Published on 7th March 2020
Davey Dodds – Toadstool Soup
I confess, I was not aware of Davey Dodds until the opportunity to review this album came up. The Interwebs and his press release tell me that Davey wrote the songs for and fronted a symphonic folk rock band called Red Jasper in the 1990s. Red Jasper are still going and have produced six albums.
From one of Davey’s Facebook pages: “Famous for his song-writing and work in the ’80s with Red Jasper (check them out on YouTube), with a cover of his song The Magpie by The Unthanks a big recent hit on Jools Holland’s show, with The Magpie to be the theme tune for the next series of The Detectorists and with a new album (Kernowcopia) out now, this show is a real coup for The Bell and simply not to be missed!”
I’ve put a link to the Detectorists thing HERE so you can give that a listen.
Well, Davey’s got a new Facebook page now, and this old page is a little out of date. His new page shows how busy he is, hitching lifts on Pendragon’s tour bus and playing live with Emerald Dawn. Plus there’s a new, new album; Toadstool Soup. This is my review of it.
Each time I write for TPA there’s a new epiphany.
It is of no surprise to people that some Progressive Rock bands have taken their inspiration from folkers. I declare that I have indeed found a progressive aspect in this folk music and I’m nailing my colours to the mast early on by singling out a track that makes this entire album worth getting.
I confess, I am a folk music ignoramus. I spent time looking for familiarity in this album. My ears pricked up when I heard something that is familiar. I am aware of The Rocky Road to Dublin, a song made famous by The Dubliners, that should get anyone who isn’t yet dead enthusiastically bouncing their foot off the ground using their entire leg. I urge you to seek out the version by The High Kings on YouTube and I challenge you to not enjoy it. The Rocky Road To Bodmin is an arrangement of that traditional Irish odyssey.
As folk songs were remembered rather than written down, they change over time. Why shouldn’t the title? Having said that; the words to The Rocky Road to Dublin were actually written down by D.K. Gavan in the 19th Century. Plus, I’ve been to Mullingar many times since the 1980s and the actual rocky road to Dublin has now been re-paved as a swish, modern motorway called the N4. The road to Bodmin is actually called the A389, but rules are made to be broken and neither new name has a very folky ring to them. Much though one should frown upon puns, with The Rocky Road To Bodmin, Davey has created a lovely little soundscape-like intro before that brilliant rolling 6/8 time signature from The Rocky Road to Dublin kicks in proper. I present this song as evidence that you should investigate this album further. It is my case in point.
But is Toadstool Soup Prog? Well, there is mandolin on it. Over the years my ear has probably been corrupted by electric guitars, huge drum kits, E-Bow and Mellotron. Listening to folk music cleanses the palette. Folk uses smaller drums, stringed instruments, instruments amplified by air resonating in boxes instead of electricity. Because of this folk music will continue to be played after the power lines run out of power when the zombie apocalypse hits. It’s not all good, though. There is every chance that the accordion also survives doomsday. More common in Ireland than Guinness, this ubiquitous instrument was originally called the Harmonica Bellows after its inventor, Harmonica Bellows. Overexposure during decades of visits to the Emerald Isle can leave one craving a swift trip back on the ferry.
Blissfully, there is little evidence that Harmonica Bellows is present on this recording. Thankfully, Davey’s “weapon of choice” is the mandolin. Whilst the Mellotron has its roots in 1960s Birmingham and is as folky as Djent, mandolin and folk go hand-in-hand and way back. Its roots can be traced back to 10th Century North Africa, and so it is as folky as Cropredy. By the 18th and 19th Centuries, mandolin was the instrument of choice for serenading your sweetheart! In fact, it has found its way into classical music. Vivaldi, Handel, Mozart, Beethoven and Stravinsky all wrote for this instrument. It is no stranger to Rock, either; Jimmy Page borrowed John Paul Jones’s mandolin for The Battle of Evermore. Pete Buck from R.E.M. used it when he was Losing His Religion. Steve Howe has a collection of 257 mandolins, several of which still have their original price tags, and you are not allowed to look at them. The small body and eight strings, tuned in pairs, give it a rather unique sound, and that is the signature sound of Toadstool Soup.
As for the album as a whole? There is very much a live feel to the recording. Whether or not it was recorded as a band in the studio is moot, because it sounds as if it were. If there were overdubs and double-tracking, then this is a shout out to Rick Connolly because he’s captured the subtlety of musicians bouncing off each other that’s hard to replicate by tracking individuals.
Many of these songs do contain components that resonate with me. The mandolin at the beginning of Sheep Crook and Black Dog made me think of Bernie Leadon’s banjo on Journey of the Sorcerer. At one point, for no particular reason, I thought of Songs from the Wood. I must stress; “made me think of” and “sounds like” are not the same thing. These are simply waypoints in my head that helped me give Davey’s music some context. And while the songs I used as reference points have their feet firmly planted in the 1970s, I get the distinct impression that Toadstool Soup ain’t your Dad’s folk music album.
No one track is the same as the last. The penultimate track has a proper Sea Shanty vibe and the last track is an eleven-minute, three-part epic. Sometimes bodhran, pipes and mandolin can combine to give a somewhat surreal atmosphere. The lyrics are sometimes quite dark, which I expect is a product of the genre, a reflection, a throwback to the hard times during which people would have written the earliest forms of folk music, full of fear and faith. In fact, we should be used to such themes as many nursery rhymes, also a form of folk music, are often extremely dark.
But storytellers write about what they know. A modern twist worms its way into these songs, which appeals to me, blowing away any of my misconceptions about this being an anachronistic musical format. Whilst I’m disappointed that no ships set sail from Liverpool, never to be seen again, and nobody put fruit and veg on their faces, I am pleased that cliché is avoided. Modernity presents itself as telephones and cocaine and anaesthetic (albeit in the form of beer), supplementing more “typical” folky themes; predatory fish as cannibalistic goddesses, praising the Sun and other pagan stuff, like the Jedi. Jedis are pagan, right? And there it is! The progressive aspect! Music that never stands still.
The whole album conjures up great mental images and that’s a characteristic of good music.
The progress in this case, I would humbly submit, is as much in me as it is in the music.
Thank you, Davey Dodds!
1. Lucia (6:32)
2. The Rocky Road To Bodmin (5:48)
3. Three Lines And A Whip (6:02)
4. Sheep Crook And Black Dog (5:58)
5. Sing The Sun (5:24)
6. Dancing With The Jedi (3:17)
7. The Drinking Song (2:38)
8. Toadstool Soup Parts 1, 2 & 3 (10:59)
Total Time – 46:38
Davey Dodds – Vocal, Octave Mandolin, Mandolin, Tin Whistle, Bodhran, Frame Drum
Martin Solomon – Violins, Celtic Harp
Carlton Crouch – Border Pipes, Descant Recorder
Colette DeGiovanni – Vocals
Colin Loveless – Frame Drum
Jim Mageean – Vocals
Record Label: Coalshed Music
Released date 1st March 2019
Davey Dodds – Facebook