Let me sum it up: TRADarrr’s debut album is one of the best first albums I have ever heard from anyone. But is it really a debut album? Three of the five members on that album (PJ Wright on guitars, Guy Fletcher on fiddle and mandolin, and Mark Stevens on drums, cornet and keyboards) played together in Little Johnny England, and the other two (Greg Cave on guitars and Marion Fleetwood on guitar and various bowed instruments) were no newcomers in the music business. Joined by Ric Sanders, Dave Pegg and Chris Leslie from Fairport, Jerry Donahue and a few others the only thing new is the band name.
But never mind all that. The opening is superb. It starts off with a a powerful folk rock version of the first part of Ralph Vaughan Williams’s ”Folk Song Suite”, followed by Marion Fleetwood singing ”My Lagan Love”(the tune Richard Farina used for ”The Quiet Joys of Brotherhood”). Then it continues in the same way, with new arrangements of traditional songs, often served with power worthy any heavy metal group.
And the final five tracks are pure gold. Cave sings ”The Simple Ploughboy, with Fleetwood taking a couple of verses, and the band plays in a style reminding me of Shorley Collins’s classic ”No Roses” album. Then a stunning version of ”Lord Derwentwater’s Farewell” (opening with Stevens’ cornet), sung by ”esteemed guest” Pete Scrowther. It makes way for two well-known instrumentals, ”Princess Royal” and ”Upton Stick Dance”. With three fiddlers, Fleetwood, Fletcher and Ric Sanders, and three guest melodeon players, they could have been stand out tracks on any Morris On album.
And before you have caught your breath you’re into the final track, where the band combines ”Nottamun Town” and ”Pretty Polly”. It starts off quite soft but builds up to a climax – a track you are likely to set on repeat for quite a few times.
I must confess I love every minute of the album, even the tracks I have not mentioned.
So how do you follow such a debut? Well, TRADarrr started by adding two new members. First they got themselves a bass player, Tim Harries, who once played with Steeleye Span. Then they got one more female singer, Gemma Shirley, a trained opera singer who also plays piano, fiddle and percussion.
Now a seven piece with as many lead singers and most members playing more than one instrument, they have turned out a follow-up almost as good as the debut. They have moved in the Steeleye direction of ”improving” the melodies or writing new ones for the traditional lyrics they use throughout. Often it works very well, but on some occasions I think they should have stuck with the original tunes.
Once again it starts out with the band in full power on “Winter Winds”. Then it continues as did their first album, the powerful combined with the beautiful, the fast with the slow. My favourite tracks among the twelve are the following:
”Rap Her to Bank” starts off with brass and some lovely electric guitar. Cave’s voice comes in for a rather slow song. On the solo verse Fletcher gets the chance to provide some nice mandolin. A song that sticks in your head.
There are many versions of ”Lowlands of Holland”, but TRADarrr’s is one of the best I have heard. Starting off with Stevens playing ”The Water Is Wide” on his cornet, then letting Fleetwood take over, with Shirley adding harmonies from the second verse. Just the voices, the cornet, some keyboards and some programmed percussion, before the opening tune comes back, with the female voices heard far back in the mix. Total magic all the way through.
”The Drowned Lover” starts of softly with Gemma Shirley’s voice and some plucked violin. The full band falls in with some heavy riffs. And PJ Wright gets a chance to add a short rock solo.
At first I was annoyed with the band changing the tune for ”The Cuckoo’s Nest”, but after listening a few times I changed my mind. Again the women are singing, this time with PJ Wright also playing dulcimer.
The only instrumental on the album, ”Madame Bonaparte/The Golden Eagle”, carries on the Fairport Convention tradition of making fiddle tunes rock hard, with everyone getting a chance to play a bit of the melody lines.
In all a very fine album, though not always reaching the heights of the first one. But who could expect that? And with Fairport Convention more concentrating a newly written songs, TRADarrr are up there with Steeleye Span as the main providers of traditional music played with electric instruments. And the good news are that they are every bit as good live. As Dave Pegg said when I met him at the bar after a TRADarrr-gig.”Aren’t they great?” I just nodded.
Hedge of Sound Records (2015, 2017)