Saturday 25 October 2014


CD Review

Cabinet of Curiosities

Accordion players on their own you can get on board with, someone who plays the drums et al can capture the imagination, put the two together and your first instinct is it needs something more.

The Hut People,  Gary Hammond and Sam Pirt
Then take the time to listen to just one track from the boss of the bellows Sam Pirt and the professor of percussion Gary Hammond and you will scrap that idea.
Together as The Hut People they are stupendously original, endlessly inventive, extremely eclectic and, thankfully, real scavengers of the world's music.
It's worth going to a concert just for the infectious enthusiasm and thoroughly engaging character of Pirt who smiles constantly, sweats profusely due to his musical exertions and rarely keeps still, and just so you know, he also tap dances sitting down while playing the accordion, and they say men can't multi-task.
Hammond is no less enthusiastic and his interest in virtually anything he can bang or tap a sound out of borders on the obsessive which makes for a real mix of musical cultures and styles that are simply mesmerising.
No studio album, however well produced, is going to capture the rapture they seem to experience when playing so you will just have to go and see them live and be content with this album, which is hardly a trial, until you do.
There is no point in comparing this with any of their previous albums because their music moves on and each collection is inspired by new experiences, understandings and findings
What CoC does capture is the skill of Pirt and Hammond, their eclectic catalogue and their ability to wring a tune from almost anywhere. McCusker's opens full pelt with the machine gun fingers of Yorkshireman Pirt on the bellows and Hammond adding all sorts of gems for their version of Trip to Miriam's, a reel by Scottish fiddler Colin Farrell. The triangle beat in the background sounds almost like the ticking of a clock which then gives way to the military march sound of the drum.
The duo slow down things forVasen with Pirt using his piano accordion to create an almost bagpipe sound which is carried along by the definite beat of Hammond who is using a variety of instruments to create the undercurrent to Pirt's playing.
To give you some idea of the range of sounds and instruments Hammond calls upon, only two tracks in the list includes, triangle, snare drum, zabumba, ghatam. cajon, silvershaker, headed spark shaker, water bottle tops, yes he improvises instruments too, tambourine and water phone.
So anyone who says they are not getting their money's worth in terms of sounds must be listening to another CD.
The Hut People
One For Louise was inspired by a student of Pirt's, and is the first of their original compositions on the album. It has very much a highland feel to it and with Hammond adding a military beat in the background it conjures up a pipe band either on the battlements of a castle or standing on the top of a hill in full regalia.
That's until it gives way to a much more African sounding rhythm before coming back to the tartan feel.
If you haven't already guessed this an instrumental album and while some can be really tedious to listen to where all the tracks just seem to be the same apart from a few tweaks, this is not the case with CoC with tracks such as Polska Efter Hins Lars which came from an Ethno Music Camp in Sweden. The camps were a series of workshops where musicians from all over the world and of all styles could get together, swap ideas, sounds and music.
Pirt was so impressed with proceedings that he set up a UK camp.
Polska is a gentle flowing track with Hammond providing slightly offbeat rhythms and sounds in the background as the undulating sound of Pirt's accordion carries the tune along.
The staccato sound of Hammond opens Las Ramblas and to start off it has the feel of a tango with Pirt also having to fit in with the snappy sound before it flows into a more Caribbean ska sound with the occasional insert of what sounds a little like Moroccan influenced music.
With the opening of Fife and Drum, Hammond comes in with the single stringed berimbau and it's hypnotic and gives the feel of musicians in the middle east sitting around playing ancient tunes kept in memory which is juxtaposed by Pirt creating a flute sound on his bellows.
It begins with a very simply melody before building up into a much more complex strand of music which is followed by the title track which has the feel and rhythm of the Mission Impossible theme but carries along on a reggae beat with Hammond creating a snake-like accompaniment on the rain maker.
Jean's Hut in the Bog is a traditional sounding doublet of Hut in the Bog and Jean's Reel.
Cabinet of Curiosities
Hammond provides, among many other sounds, a renaissance-style street dancing rhythm which moved into the jauntier second half of the tune with Pirt's fingers once again working overtime on the keys of his accordion.
Stor is a wonderfully atmospheric track with the melancholy sound of Pirt and the ethereal sound of Hammond's percussion. The narrative of the instrumental is akin to the stories of Sirens luring sailors, or in this case the men of a village, to their watery doom.
The echoing throb of Hammond's drumming, the ominous wind sounds he creates and the sombre tones of Pirt fit the story perfectly.
On a much lighter tone comes Karen's Birthday which opens with a Latin-style beat from Hammond with Pirt adding a rhythm reminiscent of Bo Diddley. This is a light tune which dances along at a rapid pace and is a real toe tapper and even has a strand of Rio carnival thrown in for good measure from there the next track takes you over to Spain or more specifically the Basque Country.
Hut's arrangement of Elemntuak by Kalakan from the region is a much stripped down rendition which keeps the essence of the tune although the rhythm of the original is much stronger and dominating but Pirt gives it some nice soft tweaks to add colour.
Continuing on the musical journey the next stop is Latvia with a skipping polka which wouldn't be out of place on an English village green with Morrismen shaking their bells in the summer sun. Pirt's jaunty playing and Hammond's foot jangling beat give it that kind of feel.
CoC's penultimate track, Song for Chris, sees The Huts pull out all the stops, especially Hammond with the machine gun beat which carries right through to the end.
The Irish influence on the final track is obvious to start with and not surprisingly seeing as it's The Huts' arrangement of a song which came from eponymous Galway fiddler Lucy Farr. The Celtic strand runs all the way through it even as The Huts keep adding more and more layers to it as the tune progresses, and going out on a track where you can get a ceilidh going isn't bad way to finish off an album.
The Hut People are probably one of the most original duos on the folk circuit at the moment and their passion and deep curiosity for music produces some incredibly enjoyable performances - the beauty of what they do is no tune, note or beat is too obscure to be considered an inspiration.
The Hut People may not be one of the more well-known of the folk bands but it's only a matter of time, their talent and innovative sound is being sought out more and more and pretty soon they are going to be on everyone's radar wanting to look inside their cabinet of curiosities.

Cabinet of Curiosities is out now on Fellside Records

The Mike Harding Folk Show

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