Review: Wolf’s Head and Vixen Morris – ‘Unearthed’

Wolf's HEad and Vixen Morris - Unearthed

Wolf’s Head and Vixen Morris are not your average team or side of Morris dancers. Yes. That’s right. I said “Morris dancers”.

Please don¹t stop reading.

If you had visited the Sweeps Festival in Rochester this year (or any recent year come to think of it), you may have seen Wolf¹s Head and Vixen Morris.
They would have been difficult to miss. In amongst the leather waist coated gentlemen bashing their sticks together and floral ladies swaying beneath their equally floral hoops, there they were.

Dressed in black from head to toe, they strike a particularly gothic pose, stalking the streets like they¹re substitutes for the Grim Reaper himself.

Wolf’s Head and Vixen Morris currently feature twelve musicians to accompany the team’s dancing. They play a variety of instruments from drums to recorders and hurdy-gurdies. And their efforts can be heard on their album Unearthed.

The album is purely instrumental, featuring an impressive 24 tunes in less than three quarters of an hour. Ostensibly the folkiest of folk recordings, there are clear links to some of the rockiest of rock tunes. Just as with Galley Beggar, another seemingly pure folk act, WH&VM hide some great tricks up their jet black sleeves. It¹s a performance which exposes how classic rock¹s rich heritage can be traced back a long, long way.

Fans of Jethro Tull, Genesis and Focus and others won’t be surprised by the comparisons. There’s a reason you’ll mind the extended mandolin solo in Spinal Tap’s “Stonehenge”: it’s an apt reference to the way folk has permeated rock and music more widely. Hey, there¹s even one track on Unearthed (‘As a Thoisech’ – don¹t ask me what a ‘Thoisech’ is) which sounds ever so slightly like Flo Rida¹s ‘Low’. Now there¹s a sentence I never thought I¹d have to write.

Just as blues has informed much of rock’s cannon, so has folk music,
particularly in this country. So it’s unsurprising that you’ll find John
Whitaker of Stuart Turner and the Flat Earth Society and Didi Bergman of…err… Didi Bergman in the line up of WH&VM.

The music is primal and urgent sometimes; lingering and melancholic at others. At times it’s driven by heavy beats; on other occasions it;s as light as a feather.

Given the skeletal theme on the album’s cover and CD itself (the band appear as skulls clad in their performance garb in an excellent, eerie line drawing), it’s unsurprising that the music, both original and tradition tunes, has something of a mournful quality to it.

Even the fast paced tunes have something of the shadow of death and sorrow haunting them. This melancholy is reflected in some of the track titles: ‘Lament’, ‘T. Vannetais’ and ‘Gumbo – The Dead Clown’.

Wolf’s Head and Vixen Morris’ Unearthed may be the most unusual band you’ll find reviewed on these pages [RockKent.com]. Nevertheless, any music fan worth their salt – anyone with true aspirations to acquire an eclectic taste – should check this lot out. It’ll help join a lot of musical dots and is great fun to boot.

First published 11 June 2011 on RockKent.com.

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