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PONS AELIUS - Captain Glen's Comfort

PONS AELIUS - Captain Glen's Comfort
Private Label PACD002

To spare you the suspense, I'll tell you now that this CD will be in my 2017 Top Ten. It has everything: six excellent musicians, a mix of Celtic and Scandinavian tunes, old favourites and new compositions, bagpipes and banjo, the list goes on. Pons Aelius met in Newcastle and are all still relatively fresh-faced under varying amounts of hair. Their choice of name doesn't exactly trip off the tongue, and may be the reason why I don't remember hearing about them before their debut album popped up, but Pons Aelius is quite appropriate as it names a strong point on Hadrian's Wall between the music of Northumberland and Scotland. The Scots influence is very clear on this recording, from the dynamic highland pipes of Jordan Aikin to the choice of well known tunes such as The Alexander Jig and Pipe Major Jimmy McGregor. The big pipes dominate several tracks, but there's still plenty of space for all six band members to shine.

There's not much of an Irish vibe here, despite Tom Kimber's fine tenor banjo, but Captain Glen's Comfort does open with a tune which I associate with Altan and the singing of Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh, specifically the melody of the song Molly Na gCuach Ní Chuilleanáin, played as a lively jig by Pons Aelius. Next up is Cornishman Neil Davey's stately dance, The Way Is Clear, and then the jaunty Yrsnö by Swedish fiddler Mats Edén. The title track is a collaborative composition from Aikin and fluter Sam Partridge, and there follow several pieces by Aikin, Partridge and bowed bass-player Bevan Morris. It might be nice to know the origins of the funky £75 Fine, the driving Get Involved, and the eccentric Oh My Doughnuts - or perhaps it's best to remain ignorant. Certainly the band's website doesn't give much away, but the music speaks for itself. In addition to great melodies, Pons Aelius offer fine arrangements which benefit from the rhythm section of Alasdair Paul and Callum Younger as well as that versatile upright bass. There's a spine-tingling performance of Lament For John Morrison Of Assynt House, and a final set starting with Hamish Napier's lovely Eric's March on Kimber's mandolin before a Morris strathspey and a rattling jig from Jordan to end an outstanding CD. 

Alex Monaghan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 121 of The Living Tradition magazine.