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WHAPWEASEL - Festivalis

WHAPWEASEL - Festivalis
Private Label WW0008

Well blow me: a proper English dance band, button boxes and brass, in the wake of The Barely Works and The Oyster Band, Whapweasel was on my list for closer examination - and I go and pick the first album where they major in songs! To be fair, the songs aren't bad - a version of Aye Waulkin' O, a mercifully short take on High Barbaree, and a couple of those tortuous ballads of lechery and murder. The blues-reggae arrangements of well-known pub songs Country Life and Byker Hill are imaginative food for thought. John Tams' Snow Falls is not a traditional song, despite its references to guineas and barleycorn. Locksley Hall could almost be part of the tradition, if Maclaine Colston had set all 97 verses of this Tennyson poem to music, instead of stopping after the first eight. I think there are at least two distinct male voices sharing lead vocals, and the notes say that all eight members of Whapweasel chip in on the choruses.

All these songs don't leave much room for instrumental virtuosity, but Festivalis does feature that fabulous foreign fashion of fusing songs with tunes. The French jazz of No More Vodka combines well with a shanty, while the jagged rhythms of Brighton peer through that Tyneside pit ballad. Ukulele Shaker and Uist are not what you'd call dance music, although both are toe-tapping enough. February Waltz and its companion Bell Towers are charming gentle melodies: Whapweasel take their foot off the bass pedal and put the brass away for once. Whapper's Delight, on the other hand, is full-on funky jigs, packing in more noise than a Spanish cattle market, very danceable. I understand Whapweasel are moving from the barn dance arena to the concert platform, and on the evidence of Festivalis this should work well for them. Personally I'd like to hear more of their dance music, but there are five previous albums of that to choose from!

Alex Monaghan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 94 of The Living Tradition magazine.