CD review by Tony Smith
Jez Lowe, from England’s north east and Jake Walton, from Cornwall, might be from diagonal extremes of the country, but their collaboration could not be smoother or more productive.
This CD is a re-mastering of a 1986 album with three new tracks among the fourteen.
Walton sings and plays guitar, hurdy-gurdy and dulcimer, while Lowe sings, plays guitar, cittern, banjo, keyboards, harmonica and whistle.
They are supported by Jo Partridge on electric guitar, Linn drums and vocals, and Paul Reeves on percussion.
The album title derives from French for hurdy gurdy, ‘vielle a roue’ (fiddle with a wheel) but also Old English for ‘vagabond’.
There is a nice balance between songs and instrumentals.
The dance music has a decidedly early music feel and shows Rom, Breton and Galician influences.
There are Lowe’s ‘Tod’s Dance’ and the Italian tarantella ‘Monferrina’.
The duo arranged two dance tunes from Galicia, learned from the group Milladoiro, and two Northumbrian pipe tunes, ‘Rothbury Races’ and ‘Morpeth Lasses’ demonstrate their versatility.
‘Appleby Gallop’, written by Lowe and Walton, is about the horse fair in the Westmoreland town.
Both musicians have personal connections with the fair.
Walton has Romany friends and Lowe’s cousins, Robinson, were horse traders and scrap metal merchants, honourable Traveller occupations.
Walton’s hurdy gurdy is obviously well suited to these tracks but Lowe is no slouch with cittern and whistle as well.
On the Galician dances, the whistle could be sopranino recorder.
The opening track, ‘Patrick’s Song/ Dance’, begins with lyrics and segues into a dance learned from Breton group, Bleizi Ruz.
Walton sings: ‘I was born a son of the wandering race/ and may I never tire of my wandering ways’.
The hurdy gurdy has a pipe-like quality that reminds the listener just how ancient this instrument is.
Several songs have environmental themes.
‘Trees’ tells of the fate of oaks and elms, their symbiosis and their place in the landscape.
They are ‘makers of the air we breathe, guardians of life’, shelters, lords of the forest and symbols of life.
Jo’s guitar is featured on this track.
‘Over Seal Sands’ tells of the birds landing on the industrial wasteland at the Tees’ mouth.
Jake wrote ‘Gold and Silver’ for a Friends of the Earth benefit tour.
Jez takes out the banjo for ‘Japs and English’, a song about the sad nature of the cycle of wars and how their history seeps into childhood games.
Jake’s ‘The Reign of the Fair Maid’ is a re-working of an old New Year’s Carol and incorporates the Celtic understanding of life as a cycle.
‘Brockie’s Lads’ are the workers on Brock’s carnivals around the north east of England long ago.
‘The Brockie lads are bad, but the Brockie lads are bonny’ and they steal girls away as do the ‘Raggle Taggle Gypsies’ of legend.
‘The Bergen’, perhaps Lowe’s most covered composition, tells of the ship which ran aground at the mouth of the River Tees at the end of the nineteenth century, and ‘The Ballad of Johnny Collier’ arises from industrial turmoil in the mines in the early 1980s.
Two A Roue is a superb collaboration between these peerless English musicians.