Park Bench Social Club
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Park Bench Social Club
Sit On This
PBSC Records (theparkbenchsocialclub.com)

Concert review:The Met, Bury, England
16th February 2008

The sound engineering is perfect tonight: you can hear every shift in Will Lang's bodhran gymnastics, every bassy pulse in the beautifully intriguing African water carrier transformed into an eerie piece of percussion. And to the uninitiated, the fiddle playing of Peter Tickell lilted delightfully from Northumbrian anecdote to bluegrass squeals - but those who had read up the new ensemble prior to this tour would have realised that Tickell was actually filling in for the trio's missing member Ross Couper. As this fact dawned on the small but enthusiastic and appreciative audience, who frequently broke in to energetic foot-stomping in accompaniment, it was incredible how easily Tickell had slipped in to this role, proof that the musicianship of Park Bench Social Club really is top class.

The material on show was written for a reason, chosen and performed for a reason. The explanations introducing each piece became almost as mesmerising as the music itself. But it was obvious that influences came from far and wide: there was English, Irish, Scottish and Northumbrian styles, but Canadian drawls from vocalist Aidan Curran, frenzied bluegrass, and African and Asian beats contributed something really unique that wasn't your average folk gig.

Which is perfect really, given that the trio's debut album, Sit On This, is a far from average offering. The album opens with conveniently titled, "Opener," a set of tunes which could easily be put on the sound system of a trendy nightclub to set the clubbers wild. Fluid fiddling, slides and grooves, with a real dub feeling which gets you skanking could well be a hit in clubs up and down the land (and indeed across the world!). And it's the first indication of a nod to the Peatbog Faeries, with the mystical spaceyness that would attract typically non-folk lovers, too.

If you're used to the Be Good Tanyas' version of "Cuckoo" then Park Bench Social Club will surprise and treat you. Passionate vocals from the Canadian make it fast, frenzied and wholly more aggressive. Similar, "Gone" is driven by Curran's distinct vocals and it is here that Shetland fiddler Couper is as at home with bluegrass fiddling as he is with songs from his homeland. We stay in the Americas for the oldtime inspired "KWX," backed up by a lovely anecdote about Ross' trucker grandfather, the title of the tune set derived from his truck number plate. And as live appearances will testify, Park Bench Social Club have a real sense of humour, which is also found on the album. "Let's get the hell out'a here!" has a tune dedicated to a bottle of wine, explaining the slurring, frequent double stopping and rich textures. The pace picks up, though, as the set continues until the bubbling percussion squelches delightfully underneath.

Both on the stage and off, Park Bench Social Club prove they have a busy and acclaimed future ahead of them, already having won the endorsement of Eliza Carthy, who also features on the album. - Sophie Parkes

The band's web site has lots of audio and video to sample: www.theparkbenchsocialclub.com

CD available from cdRoots

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