Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Brass Monkey

There was a flurry of rediscovery around here centered on The Acoustic Folk Box, which was inversely inspired by missing Martin and Eliza Carthy (and Norma Waterson) at Symphony Space a couple of weeks ago.

The box itself has many pleasures, one of which is a track from Martin Carthy's early 80s quintet called Brass Monkey. The group combined Carthy's guitar and voice with fellow Albion Band alumnus John Kirkpatrick on concertina, along with percussion and brass instruments, trumpet, trombone and saxophone (sorry not to list everyone's name and dozens of other affiliations). They made two vinyl records on the legendary Topic label in 1983 and 1986 and the two were combined onto one CD, The Complete Brass Monkey, in 1993.

The Acoustic Folk Box includes "The Maid and the Palmer," the single best piece from their eponymous first LP, and the second LP, See How It Runs, has one equally astonishing song, called "The Handweaver and The Factory Maid." On both, Kirkpatrick's playing on the various small accordion-type instruments (concertina, melodeon, button accordion) has a remarkable propulsive quality - you can feel the air pumping in and out of the device, urging on the rhythm like a bellows stoking a fire. The brass parts, lending throughout an air of the concert hall or military band which takes us away from the farmyard, have an almost modernist edge, with their repetitiveness and the slightly off-kilter folk metric patterns - lots of dropped crochets and two beat measures. The parts, to my wildly free-associative way of thinking, are reminiscent of Rhys Chatham's marvelous "Waterloo, No. 2" (try this snippet on Last.fm which should give you the idea).

Finally, the lyrics to "The Handweaver and The Factory Maid" are intriguing as, according the liner notes, the song was originally titled "The Handweaver and The Chamber Maid." The change of focus from petty rural class rivalry to the industrial revolution, the factory maid now representing the new class that is replacing the handweaver, is quite brilliant. Furthermore, despite his family's disdain for factory girls, the narrator seems only too happy to give up the "wearisome trade" of the weaver who is "so bent that he's like to crack" and instead "trudge to the mill in the early morn", where the girls are!

The other big reminder upon revisiting the box was find out more about Eliza Carthy - her closing track, "10,000 Miles," is one of its high points and her 2002 release Anglicana, currently digitally unspooling for my delighted ears, suggests that was no fluke - more to come!

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