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skyhook - at the stringsmith's forge

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CD review, FRoots magazine
Issue 300 June 2008

"Intelligently realised Celticry from bright young Sheffield-based trio making great capital out of just twin-fiddles (Cath James, Martin Harwood) and guitar/bouzouki/vocals (Eoin Teather). With its as-live vitality, mixing Scottish, Irish and Cape Breton tunes with some of Cath's (and three songs), this set is highly musical and guaranteed to bring a smile to face and feet"

fRoots magazine

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CD review, The Living Tradition magazine
Issue 81 Nov-Dec 2008

"Based in the thriving musical city of Sheffield, Skyhook play no-frills, honest music drawn from the Celtic tradition. Whilst this is their first CD, they have been gigging as a group for a couple of years now. It's over ten years since Cath James was a BBC young trad finalist; Martin spent the last last years of the 20th century in the amazing Caravanserai; and Eoin Teather has played alongside some of the biggest names on the scene. So they have certainly served their apprenticeship.

On "skyhook" we are soon gripped by the twin fiddles of Cath and Martin accompanied by Eoin's guitar and bouzouki, although there's a bit of instrument swapping going on. Self-penned material sits comfortably alongside the traditional, with more than a passing interest in music from Cape Breton. It is the tunes which make the initial impact as, unlike the current trend, they are slowed down to let the full sound and quality come to the fore. In fact it is Then and Now, the haunting slow air which finishes the CD, that is the stand out instrumental piece for me.

However it is the treatment of the songs which raise skyhook above some of the others around. I really like Eoin's vocals and his treatment of such classics as Arthur McBride and Green Grass Grows Bonny with an emotional version of Ewan MacColl's The Father's Song. The clear vocals are supported by sympathetic accompaniments. Another piece of excellent recording by Joe Rusby; brief but interesting sleeve notes in stylish packaging help give a good first impression. Well worth a listen.

The Living Tradition (Dave Beeby)

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CD review, Folk Radio UK

"Skyhook are a trio of very talented musicians whose debut album is receiving great reviews across the folk press and not surprisingly so. The musicianship on this album is of an incredibly high standard and a delight to the ear. They interweave their magic throughout the album with dexterity and grace that places them at the top of their field.

It is also daring! Taking on classics such as 'Arthur McBride' and Ewan MacColl's 'The Father's Son'. Both songs are favourites of mine and I was especially surprised to see Arthur McBride on the track listing. Afterall, it would need to be something special to stand-out from previous versions from the likes of Andy Irvine and Paul Brady which has attracted many listener votes on Folk Radio UK. Eoin makes a grand job of singing this favourite and it is certainly well up there with the rest of them.

I can only sing their praises as there is nothing to fault on this album. They have a richness of sound and the cross of traditional music from Scotland, Ireland and Cape Breton along with some of their own tunes make this a magical album that I can guarantee you will enjoy and re-visit time and time again.

Joe Rusby at Pure (Kate Rusby's label) produced and recorded the album. It's of a very high standard folks so go and have a listen on myspace and if you like it go any buy it from their site.

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CD review, Tykes news
Autumn 2008

"Now this is something very special indeed.
I'm not sure what my motivation was for choosing this CD for review - maybe it was the splendidly professional presentation (though there is a down side to this of which more later); perhaps it was that the CD was produced and recorded by Joe Rusby at Pure which suggested it must be half decent at least; or could it have been that I suspected anyone brave enough to record the old warhorse Arthur McBride must have something fresh to bring to the ears of the jaded reviewer?

No matter. All that concerns you is that this a seriously good CD of traditional, arranged and self-penned Celtic flavoured material featuring the fiddle playing of Young Tradition finalist, Cath James, and Martin Harwood, perfectly counterpointed by the quite wonderful guitar and bouzouki playing of Eoin Teather. Whether driving the dance forward or delicately reflective in the slower numbers this is instrumental music at its finest.
Just as you are thinking it can't get much better than this, track 3, the aforementioned Arthur McBride, demonstrates that Eoin has what must be close to the perfect folk voice. Strong, expressive and moving are just three adjectives of the many I could use. This is further demonstrated in Ewan McColl's The Father's Song - a song unfamiliar to me but which has quickly become one of my favourites - with the fiddle, viola and guitar sensitively augmented by Martin Harwood's piano. In fact the only complaint I can make about the material on the CD is that, for me, there are not enough songs, and opinion reinforced by the final song Green Grass Grows Bonny which has almost reduced me to tears as I write this review. Sublime is not adequate enough a word.

Most of the times I have listened to this CD I have done so on my MP3 player. Now that I am listening to it on the, albeit modest, hi-fi in my reviewers garrett, I can fully judge the excellent production which places the instruments perfectly on the sound stage and gives the impression of a live performance.
I would have liked to tell you more about some of the instrumental tracks (and here is the presentation downside mentioned earlier) but I'm afraid I find tiny white text on a grey background impossible to read as I suspect will many others of - ahem - advancing years or those who have impaired vision. This is a shame because what little I can see of the notes looks interesting. Perhaps posting the notes on the website would be a suitable mitigating act.
This time I'll forgive them though for the music on this CD simply makes life better. There are four tracks on Skyhook's MySpace page so I suggest you give them a listen right now!

(No £5 notes were exchanged during the writing of this review - the CD really is that good)

Tykes News (Joe Grint)

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CD review, Stirrings no. 137
Sept - Nov 2008 2008

"My expectations of Skyhook's first album were high, based on recommendations of discerning musicians in the Sheffield area, the fact they'd been chosen to support Solas in a forthcoming concert in Hessle (one, incidentally, of a season of cracking concerts to grace this new venue in East Yorkshire), and finally the unwillingness of my husband to part with the CD in order that I could write my review.

Skyhook (see Stirrings 134) are fiddler, guitarist and bouzouki player Martin Harwood, formerly of Caravanserai; Eoin Teather (guitar, bouzouki, vocals) who has played with Kevin Burke, Tommy Peoples, Gerry O'Connor and Michael McGoldrick; and Cath James, a BBC Young Tradition finalist who featured on the first Evolving Tradition album. And, having met them backstage at the Hessle concert, I must say that they are also thoroughly nice people.

This CD has been very well received in the folk press already, and rightly so. It's a classy album, produced by Joe Rusby, showcasing the ear-catching writing talents of Cath James and a richness and depth of sound which belies the presence of just three people, albeit three very accomplished people who play together with precision and fluidity. Cath's compositions are like the best poetry - you don't hear it and think how new it is, but greet it as something which you feel has always been there: while there is art in making the familiar unfamiliar, so is there in the capacity newly to create something which always seems to have been around.

The CD starts with a compelling rhythmic call to attention, before moving to an excellent set of tunes. Cath's own tunes are first showcased in track two, which adds double bass; the fiddle sound is so rich that I had to double check that this wasn't a viola playing - something I had to do frequently. One of folk's greatest hits, 'Arthur McBride', is given a suitably audacious rendition, full of verve and jolly insolence; although I wonder if the upper range is just a bit of a stretch. There are two more songs: Eoin's tone and style are perfect for the bitter-sweet 'Father's Song'. The voice quite properly dominates, but the creative accompaniment is dramatic and emphasises the foreboding in this dark and loving lullaby. If you can listen to this track without a tear in your eye, you ain't got no feelings. The sensitively sung version of 'Green Grass' is executed with drama and feeling although I'm still a bit unsure about the high notes, this voice is highly affective; the singer lives the story.

And the tunes, all the tunes, are the sort you want to listen to over and over. They cover as wide a geographical range as the Celtic Fiddle Festival and pay homage to both contemporary writers and to traditions. Cath's tunes blend seamlessly with Scottish jigs and strathspeys, and tunes from Jerry Holland; there are honeyed, haunting airs, and then there's the 'Post-it Jig': like the 'Dusty Windowsill', when a tune comes upon you you just mustn't let it escape!

My one complaint about Skyhook's slot with Solas was that it was too short. They have so much to offer an audience and I hope that this fine album is the first of many.

Stirrings (Belinda Hakes)

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CD review, Taplas magazine
June/July 2008

"The list of credentials led me to suspect this would be a well-polished and professional piece of work - I was not disappointed. Cath James (fiddle, viola), Martin Harwood (fiddle, guitar, bouzouki, piano) and Eoin Teather (vocals, guitar, bouzouki) play traditional Scottish, Irish, Cape Breton plus a handful of original tunes for good measure. Three songs make it mainly instrumental. The high standard of musicianship is immediately clear. The arrangements are not a million miles away from what you might expect from a contemporary traditional band, but the more you listen, the more you hear all the little interesting twists and turns that give it the Skyhook touch. Abundant beautiful string harmonies, tempo changes, solo spots and interesting guitar/bouzouki accompaniments keep the listener engaged. A lot of attention has been paid to detail, so it's well worth giving it your full attention as a listener. This album is fairly moderately paced, allowing you to really take in the sensitive and emotional nature of the playing. I'm hooked already!"

Taplas magazine (Imogen O'Rourke)

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CD review, Musician magazine
Summer 2008

"Acoustic trio skyhook create fabulous Celtic folk with a mixture of glorious abandon and respect for the music's traditions, which makes for lovely energising listening. Cath James's fiddle often leads the way, as on The Shetland Farmer (sic), but her partners Martin Harwood (fiddle/guitar/bouzouki/piano) and Eoin Teather (vocals/guitar/bouzouki) take equal turns to illustrate their individual talents. Ewan MacColl's The Father's song boasts a moving lyric, strong performances and a sympathetic arrangement, while a beautiful original Then and Now rounds off the album in fine style"

Musician magazine

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CD review, Fiddle On magazine
Issue 26, Summer/Autumn 2008

"Skyhook are a hugely talented trio from Sheffield consisting of Cath James on fiddle and viola, Martin Harwood on fiddle, guitar, bouzouki and Eoin Teather on guitar, bouzouki and vocals. The album dances from track to track, taking the listener on a journey of emotions - some catchy tunes, some beautiful airs and a smattering of well chosen songs such as the traditional 'Arthur McBride' Ewan McColl's 'Father's song' and a beautiful version of 'Green grass grows bonny'. As for the tunes, my favourites are 'Memories of Father Angus McConnell' and two of the many tunes written by Cath James - 'Now and Then' (sic) and 'Wedding at the Mill'. Sensitive guitar and bouzouki accompaniment compliment the fiddles - and vocals - superbly, with interweaving arrangements making this album a beautiful piece of work. I love this album!"

Fiddle On magazine (Jeremy Weaver)

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CD review, Irish Music Magazine
December 2008

"Based around the twin fiddles of Cath James and Martin Harwood, this trio plays Irish and Scottish music with flair and skill. They open with a powerful set of reels linking Ireland and Cape Breton: brooding rhythmic harmonies on the back strings, sparse guitar chords, and punchy melody lines on McIlhatton’s Retreat and Ciaran Tourish’s Reel. I’m impressed already.
Cath James contributes a double handful of her own compositions, including the stately slow air Wedding at the Mill and the tender waltz Then and Now. Jerry Holland’s percussive jig Willie Joe’s is sandwiched between two more James tunes: I particularly like Moose Corner, not just because of its associations with Canadian games of hangman. Cath’s bittersweet air Away Again precedes a tasty double-guitar arrangement of a tune I know as Memories of Father Angus MacDonnell, charming by any name.
Skyhook can handle the big tunes too: The Cup of Tea and The Shetland Fiddler are fired off with gusto, and the penultimate set includes an inspired rendition of the strathspey Cutting Bracken before polishing off Jack Daniels as if it were a pint of Bud. The only place where the spark died for me was Green Grow the Rushes - but hey, 24 out of 25 ain’t bad! In contrast to the authentic Celtic instrumentals, the three songs here are quintessentially English. As well as playing guitar and bouzouki, Eoin Teather sings the Martin Carthy version of Arthur McBride in a rich Northern voice. The Father’s Song and Green Grass Grows Bonny are several shades darker: a Ewan MacColl lullaby of social ills and a ballad of unrequited love, intended as a duet. Cath shifts to viola for these tracks, and Martin moves onto bouzouki or piano, providing deep and textured accompaniment without extending the trio.
Skyhook’s only guest is Mike Fleming, who provides double bass on some of the instrumental tracks. There’s a touch of string-band on Huckleberry Hornipe, plenty of fun names like Beardy Face and Turbo Duck, and very little indeed to complain about. I’d definitely recommend this recording to anyone with a taste for twin fiddling: a very fine debut from Sheffield-based Skyhook. The notes and packaging are well above average too. You can find out more at www.skyhookmusic.com"

Irish Music Magazine (Alex Monaghan)

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CD review, English Dance and Song magazine
Autumn 2008

"Wikipedia will give you any number of references to a skyhook, from atmospheric research balloons to hybrid positioning systems, but here we are dealing with a Sheffield-based trio, cross-pollinating traditional music from Scotland, Ireland and Cape Breton with some own-writes too. Cath James, Eoin Teather and Martin Harwood between them play fiddles, viola, frets and piano with the occasional song from Eoin. A bewitching brew – sure it’s been done before but in a somewhat over-crowded market, this stands out. The production’s tight (courtesy of Joe Rusby), the tunes smooth and the whole thing much more redolent of a big-budget deal than a first release on the band’s own label.
What is on offer combines subtle dynamics with a confident bounce – essentially, a sound palette of fiddles underpinned with guitar and occasional standup bass from guest, Mike Fleming. Light on its feet, it’s a recording that whispers rather than screams, that thankfully doesn’t adopt the ‘we-can-play-faster-than-you’ approach.

Standouts such as the serene slow air ‘Then And Now’ and the warm ‘Wedding at the Mill/Trippers’ set contrasting with the zesty swing of ‘Huckleberry Hornpipe/Snippy’ are thoroughly enjoyable. I was understandably alarmed on seeing yet another reprise of ‘Arthur McBride’ in the track listing but to hear Eoin sing so convincingly is to hear a song invested with new meaning that would give Paul Brady’s reading a good run for its money. He does wonderful things too, with ‘Green Grass Grows Bonny.’ Accessible and melodic, this is a debut with depth and an album to spark the imagination – one to fit Skyhook into the scheme of things rather nicely."

English Dance and Song magazine (Clive Pownceby)

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CD review, Rock'n'Reel magazine
Vol 2 no. 10, Jul/Aug 2008

"Emerging from the Sheffield folk session scene, trio skyhook has already paid its dues on the live front, with fiddle player Cath James having been a BBC Young Tradition finalist back in 1995, Martin Harwood - fiddle player, guitar, bouzouki player and pianist-having played with eclectic roots act Caravanserai from 1996 - 2000 and Eoin Teather-guitar, bouzouki and vocals - having played with Kevin Burke, Tommy Peoples, Gerry O'Connor and Michael McGoldrick.
Interpreting tunes from Ireland, Scotland and Cape Breton, there's also a healthy amount of self-composed material, blending seamlessly with the trio's spirited take on a mainly traditional repertoire. The twin fiddles are at times dazzling whilst the selection of songs - 'Arthur McBride', Ewan McColl's 'Father's song', 'Green grass grows bonny' - and their performance shows skyhook's ability to stay true to the originals while adding something new and fresh"

Rock'n'Reel magazine (Danny Moore)

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CD review, Folk World
Folk, World & Roots Music Online Magazine

"Skyhook can refer to any of the following things: a basketball shot, a type of unmanned balloon for atmospheric research, a device used in climbing or for quickly extracting reserve parachutes, and a lot of things more, but especially Skyhook is an English/Scots trio based in Sheffield that has been formed in 2005 and that is meant to go up and don't come down. Fiddler Cath James, BBC Young Tradition Award finalist of 1995 and featured on the first Evolving Tradition albums, fiddler and guitar player Martin Harwood and vocalist and guitarist Eoin Teather play traditional music from the Celtic regions, plus some original stuff. Tunes are from Scotland to Cape Breton, including some slow airs and strathspeys, some beardy faces and a couple of turbo ducks - two fine reels penned by Cath James. The song selection includes the traditional "Arthur McBride" and "Green Grass Grows Bonny", Ewan McColl's "The Father's Song" - only Ewan MacColl could write a lullaby about the dangers of corporate greed and get away with it. After listening some time to the powerful sound of Skyhook's twin fiddles, you certainly get hooked. However, there are worse addictions. "

Folk World - issue 36

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CD review of both albums, Sleeping hedgehog
October 2014

"Skyhook is a three-piece band from Northern England. Both Cath James and Martin Harwood play fiddles, with Cath doubling on viola , and Martin doing the same on guitar and bouzouki. Eoin Teather is the third member, playing guitar and bouzouki and singing. Their debut album, the self-titled Skyhook, was released in 2008, and the second one, At the Stringsmith’s Forge, came in 2013. In spite of the five years between the recordings they are very close in sound and choice of material. Both are mainly focused on the group’s instrumental work, with each containing nine instrumental sets and three songs.

With all three members playing two instruments, Skyhook have the possibility of varying their sound, and they use it wisely. I especially like it when they let the fiddles harmonize with each other, which is done to a great effect on some tracks. Backing wise they tend to go for the bouzouki on the faster tracks, and the guitar on the slower and softer ones.

As with all groups playing mostly instrumental music you get a lot of fast tunes, but I must admit I like them the most when they slow down a bit, or play something unexpected. ”Away again/Memories of Father Angus McConnell/Post-it-Jig” from the first album is an example of the first. Starting with a slow fiddle tune by Cath, back by finger picking guitar, it turns into a half tempo guitar duet, to finish of with a quick jig with fiddles and bouzouki.

“Eyre on a C-string/Lady Gordon of Gordonstown/Archie Menzies” is an example of both. It starts with a slow air, sounding almost classical or something Turlough Carolan would have come up with. It also contains a note that seems out of place when you hear it for the first time. I should point out that both “Away again” and “Eyre on a C-string” are written by Cath James, as are a number of other tunes on the albums.

There is also a short instrumental on the second one, where Eoin turns a reel by Branda Stubbert into a slow contemplative air. Less than two minutes but absolutely lovely.

The songs may be few, but they have selected them well. On the first album you get a nice, rather unusual reworking of “Arthur McBride”, Ewan MacColl’s mighty “A Father’s Song” and “Green Grass grows Bonny”. On the second there is a lovely version of “Bonny Light Horseman”, a rousing “Roseville Fair” and a fine reading of Martin Simpson’s “The Turtle and the Asp”.

All in all Skyhook are a trio to watch out for. Their instrumental work is superb, both with the quicker tunes and the slower airs, and their singer is second to none, but I would like them to let him sing a bit more on the next album. And if you have to choose just one of the albums take “At the Stringsmith’s Forge”, in my book it is just a little tiny bit better than the debut, just as it should be. I mean, groups are bound to develop over the years, are they not?

There is more information and a chance to listen and watch on the Skyhook’s own web page."

Lars Nilsson

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