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PETE CASTLE - "False Waters" Steel Carpet Music MATS012CD

I once had an argument with an Irishman who assured me that there was no such thing as English folk music. When I convinced him that there was he said "Well, why do I never hear any?" It's true, of course that while the Scots and Irish are proud of their folk traditions, the English are not. In England folk songs are yokel songs, or children's songs, or 'bad' songs. The folk group in 'Four Weddings & A Funeral' had to be a 'bad' folk group. It couldn't have been a 'good' one.

Since the folk revival began some singers have, of course, carried a torch for English music as a distinct and distinctive tradition. Martin Carthy, Shirley Collins and Nic Jones are names that spring readily to mind. This is not to say that their approach has been insular - all folk traditions are eclectic - but that their music has its roots in an English tradition. Pete Castle is a worthy follower in that tradition. Don't be put off by the awful title of his latest album. 'False Waters' is full of gems and Pete Castle's starting point is the English tradition. He has even Anglicised the Celtic song 'Lakes of Coolphin'. There are some English classics on the album - 'The Poisoned Cup', 'Rosie Ann' and 'Noble Lord Hawkins' all of which are sung and accompanied in a characteristically unadorned English style.

But the English tradition is only the starting point of the album. All traditions evolve and absorb new influences, and Pete Castle has been absorbing other traditions, notably Transylvanian and American. It is the Transylvanian influence that I find most interesting. The wild, uninhibited music of Transylvania and the sedate English tradition seem strange bedfellows, and I hope that Pete Castle and his friends intend to work on this fusion. As it is we get the traditional Transylvanian braci producing a haunting accompaniment to 'The Cruel Mother' which is followed, not very convincingly, by a traditional wolf dance. This left me wanting more. I am less sure about the American influences perhaps because I have seen English folk music fight hard to establish a non-American identity. Of the fourteen tracks on the album the only one I dislike is the doomy 'The Lads They'd Been a-Drinking'.

This is an album that will please traditionalists and satisfy those who like to see traditional music evolving and moving on.

HOWARD BAKER

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This album was reviewed in Issue 14 of The Living Tradition magazine.