To my knowledge, Chris Sherburn and Denny Bartley have graced the guest list for my local Folk Festival more times than I have changed the strings on my guitar over the past 10 years, and now joined with Nick Scott as Last Night’s Fun, they seem to have appeared on the guest list of almost every other festival as well. Indeed, last year they played at an impressive 19 festivals in the U.K. alone. So you might say that I have seen them perform live a few times.
This album is good, very good, but to be perfectly honest, I don’t think this album does them enough credit. Their live performances coupled with their humour and stagecraft are supreme. This is the reason I suspect they are so popular at festivals. Without the banter, the music comes out brilliantly performed but cold in comparison. For a band like this it must always be difficult to produce a representative album.
Denny Bartley handles all the vocals and has a marvellous ‘lived-in’ folk singer’s voice. Chris Sherburn must be one of the finest concertina players around and now complimented by Nick Scott on the uilleann pipes the band is complete.
Last Night’s Fun is a band that is renowned for its speed and tightness. So if there is a theme behind the title Tempered, maybe it’s an acknowledgment of their fast, virtuoso playing of jig and reels, and that they have the ability to slow down to take in more gentle tunes, to show the beauty of the music, making it more discernible. Couple this with the band’s love of the traveling people, as shown with songs like Ewan McColl’s ‘Thirty Foot Trailer’, Woody Guthrie’s ‘Tom Joad’, and even ‘Sammy Bar’ by Cyril Tawney. The tunes and songs on this album blend together well, offering plenty of light and shade. The only tiny criticism of the album I have is Denny’s choice to sing ‘Whiskey in the Jar’ as a slow lament and with a slightly different tune. Purely a personal taste, but I still prefer the original. But, hey, this is folk music, and the singer is free to interpret a song any way he likes, or so I am led to believe.
Although coming from Yorkshire, all three members have a very strong Irish heritage in their blood, and this shows in their passion for the music they play. Adrian McNally, in the Head Gardener’s House at Doxford Hall, Northumberland, recorded the album in January 2004. At that time of year, it would be hard to find a more tranquil place on this planet. This is born out by one of the tunes, ‘Doxford Hall’, an original piece made up, as Chris says, while sitting around the fireplace in the house. Other tunes include ‘Humours of Ballyloughlin’, a superb start to the album featuring Nick on the uilleann pipes. Chris takes the lead on ‘The Watchmaker’, a set of tunes which incorporates ‘The Cliffs of Moher’ and ‘The Famous Ballymote’. I think I like the penultimate track best out of all the tunes. It’s Brendan O’Regan’s ‘Autumn Child’, an ‘Unknown Slide’, and ‘O’Keefe’s Slide’. When you have heard it, you want to hear it again and again.
The arrangements show real imagination and flair. Even on the vocal tracks it is never overdone, just the right amount of concertina and pipes weaving in when required. It’s a pity there are only eight tracks on the album – it leaves you wanting to hear more.
(Rabble Rouser Music, 2004)