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Dave Swarbrick Dave Swarbrick
Album: It Suits Me Well: The Transatlantic Recordings 1976-1983
Label: Cherry Tree
Tracks: 26+20

Back in 2012 I reviewed a handsome BGO two-disc release which collected together three of the six solo albums which the iconic Swarb - "the most influential British fiddle-player bar none", according to Ashley Hutchings - made in the late-70s and early 80s hinterland that paralleled both his final days with Fairport Convention and his duo work with Simon Nicol prior to forming the quartet Whippersnapper. Now, however, hot on the heels of Swarb's untimely death back in June, comes an even more desirable set of CDs, two even more well-filled discs which give us not three but four of those six albums in one generous package. These being the pair of Transatlantic albums (Swarbrick and Swarbrick 2) released in 1976 and 1977 but both taken from the same recording sessions which variously utilised a pool of musicians that embraced long-term Fairporters Nicol and Pegg, then-Fairport-drummer Rowland, long-time duo partner Martin Carthy and four compadres from ceilidh-band days including pianist Beryl Marriott. The albums generously interspersed classic tunes and songs, sprightly dance-medleys, solo performances and chamber-style duet excursions in a well-balanced menu that both satisfied purchasers and convinced disbelievers that Swarb was still an instrumental force to be reckoned with in whatever context.

The contents of this pair of albums, in their entirety, spill over a little onto disc two of this new set, which is completed by the full menu from Swarb's final pair of discs from the period, Smiddyburn and Flittin' (originally released in 1981 and 1983 respectively). Although recorded for, and funded by Transatlantic, Smiddyburn came out on the label's contemporary imprint Logo and Flittin' was licensed out to Spindrift; they formed a similar pattern to the earlier pair of records in that the contents of were derived from the same batch of recording sessions (1980), involving Messrs. Nicol, Pegg, Rowland and Marriott once again but with the further addition this time of (again variously) Richard Thompson, Dave Mattacks and double bassist John McCormick. Tucked in here was a notable clutch of performances by what amounted to a one-off reunion of the all-time-classic 1970 Fairport Convention Full House lineup (including a majestic segue of Nathaniel Gow's Lament/Rory Of The Hills that still brings neck-prickles today). In all a healthy proportion of the sixteen tracks on Smiddyburn and Flittin' are spirited, rollicking electrified (and sometimes gloriously extended) trad-arr strict-tempo-style dance-medleys, many featuring Mr. Thompson's signature guitar (or mandolin) and the sterling Pegg-Mattacks rhythm section. Quieter, more lyrical interludes are provided by the selections involving Beryl Marriott's poised piano playing (although Pittengardeners' Rant works up a fair head of steam!) and a quite different kind of high point comes on an eloquent mando-trio arrangement (with Messrs Thompson and Pegg) of When The Battle Is Over, but for much of their length these latter two albums present invigorating up-tempo traditional instrumental folk-rockery at its best.

Some small points to end with: first, it's perhaps a little curious that this new set is titled after the one (unrepresentative) vocal track (Swarb's rendition of the Sandy Denny composition). And to add to the potential confusion, It Suits Me Well also happened to be the title of a 2004 Sanctuary-label anthology which topped up a modest selection from the above four Transatlantic albums with a couple of live sets from 1980 and 1984. Finally, might I put in a suggestion that Cherry Red now obtains the licence to reissue the "missing" third and fourth albums from this period of Swarb's career (the pair of obscure releases for Sonet, Lift The Lid & Listen and The Ceilidh Album, which I've never found on CD).

Needless to say, this well-annotated Cherry Tree anthology is by far the most useful of the multiplicity of reissues of this material thus far, and is a natural, automatic recommendation. The only significant omission is a detailed track-by-track personnel credits listing (I seem to recall one came with the BGO reissue).

David Kidman