For updated tour info visit www.flook.co.uk
SARAH ALLEN - alto and concert flute, accordion
ED BOYD – guitars and bouzouki
BRIAN FINNEGAN – flutes and whistles
JOHN JOE KELLY –bodhran and mandolin
Their new CD, Haven, is steeped in the tradition of jigs and reels. But if American listeners figure that Flook is just another Celtic band genuflecting to tradition, they should think again.
This is a group that’s now revered on both sides of the Atlantic for their distinctly non-traditional approach to what many hold sacred and untouchable. Yet Flook has won over even the purists with their sound. Not only did they nab a BBC Awards nomination, their U.S. tours inevitably produce packed houses of fans thirsty for a completely modern and fearless take on flutes, frets and skins innovation.
Haven is the latest step in a recording journey that began back in 1999 with the UK-only Flatfish and has become progressively more satisfying. The tranquil virtuosic moments of their American debut CD Rubai in 2003 – nominated for “Best Album” in the BBC Folk Awards – has now given way to a new CD where bright celebration and quiet reflection share center stage.
There’s simply no way this quartet could be anything but contemporary, not with two English players, two Irish, and several lifetime’s worth of influences that range from funk guitar to Indian tabla to classical music. And their guests on Haven contribute a range of decidedly unorthodox sounds using African percussion, Hammond B-3 organ, five-string banjo and harp, all of which blend in seamlessly.
Welcome to the unique world of Flook, whose anxiously awaited third album marks their 10th year of making fresh music together. Haven is being released in the U.S. on Feb. 14 on World Village/Harmonia Mundi USA.
“I like the fact that we’re not a straight ahead Irish traditional band,” says flute and whistle player Brian Finnegan. “And we’re certainly not an English band either.”
While the foursome would be the first to admit that they didn’t set out to revolutionize the Irish traditional acoustic sound, what they’ve come up with is different enough that listeners in the U.S., Europe, Australia and Japan have been taking note – and cheering them on -- for years now. Their all-instrumental approach lays a hefty dollop of dance-inducing jubilation onto the proceedings, while at the same time keeping their Celtic-grounded sound sparse, airy and at times, downright ethereal.
The band’s experimental personality quickly won them converts on the English and Scottish folk scenes, where players have been pushing the envelope of tradition for years. And even in Ireland, the land of neo-trad ensembles like Altan, Dervish and Danú, Flook’s CDs are big sellers.
“We make something that’s new,” says alto and concert flutist and accordion player Sarah Allen, “and instead of musicians in Ireland being dismissive of us, we have a big fan base there among them.”
The genesis of the band’s name is a perfect example of how Finnegan, Allen, guitarist and bouzouki player Ed Boyd, and bodhran and mandolin player John Joe Kelly go with the flow and have come out the better for it.
“We were originally called ‘Fluke,’” recalls Finnegan. “One night we got a call from a record producer in Manchester, England, who handled a techno band called ‘Fluke.’ He said that they make a lot more money than we do and don’t want the folk Irish sweater brigade turning up at their raves. He asked us to change our name and we did, to ‘Flook’.”
From its original configuration of three flutists only – Allen, Finnegan and Michael McGoldrick – grew a new sound defined yet not dominated by flute. After McGoldrick left and Boyd and Kelly signed on, rhythmic thrust and new textures provided an even richer showcase for the interwoven flutes.
In the hands of four of the most talented and adroit musicians anywhere, Flook’s music became a thrilling, swinging thing to behold.
“Our secret,” says Finnegan, “is that the four of us come from completely different backgrounds.”
The classically trained London native Allen was a mainstay of the now defunct, wildly eclectic jazz-meets-folk-meets-Cajun band The Barely Works. Finnegan, who grew up in Ireland listening to only traditional Irish music before he started frequenting Belfast jazz joints as a teenager, has won four All-Ireland championships on flute and tin whistle.
Kelly, who has worked with Altan and Paul Brady, is considered one of the world’s great bodhran players, with six All-Ireland wins on the instrument and another two on drums. But he’s not your typical Irish percussionist by any stretch: the renowned Indian tabla player Zakir Hussain is one of Kelly’s biggest influences.
As for British-born Boyd, he listened closely to the likes of Pentagle’s John Renbourn early on before moving to Manchester, England, and becoming part of the funk scene there. You’ll hear tasty tinges of his rock and funk background here and there on “Haven.”
“What I’m proudest of,” says Allen, “what I consider our biggest success overall is that the four of us still enjoy playing this music together. There’s been this wonderful interaction between four people for so long that we never stray too far from the core of what we’re about.”
American listeners will appreciate that Flook often derives inspiration from the places the band has visited, especially since one of those places, Taos, New Mexico, is captured in spirit on “Padraig’s.” The song’s gorgeous, urgent melody was composed by Finnegan in, ahem, “the altogether” after a show.
“The first bars came to me when we all came back from a gig,” he recalls. “They had a hot tub out back of this very nice hotel where we were staying, the Fechin Inn, and it was such a beautiful starry night that I jumped for me whistle, got in the tub and started the tune right there.”
That first U.S. tour also inspired some of the unique instruments added to the mix on several of Haven’s songs. Singer Madeleine Peyroux’s Careless Love CD was a constant companion on Allen’s iPod, which had the band thinking organ. That eventually led to the legendary Andy Davis, who performed on John Lennon’s “Imagine,” laying his B-3 colors onto several tracks.
Haven wonderfully showcases the range of styles that Flook can dig into, and the freedom with which they approach each. Allen’s jig on “The Tortoise & the Hare” evokes a peace that soon finds room for Ewen Vernal’s solid bass inserts as well as sonic additions that include a chorus of whales and tube trains traveling through a tunnel. A Breton march on “Mouse Jigs” is the vehicle for some exquisite Kelly mandolin playing, while the waltz “Souter Creek” is the perfect spotlight for Finnegan’s flute. Spain and Australia provide atmospheric inspiration for “Asturian Way” and “Wrong Foot Forward” respectively, while harpist Catriona McKay and banjo man Leon Hunt lend a unique character to the funky reel “Road to Errogie.”
Intrigued by this eclectic mix? Let Flook work its happy magic for you on Haven and you’ll want to immerse yourself in their world again and again whenever your spirits need to soar.