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Revival builds on bones of morphing folk rock giants

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: November 16, 2012

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The name remains the same, but the 2012 incarnation of The Albion Band has been shaken and stirred into life with a full dose of fresh blood and a brand new album.

After years of fielding fan requests to recharge this much-loved entity, founder father Ashley Hutchings has now passed the baton to his son Blair Wesley Dunlop and a five-strong troupe of young, enthusiastic virtuoso players.

Not only are they eager to celebrate the back catalogue of one of folk rock's greatest exponents, they are moving forward by adding new material to an already energised mix. Their long player The Vice of the People, was released in the spring.

Instrumental to the whole revival has been drummer and percussionist Tom Wright, who is thrilled that the band are playing a show at the Corn Exchange in his home city of Exeter later this month.

Tom, who left home to study music production at Leeds, now lives in Sheffield near the rest of the band – Blair on guitar and vocals, Katriona Gilmore (fiddle and vocals), Gavin Davenport (vocals, concertina and guitar) Tim Yates (bass), and Benjamin Trott (lead guitar).

Since the band was set up in 1971 by Ashley Hutchings – who had already been a key player in the early days of both Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span – some 80 members have passed through the Albion ranks. Names associated with the band over the ever-morphing intervening years include such luminaries as Martin Carthy, John Kirkpatrick, Shirley Collins Nic Jones, Chris Leslie, Dave Mattacks, Simon Nicol, John Tams, Richard Thompson and Show of Hands stalwart Phil Beer. The last version of the band petered out about 11 years ago.

"If you count all the people who played on their records, it's actually more than 160; it's a wonderful tradition to be associated with," says Tom, 29, who grew up with a love for both rock and folk music.

After cutting his teeth in a community choir at Clyst Vale, where he was the youngest member at 14, and the oldest was 82, he graduated to various punk rock outfits.

At the same time he was privileged to develop a unique involvement in the British folk movement, founded on annual visits to Sidmouth Folk Festival.

"My dad has always been interested in all kinds of music and my mum is an artist who is into things like dress design, and she used to go an watch the dance teams," says Tom.

"At ten or 11 years old they would pack me off with a guitar into youth workshops at the festival. What is remarkable is that I still know a lot of the kids who were plunged into folk because their parents went to the festival.

Some of his contemporaries, like Jackie Oates, her brother Jim Moray, and Jim Causley (who went to the same primary school as Tom for a while) have gone on to be professional musicians – and they remain in touch.

"I have five or six friends who I've known since then and we still work together quite closely," says Tom. "Because our relationships were based around the festival we were quite a disparate group, but we have managed to stay in touch and kept track of each other on our journeys.

"But I am a lay folkie rather than a born one. I've been involved in all kinds of music," he adds.

For several years Tom drummed with members of the popular Exeter ska band Shooting Crayfish, who were frequently seen on stage at the Cavern Club. Buoyed by a supportive and vibrant local scene, he also built on his eclectic tastes while working at Exeter's Virgin Megastore, before heading North to study.

Fast forward to 2011 and Tom has made his name as a producer and session player, working with names like Park Bench Social Club, FolkEngine, Amanda Connell, Dogan Mehmet, Eliza Carthy, Cieran Boyle, Rosie Hood and The No Good Sinners. He is thrilled to be part of the latest Albion project. He had already teamed up with concertina and guitar player Gavin, and the pair shared an agent with Blair and Ashleigh. They heard about potential plans for a 40th anniversary revival and swiftly stepped forward.

"Ashleigh was originally going to be involved, but he decided he didn't want to be the old man in a young band," says Tom, who recruited Katriona – usually one half of a duo with Kathryn Roberts' brother Jamie, who did the same course at Leeds, and bass player Tim.

Ben, who spent some of his school years in Exeter, and was in a local band called The Climb, came in a bit later and "absolutely nailed it straight away".

The album was made in house from recording to artwork and released on the Powered Flight label, set up by Tom and his father. It quickly silenced any old school dissenters.

"Part of the vibe of the album stems from the fact that a lot of 1970s stuff is pastoral; we wanted to put a spanner in the works. We are all pretty politically driven and we wanted to take a fairly stark and industrial look at the country," he adds.

The Albion Band play Exeter Corn Exchange on November 25, with special guests Phillip Henry and Hannah Martin opening the show. Box office: 01392 665938.

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