north sea radio orchestra

archive review…

North Sea Radio Orchestra

If members of the Owl Service happen across these here words then can we rest assure them that we have at long last nailed a brand spanking new vinyl copy of Fairport Convention’s legendary ‘Liege and Lief’ set (180g wax to be precise via the aptly named 4 men with Beards imprint) and that we will at long last be running the ruler of comparison between it and their debut ’a garland of song’ (which for reasons beyond utter disbelief we still haven’t reviewed – though all that is set to change in a few days when we sprinkle upon it printed words reporting of much fondness in a review all accompanied by an additional brace of releases featuring rare and live material and an absolute gem of a debut by sometime Owl Service -er Nancy Wallace entitled ‘old stories’).

Glad we’ve got that sorted.

Round about now those who’ve tuned into this appraisal of North Sea Radio Orchestra’s second opus ’birds’ expecting to see critical reactions book-ended by reasons a many as to why this release is deserving of turntable consideration and indeed much pouring of affection in its general direction (all this finally comes shortly) including no doubt the band themselves and their PR rep Sean are probably sat there scratching their heads much un-amused that a paragraph has already gone a begging basically glorifying in print another band who is not them.

So with another paragraph (or maybe two if you count the one sentence break in events) dispensed with and still no nearer mentioning or even considering North Sea Radio Orchestra, you are probably wondering where the hell this is leading. Well you know us, our motto being why keep it neat and sweet, if there’s something worth saying then its worth going round and round the houses with until everyone’s dizzy in order to say it. In short we were listening to ’Liege and Lief’ and it suddenly struck us how much alike NSRO’s ’Birds’ is in terms of its style, grace and turn of melodic phrase to the Fairport Convention classic – .

‘Birds’ is succulently tapered with the same honeysuckle flavoured beguile, the arrangements appearing like woodland charms are delicately crisp and autumnal, imparting a sweetly alluring though irrefutable joyous celebration that daintily interweaves between passages of timelessly toned classical appreciation and archaic pageant like folk fancies that combine in harmonious unison to weave their enchanting mystery with demurring guile (none more is this the case than on ’move eastward, happy earth’ – but more about that in a second).

It makes for an arresting and utterly intimate spectacle, like some rare and lost medieval folly coaxed out of retirement chief North Sea Radio man Chris Fortnam has penned a truly modern day classic re-threaded from a myriad of long forgotten melodic tapestries. Comprising of twelve cuts this tender chamber folk suite, all at one elegant, haunting and spellbinding twinkles and whispers in hushed tonalities, as the press release rightly notes trades softly with the kind of willowy dialects more associated with the work of Vernon Elliot via his score for ‘Ivor the Engine’ – that self same colourful braiding of image enhancing melodic dialogue commonly shared by the likes of Michael Nyman and Douglas Gamley (note the back dropping soundtracks for both ‘the Draughtman’s Contract’ and ’Spring and Port Wine’ respectively for comparison – the former being most ably observed on the shyly retiring ‘now welcom somer‘ with its gentle village fayre incantations giving it an unmistakable air of the ‘Wicker Man’ about its wares albeit dimpled and dabbled by the hands of a strange coming together between Pentangle and Broadcast).

The lazily spun and breezily sleepy headed rustics of the Gaelic ‘a poison tree’ dizzily cavort with a airy waltz like evocation while elsewhere the bracing Hardy / Dickensian Sunday morn village canter of ‘Copt Gilders’ gently lilts and lulls in similar tonal trajectories as the much missed L’Augmentation while the Victoriana watermarks that dapple the grooves of ‘personent hodie’ again nod and echo resplendently towards the idyllic signatures of Vernon Elliot.

By far the sets best moment appears courtesy of ‘move Eastward, Happy Earth’ – a feast of breathlessly unsettling beauty pepper corned by caressing choir arrangements, rustic cascades and crested by playfully arcing and peek – a – boo parading wind scores amid it all Sharron Fortnam’s vocals seductively weaving to the lead the parade through the mercurially marinated landscape.

Utterly bewitching.

Key tracks –

Move eastward, happy earth
New welcom somer
Personent hodie

November 2008

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