The Fair RainThe Fair Rain
Album: Advance EP
Label: Transition
Tracks: 4

Good classic folk instrumentals are one thing, but it can all go a bit pear-shaped for some people when you mess a little with the known formula. We all know the familiar arrangements of fiddle,drums and guitar (sometimes some other exotic instrument) that resound down ceilidh halls up and down the country most weeks which take some of the Irish and some of the English Traditions and give us the dances we all know and love. I set aside time for this, but I also set aside time for things that might shake folk up a bit and make a different mould to what we are used to. The Fair Rain indicate they are looking to put a personal stamp on folk music with this recent disc entitled "Advance" published by Transition Records ahead of their album "Behind the Glass" coming in 2016.

The band are an army of members with Robin Beatty (vocals), Helen Lancaster (viola, harmonium), Charlie Heys (fiddle), Jim Molyneux (drums, piano), Laura Carter (whistles), Aaron Diaz (trumpet) and Adam Jarvis (double bass) which each band member taking additional roles and instruments in addition to these. The album is split into two instrumental tracks (one traditional, one less so) and two vocal numbers. The two songs that interest me the most here are "Mangasta" (track 1) and "Mannequin" (track 2).

Mangasta sounds like folk music that has been rolling in a haystack with Ratatat, possibly even being the child of such a visitation. It is deceptive, it starts and you think it will be a fiddle-leading traditional instrumental track, but it has a joyful mix of of modern and traditional as the drums and cymbals bring a tart, biting rhythm that bring it up right up to date in a slightly experimental way. It is a pleasing and and energetic track which gets better the more you hear it and a folk track you could almost play while driving down the strip looking for a club, in fact it is a perfect up-market, Irish bar track. The third track "The Hollow Way" is similarly instrumental but is a more traditional song wearing the annuls of history on it's tailcoats. Holloways are ancient, sunken paths going back thousands of years and the mystery and history of these paths is represented quite well in the song. The song is grounded like The Fair Rain's other numbers by slight pulse of reverence from the Hammond Organ, it showcases the band tackling more traditional numbers with appropriate skill.

Track 2 is "Mannequin" a song with precision drumming sampling and some cutting whistles. It is a song about Franz Reichelt (known as the Flying Tailor) who was an experimenter looking to perfect a usable and wearable parachute. In 1912 he made a fateful jump from the Eiffel Tower which led to his death (he had some successes previously). It is an interestingly layered song which has chosen a likewise intriguing personality as inspiration for it's contents. Robin Beatty has a fairly gracious and breathless voice which meanders throughout the track with some minor harmonies that make it sound like a modern pop number in many ways. It educates with lyrics of human inspiration and the motivations of Reichelt showing the love and passion of dreams, a different love to the easy road trod by several other artists. Everything is in place, the whistles are unobtrusive (Laura Carter), and the strings hint at tragedy in between the fast patterns of inspiration.

The Fair Rain have a disc here with clean playing, an assortment of fantastic instruments (Hammond Organ, Accordion, Trumpet, the list goes on), and a voice that brings folk with some of finer sensibilities of late 90s indie groups. I like the modern feel of the album, I like the experimentation with instruments that make the soundscape akin to having sound samples as in dance tracks, and most of all the sources of inspiration for the songs here. I can imagine 2016 and the album launch cannot come soon enough for this group.

Peter Taranaski