David Granville reviews The Ominous and the Luminous, Mick Sands with Clive Carroll, Box Room Records, 2006, BBR001
THIS DEBUT album by Northumbrian singer and flautist Mick Sands is delightful mixture of original compositions and arrangements of mainly traditional tunes originating from the north east of England, Ireland and further afield.
Produced in collaboration with Chelmsford-born banjo player and guitarist Clive Caroll, a talented composer, performer and the recipient of numerous musical prizes and awards, it's hard to believe, given Sands' own pedigree, that the album is his first.
Born into a musical family, Sands has been performing since his youth. During a spell in Manchester where he was studying at university, he made lifelong musical friendships with Londoners Kevin Boyle and John Roe. He also befriended the legendary fiddler Des Donnelly (senior).
On moving to London, he soon became associated with the Irish session scene there, and still is. However, he has also built up a formidable reputation for adapting medieval and ethnic vocal music for use in the theatre, having worked for some of the most prestigious in the land, including as the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) and the Royal National Theatre (RNT).
There's a definite nod in the direction Sands' theatre work on the album with the inclusion of Tres Damas, a traditional Sephardic text, beautifully set to music by Sands for an RSC production of Philip Massinger's play 'Believe What You Will', written in 1630.
The album also includes three reels written for an Irish version of Strindberg's play 'Miss Julia', produced last year (2006) at the Theatre Hall, Bath, as part of a series of plays directed by Sir Peter Hall.
As might be expected given Sands' background, there's a fair smattering of songs from the north east. These include a number from what he describes on the album's liner notes as 'the Northumbrian Minstrelsy'
These include the album's opener 'Up the Raw' , with its original arrangement by Sands, and 'I Drew My Ship', a song about lost opportunities in love.
The original Sands composition, 'Where the Deerness Flows', is a poignant reflection on the dramatic changes that have taken place in recent years in the once industrious west Durham coalfield. Sands' love of Irish music can be found throughout the album. In addition to the reels already mentioned, there's a haunting version of the pentatonic Fermanagh love song 'Lough Erne's Shore', an 800-year-old song from the Irish medieval tradition,'Donal Og', and an arrangement of 'Cunla', learnt from the legendary piper Seamus Ennis.
Spreading their wings even further, Sands and Carroll have included an arrangement of a traditional Appalachian murder ballad, 'Silver Dagger'.
Between them these two multi-talented musicians have produced an album that will warm the hearts and stimulate the intelligence of folk music lovers, from wherever they hail. An absolute delight.
Connolly Association, c/o RMT, Unity House, 39 Chalton Street, London, NW1 1JD
Copyright © 2007 David Granville