Brass Monkey’s Flame of Fire

cover, Flame of Fire“Against May, Whitsuntide, or other time, all the yung men and maides, olde men and wives, run gadding overnight to the woods, groves, hils and mountaines, where they spend all the night in pleasant pastimes; and in the morning, they return, bringing with them birch and branches of trees, to deck their assemblies withall . . .”

Stubbes (campaigning against the May gathering), 1583

It was seen as the beginning of the summer, you see, and all the hope of fresh produce, and celebrations, and what-have-you put everyone in a rather cheery mood. So this explains the existence of all these songs about the merry month of May. You didn’t think the maypole had no symbolism did you? Hmmmm.

Anyway, Brass Monkey begins this album (from 2004) with “The Swinton May Song,” a tune guitarist/singer Martin Carthy tells us in his liner notes was discovered by him and his wife Norma Waterson some 30 years ago in Chambers’ Book of Days, then recorded by the Watersons and revived for Flame of Fire by Brass Monkey. Brass Monkey is just one of several groups in which Carthy plies his trade. He is one of the world’s most subtle and evocative guitarists, and a darn fine singer as well. Here he is joined by Martin Brinsford (drums, varous percussive instruments, mouth-organ and saxophone), Howard Evans (trumpet and flugelhorn), John Kirkpatrick (button accordion and anlgo concertinas), and Roger Williams (bass trombone, tenor trombone, tuba and euphonium). Together they take English folk song to another level blending Carthy’s quiet guitar arrangements with traditional silver band sounds and the propulsive wheeze of various squeezeboxes.

They raid the Cecil Sharp collection for “A Brisk Young Widow” (the song not the girl!) and “The Streams of Lovely Nancy.” Maybe it is the girls they’re after! “The Game of All Fours” provides a tune Kirkpatrick describes in his notes as “a saucy song.” Songs are interspersed with dance tunes and each musician finds time to feature his skills.

I have never heard an album Martin Carthy was involved with that didn’t yield treasures. Brass Monkey’s Flame of Fire is no exception. Musical, danceable, foot-tappable, it harkens back to the past to make one appreciate the long history of folk music.

(Topic Records, 2004)

David Kidney

David Kidney was born in the Marine Hospital on Staten Island in the middle of the last century, when the millenium seemed a very long way off. His family soon moved to Canada, because the air was fresher. He has written songs and stories, played guitar, painted, sculpted, and coached soccer and baseball. He edits and publishes the Rylander, the Ry Cooder Quarterly, which has subscribers around the world. He says life in the Great White North is grand. He lives in Dundas in the province of Ontario, with his wife.

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