Ambedo Productions – 2021
Musicians and others in the industry had to be inventive to find ways to escape the pressures of the pandemic. For six days last year, three Liverpool students drove across the north of England in a red Corsa full of audio and film equipment to record six music combinations in six different locations. The musicians are a pleasing mix of names, some of which you are sure to know – Ríoghnach Connolly, Rosie hood, Andy cutting – and younger musicians from Liverpool and Manchester. The resulting album offers a range of traditional English and Irish sonic delights that abound in the vastly different locations in which the recordings were made.
The project started as a dissertation for Ellen McGoverns Audio production graduation which resulted in Ellen (a flute and uilleann pipes player herself) forming Ambedo Productions with fellow students Joe Punter and Kate Larner and her sister Maeve to share the music, video of the recordings and do more the same. Her interest lies in exploring how the acoustics of unique environments influence performances and in capturing musicians in places that mean something remarkable to them.
The album begins with The Abbess, one of two tracks recorded with Andy Cutting (Leveret, Topette !!, Simpson / Cutting / Kerr) in Pooles Cavern in Buxton, a show cave with England's longest stalactite. The tune was composed by Andy (and originally recorded on his self-titled solo album from 2010 – reviewed here). It is remarkable how Andy's bright, as always very engaging button accordion playing in this room sounds like the largest pipe organ in a spacious cathedral.
Rosie Hood, recently in the thick of this year's pint-sized Towersey Festival and temporarily organizer of the Young People’s Hub workshops and performances at the Cambridge Folk Festival, recorded for the project at Yellow Arch Studios in Sheffield (where Rosie lives). The building is a renovated Victorian nut and bolt factory that has been used as a recording and performance space since 1997 and appears to be the only conventional recording location of the six used for the project. Rosie's two songs – The Swallow and The Blind Girl, both collected in Wiltshire, which is where she comes from – were recorded in the building's large and somewhat cluttered warehouse. Comparing the interpretation of The Blind Girl with that on Rosie's 2016 album The Beautiful & The Actual (reviewed here) shows how recording in unusual spaces can add additional layers, in this case depth and an almost ethereal touch to Rosie's already great vocals.
The Williamson Tunnels, built under the house and other properties in Edge Hill, Liverpool, in the early 19th century and owned by tobacco dealer Joseph Williamson, are the setting for two sets of traditional Irish tunes by Liverpool banjo player Ciara Owens. Recorded in a closed, high tunnel, Ciara's playing takes on a distant, almost ancient sound that could have appeared on a '78 disc in Michael Coleman's day. For the occasion, Ciara had to wear a white hard hat similar to the one you can see in the Village People video for YMCA! A family kitchen in Manchester was the down-to-earth location for two more sets of traditional Irish tunes by young players Orla Felcey (wooden flute), Maeve McGovern (tenor banjo) and Declan Dillon-Connolly (bodhran). They describe it on their website: "Although this is not acoustically interesting compared to the more reverberant performance rooms, it matters to most music households." Accordingly, their melodies have the relaxed, unpolished sound of an inviting Irish traditional session, a variation of to add to the "correct" tracks.
It's when we arrive at Holy Name Church in Manchester city center with a session by Ríoghnach Connolly (HoneyFeet, The Breath, Band of Burns, Afro Celt Sound System and BBC Folk Singer of the Year) and Ellis Davis (also HoneyFeet & Band of Burns) that this beautiful collection has skyrocketed. The church was built between 1869 and 1871 and has served a growing local population for generations, including immigrant Irish families who escaped the famine. It has been surrounded by University of Manchester buildings since the 1960s. This special place has a special meaning for me too, with a strong family connection: my mother was baptized there; her parents were married there; the name of her uncle, who was wounded in Gallipoli in 1915, is one of 244 names on the WWI memorial in the church; A few years ago, my daughter was playing at the Christmas carol concerts at their Sixth Form College there.
We are lucky enough to be spoiled at locations with three of the four tracks that the project recorded with Ríoghnach (vocals and wooden flute) and Ellis (guitar): two songs and a number of melodies. There is no doubt something very special to hear this truly extraordinary voice in this spacious, fragrant building; they were obviously meant to be rounded up. The first song is fittingly Ag Chriost An Siol, an Irish anthem. Thugamar Féin An Samhradh Línn, the other vocal track, can be charmingly translated as “We brought the summer with us” and is a song that Ríoghnach sings as a lullaby for her and Ellis ‘daughter Macha. The fourth recording for the project, a song called Old Ardbó, sung unaccompanied by Ríoghnach, didn't make it on the album, but it's an essential, breathtaking listening pleasure – the video is here.
Locations ensure captivating listening, with the variety of resonant locations playing just as important a role as the performances. The young production team deserves kudos for overcoming a host of technical and logistical challenges inherent in each location in order to capture these victorious, atmospheric songs and melodies. I wonder where the red Corsa is going next.
You can get the CD here. Further information on the locations can be found here and all video films of the performances can be viewed here.