Bonfire Radicals is a Birmingham-based band with a great stage presence that's taken a while to get translated onto CD, and The Albino Peacock certainly makes its mark, especially when played loud! The band's huge stock of ideas is set within wildly creative arrangements and delivered with a degree of enthusiasm that's at times quite literally overpowering. The instrumental complement of this spiritful six-piece is built around Katie Stevens' heady, whirling-dervish clarinet (and kaval) playing - a formidable presence indeed, but when set against (or interpercolated with) Michelle Holloway's recorders and Ruth Lindsay's violin, counterpointed by Andy Bole's guitar/bouzouki (or "eclectic 12-string", as the sleeve credit would have it!), then kicked up with folk-rock rhythm section (Trevor Lines on bass and Liam Halloran on drums), the whole ensemble's character and fierce impact is startling, a boldly raucous, at times gloriously chaotic wigout that perhaps against the odds pulls itself fast together to form something quite staggeringly special as it fairly bombards you into submission (tho' nicely of course!)
The band's combined sound is convincingly individual, its inspirations ranging from world folk musics, especially Eastern European and Scottish, to medieval and renaissance (the sinuous Malo) and almost avant-garde (the grinding intro to the heavy-duty, hard-nosed, edgy afro-jiggery of Fizzlesticker), via lazy jazzy swing (Polska) and Ruth's skewed take on trad (The Left-Hand Reel), which seems to run out of steam midway and parts the waves with a cautious violin cadenza before the obligatory dash to the finishing line. In fact, there's a rather potent 70s-psych-overload quality about the whole caboodle that really appeals, intrigues and stimulates - in all the right ways. At the same time Bonfire Radicals can also turn on the charm, as in the rather lovely three-part suite Lucy Hampton's Wedding, and deliver a whimsical flange-tinged lost-world vision on Snitterfield.
Yet for all its fire and pizazz, the album's pièce-de-resistance must surely be the trad-folk gloom-and-doom opus that closes proceedings, a particularly expansive take on I Wish (aka Died For Love), which features some extraordinary vocal work from Michelle that acutely voices the song's drama. Which reminds me to mention that Bonfire Radicals also prove very strong in the singing department, with Michelle's distinctive lead vocal taking no prisoners, and the other guys (Katie, Ruth and Liam) not doing so badly either (understatement!). The band also displays an abundant, keen sense of fun, self-indulgent in all the right nuances (as on Coffee Countdown) - and this extends to the sleeve notes, which are available on the band's website.
On the evidence of this spanking album, Bonfire Radicals are quite a discovery - get this album, go grab the background notes, then grab the chance to go see them live.
|Chet O'Keefe: Because Of You||Blue Moon Marquee: Gypsy Blues|
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