Album: A HAWK AND A HACKSAW – Délivrance (Leaf BAY64CD 2009)


Following on from 2007’s mini LP recorded with the Hun Hangár Ensemble, A Hawk and a Hacksaw’s latest album Délivrance was part recorded in Budapest with some of the same musicians backing the core duo of Jeremy Barnes and Heather Trost.

Hungary’s cultural history is distinct from the rest of Europe’s. The original Magyar people came from Central Asia, and the Hungarian language is totally distinct from that of any of its European neighbours. Sandwiched between the German-speaking nations to the west and the Slavs to the east, its political history has seen the country bounced from east to west – in the twentieth century alone it went from part of the Austro-Hungarian empire to part of the Soviet bloc and then back to the European Union. The country’s traditional music similarly shares elements with its neighbours, but stands alone.

Délivrance is more than just an exploration into Hungarian folk. It blends in other influences to leave something that sounds both ancient and modern. Although it’s not all high tempo and upbeat, there is a sense of joy that is palpable. This music is meant to be fun, first and foremost.

Eight of the ten tracks are instrumentals which is a good thing as Jeremy Barnes slightly drunken, downbeat vocals are an acquired taste. Some hurtle by breathlessly, others are more sombre. Pick of the bunch include “Foni Tu Argile” which opens the album sounding like it’s been recorded through a wall before bursting into a brass- led dance that has the feel of a Mariachi band. Indeed, this could be Calexico playing with Muzsikás. “Raggle Taggle” is also outstanding. The first half of the track is bathed in distortion as Heather Trost comes over all Warren Ellis, but then it suddenly opens up into a bright dance. “Lassú” ends the album with an air of sentimentality. It has the feel of a farewell. A traditional tune, it has much in common with some of the mournful Celtic airs of the nineteenth century, and could be inspired by the same thing – large numbers of kinsfolk heading across the Atlantic for a new life, and the pain of parting.

There are moments when the album loses its way a little, and the music seems a little aimless, but for the most part this is a hugely enjoyable record. This kind of music, though, should be a communal experience, and really comes into its own in a live setting.

1 Foni Tu Argile 3:54
2 Kertész 4:45
3 The Man Who Sold His Beard 5:36
4 Hummingbirds 2:29
5 Raggle Taggle 4:52
6 I Am Not a Gambling Man 2:38
7 Turkiye 5:07
8 Zibiciu 2:18
9 Vasalisa Carries a Flaming Skull Through the Forest 3:59
10 Lassú 2:01



Review of the Year Part 2 – Gigs

First up, I’ve been asked whether I would consider publishing readers’ top tens / twenties of the year. It sounded like an interesting idea, so if you’re interested in contributing, then the address is up there in the top left corner. If you have a blog / website / MySpace page and want it mentioned, then I’d be happy to. Get listing!

OK, 2008. Gig wise it was a bit of a damp squib, more due, I think, to my lack of pennies than a lack of things going on. Having said that, I’d be hard pressed to think of much that happened in Glasgow that I was really narked at missing. A few things here and there that it would have been nice to been at, but nothing to get me crouched in a corner wailing.

My top ten includes four sets from ATP (the Explosions one) which was the nearest thing I had to a holiday this year. :(

Here goes:

10. A HAWK AND A HACKSAW (ATP, Minehead, 17th May)
9. SILVER JEWS (ATP, Minehead, 18th May)
8. WORLD’S END GIRLFRIEND (ATP, Minehead, 17th May)

Of these, I’d only seen World’s End Girlfriend before. On that occasion he was on his own with just a laptop and guitar. This time, with drummer in tow, it was a much more muscular experience. A mixture of self-sampling, laptop clicking and noise-rock. A Hawk and A Hacksaw’s Balkan folk was thoroughly enjoyable – so much so that I missed Saul Williams because I was having so much fun. The Silver Jews are a band I’ve never really got on record. Live, they made much more sense, even though it’s something they don’t do that often (play live that is).

7.MICHIYO YAGI (Stereo, Glasgow, 15th Feb)
Michiyo Yagi’s solo koto performance at the Instal after-hours do at Stereo was one of the unexpected highlights of this year’s event. Partly atonal and droney, partly imbued with a classical beauty, it was a revelation.

6.THE BLUE NILE (Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow, 9th Jul)
Despite the lack of new material (one as yet unreleased song) and the fact that the set list was almost identical to the Paul Buchanan solo-billed shows of a couple of years ago, a Blue Nile gig is still a Blue Nile gig. They still do melancholy, heartbreak and rain-swept loneliness like no other band. They seem to exist in their own unhurried time bubble, untouched by trends, changes or innovation. The music evolves, but without any perceptible outside influence.

5.RED SNAPPER (Oran Mor, Glasgow, 29th Nov)
Stripped down to basics, this was Red Snapper at their extrovert best. Eschewing vocals, and downtempo moments, it was a set of blistering jazz-funk aimed as much at the feet as it was the head. The new songs aired indicated that the time away has left them reinvigorated and at the very peak of their powers.

4.BRUCE McCLURE (CCA, Glasgow, 7th Dec)
Still fresh in my mind, although my ears have stopped ringing, Bruce McClure’s set at Kill Your Timid Notion was a brutal audio-visual treat. Flickering and morphing shapes provided by three trashed projectors was accompanied by a soundtrack of extreme noise, through which heard or imagined melodies emerged and were gobbled up in an ocean of intense drone.

3.TINDERSTICKS (City Halls, Glasgow, 5th Oct)
Their set may have concentrated largely on the latest album which is a very good record, but not their best, but that didn’t matter. I’ve never seen the band so at ease with themselves, their music and the audience. The loss of three founding members seems to have given them a new togetherness, and the result was a stunning performance.

2.THE NATIONAL (ATP, Minehead, 17th May)
The National are a band who aren’t particularly innovative, but through an unbeatable combination of great musicianship and memorable songs, never disappoint live. They are everything that so many groups aspire to be but aren’t. They just have an instinctive knack of getting everything right. Much is down to singer Matt Berninger whose awkward, anti-charisma is coupled with a fantastic baritone that brings the songs alive.

1.MARGINAL CONSORT (Arches, Glasgow, 17th Feb)
This was one of the most remarkable live experiences of my life, not just of this year. Marginal Consort are four unassuming, middle aged Japanese guys who sit behind tables situated in the four corners of the room with the audience wandering around in the middle. With a bewildering array of household objects, modified instruments, blocks of wood and all sorts of other ephemera, they go on an improvised musical journey that can last for hours. At Instal, it was a three hour trip. Each responding to what his (unseen) colleagues are up to, the music evolves in all sorts of directions through the performance. Sometimes settling into trance-like grooves, sometimes descending into atonal dissonance, but never staying in any place for longer than is necessary, the music changes not just through time, but through space as the audience wander around and get a different mix of  sound. The last few seconds consisted of an aquarium water pump bubbling away into silence. And then there was an eruption from the audience quite unlike anything you usually get from the reserved intelligentsia that inhabit these events. It showed the possibilities of improvised music that I’ve seen no other musicians reach – creating new sounds that were, for all their strangeness, unquestionably musical. An amazing experience.