Album Review | Self Release | Review by Steve Henderson | Stars: 4/5
Getting the musical chemistry right when forming a group is always a challenge. However, it is a trick that The Magpies have achieved with some aplomb. It started when singer songwriter Bella Gaffney began jamming with mandolin and banjo player Polly Bolton after a show in York back in 2017. It was the spark that got them together as a performing duo before expanding into a four-piece, The Magpies. More than making up the numbers, they were joined by Sarah Smout on cello following her work with Michael Chapman and Bridget St John and completed by Holly Brandon on fiddle. After some successful live appearances at the likes of Glastonbury, Cambridge Folk Festival and Shambala, they have unveiled their debut album, Tidings.
The album has ten tracks and takes three from the folk tradition, includes two covers and five compositions from band members. A mix that hints at the richness of variety to be found on the record. In terms of their selections from the tradition, the best known is the song “Galway Shawl” which fares less well in comparison to their other two choices as, though it is a great song, it’s well worn too. It is really the other two traditional tracks that allow The Magpies to fly as their skills come to the fore with a well arranged song, “Two Magicians”, and the energetic instrumental “Shuffle Set”.
The covers are interesting choices being one of Gillian Welch’s early songs, “Rock Of Ages”, and fiddler Liz Carroll’s instrumental “Catharsis”. When it comes to their own compositions Gafney and Bolton come up with two apiece and one from Brandon. The latter bringing the instrumental “Foss Island” to the party. As you might expect from a singer songwriter Gaffney contributes two excellent songs and Bolton offers up the song “Golden Girl” alongside the ambitious, eclectic “Balls To The Wall” which closes the album.
The key to this debut is twofold. Firstly, Tidings offers plenty of variety and, secondly, the excellent blending of both their playing and singing is evidence that The Magpies have got the musical chemistry right. A record worthy of investigation and an act to watch out for when live music gets back to normality.