One of the biggest compliments a creator in the traditional arts can receive is having their work mistaken for the real thing. That happens repeatedly on the new Granny’s Attic album, The Brickfields. Track after track, you’ll find yourself reaching for the sleeve notes to see where they collected the tune, only to find that it was composed sometime during lockdown by either Cohen Braithwaite-Kilcoyne, George Sansome or Lewis Wood.
The Brickfields is the third album by Granny’s Attic, but the first to be made up entirely of tunes. It’s almost as if they’ve grown into it. While their first two albums are extremely well performed, this collection shows off the band’s instrumental chops. In a previous interview on this website, Cohen Braithewaite-Kilcoyne talks about their influences, and there are certainly Faustian moments here, mainly in the more muscular arrangements. However, the balance between full throttle and delicate restraint is entirely their own. It’s a wonderfully sequenced album that keeps the listener engaged for its full 37 minutes – not necessarily an easy task when you’re dealing with pure instrumentals.
It’s perhaps an even greater compliment to The Brickfields and its players that the tunes that really resonate and demand repeat listens are those written by Granny’s Attic themselves. I played a little game while listening to it, resisting the urge to look at the sleevenotes for as long as possible, trying to guess which were rare traditional tunes and which were the band’s originals. I got none of my guesses correct but was delighted to find that my favourites were not traditional at all. A composer must be deeply immersed in the tradition to be able to pull off a midwinter tune like ‘Boxing Day’ without falling headfirst into pastiche, and Braithewaite-Kilcoyne manages to avoid the plunge with aplomb. The tune demands inclusion on every Folkie Christmas playlist. You’ll be ding-dong merrily on high before you’re through the first round.
Elsewhere, ‘Considerate Birders’ (I should have guessed from the not-so-traditional title) marks George Samsone down as a writer and guitar botherer of real substance. It’s a gorgeous tune, performed with wonderful feeling – largely solo until a suitably understated arrangement falls in behind him. ‘Watts Reel’ is another highlight, composed by Lewis Wood from what seems like a thousand spare parts. Not to worry: they all come together as an impressive whole. Something to really bang the foot along to, making you long for a time when leaping around a room with a hundred strangers might seem like a good idea.
Proving that the annual Now That’s What I Call Music round-up didn’t begin in the early 80s, two of the finest traditional tunes come from Thomas Straight’s 24 Favourite Dances for the Year 1783. The first of these is the dark but stately, ‘Odd Thoughts’, which pairs nicely in both title and content with ‘James’s Maggot’, taken from John Johnson’s Choice Collection of Country Dances, Volume 2 (circa 1750). The other banger from Straight’s Now That’s What I Call 1783 is ‘The Brickfields’ itself, which sits unerringly well alongside Braithewaite-Kilcoyne’s aforementioned ‘Boxing Day’, as if to prove just how easy and throwaway this mixing of traditional and original tunes malarky really is.
Kudos, as well, should go to Ian Stephenson for capturing the band in a completely live setting. It’s just the three of them playing together, recorded very well, and it’s all the better for it. A great, stripped-down album, capturing a tight band of friends taking traditional music as a jumping-off point for their own flights of superb fancy.