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MAGNETIC NORTH "The Miller's Jig" Yorkshire Dales Workshop YDWCD005

Magnetic North are a dance band playing (usually baht 'ats) out of Ilkley, West Yorkshire. The prime mover and fiddler is Geoff Bowen who, with his dance-calling wife Liz, has explored huge areas of the tune-and-dance tradition with such energy and tenacity that normal people usually give up and go to bed. The other two members of Magnetic North are the rightly much loved and respected Gordon Tyrrall (guitar, flute, piccolo, whistle, vocals) and the considerably younger (though only in relative terms) Robin Shepherd who plays melodeon in a style akin to Tony Hall, or fiddle in a style akin to the aforementioned G. Bower. The resultant mixture of textures is highly competent, highly tuneful and highly pleasing.

The 37 tunes and two songs on "The Miller's Jig" are arranged in 22 tracks with a total playing time of a horse's whisker over the hour. All the material comes from a 150-page leather bound book containing more than 500 handwritten tunes, dance notations and songs compiled by Joshua Jackson, a cornmiller, who fiddled in the Ripon, Masham and Fewston area of North Yorkshire in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. As one would expect from such a splendid source, here be tunes of every shape, size and colour. Some titles are familiar (in spite of eccentric spelling - a typesetter's nightmare), so we get a very stately and measured "Flowers of Edinborough", while "So Merryly Danced the Quaker" displays delightful variations when compared to its famous Irish relative. The variations of "Brest Knot", on the other hand, would hardly be conspicuous in a modern session. Then there's the wonderfully named "Itallion Dance" that sounds pure Cotswolds. The Scottish branches of this mighty tree are well represented - I kid you not when I report that rack eight is a set combining "Fye Gae Rub Her Oer We Strae" with "Highland Lad Ty Kist his Mammy"!

The project is so painstakingly and lovingly researched that it would be laudable on any level even if the resultant much was crap. However, Magnetic North have played enough drafty village halls and cynical city community centres to realise that in the end it's the music that matters. Hence, as well as a formidable array of solo talents, "The Miller's Jig" contains ensemble playing that it's a joy to experience. Get hold of copy and tell me if I'm not right.

Alan Rose

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This album was reviewed in Issue 22 of The Living Tradition magazine.