I didn’t become aware until recently of the Flying Toads, but when I did, I also became aware of their CD ‘In Stitches’, and was curious enough to give a listen to the samples (and also the videos) on their web site. These are numerous and lengthy enough to give a good (and very positive) impression of the whole CD, even though many of the tunes aren’t included in the samples. (That’s not a complaint! I can see many people’s interest being whetted by what is included.)
Subsequently, Keith Whiddon kindly sent me a copy of the CD so that I could do a full review, and it’s on the CD that this review is based.
Flying Toads are:
- Val Marciandi (concertina, vocals)
- Brian Hirst (cittern, fiddle, guitar)
- Keith Whiddon (tenor banjo, bouzouki, backing vocals)
- Erik Faithfull (uilleann pipes, flute, whistle, Northumbrian smallpipes)
Guest musicians Michael Probert and Mal Simms also play boddhrán on some tracks.
- The Newry Highwayman (song)/Din Tarrant’s (polka)
- Banish the Battering Bog Boys! (Actually a medley of four ‘alliterative jigs’: Banish Misfortune, The Battering Ram, The Geese in the Bog, The Boys of Ballymote)
- Trip to Cullenstown/Lexy MacAskill/Limestone Rock (reels)
- Mountain Rain (song)
- The Exiles/Elizabeth Kelly’s Delight/Farewell to Whalley Range (slip jigs)
- Lord Mayo (march)/As I roved out (song)/Brenda Stubbert’s (reel)
- The Monaghan Twig (jig->reel/Fair Haired Lass (reel)/Bunker Hill (reel)
- Birds and Ships (song)
- Out on the ocean/Tyrell’s Pass/The Roaring Barmaid (jigs)
- Trip to Pakistan (reel)/Belfast City (song)
- Súile Shuibhne (Sweeney’s Eyes)/Paddy Fahey’s/Porthole of the Kelp/Old Man’s Blackthorn Stick (reels)
The Newry Highwayman is a version of a widespread broadside ballad that I (and no doubt many other people) used to perform back in the Dark Ages as Newlyn Town. This Irish* version has a sprightly major tune and is beautifully sung by Val, and goes immediately into a polka from the playing of Din Tarrant.
Archie Fisher’s The Mountain Rain is a song that should be heard more often, and if you don’t know it, this is an excellent version.
As I roved out is a well-known Irish version of The Trooper and the Maid, but no worse for being a more familiar tune. It’s actually part of a set here, being preceded by the march Lord Mayo and followed by Cape Breton fiddler Jerry Holland’s reel Brenda Stubbert’s.
Track 8 is a version of Birds and Ships, a sweet and simple lyric by Woody Guthrie set to a tune by Billy Bragg and recorded with the American band Wilco (not, I think, Wilko, as stated on the inside cover) and originally featuring Natalie Marchant: a pleasing tune, despite a curious resemblance to Waltzing Matilda.
The band uses flautist Niall Kenny’s gorgeous reel Trip to Pakistan as an introduction to Belfast City, not the dance tune of the same name but a version of the song widely known as The Spanish Lady: this version has a minor tune to which the reel is a slightly exotic but perfectly appropriate complement.
*In fact, many of the references in the lyric, as is common with this song, actually suggest London more than Ireland, though St. Stephen’s Green in Dublin, where our anti-hero met his end, certainly had its share of public hangings.
The other tracks comprise a wide assortment of dance tunes old (but not over-familiar) and new(-ish), mostly jigs and reels. The varied range of instrumental expertise across the band ensures a diversity of tone colour and harmony, even within a given track/set. The reviews page on the Flying Toads suggests that they’re capable of providing a fine evening of dancing, but given some adventurous harmonies and changes of pace and rhythm – and instrument – I’d guess that the intention here was to generate a satisfying (and beautifully-recorded by Alistair Russell) listening experience rather than a dance album as such. Nevertheless, there’s certainly plenty of scope for toe-tapping here. And it would be churlish not to mention Val’s knitted ‘Toads’ as featured on the sleeve. (And also to be seen on the web site.)
This is an excellent CD that deserves the plaudits already received from the likes of fRoots, Folk and Roots, and Celtic Music Magazine. Let’s hope that with two of the band now resident in Shropshire, we’ll hear more of them in this part of the country. And if you want to hear even more from them, a track Palm Sunday from the CD they’re in the process of recording is available from their website or from Soundcloud, showing that there’s plenty more good music where that came from.