Live From Old York: Mokoomba, Alistair Anderson, Dan Walsh & The Toasters

Martin Longley By

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Alistair Anderson is a veteran master of English folk, playing concertina and Northumbrian pipes. The young Dan Walsh was one of Anderson's deftest students at Newcastle University, and the duo have now taken to playing together, even though this might be an occasional venture, so far. Walsh is also a member of the Urban Folk Quartet. The Anderson/Walsh duo might be arriving from completely different quarters, but the combination succeeds, both as contrast and bonding. Their set was constructed from all possible permutations, mixing solo spots with pairings, these manifested by one or the other taking the compositional reins. Anderson has written for dance companies, and this might be because he's almost a dancer himself. When pumping the concertina, every phrase is accompanied by an appropriate waft or flourish of his instrument, to emphasise the jaunty flow. A flighty ditty such as "Geld Him, Lasses, Geld Him!" demands such expression, really. Likewise, "The Rusty Gulley," another fine rendition. Anderson's piping is statically delivered by comparison, but that wheezing, inflatable underarm beast would be quite sensitive to being jolted around, interfering with the delicate precision of fingering. It was a warm night, and the pipes were bleating and groaning whilst being fine-tuned, but once the melodic chase began, they were set free to sing. Anderson's explanatory interludes were both erudite and playful: he's part enthusiastic obsessive and part absurdist debunker.

Walsh also cuts his talent into halves. He soloed on banjo, at an almost unbelievable pace and picking intricacy, leaping from Stateside styles to Scottish. Then, he sang in troubadour mode, offering his "Back To Stay," where he appreciates the time spent in Newcastle, but is eager to embrace his home of Stafford once again. Walsh's mélange of Americana and British roots complements Anderson's forays into the music of other cultures, although most of his pieces during this gig were decidedly English. Walsh strode through "At Least Pretend," adopting what can only be termed a bass slap-thumb approach to his strings. Anderson related a touching old tale of the now-departed Will Atkinson, a long-lived harmonica player from Northumberland, then proceeded to skip through a nameless tune that the old master taught him. When the pair played together, they had a rapport that stretched the emphasising of phrases into a joint sport, the duo timing tight stabs of melodic simultaneity. One song might feature Anderson in supporting position on a Walsh original, then the latter would switch to a more rhythmic accompaniment to a tune by the former. Whichever way, they both shone with an elegant dash.

The Toasters
April 11, 2014

The Toasters are now in their 33rd year, still riding high as purveyors of transmogrified Jamaican ska music. All sorts of cross-pollination was involved back in 1981, as mainman Robert 'Bucket' Hingley was initially inspired by The Beat, those Birmingham (England) re-writers of traditional ska. This singer/guitarist has developed the combination of stepping jump-beats and pop-rock song-crafting, shaping a signature Toaster sound. He has the advantage of appealing to a broad range of music lovers, uniting the reggae, punk and skanky festival-grizzled scenes alike. Hingley's accent is pretty odd, sounding almost Australian at times. In fact, he's an Englishman, but settled in NYC since 1980, where he ran a comic book store, which is where he gathered the early members of his band. A decade ago, Hingley moved to Valencia in Spain.

There was ample room on the dancefloor, which was surprising for a Friday night, and also given that York has a reasonably popular ska dj-scene. Still a good, lively gathering, but not exactly sweaty, and only sporadically soaked in beer. The Toasters hurtled into a 70 minute set of condensed trotting, with nearly every short song dedicated to the pacily pumping beat. Amongst the oldies were "Secret Agent Man," "Pirate Radio," "Sitting On Top Of The World" and "Don't Let The Bastards Grind You Down." Sometimes, Hingley's poppy sensibility tipped the tunes too much towards a dilute style, for those who desired a harder ska romp, but then, there's not much point in merely re-formulating old genres. Hingley has his own approach. His vocals provided more of a central focus, given that he's not really a lead guitarist, apart from a smattering of short solo licks towards encore-time. His work was to build the core of every song, strumming that classic dampened, clipped chank. The startling solo duties went to the horns, with both trombonist and tenor saxophonist determined to display enormous stamina for fleet outpourings, notes played at breakneck speed, with lip-fraying accuracy. The remaining heart-core was pumped by bass and drums, but its the horners who provided the variety flying above the dancing beats.

Photo Credit: Daniela Sbrisny


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