Live & Kicking
Squiggle Records SQUIGGLECD2

Well, even Lazarus came back from the dead no more effectively than Dave Swarbrick did. For if Swarb's premature 1999 obituary in the Daily Telegraph was not proof enough of his demise from emphysema, then his desperately sick appearance for the best part of seven years seemed to suggest that the game was up. But lung transplant to the rescue, and a very real miracle has occurred. Indeed, just before I sat down to write this review, he was rapturously received returning this August to the Cropredy Festival stage: the scene of so many of his former triumphs.

Now, this is a live CD: an amalgam of four gigs around England in March and April of 2006. It is a CD that has also - according to the liner notes - "a whole extra CD ROM section on the CD which you can locate if you put your CD into your computer". Apparently this section contains all sorts of goodies.

Note I say "apparently". Alas my modern DELL computer could not detect the CD Rom section in this disc: nor could the PC of a friend living local to me. Neither computer has ever had a problem doing so with previous such "bonus" offerings. One wonders whether it was just a rogue copy, and that 99% of the others work just fine. Let's hope so. Indeed it probably IS the case since I note that Squiggle Records of Harlech leave mastering and production to that most proficient of labels, Sain of Caernarfon.

But whatever the whys and wherefores, there was quite enough of the "conventional CD" of this release for me to be able to enjoy, and more-than-enough for a reviewer to talk about. "Swarb's Lazarus" consists of the great man himself on fiddle and mandolin, Kevin Dempsey on guitar and Maartin Allcock on bouzar and guitar. The main vocals on the songs are the responsibility of Kevin, with Maartin adding harmonies (with the exception being a touching version of Cyril Tawney's "Grey Funnel Line", where the roles are reversed).

There is the usual mix of songs and instrumentals, and of course with three virtuoso musicians like these, the latter take pride of place. As someone who used to regularly attend Digbeth Town Hall in the late 60s to see Swarb when he was still a member of the Ian Campbell Folk Group, I now close my eyes as I listen and still marvel that if inevitably a tad of the phenomenal drive and energy has gone from his playing, the fact still remains that Swarb's playing has a DNA and authority all of its own. And even non-fiddle players like me can tell it his him from virtually the first note.

The instrumentals dazzle. They put me in mind of the great much-lamented Whippersnapper, a foursome of which Dave and Kevin were members. (A group furthermore that have never since been matched by all the various permutations on the Folk scene.) You can just hear in every note the fact that the trio all hold each other in the highest regard, as they make room for their colleagues' playing in a way that goes beyond what is purely "good musical common sense".

But me being a song lover, it is natural I guess that the two highlights of the CD for me were SONGS. The aforementioned Tawney classic has a nicely understated Allcock vocal with a glorious vocal harmony from Dempsey. Their twin guitars marvellously evoke the metronomic quality of the swell of the waves.

But it was that great Copper family song, The Forsaken Mermaid that was to prove the real high. Never did I think that any vocal could replace Bob Copper's in my affection. And I was right. This one doesn't, decent fist though Kevin makes of it. But as a VERSION, it is as good as this song gets. When Dave's fiddle is showcased 4 minutes into the 6 minute 30 second track, I defy you not to find the whole thing terribly moving.

So then, is the CD a delight from start to finish? No, not quite. Indeed the only two moments of irritation come AT the very start and again toward the very end. We start with an introduction by Pam Aird at the Unicorn Theater in Abingdon. Now as introductions go, it is unexceptional, and perhaps has - in being just a total of 37 seconds - the added bonus of brevity. So what's my beef?

Simple. Squiggle Records have the chutzpah to show it as Track One! And when toward the end of the album Dave asks "are we doing alright for time?" this too finds itself listed as a track: a track of eight seconds' duration! Now someone is taking the proverbial here, and it won't do.

You might say, it is harmless enough fun, and add that there have been many instances of this little dodge being pulled before. And in some ways you'd be right. But try telling that to Trading Standards. The fact is that potential buyers taking a cursory glance at the back cover of the CD will figure they are getting 13 tracks for their £13: whereas the reality is that they are getting eleven.

Don't do it chaps. You have FAR too much class for that.

Dai Woosnam

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 70 of The Living Tradition magazine.