In 2011 multi-instrumentalist Ciaran Algar (Fiddle, Bouzouki, Guitar, Vocals) and Greg Russell (Vocals, Guitar, Bouzouki, English Concertina) formed a duo. Northwich Folk Club saw the pair’s first live performance and since then they haven’t looked back. The young duo have risen on a constant stream of critical acclaim for their live performances and their 2012 debut album ‘The Queen’s Lover‘ which led to them winning the 2013 BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Musician award, followed up by the Best Newcomers award in 2014 . Russell and Algar have been touring and juggling school and university exams with great success since.
There is a great poetic sense of attraction and timelessness to folk music, but it takes a deep skill of understanding both technically and contextually to pull it off. Russell & Algar’s new record The Call offers all of the aspects of a great folk record and yet it sounds so simple and eloquent as it flows from one track to the next. A keynote to the success of this record has to be the blend and transition from contemporary cover to original writing…without prior knowledge it is hard to categorise which is which. For many an artist the cover is a miserable reciprocation; to pull off a cover of a traditional and well respected folk song shows raw talent. Their music feels deeply ingrained in and respectful of the folk tradition but has a sense of the ‘contemporary’ with an ability to draw a much larger audience with songs that are full of the key element of raw folk music: the ability to tell a story, to create a narrative. Too often that ability to really tell a story can be lost in the search for originality. Russell and Algar have an appeal that should not be confined to the adherents of a single ‘genre’ and which has an appeal that allow different people to be able to relate in diverse ways.
There is a beautiful balance between ballad and poem, and between both the enigmatic and sombre narratives, from the foolish tale of Roses Three and the feel good tone of The Silent Jigs, to the stunning ballad of The Rose In June and captivating harmonies throughout The Call and Answer to the beautiful sadness which is laced throughout Absent Friends, Cold Missouri Waters and The Workhouse. The latter – taken from the folk opera ‘A Paupers Path‘ could easily be an opening chapter in a Dickens novel, (as could A Season in Your Arms), this song oozes poetic imagery, you can’t help but be transported to ‘the workhouse’ it’s a beautiful song with an eerie and harrowing tone, much like a Thomas Hardy poem. The Cockfight is a song ironic (a notion not to be taken as a negative in this instance) in its catchiness. The idea of cockfighting is rather sinister and is perhaps an uncomfortable topic to sing about. It is something many would find unethical, so the idea that you become enchanted and are able to join in and start singing about such ‘sport’ is quite unnerving. That is in large part the beauty and skill of their talent. As the cover notes suggest it is a significant part of our history and heritage and the song therefore the song provides a memoir to a historic practice. Again it is a song which places you right in the middle of the scene, in this case a contentious cockfight. A particular favourite, maybe this is just due to personal experience, is ‘Away From The Pits‘; as described by Algar – ‘Stoke-on-Trent is used as a metaphor for a lass’. Ironically it does actually remind me of someone from Stoke, an unfortunate coincidence?. I particularly liked Algar’s comment on this: ‘I’ll let you make your own jokes about that one’.
Overall this album is a stunning and brilliant sequel to their debut album ‘The Queen’s Lover‘ which if you’ve not heard it is a similarly brilliant record. Book tickets to see them enthral a large crowd at a folk festival or catch one of their more intimate club gigs, the pair are simply great live.
The Call is released on the 7th July 2014 with a sold out album launch in Chester on the 28th June.
Russell & Algar are currently touring the country and tickets and more information can be found here