First Review

Category : General
Date : August 25, 2016

On the 20th August, a review of The Tumbling of Creatures by Uwe Schneider was published in the alternative arts Berlin online magazine African Paper

A translation into English by Marie-Laure Royds:

CLIFF STAPLETON AND FRIENDS: The Tumbling of Creatures

The hurdy-gurdy has the reputation of being a rather antiquated instrument but in reality it has left its marks in many types of music, modern ones as well as more traditional ones. Since the Middle Ages, it has spread in courtly and popular contexts and today we see it used in a whole palette of musical orientations, from contemporary folk to rock music, including the so-called modern classical music.

Few artists embody this multiplicity as strongly as the Englishman Cliff Stapleton who, coming from the folk but also from the theatre scene, has found his way as far as in the experimental areas of dark electronica. He has played on stage and in studios with acts such as Coil, Thighpaulsandra and Cyclobe, amongst others, but up to now, here in Germany, we didn’t know much more about him than the fact that he is not related to Steven Stapleton. His CD “The Tumbling of Creatures. Music for the Hurdy-Gurdy” offers a solid selection of music pieces that Cliff Stapleton recorded over the past twenty years or so in different constellations – with bands, in temporary collaborations and, on one occasion, as a solo player.

One main part is made up of recordings with bands belonging to the folk scene in various forms, many of which present a very danceable variation with a slight renaissance streak, like Angles’ trance-inducing “Kicksy-Wicksy”. The essentially earthy tune “Huckle-Duckle” from Primæval contains influences of Breton music. The two pieces by The Drones, and the contributions from Blowzabella (that really make you want to sway at times) and the Duellists combine this with an underlying drone sound that is naturally produced directly from the drone strings of the hurdy-gurdy.

The second half of the compilation is dedicated to Cliff Stapleton’s experimental enterprises, and the spectrum slowly moves into the realms of the innovative and improvised in various shapes and forms. For one you have the phantasmagorical tune “The Labyrinth” with Bron Bradshaw, who accompanies him on a bouzouki*, with occasional Irish variations, and slowly develops a melody that just sticks in your head. And then there is the disarranged, including an impro-trio with Sylvia Hallett and Clive Bell. His one-minute solo track “Scent” also belongs to this mood, basing on an ostensible drone with a truly one-dimensional effect and in the crannies of which lurks something very minimal. The readers of our pages will most likely be more familiar with his contributions to Cyclobe and Coil. “We’ll Witness the Resurrection of Dead Butterflies (Three Moons)” by Cyclobe features Cliff Stapleton’s hurdy-gurdy more than any other piece from the “Wounded Galaxies…” – our reviewer describes it appropriately as “incredibly dense” and he draws parallels with Coil’s (comparatively subtly disturbing) album “The Remote Viewer” which features on the CD with a representative extract of their first section.

At the end of a good hour’s music, it remains among other things the impression of a great transformability, which is not necessarily just due to a wide spectrum of playing styles but simply to Cliff Stapleton’s art of connecting, through his repertoire, with the most varied situations in a perfectly natural way. Thanks to the unique tone of this instrument (which the untrained ear would always find slightly exotic), he has given to all these projects an unusual overtone, which will carry particular weight for those electronic bands who are very distant from early music.

* The bouzouki mentioned is a hammered dulcimer  [CS]