on 3 January 2001
"Brassy" certainly describes the brass monkey sound - quite literally, with flugelhorn, sax, harmonica and trombone joining melodeon and guitar in a uniquely flexible combo. It was a unique sound when these tracks were laid down in 1983 and 1986, and it still is.
Brass Monkey take an eclectic mix of tunes, opening with the Waterman's Hornpipe, an unusual tune I hadn't heard before from a Shetland collection, with drones and unisons instead of chordal harmonies adding to its slightly offbeat character. Tunes as modern as Richard Thompson's 'Bad news' and as old as 'Prince William', first published in 1731, benefit from the freshness of Brass Monkey's arrangements - the opening bars of 'The maid and the palmer' with percussive box tremolo have a real swing that both counters and complements the tune and its rather risque message, while the opening of 'Jolly Bold Robber' with its slow drumbeat sounds almost medieval (until the mandolin tears loose and the brass start huffing a didj-like bass).
The brass instruments are not played just for noise - the meditative 'Fable of the wings' benefits from a beautifully mellow, almost melancholy trumpet postlude, and Howard Evans's 'Old Grenadier' (which he once described as the only good thing he'd got out of his service with the Welsh Guards) is a masterpiece of dignity. The fanfares that divide the verses of 'George's son' and provide its dramatic build-up with discordant harmonies make this narrative into an epic.
As you'd expect with a group that includes Martin Carthy and John Kirkpatrick, this is a CD of great executive skill, but also of great musicality. not a single tune is performed as 'just a tune' - the settings transform the music. I have my favourites (who doesn't?) but I don't think there's a less than excellent track on the disc.
on 28 November 2008
(This review was originally posted on Amazon.com in 2000)
This double album - fortunately with the release of Sound and Rumour not the complete Brass Monkey - is if nothing else great value for money: two excellent albums for the price of one. See How It Runs has been one of my favorite albums for years, and it was a great pleasure to be able to buy it alongside their first album which I had never heard and had been on the prowl for for some time.
Brass Monkey have without question one of the best lineups in contemporary English folk, with Martin Carthy and John Kirkpatrick both polished and formidable performers in their own right. Add to this a terrific brass section and some of the finest folk percussion you could want to hear. The latter is particularly noticable on what was side 1 of See How it Runs: Da Floo'er O'Taft followed by Weaver and the Factory Maid and then Rose Lawn Quadrille have often driven me to gyrate rather intensely, much to the consternation of my wife!
Indeed, many of the tracks on both albums have a driving rhythm which compare favourably with their brass counterparts from Cuba, despite the obviously enormous genre differences.
But this is not to underestimate the slower and more plaintive tracks, particularly John Kirkpatrick's rendering of Willie the Waterboy and Riding Down to Portsmouth, both of which contain tremendous expressions of bittersweet feeling which are greatly augmented by trumpet and trombone.
What a wonderful backdrop brass makes to good old English folk songs! And then there is the interplay between brass and concertina, the sounds from each somehow displaying a subtle and resonant similarity. Add to that the rhythmn, great vocals and choices of song from both Carthy and Kirkpatrick and you have what really ought to be one of Amazom's top sellers, certainly in the folk category.
The complete Brass Monkey is in fact the first two original albums from Brass Monkey together on one disc. These albums are excellent. The albums were, "Brass Monkey" 1983 and "See how it runs" 1986.
The history of the albums began in the 1960s with Martin Carthy becoming a folk recording artist with Dave Swarbrick. They recorded many traditional folk albums together. Meanwhile John Kirkpatrick built up a reputation as an accordion player of Traditional English folk music. Then in 1969 Carthy joined folk rock group Steeleye span and found new expression through mixing modern and traditional instruments on recordings of folk songs. In 1973 both Carthy and Kirkpatrick came together and joined The Albion Band for the album "Battle of the field". The pair got on well and Carthy contributed to "Plain Capers" an album for Kirkpatrick in 1976. This was a collection of English Morris tunes. Also on this line up was Martin Brinsford on mouth organ who would become the third member of Brass Monkey.
Carthy rejoined Steeleye Span in 1977 and took Kirkpatrick with him for two years. The pair worked on the Albion band album "Lark rise to Candleford" which was part of a theatre production. That connection brought the pair into contact with Howard Evens, the fourth member of Brass Monkey. Then Carthy recorded as a solo artist again with the album "Because its there" but once again has Kirkpatrick as guest along with Howard Evens and the trio also record the next Carthy album "Out of the cut" in 1982.
That brings us up to date to this next project - Brass Monkey. Carthy, on guitar, mandolin and vocals, Kirkpatrick on concertina, melodeon, button accordion and vocals, Evens, on trumpet, flugelhorn and vocals. Together with Brinsford on Saxophone, mouth organ and percussion, Williams on trombone and vocals, (first album, tracks 1-9) and finally Richard Cheetham on trombone. (second album, tracks 10-18)
The first album, Brass Monkey, was recorded in 1983. The second album, See how it goes was recorded in 1986. The group effectively split up due to the individual commitments of each of the group member and this release, The complete Bras Monkey is from 1993. It was such a successful issue that later in 1997 the demand for more Brass Monkey led to the members getting back together again, but that's another story.
This fabulous CD presents all the tracks from album one and two. It is a great release with a rich mixture of sounds. All of the 18 tracks are from traditional sources except for three, and there is a deep folk flavour with excitingly creative interpretation through the addition of brass and percussion sounds.
There are great songs such as "The "Hand weaver and the factory maid" a rousing song with a wonderful melody and the terrible results of war as reflected in the battle of Trafalgar in "The night of Trafalgar" There is even more military material in the fabulously rich "Old Grenadier". Also there are dances, hornpipes and ancient ballads in this wonderful recording
The sound of Brass Monkey is incredibly interesting and makes an original sound that gives new vitality to British folk music.
on 13 December 2011
Listen carefully to the previews before buying this. This recording is let down by the sound quality. The vocals tend to be drowned out by the music, which means you really struggle to hear the lyrics. Not great for anyone who enjoys a good sing-along in the car. But for all that it does point you to go and find a better recording of the Millers Three Sons, George's Son, Trafalgar and the Foxhunt. I wonder if this is where Bellowhead got their inspiration from.