Tanglefoot
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Tanglefoot

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Band Folk Acoustic

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"Exceptionally fine tradition-based songwriting... this band delivers more colour and punch than any ensemble on the circuit." - Greg Quill


By James Horrox
Folk is a multifaceted and broad-ranging musical genre; on one side of the spectrum we have the politically-charged 'protest' songs of Bob Dylan, Martyn Joseph et al., and on the other, the kind of traditional Gaelic and Celtic music that a friend of mine once rather dismissively described as "all Guinness and leprechauns an' that".

Tanglefoot, I would suggest, definitely err towards this latter category. In fact at first glance it might appear that this Canadian five-piece are to folk what Spinal Tap were to rock, an initial visit to the band's website revealing five middle-aged men sporting an truly impressive array of lurid silk pirate-shirts and more hair than an entire army of German Motorhead fans.

So it was with a good deal of intrigue and, I have to say, no small amount of apprehension that I went along to Tanglefoot's gig in Richmond last night, unsure of what to expect but with a fairly good idea that it would probably involve cowboy boots and excessive facial hair in abundance.

The band's opening medley confirmed my worries, an energetic, banjo-driven jig which could have been the soundtrack to a mid-western bar brawl (shouts of 'yee-haw' and hordes of buck-toothed, bottle-throwing rednecks, sadly absent, would not have been out of place. You get the idea.). But from here on in, my own prejudices gradually ameliorated by a regular and sustained intake of Jack Daniels, things started looking up….

Having advertised tonight's show as "an evening of high energy folk", Tanglefoot are unlikely to run into any trouble under the Trades Descriptions Act, pulling off a performance which, by the end, left the sold-out Theatre Royal clamouring for more.

Moreover, aside from the liveliness and energy with which the band set about their live show, Tanglefoot demonstrate themselves to be masters of the story-telling tradition of folk music, many of their songs based on often extremely compelling and poignant tales that the band have heard during more than two decades of touring.

Songs like "Closer to the Ocean" and "Crashing Down", rooted in local legend and folklore connected with the many towns and villages they have played in over the years were, for me, some of the high-points of the evening.

These and others such as "Midwife's Dance" are tremendously evocative and moving songs, performed with the elegance, sensitivity and musicianship of a band whose musical abilities are clearly more far-reaching their somewhat embarrassing taste in pirate-shirts.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, given these musicians' vintage, their set was a diverse one which demonstrated the impressive range of their talents, from humorous narrative-style songs (one in particular recounting an amusing, alcohol-related anecdote from a North American lumber camp) to ambient, Celtus-esque dalliances with electronica, to some genuinely moving ballads.

Of the latter, one which will no doubt stand out in the minds of those for whom this was the first experience of Tanglefoot, was "Vimy", a beautiful and haunting piece of music based on some truly astounding five-part vocal harmonies (all arranged by rhythm guitarist and Tanglefoot co-founder Steve Ritchie). "Vimy" is a chilling exploration of the anguish, the homesickness and the realisation of mortality experienced by the young Canadian soldiers charged with the task of re-capturing Vimy Ridge during the First World War, many of whom of course never returned to their native Canada.

This heart-rending song was perhaps all the more poignant considering the timing, the flags flying at half mast over Richmond this summer's evening serving as a reminder that the promise of "Never Again" continues to be an empty one.

From a musical point of view, few would deny that Tanglefoot are masters of their craft. Piano fills from Bryan Weirmier, the newest and youngest member of Tanglefoot and one of the few band members not called Terry, were spot on, complementing some near virtuoso fiddle-playing from Terry Snider and the astonishing musicianship of multi-instrumentalist, Terry Young who turns his hand with equal deftness to guitar, banjo, harmonica, mandolin, and a variety of whistles at various points throughout the set.

All the while, band co-founder (sic) (and Bill Bailey look-alike) Al Parrish pounds away at the double bass with wilful abandon and seemingly effortless skill, completing a colourful and hugely entertaining musical experience which few here last night will forget.

Tanglefoot are typically Canadian in that they don't take things too seriously; demonstrating a laid back approach to the business of gigging, they were clearly enjoying the evening every bit as much as their audience was and their three-hour set was punctuated by some genuinely hilarious between-song banter.

The said audience in Richmond ranged from silver-haired octogenarians (several of whom I was a little concerned wouldn't make it to the end of the performance) to small children, and just about every age in between. Many, like me, had turned up not knowing what to expect, (only one or two Tanglefoot T-shirts were in evidence milling around the foyer), but all came away having thoroughly enjoyed themselves.

Thus, while they may not be not exactly 'cutting edge' Tanglefoot are a seriously fun band, and a band I'd recommend to anybody looking for a good evening's entertainment, particularly those whose tastes tend towards the folkier side of folk.

James Horrox

- BBC Yorkshire


"A riveting musical journey with great vocals, outstanding acoustic musicianship and involving songs...you feel the satisfaction of having read an engrossing novel with the added bonus of a memorable soundtrack." - Rich Warren


Veteran Toronto-based (sic) folkies Tanglefoot have seen several members come and go since their last recording in 2002, but the group's sound remains essentially the same: harmonious, rooted and engaging.

Still, it's hard to listen to "Dance Like Flames" without thinking that this collection of mostly original songs is no substitute for hearing the quintet in concert. The album opens on a boisterous note with "The Whiskey Trick", a tale about thirsty lumberjacks and barroom subterfuge, but the track is among several that don't sound robust enough. What's missing, perhaps, is an audience's encouragement, something to push the band into overdrive when the tempo or lyrics call for it.

There are, however, performances that don't sound constrained by the studio setting, including Terry Young's evocative ballad "Lunenburg Skies", and Sandra Swannell's Celtic-tinged ode "Maggie".

Swannell, who plays violin and viola in addition to possessing a lovely voice, is a welcome addition to the ensemble. Along with Young (mandolin, banjo, guitar), Bryan Weirmier (piano), Al Parrish (bass) and Steve Ritchie (guitar), Swannell contributes to the band's vocal harmonies and colorfully woven arrangements. In the end, "Dance Like Flames" has considerable appeal and some offbeat humor, too - just not enough spirit.

Mike Joyce - Washington Post, April 08


On a calm sunny evening my car refuses to start. Result, I miss half of Jade Rhiannon’s set. This is a pity. Jade has a pure, clear voice that delights the ear – both when she sings solo playing an acoustic guitar, and accompanied by a fiddler plus another harmonising vocalist. Her material is mature, packed with melody and – to finish – Passion. Jade and her band will be appearing at Ely Folk Festival in July. On this showing, I’d say go and treat your ears.

But onto the main event, my fourth Tanglefoot show. Each time I’ve seen this longhaired Canadian quintet, the line-up has been slightly different. Tonight there’s not only newish fiddle player Sandra Swannell to hear, but a new keyboard maestro too. Robert Graham’s tenure with the band is all of 3 ½ weeks! Yet as they rip into Whiskey Trick (eat your hearts out Monty Python – this is a lumberjack song from people who know!) I am struck by a new vigour and vitality in their ‘big’ full-throated approach to folk music.

Current opus Dance Like Flames forms the basis for the two set show and, being the only album Ms Swannell has played upon, perhaps showcases the fresh spirit they have. Certainly both Trick and Flames have a lasting kick equal to the single malt that’s mentioned several times! There’s humour too, in the story of Boot Soup. Featuring Al Parish’s (70%) dark chocolate vocals, it tells a Bishop’s tale of eating his sealskin boots to survive in the Canadian arctic. Enlivened by a falsetto chorus that includes just one truly feminine voice, this song is a peach.

Whilst they are both rousing and fun, Tanglefoot can also be extraordinarily moving. Their a capella performance of For The Day (as delivered in a dimly lit Toronto church to 500 people during Canada’s ‘Earth Hour’) illustrates a commitment to world conservation that even we could learn from. On 29 March large swathes of Canada were plunged into darkness for an hour in a demonstration of energy saving. Upstairs in the Golden Hind with all lights blazing may not create an equal atmosphere, but five un-amplified voices can still fire the imagination.

A night of stories and fluent musicianship, bound up within a potent distillation of French tradition, modern folk, bluegrass and even hints of rock, is what I’ve come to expect from Tanglefoot. The bonus here is discovering the new depths and flavour they’ve introduced. Raising my glass I cry: ‘til next time’. There’s only just over a year to wait!

Writer: Lyn Guy - Moving Tone News


By Bill Henry
Tanglefoot has won the 2007 Canadian Folk Music Award for best vocal group.
The award, for the group's latest CD “Dance Like Flames", capped a busy weekend for the five-piece Owen Sound-based contemporary folk group.
It began with a show Thursday night at prestigious Hugh's Room in Toronto. Friday was the annual hometown concert at the Roxy.
Both intimate but mid-size settings are ideal for Tanglefoot - the kind the veteran performers are playing more and more after 20 years in the business, and last 10 on the wider North American and British folk circuit.
"That kind of communal experience that you have with the audience (at the Roxy Friday), was exactly what you want. Those are the kinds of nights that you do it for“, band leader Steve Ritchie said Monday.
Despite a solid fan base and a busy year-round touring schedule, Tanglefoot has flown largely under the mainstream Canadian folk industry's radar until their nomination and now national award.
Whether the recognition means bigger rooms and invitations to larger folk festivals remains to be seen, Ritchie said. For now, the award is enough.
"It's a wonderful thing, and if it gets us in some doors all the better, but I'm still enjoying the moment," Ritchie said. "I was thrilled. We've been kind of walking on air ever since. This is an unprecedented thing to happen in my career."
Violinist and record producer Oliver Schroer, originally from the Markdale area, also won a 2007 Canadian Folk Music Award, shared with violinist Anne Lindsay for co-producing her CD "News From Up The Street".
The awards were presented at the National Museum of Civilization in Gatineau, Quebec.
Before the weekend was over, a fan had posted video of Tanglefoot's acceptance on YouTube.
Tanglefoot was one of five groups nominated, along with Nathan, from Manitoba, the Be Good Tanyas, B.C., and Blackie and the Rodeo Kings and Sirens, both from Ontario.
The vocal award recognizes a group or duo from all folk music genres that focus on ensemble singing.
With songs that draw from Canadian, Celtic, Ottawa Valley and Quebecois folk and singing traditions, Tanglefoot's sound is built around strong original songs and huge harmonies, including two a capella performances on "Dance Like Flames."
Tanglefoot was a part-time folk act with a growing regional reputation when Ritchie joined almost 20 years ago. In 1998 the group began touring in the U.S. and England to "see how far we could take it."
Three members now live in the Grey-Bruce area - Ritchie, leader and guitarist, his brother Rob on keyboards, who recently rejoined the group after several years absence, and violinist/violist Sandra Swannell. Terry Young plays mandolin and guitar, Al Parrish plays bass. Everybody sings.
Former Owen Sound resident Bryan Weirmier, who recently resigned from the band after several years, played keyboard, wrote one of the songs and was part of the vocal throughout "Dance Like Flames," which was also the first Tanglefoot CD to feature Swannell, who wrote and sings one song and joins the harmonies.
Ritchie says he's not sure what he pictured when the band decided a decade ago to see where a full-time path would lead.
"I certainly never foresaw something like this," he said, pointing at the hand-crafted glass folk award. "We're a better band than I ever thought we would be, in the old days anyway. It's a pretty crackin' group of people, when we're all firing on all cylinders," he said.
"I do not see us as innovative. I don't see us as cutting-edge in any way. I do see us as unique. I see us doing interesting things with very familiar tools."
That might be partly why he's unusually, even surprisingly, excited by the award after so many years taking Tanglefoot's music so far a-field.
"I feel really stupid saying this because I really don‘t know what I mean, bit it's more gratifying or more exciting than I thought it would be, probably because I never really thought about it until they called our name."
The group was along those that Canada's Department of Veterans Affairs invited to perform at Vimy during anniversary ceremonies earlier this year, and has just finished tours of Alberta and Manitoba.
The play three dates in Virginia this weekend before taking a month break for Christmas. Touring resumes in Pennsylvania in January. The group's annual tour of the UK in May and June includes 28 dates this year. - The Sun Times


By David Kidman

The mighty Canadians Tanglefoot are welcome and frequent visitors to these shores, invariably selling out the venues where they appear; this York gig, their first in that city for just over two years, was no exception, and they came onstage to a deservedly rapturous reception following closely on the heels of a pleasing and companionable support set from local singer-songwriter David Swann.

Tanglefoot launched straight into the stirring acapella of Secord’s Warning (a full-throated revisit of their stomping early classic, now over 15 years young!), each group member proving him/herself an equal in the vocal department to match his/her skill as an instrumentalist. And raconteur, naturally, as individual members would during the course of their two well-filled sets take it in turns to introduce classic tales from the pages of their original songbooks with all the freshness and warmth of a whiskey-fuelled gathering round the fireside.

The newest recruit, fiddler Sandra Swannell, was on particularly good form on this occasion I thought, coming into her own on the title track from the band’s latest CD Dance Like Flames. I marvelled anew several times during the evening on just how brilliantly gifted and expressive a vocalist the band’s mando-virtuoso Terry Young is. And again, the two massive voices of Steve Ritchie and Big Al Parrish continued to excel, matching their solid instrumental (guitar and double bass) bedrock to underpin the
distinctive Tanglefoot sound.

For this tour, the place of recently-rejoined member Rob Ritchie was taken by special guest Robert Graham (from Kingston, Ontario), whose own keyboard skills dovetailed perfectly with the band dynamic. And it goes without saying that the unbridled ebullience, the signature swashbuckling Tanglefoot verve and vigour and good humour were all present and correct, especially on the lusty narratives like Dollar Bill and (mais naturellement!) the voyageur-medley Paddle Like Hell that here closed the first set. So much sheer Hard Work and energy obviously goes into every aspect of their performance and spills over into the enthusiastic following that the band have built.

The Tanglefoot act is a thoroughly professional one: polished and rehearsed, yes, but they retain all the spontaneity and intrinsic enjoyment of performance that sidestep any feeling of going through the motions or empty crowd-pleasing gestures. And to set the seal on a fine York gig, their encore sequence of One More Night and Lunenberg Skies provided the perfect nightcap.
- Tyke News


Discography

Dance Like Flames (Borealis Records, 2006)
Captured Alive (Borealis Records, 2003)
Way More Live DVD (Borealis Records, 2003)
Agnes on the Cowcatcher (Borealis Records, 2002)
Full Throated Abandon (Borealis Records, 1999)
The Music in the Wood (Independent, 1996)
Saturday Night in Hardwood Lake (Independent, 1994)
A Grain of Salt (Independent, 1992)

Photos

Bio

They've played everywhere from the Fernie Arts Station in the Rocky Mountains to the Lincoln Center in New York; they played in front of the Vimy Monument in France and trod the boards of the Georgian Theatre Royal in Richmond, England; they sang in the Endicott Performing Arts Center when it first opened in 1999, and in Southwell Minster in Nottinghamshire 900 years after it was built.

But for everything there is a season, and 2009 will be the last for the iconic Canadian folk/roots band with the huge sound, the head-snapping harmonies and stunning vocal blend. Winner of "Best Vocal Group" at the 2007 Canadian Folk Music Awards, Tanglefoot has become an institution over their two-plus decades.

Their accessible, infectious music grounded in the mythology, folklore and history of early Canada has earned them an international reputation as champions of grass-roots Canadiana.

Tanglefoot is Steve Ritchie (1988), Al Parrish (1994), Rob Ritchie (1996 - 2002; 2007 - present), Terry Young (1999), Sandra Swannell (2006).