Brass Monkey,
Going & Staying
(Topic, 2001)

Brass Monkey is a sextet well known in English folk circles for their brass section, an anomaly that sets this well-respected band apart from almost all other traditional bands of its ilk. The group is legendary in their native England and made their first record together way back in 1971.

Collectively and individually they are influential in their field. Guitarist Martin Carthy was also an important member of Steeleye Span in its heyday in the 1970s, while squeezebox player John Kirkpatrick played with the critically acclaimed Richard Thompson, formerly of Fairport Convention and a modern day singer-songwriting icon in folk-rock circles. In 1987, the entire band backed Loudon Wainwright III.

Brass Monkey parted ways in 1987 because the group could not maintain a performance schedule that enabled them to sustain a living. In addition, the members had no time to keep the band going due to all the extra session work they took on to survive, which inhibited their gig schedule even further. Because of this their discography is very skimpy. They have only recorded only four albums together. In 1997, after a decade apart, the band reconvened with the five original members plus one and recorded Sound & Rumour two years later. Then in 2001 they released Going & Staying.

Despite Brass Monkey's history and reputation I found Going & Staying to be a disappointment and a bore. While the vocals are properly at home in the camp of traditional English folk music, the combination of accordions, concertinas and other traditional instruments combined with the brass section make the music sound like a lethargic polka band. It is an odd combination that does not work. The horn section should find work in a band more suitable to the usage of brass instruments and leave the strings and various squeezeboxes to play folk music better fitting their instrumentation.

One senses that Brass Monkey fancy themselves as a band that would like to play at your outdoor party pool party but in order to do this they must "kick it up a notch." I am not asking Brass Monkey to be a rock 'n' roll band because that is not what they are about, but it would be nice if they stopped wasting their horn section. Going & Staying is to English folk music in the same way that Lawrence Welk's music is to jazz.

[ by Charlie Ricci ]
Rambles: 13 July 2002