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by Ian Mann

January 06, 2010


Interesting and lively Balkan and klezmer music. Flatworld bring a welcome touch of colour to their local music scene.

This is a self released album by the Malvern based band Flatworld recorded live during performances at Colwall Village Hall and at Ludlow Fringe Festival in 2008. The group are a popular attraction on the live music scene in Worcestershire, Herefordshire and the neighbouring counties. Their distinctive blend of instrumental world music makes a refreshing change from the blues and covers bands that habitually ply the pub circuit and they have accrued a considerable local following for their interesting and lively folk dance influenced music.

Led by guitarist and occasional vocalist Neil Poulter the group also contains classically trained violinist Kimberly Turnbull, saxophonist Tim Cranmore, Vo Fletcher on electric bass and Eric Aston on djembe and percussion. For this recording the regular five piece are joined by additional violinist Georgina Clarke.

The group’s tagline is “roots ‘n’ grooves from Eastern Europe and beyond”, a phrase which neatly encapsulates their approach. In simple terms the band could be said to play Balkan or klezmer music with tunes on the album coming from Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, Macedonia, Sweden and Israel. It’s an eclectic mix that makes for a fascinating range of music all performed in the infectious Flatworld style. Fletcher and Aston are a driving rhythm team giving good support to the melodic flourishes of Turnbull and Cranmore with Poulter, a real world music enthusiast, holding it all together on guitar.

The group first formed in 2001 as the support act for Polish klezmer trio Kroke who were playing a gig in Malvern at the time. They’ve been together ever since, going through a few line up changes along the way. I’ve seen the present incarnation of the band several times at my local live music pub The Bell Inn in Leominster and they just seem to get better and better, always getting a good reception for what to some audience members must be very unfamiliar music. Still, the name “Flatworld” indicates an eagerness to break down barriers which is exactly what the group’s music does. Bell Inn regulars who were initially indifferent to the band now look forward to their regular visits.

The album kicks off in lively style with “Kukush” a piece written by a Czech friend of Nigel Kennedy. Kennedy,incidentally has connections with both Malvern and the Czech Republic. Full of tight ensemble playing the piece is a good example of Flatwork’s approach with punchy bass and percussion driving the front line instrumentalists in a spirited, klezmer inspired introduction.

“The Man In The Brown Hat” was written by hurdy gurdy player Chris Stapleton and was recorded by the folk group Blowzabella. It is often teamed with the Swedish traditional tune “Schottische Fran Harero”, as Flatworld do here. Again the music is sprightly, melodic and highly danceable with the fiddles of Turnbull and Clarke to the fore.

“Sun” is a tune the group discovered via the Polish klezmer trio Kroke. Slightly less frenetic than the previous two numbers it features interlocking sax and violin lines and the insistent rhythm playing of Poulter.

“Les Poules Huppees” and the accompanying “Mazurka Limousin” were collected by former Flatworld member Jonathan Penley. Both dance tunes, they sound more formal than what has gone before with Cranmore’s tenor sax playing parts that were probably originally intended for some form of bagpipes. It’s all very charming as are the following “Khosid Dances”, two Hungarian Jewish folk tunes originally collected by the Hungarian band Muzsikas. Steadily accelerating in pace these tunes are everybody’s idea of what a Jewish folk dance should sound like.

“Makedonsko Devojce” or “Macedonian Girl” is a piece I saw performed by the Tea Hodzic Trio on their 2009 tour ( a show reviewed elsewhere on this site). Flatworld’s version includes an understated vocal performance from Poulter amid the swirling tenor sax and violins.

“Nigun Atik” is the best known composition by the Israeli accordionist and songwriter Amitai Neeman. I recently heard a big band version of the tune when reviewing the latest Wonderbrass album. Flatworld’s version is radically different and sounds more obviously “Jewish” with violins and saxes to the fore. However it is led off and powered by the propulsive electric bass of the excellent Fletcher; the man is also a highly talented guitarist, visit his website for details of his other activities.

If you’re a regular WOMAD visitor you may see other bands playing this type of music in a slicker or sharper manner than Flatworld. They’d probably admit themselves that they’re far from perfect but they do take an obvious pride and joy in their music making and their pan cultural approach adds a welcome touch of colour to the local music scene in this part of the world. “Live” makes a good souvenir of Flatworld’s enjoyable gigs and stands up as a good listen in it’s own right.

The album costs just £5.00 and is available at gigs or from the group’s informative web site

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