'London ReBorn' from Simon McKechnie - sweeping vistas and changing paces(January 23, 2012)
‘London ReBorn’ by Simon McKechnie is an intriguing collection of ‘old-new’ folk songs that encapsulate the variety of life and wealth of histories that permeate London. Blend 17th century folk, with 21st century technology, add a touch of self-penned sensation and mix that blend in the bowl of London’s historical and cultural melting pot and you have ‘London ReBorn’. This is more than an album. It’s replete with a startling array of instruments such as the psaltery, hurdy-gurdy, cuatro, tumbi and bansuri. It offers superb arrangements, perfectly-placed sound bites and lyrical observations. It is a carefully crafted, musical depiction of a city. Want to know London? This album is better than any movie.
The album offers a priceless mix of songs and instrumentals. Opening with ‘Oh London Is A Fine Town’ - originally by Thomas D’Urfay to lampoon the investiture of London’s Lord Mayor. This version begins with a tube-train echo, includes a perfectly placed wealth of musical intrigue by Simon, and superb vocals from Johanna Marshall. Belying its modernity, ‘Street Cries Of London’ is a completely new melody penned by Simon, written around an anonymous 17th century poem. The songscape includes real London street cries, scintillating strings and vocals, plus ambient city sounds (recorded in a shopping centre). On ‘St. Paul's Steeple’ the vocals by Simon, Mike Flynn and Helen Dodd are perfect, with Simon’s melody echoing a peel of bells through the inclusion of the old nursery rhyme melody 'Oranges and Lemons'.
The instrumentals include the exquisite dance tune ‘A Trip To Highgate’ - delivered on six psalteries, played with hammers as with a dulcimer, and an equally engaging version of ‘Graies Inne Maske’, a 17th century tune performed at masques held at Gray's Inn. The main melody is played on the traditional Swedish nyckelharpa by early music and folk specialist Clare Salaman. 'The Beaux of London' is captivating – based on an early Morris tune around which Simon blends a surfeit of strings plus congas played by Adam Riley to create a dreamlike dance piece. ‘The Exhibition Of 1862’ offers a ‘rhythmic soundscape’ and that’s precisely what you get - from recordings made around the Science Museum to electronic drums also played by Adam. As with all the pieces on this album, the concurrence between old and new is no accident, and each time it works to perfection.
The album closes with the delicious ‘The Old Glassy Junction (London Bridge)’ a traditional tune re-arranged by Simon that fuses folk and bhangra to celebrate modern multi-ethnic London, while Jan Hendrickse adds a deft edge with the bansuri Indian bamboo flute.
There’s a vast ‘time-scape’ feel to this album. Its span and dimension holds you entranced. It has sweeping vistas and changing paces. It is street theatre. It is folk art for your ears. It is London.
‘London ReBorn’ is available at www.londonreborn.com or on download from iTunes and Amazon.
Reviewer: Tim Carroll