As Britain prepares to depart the European Union and enter an uncertain future virtuoso musician Will Pound has decided to let the music do the talking.
Will Pound – one of the biggest names in UK folk music – spent last summer travelling across Europe to meet myriad musicians who, in turn, have inspired an album that seems sure to leave its mark - the significant and timely A Day Will Come. The Warwickshire-based harmonica wizard and melodeon maestro, nominated three times for the coveted Musician of the Year title at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards says: “This was never a pro Remain or pro Leave project – it’s about identity, music and the subject of home.”
The album is packaged in a burgundy European passport-style cover with a comprehensive CD booklet giving the background to the tunes. Says Will: “The idea was to discover and celebrate the traditional music of the countries that make up the European Union. It’s been an absolute privilege to learn about the diverse folk music traditions and compose or arrange tunes influenced by them.”
He was particularly fascinated to learn about the music of Bulgaria, Croatia, Latvia and Malta. “It has been a real voyage of discovery to spend time with fellow European musicians and see them play the traditional tunes of their countries. Now we hope we have done them justice and created an album that does them proud.”
His many road trip experiences included meeting pipe maker and musician Francesco Sultana in Malta and talking to Zhivko Zhelev, leader of the Dobrudja State Folk Ensemble in Bulgaria. In Latvia he interviewed Valdis Muktupāvels, a Latvian ethnomusicologist, musician and composer and in Croatia he spoke to Dunja Bahtijarevic and Barbara Majnaric about the music of the Balkans. Dunja also guests on the album.
The project has been backed by Arts Council England. Says Will: “When I received the news that the funding had been awarded I was sat at Hong Kong airport having played Hong Kong Arts Festival, awaiting a plane to Japan. It’s fair to say I was fairly emotional as this is a subject close to my heart – but I was also daunted by the challenge of learning 27 tunes from the different EU member states and making them work on a record.” He has dedicated the album to “all Europeans - wherever you come from and whatever you believe in.” The release features music from the member states across 14 tracks, mostly in pairs. The name of the album is taken from a speech made by French writer Victor Hugo in 1849 in which he spoke of a united Europe and the ‘disappearance of frontiers from maps and of prejudices from hearts’.
And Will was delighted that none other than Scottish superstar Dame Evelyn Glennie (‘the world’s premier solo percussionist’) agreed to be a special guest on therelease. Says Will: “It was wonderful to get someone of her stature to be part of this project and I have really enjoyed working with her. She plays a Bulgarian rachenista and a new tune I have written based on Romanian folk music.”
The album features the talents of a new ensemble assembled especially for the project including another Scottish musician - 2019 Scots Trad Music Awards Musician of the Year Jenn Butterworth (Songs of Separation/Kinnaris Quintet) – an outstanding guitarist who was also nominated for BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards Musician of the Year last year. Joining Jenn on the release is Jude Rees (Jim Moray, RSC, Pilgrims’ Way) on oboe, soprano saxophone and English border pipes; brilliant bass player John Parker (Nizlopi) and stand-out fiddle player Patsy Reid, the former Breabach member who has been described as ‘the most in-demand traditional fiddle player in the UK’. Fine fiddler Liz Carroll – the first Irish-American musician to be nominated for a Grammy - also guests on the recording as does German fiddler Gudrun Walther and the Stream of Sound youth chorus from Stourbridge, led by Caroline Price.
The album whips up a whistle-stop tour of the music of a continent - from lively Swedish polskas to upbeat Italian tarantellas, swirling Irish jigs, buoyant French bourrées, relentless rachenistas from Bulgaria and sizzling Spanish jotas. It also features new poetry by Polish performance poet Bohdan Piasecki. Poland’s first Slam poet, he is now based in Birmingham and the poetry is inspired by interviews with EU nationals that have made England their home.
Naturally Will’s superb harmonica and melodeon playing is to the fore in a tour de force performance. It’s a totally upbeat, fast and fizzing celebration of Europe and its very best tunes. An opening Latvian high jinks tune swerves into a traditional Flemish number, takes a breath and strikes into fast and furious Irish jigs and reel, with Liz Carroll joining Pound and Butterworth. Then the music slows slightly for a Dutch sailing song before picking up the pace for a Spanish dance tune. It’s on to a Polish dance tune and sprightly Finnish tune, sandwiched by Piasecki’s moving poem Szum. The Malta/Estonia tune pairing is a solo melodeon workout for Will as is the more stately and complex Greece/Cyprus pairing. There’s a merry Murinheira dance tune from Portugal and a polka from Lithuania before the only song on the album – a traditional Croatian number sung by Dunja Bahtijarevic, Caroline Price and the Stream of Sound.
Will composed Muzica peste granite after listening to different types of Romanian music and here he is joined by Evelyn Glennie for one of the most intriguing tracks on the album before the Bulgarian Rachenista is ushered in. To celebrate France the ensemble play the steadier Scottish a Virmoux before the tempo moves up a gear for a circle dance from Piedmont, Italy and the driving Neapolitan Tarantella, a tune written for a comic opera. Slovakia/Slovenia is a solo harmonica track with the Slovakian tune part written by Pound while the Slovenian tune is reminiscent of a Scottish strathspey.
German fiddler Gudrun Walther joins Will for the German/Austrian pair of tunes while the tune for the Czech Republic is reminiscent of the nursery rhyme melody Polly Put The Kettle On. Bodhan Piasecki interjects with the moving poem This List before the band play a hopping step procession tune from Luxembourg. The album ends with a Danish tune Will learnt from the melodeon playing of Ed Johnson and a polka learnt from Swedish band Väsen, played in a variant key.
This celebration of traditional European music follows the success of Pound’s Morris and folk dance album Through the Seasons - with the accompanying live show enjoying two UK tours. Pound was nominated for the Musician of the Year title at BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards in 2016, 2014 and 2013. He was named Best Newcomer by Songlines Magazine in 2014 and won FATEA Magazine’s Musician of the Year title in both 2014 and 2015. He has also appeared on BBC Breakfast TV and his music has been played on Radios 2, 3 and 6 and the BBC World Service. Will also played harmonica on the Hillsborough charity single, joining a line-up of pop and football stars, on He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother which became the Christmas No 1 in 2012. Will also plays harmonica in all 10 episodes of the upcoming Sky TV comedy drama Breeders which marks Martin Freeman’s return to comedy – a no holds barred looks at the challenges of parenthood.
Photo Credits: (1)-(2) Will Pound, (3) Liz Carroll & Jenn Butterworth, (4) Gudrun Walther Treyz (unknown/website).