THE TIME BANDITS
The Time Bandits are not just stalwarts in their own right; like the trunk of a Pete Frame Family Tree, they connect so many of the key players in the Chester folk scene, from the long established Full House and the family harmonies of the Waite Collective, through the French dance enthusiasm of Rondezvous, to the newer shoots of Midswegan and Helianthus. You may have enjoyed dancing to them at a ceilidh, but this album is from the full band, with Kat Turner’s warm, expressive vibrato taking the lead on vocals. That said, this is a band equally at home with songs and tunes, just as they mix the trad and the penned in equal parts. Somehow they even manage that in the same song, thanks to Les Barker.
The band name is telling. Theirs is a philosophy of casting their net across the centuries, notably citing Blowzabella as a reference, and they’re not tied to these shores either. This is what informs a distinct Time Bandits sound, in which every musician plays a part. Not least, the recorder of Old English enthusiast Helen de Lemos gives a signature and an uplift to the arrangements. It helps when your bass player, Chris Lee, brings professional skills to capture that in recording and mixing.
Given that respect for the past, it is natural that they should light upon Gavin Davenport’s ‘From the Bone Orchard’, which sings of the inheritance and guardianship of songs over the centuries “Kept on the lips of like the name of a friend / from bar room to bedside, from birth to life’s end”.
Accordingly, the album opens in troubadour fashion with Admiral Benbow, chronicling an eighteenth century tale of death at sea, continuing with a much recounted tale of wanton murder with The Banks of Red Roses. There are trad tunes too, with Church Street, a merry polka familiar to some as Memories of Ballymote, which, as is the fashion, segues into the hornpipe, Iron Legs.
By contrast, The Summer Lady comes from latter day Steeleye Span, which brings a credit for Terry Pratchett – surely another shooin for time banditry! Seasonal songs flavour Stolen Histories, this being an upbeat celebration of seasons changing for the better.
Returning to Cheshire roots, when the band were asked to contribute to an event at the Lion Salt Works, it was a natural fit to turn to Northwich’s finest. Farewell to the Brine, Pete Coe’s lyric picture of the home town he left behind, conjures memories of those famous historic photographs of Witton Street shops at disturbing angles, sinking into the mines that had brought wealth to the town, or at least to some.
It is no surprise that Searching for Lambs has become such a favourite, as it is surely one of the most beautiful in the English canon. But for all the love of Blowzabella in the band, this is a quite different version and frankly even more inviting to the feet. Ian Jones’ melodeon establishes the ebbs and flows of a five time waltz; Helen Armstrong’s vocal harmonies complement Kat’s lead, while her violin entwines with the recorder in beguiling style. Musicians take note – if you’ve danced to the tune as both Helens, Kat and Ian have, you will please the feet of dancers.
Next stop in our journey in time and space is Galicia, spicing up the musical influences. Avoiding the classic pipe and drum-heavy versions of Muineira Sul Sacrato Della Chiesa, the recorder trips lightfooted over Jamie Matthews’ bouzouki before the band take over in full swing before leading us to the increasingly popular Morgan Rattler.
A brace of slower paced songs follows, including Drive the Cold Winter Away, delving deep back to the first Elizabethan era. Playford informs the introduction to the next song too, until tradition is brought up hard by that lovable rascal, Les Barker, with Hard Cheese of Old England, but the arrangement is still unmistakeably Time Bandits.
The final seasonal reference is Christmas Day in the Morning, which gently waltzes us to sleep, Shetland-style, before our time travel ends in Ireland in the sixteenth century with Rory of the Hills, known to some as the March of the Kings of Laois.
All of which illustrates the strength of this collection of songs and tunes. The Time Bandits’ choice of material will please crowds with the familiar, but will also introduce the listener to the unexpected and take them down the musical road less travelled. They may well dance there!