Reviews

The Bully Wee BandThe Bully Wee Band
Album: Like The Snow
Label: Slaughterhouse Productions
Tracks: 8
Website: http://www.bullyweeband.com/

The fact that this album exists at all is entirely due to the dogged determination and fantastic organisational skills of Sarah Jane Tye. The Band members are scattered all over the globe, but every January SJ manages somehow to get them all together to rehearse and then to tour. Booking flights, venues, hotels, etc and getting everyone together in the right place at the right time can't be an easy job. The fact that she managed to organise them all again to get them in to a recording studio is amazing. This is their first album in a decade, and their first studio album since 1980!

The album takes its title from the Sydney Carter song "Like The Snow", based on a 15th Century poem by Francois Villon. The song (and poem) demonstrates how fleeting life is, by referring to three historical female figures, Helen of Troy, Joan of Arc and Heloise (who had a child with a celibate theologian, Pierre Abelard, and was then forced to become a nun), all of whom, like snow, only lived for a short while. The song entered their repertoire, I believe, due to the fact that they often include on their set list the traditional song, "The Snows They Melt The Soonest", (though they referred to it as "The Snows"). They were thus able to introduce "Like The Snow", by describing it as 'like "The Snows"', and they can now play "The Snows" by introducing it as 'like "Like The Snow"'. (The track also appears on Colin Reece's solo album "Revisited".) Their arrangement of "The Snows" and "Like The Snows" are very similar and the songs are equally beautiful.

The Bully Wee Band are Jim Yardley (vocals, mandolin, penny whistle), Fergus Feely (vocals, mandocello), Ian Cutler (vocals, violin and keyboards) and Colin Reece (vocals, guitar), though they have had a few line up changes since they originally formed in 1971. In addition, Phil Beer (Show of Hands), often joins them on live gigs and also played dobro on this album. The band, whose line up at the time included Maartin Allcock (Fairport Convention, Jethro Tull), broke up in 1983, but in 2004 Colin, Ian and Fergus happened to meet up at the Faversham Folk Club, jammed together, enjoyed themselves so much that they decided to reform and tour. Jim joined them the following year.

Fergus, Jim and Colin all take lead vocal, and all four provide backing vocals. They also include instrumentals in their repertoire, like "The Wizards Walk" and "The Laird of Drumblaire", (both of which amply demonstrate Ian's mastery of the violin), so there is plenty of variation on this album. (All references I can find to James Scott Skinner's Strathspey refer to it as The Laird Of Drumblair, but for some reason The Bully Wee Band have added the "E" at the end).

Most of the tracks on the album are ones that they have been playing live for a while, and just haven't until now managed to record, though I don't think I've heard "Pink" (sung by Fergus) or "Patsy Fagan" (sung by Jim) before.

Colin Reece, who writes most of their original songs, once joked that his main source of inspiration was the Reader's Digest Book Of Myths And Legends. It is true that many of his songs are based on traditional folk song themes, which makes them fit well with the traditional songs that they also play. One such song, "Lady Lovibond", he wrote about a ship that foundered on the Goodwin Sands, killing all aboard, including the First Mate, the Captain, and the Captain's wife, (who happened to have been the First Mate's ex. The song appears on their live CD, "50 Channels". Sir Arthur Conan Doyle created a precedent by killing Sherlock Holmes with a fall from the Reichenbach Falls but then bringing him back, and the writers of Dallas took it to new heights when Bobby Ewing appeared in the shower after having been killed in an earlier series, but with all characters dead at the end of "Lady Lovibond" not many people would have put money on the possibilty of Colin Reece writing a sequel to "Lady Lovibond". So "Lady Lovibond Part 2", if you like, is Colin's answer to Sherlock Holmes.

Must say, I don't think I am aware of anyone else who has ever written a sequel to one of their songs, so I'm hugely impressed.

"Like The Snow" features their version of Steve Earle's "Dixieland" an anti war song about an Irishman fighting at the battle of Gettysburg. With typical Bully Wee humour, they start off as if they were about to play "Dixie" as in 'I wish I was in Dixie'.

Not sure when Colin first wrote "When Mother Says Move", but it was the song that Colin, Fergus and Ian jammed to back in 2004 when The Bully Wee Band was reborn, so it was absolutely high time that the song was finally released on an album. It is still an excellent song to jam to, as each instrument gets to take the lead and they often use it as their encore.

Hopefully we won't have to wait another thirty-five years before the next studio album. If you can't wait that long, they are worth hunting out on their next January tour. Might see you there.

Pete Bradley