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Vicki Swan & Jonny Dyer Vicki Swan & Jonny Dyer
Album: Sleep Deprivation
Label: Wet Foot Music
Tracks: 10

The term 'multi-instrumentalist' is perhaps overused, but for Jonny Dyer it isn't a strong enough phrase. Perhaps pan-instrumentalist might be a more apt description, though ironically I've no idea if he has (yet) mastered the pan pipes. He was recently asked if there was any instrument he couldn't play, to which he responded that he was no expert at the nyckleharpa. If you haven't heard of a nyckleharpa before, then it is likely that you have never seen Vicki Swan and Jonny Dyer before, as multi-instrumentalist Vicki Swan is an exponent of all types of nyckleharpa, including the standard nyckleharpa, the oktavharpa, the fiddle nyckleharpa, and the Siena nyckleharpa. Nyckleharpa, for those who have never encountered them before, have two sets of strings, one set played with a bow like a violin, with the other set vibrating as drones. The notes are formed by holding the end of the strings down against the fretboard, but not with your fingertips. Rows of keys, almost like piano keys run along the side of the instrument, which when pressed force a lever down to hold the string. Vicki also plays flute, double bass, cello, Scottish smallpipes, Swedish bagpipes, English border pipes, whistles and probably many more that I'm not yet aware of.

Jonny plays so many instruments, many of which I have never even heard of before, including guitars, bouzouki, mandolin, piano, spinet, pipe organ, percussion, harmonium, accordion, citole, cornu, cornyx, cowhorn, and lyre. And they both sing, and write. To see them live is indeed an education.

I have only ever seen them perform as a folk duo, or supporting Daria Kulesh or Hector Gilchrist, but they have more than one string to their bow. As well as folk concerts they also do a lot of promotional work to bring these rare instruments to the public's attention, and they also provide the musical accompaniment to various dance nights. Vicki and Jonny decided that they as they have released several folk CDs that they can sell on the merch desk at a folk gig, they needed an equivalent CD that they could sell at a contra dance. Consequently, they have released "Sleep Deprivation", which is quite different to anything that they have released before.

I have to confess that barn dances, ceilidhs, country dances, line dances or anything approaching that ilk is my idea of a nightmare. I must also confess that I had never heard of contra dancing and even having looked it up on Wikipedia I am still unsure as to how it differs from line dancing. Consequently, although I will definitely seek Jonny and Vicky out again at further folk concerts, I am never likely to attend a gig of theirs in which "Sleep Deprivation" features. Which would be a shame, as "Sleep Deprivation" is a phenomenal feat of musicianship.

The ten tracks on this album are all written in such a way that the end of one track forms the start of the next, so that the album forms one continual piece lasting sixty-two minutes. Thus, rather than being just a collection of dance pieces, it is a full blown magnum opus. Think of it as a suite of ten movements.

The individual movements, or tracks, are all distinct in their own right, switching between reels to jigs to waltzes and even something called a chapelloise. As well as multiple styles, there are multiple influences behind the songs, from old medieval dances to the Caucasus.

And as well as attempting to find a soundtrack that would make us get up and dance, there's a completely different alternative motivation behind this album. Most of us, at some stage, will have stayed up beyond normal bed times to attend a gig, and will have driven home late at night desperate not to fall asleep at the wheel. Musicians particularly are faced with this, as after everyone else has left, they still have to pack up before they can begin their homeward journey.

Vicki and Jonny felt that an album of high energy, get up and dance tunes, would be a perfect means to keep tired people awake. Hence the title track, "Sleep Deprivation" and "Driving Home Chapelloise". Who knows? This album might inspire you to hit the dance floor, or it might save your life.

Pete Bradley