Wouter en de Draak – Wouter en de Draak (2018)



Dear reader,
it is kind of costumary that we start a review with an nice intro. Something funny or of interest. I could, for example, ponder a bit over why the band is called Wouter en de Draak (dragon). Is it a nice play on words on the story of George and the dragon? (In Dutch the story is actually called Joris en de draak, and the bandmembers are called Wouter and -indeed- Joris ). Or did Joris do something odd to get this nickname? A million ideas come up.
I could also mention some of the song titles. Now I know that folk people have this tradition to give their instrumental songs odd names, but Dieseldrone, Tosti, or Vliegende Graafmachine (Flying excavator)?? Those surely are amongst the strangest I’ve seen in a long time. Another option is to make a more serious remark, for instance how fitting it is that I write this review right after Aérokorda‘s Hush The Wolves.Hush The Wolf being the CD you would play at the height of a party, when everyone is swirling and dancing, and how Wouter en de Draak -the album- is the perfect follow-up. The music that you would play when the night is coming to its end, but nobody wants to leave. The moment you pop open the first bottle of wine, as a friend starts some deep conversation that you know will take you deep into the morning. I could write about all that. But forget about it! This time I’m skipping the intro! There is so much I want to tell about this album, that I’m just gonna leave the whole intro thing be and get right to the music.


Wouter en de Draak are Wouter Kuyper (diatonic accordion, recorder, on the right) and his dragon companion Joris Alblas (acoustic guitar, left side). They invited Isaac Muller (Irish flute, second from right), Frank van Vliet (Flugelhorn, trumpet) and Roeland Uijtdewilligen (percussion, second from left) to join them as guest soloists on some songs. Together they made quite an interesting instrumental balfolk CD, that includes 3 waltzes, 2 Scottish , a hanter dro (a dance from Bretagne), a cercle, 2 mazurkas, a jig, a bourree and a gavotte. In their bio Wouter and Joris describe their music as: [quote] ‘Balfolk with a bigger roll for the guitar, a touch of Irish folk and a big love for the music from Bretagne.’ Well I can safely say this is true. As I was watching them play on this years Elfia Haarzuilen I was instantly transported to France, even as hailstorms that were constantly coming over and dropping their loads. The rain and the cold didn’t stop the Balfolkers to dance upon W.e.d.D.’s tunes. That in itself says enough. On CD the music gets an extra dimension, a deeper layer, you can hear the care and the intensity they put into the recording. It are not ‘just’ balfolk tunes they play, no it are instrumental chansons. That is what makes Wouter en de Draak -the album- so good. But i’m getting way ahead of myself again.

As I was listening to the first notes of Vliegende Graafmachine, it just happened, that I was sitting in the metro with the morning sun on my face and a clear blue sky above me. Now I don’t know if it was the warmth of the sun or the melancholic sound of Wouter’s accordion, but the music took me right back to a summer camp about 30 years ago, when we were backpacking in an area just south of Paris. Back to a night we slept under the open sky, just as clear as today, somewhere alongside the Seine. Some of us were brave enough to sleep on the grass, some of us under a bridge -just in case it would rain- but all of us too lazy to pitch our tents.
I don’t know if it’s the lovely acoustic guitar intro, the slightly melancholic sound of the accordion or the laidback feel of the song, but I can’t help drifting off to that wonderful time we had in La France. But in any case, Vliegende Graafmachine (flying excavator !?) is a lovely introduction to Wouter en de Draak’s first album.

Hanterko (a hanter dro from Bretagne) has a French feel to it as well, this time with clear Celtic influences. Especially when Irish flute player and guest musician Isaac Muller shares the lead melody with Wouter Kuyper. But it’s not a clearcut whizzing and swirling Irish folk song. Again the musicians take a more laidback approach. Wouter en de Draak build their songs up slowly, taking their time to let the melody flow. They really understand the power of a small pause, a moment of silence within the music. All of this makes Hanterko a beautiful ballad.

The next song, the cheerful slightly jumpy Scottish Werkelijk Waar?! (Really?!) keeps me in a reminiscent mood and takes me back to another childhood memory. When I was a kid, a barrel organ pulled by horse, would come through our street on its way to the market. I would always rush to the window to listen to it. The way Wouter plays his accordion at the start of Werkelijk Waar ?! takes me back to the sound of that barrel organ, and when the percussion starts to sound like horse hooves the memory is complete. The cool flute solo from Wouter suddenly gives my memories a weird twist. As if Peter Pan himself is flying through my memories. At a certain point Werkelijk Waar !? becomes a wee bit jazzy and that’s the point where I really drift off towards a good place. Werkelijk waar!



I keep being in this chill state of mind during Davy’s Waltz.Yes it’s a waltz, but more than that it is a beautiful piece of calm acoustic guitar music accompanied by accordion. A singer-songwriter type song but without a singer. The music of Wouter en de Draak doesn’t need a voice anyway. The part of the voice is shared by all the instruments. Sometimes it’s the delicate touch of the guitar, sometimes it’s a beautiful solo from the accordion and sometimes it’s one of the guest soloist that tell the tale. It’s this variety that makes this album such a pleasure to listen to. The diversity, not only in instruments, but also in dances, in tempo, in the way the music is arranged. From small and subtle to grand and powerful. Those contrasts are what makes this CD so interesting to listen to.

The fifth song, New Horizon, New Adventures is a Cercle that gives us that positive, cheerful French/Irish connection again. It’s the interplay between the accordion and the Irish flute that catches my ear in the beginning, but the best part of the song starts halfway through when, one after another, all the soloists get their moment to shine. A lovely song that keeps growing on you the more you hear it.

The mazurka Zon Op De Glijbaan (Sun on the slide) is a gentle accordion piece accompanied by guitar. Lovely and calm. Again it’s Isaac’s flute that becomes the icing on the cake. It’s almost a shame that Zon Op De Glijbaan is the last song he is a guest on.
But not to worry, on Ballon/Tosti (yes you did read balloon/ tosti) we get introduced to a new guest soloist, Frank van Vliet on trumpet. The song starts with a fast guitar chord that takes me straight to Spain. But when Wouter joins in on is accordion I am drifting even further away, over the big ocean towards Argentina and its famous tango music. Tango music is all about passion and drama off course, something you won’t find in that way in this scottish. But a tango is also about love and melancholy, it is a story put to music, and in Ballon/Tosti Wouter En De Draak do the same. It’s the combination of classical guitar, played in that typical Spanish style, and the accordion often used in Argentine tangos that does it for me, in my mind Ballon/tosti becomes a Scottish with the sound and the feel of a tango. When Frank finally joins in with his delicate trumpetsolo, I am truly convinced this song was recorded during a Argentine summer fiesta.

Now that I have this tango comparison in my head it’s really hard to get it out again. He’pter is a ballad and a waltz, so realistically as far away from a Argentine tango as possible , yet that melancholic accordion sound and the Spanish sounding acoustic guitar are so characteristic that my mind keeps coming back to the same conclusion.



Witte Tony/Witte Danny is cheerful song. A nice jig that just flows into the ears. Nothing more, nothing less.There is a bit more to tell about Dieseldrone/Menage A Trois. It starts Spanish again, with a nice guitar solo from Joris, accompanied by Wouter on his accordion. Roeland Uijtdewilligen’s percussion gives the music that latin feel, and when Frank van Vliet joins in with his trumpet we are ready for a lovely Latin American musical mix. Fast Spanish guitar lines, some delicate Mexican trumpet and the French accordion. This is Folk music, but from a totally different part of the world then we normally hear on CeltCast. The cool thing is that the guest musicians are not just there to add some musical flavour. No, they are allowed to share the spotlight, to help enrich the wonderful music Wouter and Joris have written. I also really admire the way the album builds up, and by that I mean the order that the songs are put in. Most of the times bands put their fastest, best songs in the beginning, slowing down towards the end. Not Wouter en de Draak. They do it the other way around. They start delicate and now, almost at the end of the CD, with Dieseldrone/Menage A Trois you hear their most energetic, powerful song. Not a bad choice, not bad at all.

With Monsieur 7 we go full circle. This delicate accordion solo takes me back to France again. Back to Paris. And back to my imagination. In the late evening sun an old Frenchman is sitting on une terrasse, in front of an old cafe in a quartier close to the famous Montmartre. The cafe sits in one of those small alleys you only find if you go wander around way off the beaten path. Our Frenchman, let’s call him Pierre, is playing his accordion. The knobs shining golden in the fading sun. We stop and have a listen. You can hear his life through the tender beautiful sound of his accordion. It was a good life, full of joy and love. You can hear it. You can feel it as you listen. Your heart warms to the nostalgic sound of the music and the taste of a dark red wine you are offered. You know this is a perfect end to a lovely day. As it is a perfect ending to this lovely CD. With the last fading note the story is told.

The last song? I’m pretty sure the band will stare at that line with a bit of amazement, pointing out a small, but not insignificant detail to me: ‘You do realise that there are twelve (!) songs on this album Cliff, not eleven????’ Yes Wouter and Joris, I do. But with Monsieur 7 you two have recorded such a perfect end to this beautiful CD in my ears, that I have started considering Gavotte De Grenoble as a bonus track. Even if it isn’t really true. *) And very nice bonus track if I may add. Again it has this contradiction in it, as it is a slow song, a touching French chanson, danced as a gavotte. And still I have that tango feel again, that hidden passion, that melancholic story underneath. Something that just runs through this whole album.

With this last song I finally figured it out! Wouter En De Draak play Argentine ballads. And they are seriously good at it. I cannot point out a single best song. This CD itself is the highlight. It is an album of consistent high quality. And it was a pleasure, a real pleasure to listen to. Although I used the word ‘melancholic’ a lot it’s not a sad CD. On the contrary. Yes it makes me nostalgic, but in a good way. Remembering summers filled with fun and laughter. In an odd way it makes me feel at home. It feels like a warm musical bath in which I can unwind and relax. This is not a ‘simple’ CD filled with balfolk tunes. This is a listening experience that will give you many a enjoyable moment. Well done, gentlemen and thank you. Merci beaucoup. Merci pour la très, très belle musique. And now if you will excuse me, I’ll be off, play the CD again and have another glass of wine with Monsieur Pierre.

Cliff

Editor: Diane

Sleeve art : Tineke Lemmens

Pictures taken at Elfia Haarzuilen by Cliff de Booy

*) In his reaction to the review Wouter told me it ís true. Gavotte De Grenoble was indeed ment as a bonustrack.

Aérokorda – Hush The Wolves (2017)



Joie de vivre! That was the first thing that came to mind as I was listening to Hush The Wolves, the debut album of the Belgian instrumental folk trio Aérokorda. The second thing that came to mind? How incredibly fitting this music is to this time of the year. Now that the spring equinox is past us, the first flowers are showing their colours, and my winter clothes are pushed away deep in the back of the closet for yet another year, I was longing for some cheerful, positive music.
And Aérokorda’s music fits right in. It’s the musical explosion of spring colours, the celebrational music of Ostara and -here it comes again- the soundtrack of joie de vivre! This is music filled with energy, it is music that keeps on giving. I can easily see Aérokorda playing the village stage on Castlefest and the whole balfolk community in front of it, swirling and curling on a warm summer afternoon. The field filled with bright coloured dresses, all of them spinning and turning, as the dancers stir up clouds of dust, celebrating life in a kaleidoscope of light.
OK let’s introduce the band shortly, Aérokorda is the project of Davy Cautaerts (middle in the picture), Adriaan van Wonterghem (right side) both Belgian, and halve Belgian halve Bulgarian Violinist Pavel Souvandjiev (left). Adriaan is a classic trained guitarist who created his own almost romantic style of guitar playing that he not only shows in Aérokorda, but also since 2001 in the Belgian folk band Boreas.
Violinist Pavel is also classically trained, and listeners could already know him from the Belgian duo Les Bottines Artistique. A duo he formed with chromatic accordion player Guus Herremans. The duo released their first album Summertime in june 2017.
Davy Cautaerts is Aéorokorda’s Irish Whistle and octave mandolin player. He specialised in Celtic music for several years now, he also plays in the folkcore band Ithilien. Ithilien describe themselves as a mix between traditional Belgian folk music and modern metal music like deathmetal and metalcore. A cool band judging by the video’s on their site, that the fans of the harder tpes of metal will most likely appriciate.
As a trio Adrian, Pavel and Davy also play in the bands Sanseveria and the new band Makaram, a septet that brings together world music with a folk rock feel. But this review we focus on their balfolkband Aerokorda. As Aerokorda they play: ‘Folk music with influences from the Irish and the Balkan cultures completed with our own touch and ideas.’as they say so nicely on their own facebook page. And Hush The Wolves is their first album, which came out in june 2017.

Listening to Hush The Wolves you can safely say you get what it says on the package. The first song FYC starts with a strong Spanish classical guitar chord, followed by a nice flute intro by Davy Cautaerts (left). Then the song itself kicks in. It is, as all the songs on Hush The Wolves a own composition , mixing a lovely traditional sounding Celtic folk melody with Eastern European violin influences. During FYC the violinist Pavel Souvandjiev (right) and Davy divide the lead melodies amongst each other, with guitarist Adriaan van Wonterghem (middle) keeping up the tempo with his passionate Spanish guitar chords. An impressive start to Hush The Wolves, that made me instantly eager to hear more of this album. Hoping I would find more gems on it.
Well, I can assure you, it does not disappoint. The next song I pick up on is the third track , Ontdooi -Dutch for defrost-. On this song Aérokorda take back the pace for the first time. Guitarist Adriaan van Wotherghem starts with a lovely, almost breakable melody line that is the backbone of this song. Over this, Pavel, who wrote Ontdooi, lays down the loveliest of violin melodies. It’s not so much a solo, no, he uses his violin as a voice to tell a beautiful story. A story I pictured as a lovestory. But actually, as the band told me, inspired by how nature thaws after a cold winternight. a lovely theme for this song, a beautiful marriage between violin, guitar and octave mandolin.

Talking about imagination, the next song The Cliffs Of Moher is what inspired me to write the intro of this review. The song is a lovely -and I really mean lovely- piece of cheerful Irish dance music. So full of joy, of energy, I keep putting it on repeat. Adriaan on guitar starts it up, and as is common in Irish traditionals, both the flute and violin join in together to play a tune so catchy and fun, you just must dance to it.
Aérokorda cleverly build the song up, using small breaks before continuing again with a new variation on the tune changing height, melody or lead instrument ever so slightly, adding more and more energy to the tune, something I know the dancers will pick up on when played live. Heck they had me dancing, whistling and waving my hand with every curl and swirl of the melody. (which looks rather ridiculous on a bike, judging by the looks I got from the other people around me in the morning traffic.Not that I care, I’m enjoying myself too much with this album to be bothered.)



After the frantic cheerfulness of The Cliffs Of Moher, the next song Mist is a nice change of pace.
It’s a nice upbeat cultural mix-up song. As if a Celtic flute player met a gypsy violinist during a balfolk dance night and they started to play together. Improvising and reacting to each other as the go along, blending their music together. With a bit of imagination you could say it sounds like Vivaldi playing some variations on Celtic music. And… it works.

By now I think it’s clear I am loving this album. It’s well played, well composed and so catchy. This is a CD made to spread fun and joy, made to dance upon and enjoy life. Aérokorda Jig, the sixth song on Hush The Wolves is, again, positive Celtic folk meets Balkan dance tune. Flutist Davy Cautaerts starts it with a nice upbeat melody. Pavel picks up on it again and the jig becomes yet another beautiful ‘duel’ between flute and violin. Balfolk people will love this music. But not only them, There is enough quality and variation in each song to fully enjoy this from the luxury of a couch as well. If you can keep yourself from getting up and swirling through your living room that is.

With Ashokan Farewell we get our breath back, as the soft touch of the guitar strings is leading you into a gentle ballad, a duet between guitar and flute, later joined by Pavel on his violin. A lovely calm moment to get your heartbeat down again. Also the first moment on the album where guitarist Adriaan van Wonterghem – most of the time weaving his rhythmic melodies into the music in a supportive role- steps into the floodlights to play some delicate guitar solos. Something he does again on slaapzacht (sleep well), a gentle solo piece for guitar, but so song orientated, that I only noticed it was a solo piece the 5th time I listened it. That is actually a feature of the whole album. There are a lot of solo-esque moments in there, but it never becomes a show of skills. It is always in service of the melody, only done to enhance the beauty of the song.

The best example of that is Backstage Andro. It starts with a catchy but oh so calming guitar riff. The violin solo that Pavel Souvandjiev puts over that guitar is pure magic. It starts small and gentle but boy does he open up halfway in a powerful full on solo melody. Trust me, with his violin Pavel can say more in one song than I can say in a week. But it remains a song. Without doubt the best one on this album. Just put your stereo a wee bit louder, -not to much it will become loud enough as it is-, lean back and let the music embrace you. Stunning!
This is also the right time for me to compliment Adriaan on the way he recorded and mixed the CD. He did it in a really clean way with only subtle stereo effects, really getting the best out of all this lovely music.

Now I could go on and on about Hush The Wolves, but I won’t. It’s time for the customary conclusion of this review. On Hush The Wolves the three members of Aérokorda give you the lush, cheerful music of Eire, the traditional guitar chords of Spain and the pure beauty of Eastern European musical heritage.They can be gentle as a raindrop in summer, or grand like the ocean waves. Everybody who loves traditional instrumental folk, has a heart for Eastern European music and ballfolk or appreciates a bit of classical chamber music should have this album in their collection. This is a must have CD. Period!

Cliff

Editor: Diane
Picture credits: Aérokorda
first two, taken in Ireland. Third and fourth Marielle Groot Obbink, taken at Midwinter fair 2018 Aérokorda
Sleeve art: Lander Cardon

SeeD – Through The Veil (2017)



Well, I tried. I really tried… I tried to make a impartial, objective review of the New SeeD album Through The Veil and I couldn’t. It didn’t work. Why?
Since 2015 I have been following SeeD and I just love them. I love the positive, cheerful energy they spread on stage. I love their ‘outside of the box’ thinking. Recording your debut CD in a forest? Why not! Energy breakdown on a Spanish Festival??? Just step off the podium and build the biggest party ever I front of it! (see picture on the right) Swapping instruments and play a song like that ‘life on air’ during a CeltCast interview? Sure we dare to do that!
I love to see their friendship on stage and I love the way they interact with the crowd, with the fans. Ánd I LOVE their music!! I’s so cheerful and positive. It gives you a smile the minute you hear it. And after all that, they recorded Through The Veil together with my favourite sound ‘artist’ Fieke van den Hurk, at the Dearworld studio. I give up. I’m biased. Big time!


After the intro -with impressive singing from Sara- the first notes of the title song Through The Veil take you into the magical realm of the fae, the gnomes, the goblins and seedlings. Just as Portal To Elfland before it, the CD is a nice mixture between instrumental songs and vocals. With a big role for Koen van Egmond on solo flute. He, in my opinion, is one of the best solo flutists in the scene. Having the ability to tell a whole story with only his flute. Just listen to the titel song Through The Veil, Seedling, or FFuya and you’ll know what I mean. As a band SeeD epitomize the spirit of the pagan folk scene. Their approach to music is free spirited, sometimes a bit unconventional, but always pure from their hearts. It says enough that the band sees friendship as the main force behind their music. In a way SeeD reminds me of the way music was made in the 60’s at the height of the flower power. It has that same sense of freedom, that same feel of love and that same captivating happiness running though it.

For those who don’t know SeeD yet, they play pagan folk using Flute, percussion, bouzouki and slidgeridoo as their main instruments. The lyrics are musical fairy tales. Telling the stories of gnomes, goblins, seedlings and all the other creatures that life in the magical world of SeeD. Just as a proper fairy tale is a bit gruesome and has some life lessons hidden in it, SeeD is not afraid to pack a serious message in their stories as well. De Gnoom, De Heks En De Boom -sung in Dutch- or Thorny Vines are good examples of that. Giving the band’s lyrics an extra quality. As mentioned Through The Veil is recorded in the Dearworld studio with Fieke van den Hurk at the controls. She managed to give the CD an open, crisp and fresh sound. Almost as if it was recorded life in one take. Something that works well with SeeD’s style of music.
All the songs on the CD are lovely, but The Heron deserves a special mentioning. The heron -the bird that is- is Koen’s totem animal. And in this song he honours her. The song itself is an earworm that you really can’t get ride of, and features some stunning flute improvisation from Koen in the middle of the song. Making it one of my highlights on the CD, actually one of the best instrumental pagan folk songs I’ve heared. Stunning.
Another highlight is Lullaby. A love song that shows how much Koen has grown as a singer in the last years, performing on stage. His voice and Sara’s blend beautifully. And it is already a favourite among the fans.

But I shouldn’t focus too much on Koen alone. All play an important part on this CD. Just listen to the percussion and slidgeridoo on The Heron. The song wouldn’t have the impact it has, if it wasn’t for the rhythm section behind it, setting the tone in the intro. Same goes for The Hobgoblin’s Gift or The Goblin’s Pogo. The percussion in those songs is so important, they wouldn’t work without it.
Now what more can I tell about Through The Veil? I could tell about the good vibes it spreads. Play Seedling, Roots, the Goblin’s Pogo or The Hobgoblin’s gift and I guarantee you an instant smile. Or I could mention the tender part of SeeD, the songs Winter, Lullaby and The Heron are beautiful examples of strong powerful pagan folk ballads. Now I could go on and on but I won’t . Bottom line is: SeeD made a strong pagan folk CD with Through The Veil. One that I can highly recommend, with a huge smile on my face!

Cliff

PS: After proofreading the review Koen told me that 10 of the 13 goblin voices were done by Robin Dekker. Robin kept coming up with new goblin voices he could do, and then would rush back behind the microphone to do yet another one. Koen also confirmed that the fujara flute solo in The Heron was indeed an improvisation. ‘The heron was actually 90% written ánd improvised on the day of the recording’ Koen told me. Two lovely behind the scenes ‘fun facts’ I didn’t want to keep to myself.

– Text editor: Diane
– Sleeve art design: Robin Dekker
– Photo of SeeD in Spain by SeeD pagan folk.
– All other pictures taken at Castlefest by Cliff de Booy

The Royal Spuds – Unforgotten Lore (2018)



From the moist dirt of South Holland a new kind of tuber emerged. The kind that walks on two legs and is fused with an instrument of choice. Some might say it is a spud, but it is not just any spud, no it is a Royal Spud! Perfect for a half-baked punk mash with chunks, suffused with a traditional Irish shamerock ‘n’ roll sauce. As befits a ‘real’ spud the possibilities with it are endless! And remember, just as with any salty fried spud, once you have had a taste of it, you will be left craving for more.
With this free interpretation of their band bio we can proudly present Unforgotten Lore, the new EP of the Royal Spuds! What? A punk folk band on CeltCast? Yes, because with A Man they have written a semi-acoustic punk folk ballad that fulfills all the criteria that a song needs to be played on our livestream. And I for one am thrilled about that. The Spuds’ music takes me right back to the early 2000’s, when I was still volunteering in an alternative youth centre, and I regularly crashed the dancefloor on tunes from The Killers, Reel Big Fish, Rancid‘s Time bomb, Dropkick Murphys, Chumbawamba and the Royal Spu…… Wait a minute, not so fast. Not the Spuds. Although their music would have fitted perfectly in this list, their story starts a wee bit later. Around ten years later actually. To be precise it starts in 2012 with their debut album Wanted, Drunk ‘N’ Alive!

At the time they sounded just the way a young punk folk band should sound: rough, tough and pure. Sound wise you could compare them with the rough punk folk of the Dropkick Murphys enriched with some metal influences, especially in the guitar sound and solos. A cool debut album, even after all those years.
The next Spuds album, It’s A Feckin’ Freakshow, came out in 2015. The sound was getting more melodic, with a big role for Micky’s tin whistle and accordion, but still with a sharp, aggressive metal feel, especially in the guitar sound of Milan and Robin. Songs like Tonight I’m Staying In would not look out of place on a Dropkick Murphys, Toy Dolls or The Real McKenzies CD. Pure upbeat punk folk. But songs like Mary Goes Round or the beautiful ballad The Dying Rebel already showed that The Royal Spuds were becoming more then just a straight forward Punk band. And now we have Unforgotten Lore. It came out just before before the end of last year, and the big question is, did they ramp up the quality even more on their newest mini album?
Listening to the first two songs, Too Old For This and Johnny Jump Up it’s clear not much has changed in the Spuds world. It is party time right from the start. Good quality punk folk, a Bro Hymn kinda sing-along chorus and a stunner of a guitar solo by Milan are more then enough to get things going. The band sounds tighter than ever before and the flute that already had a big role on Feckin’ Freakshow is even more prominent now.

Johnny Jump Up, the second drinking song – nothing changed there too- is an earworm that I can’t seem to get out of my head for days now. Micky’s accordion together with the chorus is so addictive. Another thing you will notice is how much Maarten has grown as a singer. His voice has become warm and powerful with the right amount of sandpaper when he needs it. In early Spud days, he shouted his lyrics out, but nowadays all the power comes out of a big set of lungs and good singing technique. With those two tools he easily matches the energy of the band.
As I said, Johnny Jump Up is a genuine earworm, cool melody, catchy chorus, and a cheerful ska riff make this an instant party song. You also hear the biggest change between the earlier two albums and Unforgotten Lore, the guitar sound. I already mentioned that the guitars on Feckin’ Freakshow still had a metal sound. Sharp heavy distorted riffs filled up the space in between the other instruments. This time Milan and Robin have a much cleaner rock sound. Which gives the other instruments much more room to shine. You can, as an example, now clearly hear the lovely grooving basslines that Dave is playing. A good thing ’cause he is running all over the neck of his bass guitar on Unforgotten Lore. Never knew he was such a funky bass player.
Ok I have to admit, The Spuds did lose a bit of pure aggression in their sound with this change, but gained so much melody and variation in exchange for it that I can wholeheartedly support their decision. Guitarist Milan told me that the band developed the new sound together with their sound technician and Kayāmata singer Loek Stevens, who also is responsible for recording Unforgotten Lore.

The variation the Spuds gained becomes really clear on the album’s sixth song, Tri Martolod. A cover of this traditional from Bretagne made famous by Alain Stivell. The Spuds version starts with a gentle acoustic intro on guitar and flute, but soon it turns into a surprising flute solo break that wouldn’t sound out of place on a old Jethro Tull or Focus album. What a cool solo this is. Micky is really rocking his flute here. The Spuds have some more surprises up their sleeve in Tri Martolod. Breaks, sing-alongs, pace acceleration, they throw everything at you, but the biggest treat is hidden in the end. The reggae acceleration with yet another flute solo finishing the song, is the icing on the cake. What’s happening here???? After hearing this the first time I was convinced by the refreshed Spuds sound. This is brilliant stuff! Rancid, Reel Big Fish, eat your heart out!

Another surprise is A Man. You could call it an acoustic Irish folk meets Western folk rock ballad. Good catchy song. People who like Sunfire will probably like this song too. It has it all, banjo, strong vocals, grooving bass and again that enchanting flute solo from Micky. Next up is Ally In Killarney, a cool straightforward punk song. But, I can’t give any more in depth (pun intended) comments about it or its lyrics to avoid a parental advisory sticker on this review.

The last surprise is also the last song on Unforgotten Lore. A heroic saga like the Swedish metal band Dream Evil would play. The Last Wild Haggis is a pure punk metal powerballad, including another cool guitar solo by Milan. It also has – just as Dream Evil- over the top, totally odd lyrics. Who ever would come up with the idea of Scotsmen hunting wild HAGGIS!!! Well the Royal Spuds would!
Up till now I’ve always seen the Royal Spuds as the angry young brother of Dutch melodic folk punk band Scrum. But young brothers grow up, as did the Royal Spuds. And with Unforgotten Lore they settle themselves right next to Scrum as one of the top bands in the Dutch melodic punk folk scene. Well done.

-Cliff

Editor: Diane
Pictures: Marielle Groot Obbink

Irfan – Roots (2018)



Sunday the 25th of November, 14:45 PM, I am on Winter Castlefest, the 2018 edition. As I was getting ready to photograph the next band in ‘The Great Hall’-the name Castlefest has given to the big tent where the games are played and the indoor performances take place- I couldn’t help but notice Sowulo‘s Faber Auroch entering. The next to pass me was Sara (SeeD‘s singer/bouzouki player) and her partner. But I really started raising an eyebrow when some minutes later Brisinga‘s Fabi came by asking if I knew where the Imbue members were sitting. As I started looking around, I was also able to spot Rowan from Heidevolk and members from Sunfire and The Royal Spuds in the audience. All the members of Emian and Waldkauz had found a place in the front rows, as had former AmmA member Hanna van Gorcum and from the corner of my eye I could also see sound magician Fieke van den Hurk. Afterwards I discovered SeeD’s frontman Koen van Egmond and Sowulo’s harp player Chloé Bakker also attended the concert a day earlier. Now the Castlefest scene, as I fondly call the Pagan/fantasy folk scene we are all part of, has always been a really supportive one with bands visiting each other’s concerts and all kinds of collaborations happening on stage and behind the scenes. But even in this supportive scene it is rare for ten(!) bands to be represented at one concert. And that’s exactly what happened as Irfan got ready to play at the Castlefest 2018 Winter Edition. In a way it says all about the status Irfan has within the alternative Pagan folk scene.


Well, the concert was beautiful, mesmerising and captivating from start to finish. With the seating area placed closely around the podium, there was this real connection between the band and the audience. The atmosphere was pure magic, really captivating and Irfan were given a standing ovation at the end of the concert. It goes without saying that I acquired their newest mini-CD Roots straight after to try and hopefully re-experience a bit of that magic again at home. And that is exactly what happened when I put Roots in my CD player.

From the first notes of the opening song Mominstvo Irfan captivates you. They take you into ancient Persian times. You walk with them into the courts of India, you reminisce about the old days of the pharaohs. And it feels like the sharp desert sand brushes over your face while you marvel at the wonders of Petra. In their bio Irfan compare their music with audio-archaeology and I can clearly hear why they say that. Irfan has acquired the ability to fill their music with history. They manage to sound old and modern at the same time. Giving their music a timeless quality that is rare. They did it for the first time on their second album Seraphim. Mostly Seraphim is a mix between classical European music and Eastern European folk, -imagine Cesair meeting up with Loreena McKennitt, with Dead Can Dance or Ofra Haza joining in every now and again to spice things up-, but the song Return to Outremer, had that magical timeless feel to it for the first time. The band perfected this sound on their 2015 album The Eternal Return, making it one of my favourite ‘traditional’ folk CD’s ever. And they are doing it again on Roots. If you are a fan of the band, you can buy the album without reading any further. You won’t be disappointed.

But for those who don’t know the band yet, a short introduction:
Irfan is a Bulgarian band that formed in 2001. From the beginning Ivaylo Petrov (Middle-Eastern lute instruments), Peter Todorov (percussion), Yasen Lararov (traditional flutes and harmonium) and Kalin Yordanov (vocals and percussion) have taken influences of the traditional music from the Balkan, Anatolie, Persia, the Middle East, North Afrika and India. For centuries the Balkan have been the portal between the Medieval and Byzantine world on one side and the Ottoman world and Middle Eastern world on the other. Influences and heritage from all these areas with their ancient civilizations find a beautiful marriage in Irfan’s sound. Up till now Irfan have recorded three albums: Irfan (2003), Seraphim (2007) and The Eternal Return (2015).

The basis of the Irfan sound nowadays is the warm electronic string and choir carpet they lay. On top of that comes the deep, warm, hypnotic male voice from Kalin, the beautiful melody lines from the harmonium and wind instruments, the upbeat percussion from Peter and Kalin. Although most Irfan songs are slow balladesque songs, the percussion gives them a real upbeat character. The icing on the cake are then the beautiful female lead vocal lines. On their first albums, Irfan featured Denitza Seraphim as the lead female vocalist. On Roots Darina Zlatkova takes over that role. For the fans that will not be seen as a major difference, both singers are equally talented. You could argue that Denitza’s voice is a touch warmer in tone, that’s all.

Irfan’s previous album The Eternal Return was a lovely blend from all their influences. Taking us all over ancient Europe, North America and the Middle East. Their sound on The Eternal Return could be compared with Dead Can Dance meets Loreena McKennitt in her Mediterranean Odyssey period. On a song like In The Gardens Of Armida you can even hear a touch of Clannad in the vocals.
Roots is a touch different, not only is it the first album recorded with Darina, it is also the first album where the songs are not written by the band. They are all based on traditional Bulgarian songs, arranged by either Ivaylo Petrov, Darina Zlatkova or Yasen Lazarov. I can’t tell if it is Darina’s tone of voice or the concept behind the album, but Roots sounds a touch more intimate then on The Eternal Return. As if the band comes home again on this album, after the many faraway places they sang about on The Eternal Return.

It’s actually amazing how little the band needs to build up a beautiful song. A touch of keyboard, some strings, a tap on the drums and Darina’s warm voice and see, the goose bumps are already there. Build up like that Momphinstvo is not only a beautiful intro into More, Ta Nali, but also into the whole CD. More, Ta Nali is one of the more up-tempo songs on roots. Uplifting percussion, mesmerising flute melodies and again Darina’s wonderful warm voice. I just love, how in Middle-Eastern cultures the voice is more than a carrier of words, it is an instrument in itself. With the surprise percussion break in the middle More, Ta Nali is easily my favourite song on Roots. The single Rusa is equally beautiful. This ballad really features Darina’s voice. One of the members of Seed, Sara, lovingly put it to words on Darina’s Facebook page: “I think Roots is the perfect way of introducing you to the people who haven’t seen you perform with the band yet. What you can do with your voice is amazing, and hearing Rusa for the first time made me cry a little”. There isn’t anything more I can add to that well-deserved compliment.

One of the key elements of the Irfan sound is how subtle the music is, minimalistic almost. On Dyulber Yana for instance the song doesn’t actually start, it slowly evolves from a single note to a beautiful song. Solos are also not clearly ‘started’, they appear in the music, the melody lines just slide into a solo piece and they slide out again just as easily. Yasen places some really nice harmonium melodies in it, quite catchy actually, and it is surprising how this ballad picks up speed in the end.

Emeriga is -in the Irfan world- a fast dance song. Driving percussion, doubled vocals, cool string instrument, and the wonderful low ‘hoarse’ flute solo, all together make for a really powerful energetic song. A real crowd-pleaser amongst the dancers during live shows, I’m sure of it, and also one of my favourites on the album.
Lyube Le is already the last song on Roots. Sadly, because I would have loved to hear one or two more songs, Roots is that beautiful. Anyway, Lyube Le is another stunning song. A beautiful intro featuring Ivaylo on lute and -she has been mentioned before- the wonderful Darina. The tender duet between Yasen and Ivaylo also can’t go unnoticed. On this song Irfan leaves the homely feel and drifts of to the ancient world again. Back into the magical music world they so beautifully created.

To sum it all up, Roots is a beautiful addition to your Irfan collection or a stunning gateway into the musical world of this wonderful Bulgarian band. Either way if you love the music of Dead Can Dance, Cesair and Loreena McKennitt, then this is a must-have CD. 10 out of 10 if we were giving points.

– Cliff

Editor: Diane
Pictures: taken at Winter Castlefest by Cliff de Booy Photography






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