the group Woodwose, complete with hurdy-gurdy, bagpipes, hautbois, and a seriously incongruous modern folk guitar. But you shouldn't judge a CD by its cover, and inside there is an explanation of sorts: Woodwose is the marriage of a mediaeval musical duo and a pair of players from the band Primeval, with a shared interest in old instruments. The weird get-up is apparently secondary.

Woodwose was formed by Steve Tyler and Katy Marchant of the Daughters of Elvin, a surprisingly full-bearded group who dress up a lot. Steve and Katy wanted to play new music on their old gurdy and pipes, so they enlisted the help of Jonathan Shorland on woodwind (replaced by Ann Allen since this recording) and Sonny Davidson on that guitar (he's saving up for a cittern). The music on Dancing Stones is all new compositions, arranged by Tyler whose impressive playing underpins almost every track. The claim that Steve Tyler is one of the finest gurdyists in Europe may not be too exaggerated: I'm not sure he'd be in the top ten, but he isn't far behind. He has a fine balance between drone and melody strings, a smooth action in the left hand, and an effortless coup de quatre which drives the music along. Marchant's piping is a little blurred at times, but adds a warm woody sound to the buzz of the gurdy and oboe. Guitar and cittern add to the beat, while guest Dhevdhas Nair brings extra percussion and imperceptible accordion.

The compositions here - 13 in total, spread over nine tracks - range from Shorland's hypnotic Psychling and lyrical Dark And Light to Tyler's Blowzabella-esque Frenetique and the rippling Marchant-Tyler collaboration Moonpig (dedicated to a mythical creature, I hope, rather than a delivery of personalised mugs). Davidson's charming Wildest Dreams contrasts neatly with the bucolic buzz of Brude McBile. There must be good stories behind some of these names, but sadly no details are supplied with the CD. All this new music sits pretty much in the contemporary English/French folk idiom: bransles, jigs, bourrees, polkas, and some more complex rhythms. It's easily transferrable to fiddle or melodeon, and most of it would fit on most bagpipes, so if you're looking for a new tune or two, try these. Samples and startling photos are available at

Alex Monaghan


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This album was reviewed in Issue 95 of The Living Tradition magazine.