Reviews of VT157CD 'O'er Lang at the Fair'
This is a gem of an album, full of beautiful, thoughtfully-played concertina and pipe music that I won’t forget in a hurry. Rob is a 30-something year-old who started out on English concertina, then added Northumbrian pipes in his teens and has since won many piping competition prizes. But prizes are not what this album’s about. What matters here is that the expressive, shimmering playing on this CD is well-nigh faultless, both on pipes and ‘tina, and that Rob’s a young man who plays the pipes like an old-fashioned piper without ever being a copyist of anyone’s style.
Indeed, one of the reasons John Howson of the Veteran CD label was keen to record him is that his style of playing is so obviously taken from Northumberland’s old-time players, several of whom Rob was able to meet and learn from while they were still alive. Rob’s concertina playing ˇs as lively, accurate and expressive as his piping, He says his aim has been to avoid concertina neo-classicisms and to take his style from other instruments that have more in-built rhythmic emphasis, such as the Anglo concertina, the fiddle and mouthorgan. (Rob, it should be noted is also a mouthorganist although,his playing doesn’t feature on this CD.)
This CD is a mix of tunes played In turn on pipes and concertina, sometimes on their own and sometimes with either piano accompaniment by Will Chamberlain or on pipe duet with another champion Northumbrian piper, Andy May. Each combination is worth hearing, and each number is either traditional or sounds like it should be.
You’ll probably appreciate by now that there’s
nothing not to like on this album, but if there’s anything that comes as a
refreshing surprise, it’s the slow airs, ‘Colisfield House, ‘Bonny Tyneside’ and
Niel Gow’s ‘Farewell to Whisky’, which, In Rob’s hands, have a very song-like
Otherwise, I say the most striking tunes are probably Ron Purvis’s tune ‘The Farmyard Schottische’ and the Northumbrian classics, ‘Little Jenny’, ‘Because He Was a Bonny Lad’ and ‘Cut and Dry Dolly’, each with variations, the last played in an impressive duet with Andy May.
English Dance & Song
Along with Andy May, who crops up on smallpipes on set closer ‘Cut And Dry Dolly', Rob Say is one of the most outstanding musicians to emerge from the North East of England in the last decade. A formidable player on both concertina and smallpipes, Say's playing is steeped in the traditions of one of our most vibrant musical regions, having learned the old-fashioned way in sessions with older carriers of the tunes. His playing is marked by a crisp lightness of touch which sparkles right from the off, with the toe tapping 'Gilsland Hornpipe' /'Old Tom's Rant' fair skipping out of the speakers. On first listen, it's these jaunty dance sets that grab the attention, with Ron Purvis's 'The Farmyard Schottische' enough to get anyone up on their feet.
Nonetheless, the slower airs soon assert their majestic presence, and Neil Gow's 'Farewell To Whisky' in particular is beautifully handled on the pipes. Naturally, the aforementioned 'Cut And Dry Dolly' is a tour de force - a pipe duet of dazzling precision that never seems showy - but it doesn't eclipse the rest of this album, which showcases north eastern traditional instrumental music at its best.
R2 (Rock & Reel)
Rob Say is an award winning piper from the North East of England - as well as the Northumberland small pipes, Rob plays the English concertina andis a master of both. His repertoire of traditional and composed tunes is firmly set in the music making tradition of the area, a product of the fact that while learning his craft, Rob was able to listen to and sometimes play with the best of the older generation of musicians.
The above mentioned repertoire includes rants, airs, marches, hornpipes, reels and a schottische. On some tracks Rob is sympathetically accompanied by Will Chamberlain on piano and there are a couple of outstanding duets with Andy May, another award winning piper.
There is something for everyone with a love of traditional music on this superb CD. They say that to write a positive review is easier, and can therefore be shorter to write, than a bad one. I hope this is true for I can find nothing but positive things to say about O’er Lang At The Fair. It is one of the best non-archival albums of that fairly rare thing - an English instrumental CD - that I have heard this year. Another indispensable release from the admirable Veteran label.
The Living Tradition
Think of a brilliant exponent of the English concertina and Northumbrian small pipes and the name of Alistair Anderson would undoubtedly spring to mind. In a new generation of talented musicians, however, Rob Say is up there with the best.
The sleeve notes of how Rob became interested in playing makes for fascinating reading, Both his parents were musicians, and his father played the pipes, but it was the concertina that first attracted Rob's interest and only subsequently did he realise that in terms of playing technique there was a good deal of similarity between the two instruments. He is now based in Northumberland after early childhood in Norfolk, later school years in Durham, university at Sheffield, and three years working in Hampshire.
I find listening to traditional music on small pipes and concertina very soothing and relaxing, and this album is perfect in that respect. Lovely rhythmic bouncy hornpipes and polkas, such as the opening Gisland Hornpipe set and the Belfast Polka with accompanying piano from Will Chamberlain and slow airs like Coilsfield House provide tremendous contrast. The pipe duets with Andy May are pure magic on the Powburn Lads set and Cut and Dry Dolly (rings a bell - I think I've still got an old vinyl of Northumbrian pipes by that name). I was quite surprised to find the jigs Squirrel in the Tree and Aunt Mary's Canadian Jig on the album, being rather outlandish to the North-East, but they adapt very well to the style of Rob's playing and character of the other tracks. This is one of the most enjoyable albums of traditional style music I have had the pleasure to review.
Born in Norfolk and brought up for the first ten years of his life in Wymondham, Rob Say embraced his father's North Eastern musical legacy by learning first the English concertina and later the Northumbrian pipes when he moved back to the family's ancestral county. I heard him play concertina at the recent East Anglian Traditional Musical Trust Traditional Music Day and can vouch for the fact that he is an exceptionally good player. He is a dazzling exponent on both instruments and this CD is an excellent demonstration of his skills. We have the added attraction of a duet with Andy May on the last track and the piano accompaniment of Will Chamberlain.
Rob has direct links with the past generation of North Eastern musicians - Joe Hutton, Willy Taylor and Will Atkinson through attendance at sessions held at the home of Annie Snaith who played piano for Billy Bigg and John Armstrong. This shines through in his interpretation of the North Eastern repertoire. His choice of material is eclectic - from this century's Ron Purvis's Farmyard Schottische and Adrian Schofield's Alfie's Pig to the eighteenth century march English Bring to Gratney Green. Every tune is a joy to listen to. There is a sparkle to the whole CD which leaves one with a smile on one's face.
My favourite of all is the Belfast Polka played on concertina where Rob demonstrates his dexterity with repeated notes. It is truly breathtaking! Veteran has done us English concertina players a great favour in bringing out this CD. And for the pipers amongst our readers - that is brilliant too!
From the opening with Gilsland Hornpipe to the closing pipe duet of Cut and Dry Dolly there is nothing here to fault, and because of the consistent high standard its difficult to pick out anything for special praise. When it comes to the best tune title on the CD I am torn between the march The English Bring to Gratney Green the Lasses that Ha'e Siller which was published in 1794 and Jack's Pocket Ashtray, learned from Joe Hutton. The only two that I recognise are The Squirrel in the Tree which I am sure that I have heard under another title but can't remember what, and The Belfast Polka which had me trying to remember the moves for the Heel and Toe Polka which isn't that easy to dance while typing! So much of Veteran's material is targeted at a very specialised niche audience but this is a definite buy recommendation for the general listener as well.
Here's a big chocolate-box of tunes, about thirty, played remarkably well on smallpipes and concertina by a young enthusiast convert -- who better? On some tracks we also have a terrific piano and a second smallpipes. About half are trad with others by Pigg, Gow, Hill and others. Just stick it on and enjoy.
Over the past ten years or more the popularity of
traditional instrumental music seems to have waned somewhat. “Riverdance” gave
Irish music a massive boost, but being part of a trad band myself, I have
noticed the distinct lack of interest from audiences for true traditional
Well maybe Rob Say, with this album, can go some way to expel the apathy of true trad tunes, I certainly hope so. Since the halcyon days of gatherings such as Anderson, Tickell & The Three Shepherds from the Northumbrian region, the North East’s music has sadly taken a slight back seat to high energy ‘English’ band music.
So O’er Lang at the Fair by Rob Say is without doubt a very high quality, and professional collection of traditional and original North Eastern tunes. Rob plays both Northumbrian Pipes and English Concertina, his father being a pipe maker, and sounds to be a total natural on both. Rob is accompanied on the album by Will Chamberlain (piano), and Andy May (smallpipes), and this gives the truly unique Northumbrian sound. A wonderful combination for performance, sessions and ceilidhs, it has an energy all of its own which cannot fail to get the feet moving and the fingers tapping.
I am only going to single out one set, that being Powburn Lads/The Real Thing/A Ifie Pigg’s Jig, a set of jigs that include a pipe duet that is absolutely gorgeous!
There Is one thing this album will hopefully do — and that is give all you cellidhs bands out there some new tunes, because even an old arthritis ridden folkie like me couldn’t stop dancing round my lounge as I constantly listened to Rob’s playing!
As you would expect from this record label, the packaging, and art work, booklet are first class, lots of info and notes on the tunes. You couldn’t ask for more — very professional.
Listening to the album, Rob is up there with all the North Eastern household greats, and obviously has a very long and successful career ahead of him. Having said that — all you club/festival organisers should now be clambering to get him on your events list. Trust me — I know what I am talking about here! A truly wonderful album of North Eastern traditional music played competently with no frills or bloody brass sections!
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