Desitively Scaraboo

Very good to get my leopard paws around some tangible product from the great C Joynes, the English guitarist about whom I am given to enthuse wildly using my loudest roars and purrs…not noted in these pages since The Wild Wild Berry, his team-up with Stephanie Hladowski, one of his many radical reimaginings of English traditional folk music. We haven’t received a solo release of Joynes since 2012’s Congo, but I am certain that Joynes is not only alive and well, he’s casting his spell across the UK in other unseen ways.

Split Electric (THREAD RECORDINGS THR002) is a team-up with another guitarist, Nick Jonah Davis – the name is new to me, but what a talented picker he is to be sure, almost threatening to upstage my “Golden Boy” with his lightning-fast reflexes and instinctive snake-like way around a tune. This Nottingham fellow (let’s hope he plays a version of ‘Nottamun Town’ that excels that of Davey Graham) has been winning plaudits and heavy superlatives for his live appearances, and has a few solo LPs to his name, including one for the American Tompkins Square label. He’s also one half of Fains with fiddler Jo Cormack.

If the two guitarists share common ground, it might be their unusual and imaginative stance when it comes to processing and reprocessing various musical histories and genres across their fretboards…blues, English folk, American folk, rockabilly, Old Timey, country and western, raga, Northumbrian pipe music, and many more forms both ancient and modern are detectable in each beautiful instrumental here, but as ever with Joynes and ditto with Davis, evidently – it’s done with respect and love and knowledge, not with intent to produce a commercial cocktail of pasted-together styles done in some half-baked fashion, cynically designed to generate major income streams. We’ll leave all that to Jools Holland…

The two stringsters are also total adepts of the guitar, playing with assurance and exhibiting much skilful ripple-picking, hammering-on and slide techniques to be savoured, but remaining true to the sort of perfectionism and sheer clarity we always associate with Joynes; never a blurred note across all 12 tunes. However, amplification and resulting distortion is permitted this time around…did I mention it’s an electric guitar album? On at least a couple of tracks, Nick Jonah Davis exploits the electricity in his favour – on ‘Scaraboo’ enhancing his lethal Richard Thompson-esque brooding lead lines with a phase pedal to create a muzzy psychedelic swirl, and on ‘Sigil Eyes’ using echo and noise effects to create the album’s least melodic material, an exploration into a dark and supernaturally tinged corner…sinister stuff…

Joynes tends to hew true to clear-eyed folk-inspired melodies, and his tracks (the players alternate) are briefer, are guaranteed to put a spring in your step and soon lead to sprightly dancing on the front lawn…his version of ‘Salmon Tails Up the Water’, which I know from a pipe tune played by Jack Armstrong 1, is just two minutes of unadulterated joy. On top of this you’ve got it as a 180g vinyl pressing with sleeve art by Richard Dawson, another contemporary folk-visionary genius from Tyne and Wear, making this an irresistible package. At least it is for you, if you purchase a copy…all I have is a CDR in a card envelope. The only snipe I would make is to complain about the press notes, that describe it as “a series of solitary electric guitar explorations”, which seems an unnecessarily prolix way of saying it’s a guitar solo record. This gem arrived 12 November 2015.

  1. On my copy of Northumbrian Minstrelsy, Concert Hall AM 2339 (1964), recorded by Peter Kennedy.