Tunes new and old, hardly any swearing, and fabulous musicianship filled the second night of Phil and Aly’s misleadingly-named No Rush tour of England and Wales. The good people of Hitchin had been waiting 18 months or more for this postponed concert, an early victim of COVID closures, and they weren’t disappointed when it finally arrived. In a packed hall at the club’s new venue, a cricket pavilion apparently surrounded by medieval streets and Blitz bomb craters, with a considerate bar closed during the music, two familiar figures fired up a storm of Scottish music, much of it from Shetland, and some of it actually Swedish.
The tour, and accompanying album making an appearance after its enforced furlough, was given the name No Rush because of frequent audience requests for Aly and Phil’s slower pieces, many of them written by Mr Cunningham. This reasoning was amply justified on the night by a lady who requested Miss Rowan Davies, an air from a time when Phil was composing tunes with about three notes per minute. It’s a beautiful piece, and exquisitely played on this occasion despite not being part of the pair’s repertoire on the very sensible grounds that some of the low Gs are at least three bow strokes long.
This was a performance of two halves, averaging about an hour each with no warm-up acts, which pleased some people. Both halves were pretty much the same, to be honest: fast Shetland reels, slow Swedish waltzes, plenty of new airs from Phil, fiery American showpieces from Aly, and entertaining chat about the tunes, the tour, intimations of mortality, and limitations of the lavatory. Old favourites included Barrowburn Reel, The Jig Runrig, Dr Donaldson, The Shores Of Loch Bea, La Valse Des Jouets (not Swedish), The Swedish Jig (also not Swedish), and the mind-bending Doon Da Rooth.
Newer material, all on the eponymous tour CD, provided several highlights: the dignified waltz Dr Robbie Shepherd MBE, the intriguingly titled Irish Beauty, a powerful version of James Scott Skinner’s classic air Hector The Hero with its sad story, and the poignant So Long Liam dedicated to the late great Irish piper Liam Óg O’Flynn. As if this wasn’t enough, there were prodigious solos too: Jean’s Reel of course on the box, and Mr Bain’s blistering rendition of the stateside chagrin called Bonaparte’s Retreat. Up close and personal, the music was world class, and the audience interaction was warm and engaging, from the half-time photo opportunities to the final tribute to a club stalwart too ill to attend. Great fun, great fiddle and accordion - and thanks to Hitchin Folk Club’s new earlier hours, we were home by 11 on a Sunday night, not a bad start to the week at all!