A New Day 1999 / Talking Elephant 2021
British folk scene mainstay steps out for a night away from the town – with a sophomore offering with Fairporters and Tullians en masse in tow.
Maartin Allcock’s passing in 2018 robbed rock of one of the brightest, most intelligent artists; what remained in the wake of his untimely demise is a wealth of timeless music. A session player par excellence and a temporary member of a couple prominent ensembles, the veteran’s solo career started relatively late, in 1990, this 1999 record being Maartin’s second release under his own name, Allcock’s postal code on the cover never fooled his followers into believing it didn’t deserve success on a global-village level. Hence the reissue to prove “OX15” hasn’t lost an iota of its brilliance.
Despite the parochial angle the album’s title suggests, the songs gathered here propose a Trans-European trip which is bound to expose an entire scope of Maart’s mindscape – only there’s no escapism in these down-to-earth melodies, both original and traditional. So if Celtic and English motifs are aplenty here, what with the six-string-filigree-filled reels of “Bean a’Tí ar Lár” taking pride of place in the latter part of the platter, to hear Allcock in the company of old friends – Gerry Conway on drums, Chris Leslie on fiddle and Clive Bunker on bodhrán – who create a charming counterpoint to sadder dances, it’s Balkanian tunes that lure the listener in. Bulgarian “Daichovo Chara” may not seem too distant from Blighty’s lore, as Troy Donockley’s Uilleann pipes wrap this number in a chamber mist before the leader’s electric guitar and keyboards get the effervescent performance off the ground, yet the reflective drift of Macedonian “Sand Dancer” finds him at the piano, somberly navigating a course between cello and mandolin towards more exotic pastures.
Over there, the majestic, Najma Akhtar-voiced “A Dream” feels right at home even when Urdu lyrics enter the frame to marry Eastern patterns to Western riffs, whereas “Jessica & The Wind That Shakes The Barley” – the album’s arguable apex, a summit of Chris Haigh and Leslie’s violins contrasting the main man’s MIDI jive – rocks in a very diligent country manner, as does the heavy “Whenever We See The Dark” starring Ian Anderson on flute. However, a couple of cuts on display were written not for the stage but for a Sony Playstation game, although it’s not too difficult to imagine the enchanting “Elementary” – thrown to the wind by Allcock’s acoustic lace and contrabass, and Conway’s tender strokes – in a “Myst”-like adventure, which can’t be said of the much merrier, albeit equally inspired, “Watermarks” that’s drenched in synthesizers and punched by Bunker’s sympathetic beat.
Still, Kieran Halpin’s “Simple” that features Maartin’s soft vocals isn’t as simple as the piece’s pop sounds pretend to present, yet his delivery of Allan Taylor’s “Chimes At Midnight” is – thanks to the track’s electronic pulse, rather than his wife Gill’s impassioned singing. Of course, Allcock being himself, there’s a sly smile in the effects which flesh out the infectious “Crash Polka” and a kind nod in “Untitled” which welcomes everyone to come up with their own interpretation of this celestial theme. What doesn’t require interpretation is the fact that the world without Mart has become duller and he’s sorely missed, “OX15” remaining a beacon years after it was lighted.