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Ayres That Meades and Pastures Fill

Robert Cross has always had his talented feet, or more accurately fingers, planted firmly in the Early Music camp, whether playing 3/2 Cheshire rounds on bagpipes when few besides John Kirkpatrick braved such tricky stuff, or in partnership with fellow multi-instrumentalist Michael Billington as the Renaissance music music inspired duo of the 1970s, Rebec. Bob and Michael have finally got together again to complete an album of songs that would not be out of place in the court of Queen Elizabeth I or on stage at The Globe, though in fact all the material was was composed and arranged by Bob. Using the wonders of modern technology, Bob recorded in New Zealand, his current home, and Michael in England.They play nearly two dozen period instruments between them, but also call upon some excellent musicians to add cellos, violins, clarinet and viola da gamba for lush, lilting accompaniments to sweetly-crooning languorous vocals. Avoidance of the usual churchy reverberation ascociated with Early Music recordings gives a more intimate, warmer feel to the music. If you are moved by lyric poems of Lovelace, or by the consort music of Dowland and Byrd, you may be delighted by these courtly songs, though some may find little variety or contrast in terms of mood or melody, with all but a couple of the pieces set in 3/4 time and a major key. Highlights are reached in the later tracks during excellent arrangements of Life's Game and a lovely tune Kindness My Foe led by Bob on Northumbrian smallpipes. All in all, this is a gently intricate and unusual disc.

Neil Brookes. writing in The English Dance and Song Magazine Winter Edition 2014.

www.efdss.org

Ayres That Meades and Pastures Fill

Hey the nony nonny no! Some 24 years sinced they packed it in, Rebec, named after the antique version of the violin and once on the verge of inking a record deal with Plant Life , are an unexpected, though welcome presence in my CD review stack. Untangling the puzzle, it appears main players Bob Cross and Mike Billington, though living half a world apart, the former in New Zealand, the latter in Manchester and a similar period of inactivity, it was about time Rebec issued an album, a memorabilia-packed web presence having kept the name and memory. Concept-wise Rebec were, or should I say are, a cross-pollination of proper early music, Amazing Blondel fandom and more than a touch of pop mentality. I recall once debating with Bob Cross the merits of Squeeze and Nic Lowe while he strummed for the local morris side - these guys knew their contemporary as well as their historical sources. Indeed still do, the tracks here may be a bit more stately and the voices a bit more ragged at the edges, but there's an undeniable charm to songs which concern living high on the hog, endless passion, sailing the high seas, dreams and fancies galore. Played on a selection of redundant instruments the whole thing sounds like it could have stepped out of the Renaissance, even with the odd sly lyric and nod to 2014. Life's Game is full blooded modernity in sentiment yet has words that sound more like Shakespeare. Tagging along are six string players who add commendable atmospherics and it's good to see the booklet credit all those who strode on stage back in the day. Renaissance atmospherics possibly isn't the most accessible genre but this is harmless fun and a happy trip to a time when you could wear peasant clothing, look suitably moody and still be taken seriously Find them at www.eponarecords.co good sir.

Simon Jones Folk Roots March 2015.

Ayres That Meades and Pastures Fill

Rebec have finally produced their long awaited album. It's been 25 years since they frequented the English folk music circuit playing their own brand of music to a variety of audiences and making headlines at folk festivals in the UK and mainland Europe.

Rebec is Robert Cross and Michael Billington who have chosen their combined name from a bowed string instrument of the renaissance era. Rebec, sometimes rebecha, rebeckha and other spellings in its most common form, has a narrow boat-shaped body carved from a single block of wood and tapered in such a way that there is no visible distinction between the body and the neck. The fingerboard is a raised part of the soundboard or it is fixed to it from above, but this does not change the frontal outline of the instruments. Early rebecs had no soundpost and the peg holder was flat. As with most early instruments, rebecs came in many sizes and pitches and although the number of strings on ealry rebecs varied from three to five, the three stringed rebec seems to be the most popular. It is played with a bow.

The duo play nearly two dozen period instruments between them, but also call upon some excellent musicians to add 'cellos, violins, clarinet and viola da gamba for accompaniments to their vocals. The album includes eleven tracks of the band's best known material with one instrumental from their club, concert and festival days back in the 1970s/80s. The final mixes have been mastered for the album that was released in the UK by Epona Records in August 2014.

The music, as you would expect from the introduction above, ia influence by the renaissance style (1400 - 1600) that has been a focus of their work for more than 40 years. All 12 songs on the CD are composed and arranged by Robert Cross. The songs transport you very much into that era when such music would enterain the courts of England and indeed the rest of Europe. Songs which reflected the heartbreak and pain of love were extremely popular in the 15th and 16th centuries and Rebec have captured the mood, particularly when the song writing also adheres to the style of expression and with the range of instruments used in their music.

The music on this CD in my view, is well suited to being played in the stately houses of the land; National Trust properties and the like to to create musical ambience. The music is certainly atmospheric and if you want to transport yourself back in time it will cetainly do that. The songs are melancholy and predominantly about love.

The range of instruments played by Robert Cross (now living in New Zealand) and Michael Billington (in the UK) is truly amazing and they should be commended for their dedication to their passion for this style of music and their musicianship.

John MacKenzie. Folk North West. Spring 2015 issue.

Ayres That Meades and Pastures Fill

Rebec was a duo comprising (songwriter, singer and multi-instrumentalist) Robert Cross and (player of mostly reed instruments and occasional vocalist) Michael Billington. They frequented the English-music circuit some 25 years ago purveying their own rather quirky blend of folk- and early-music-influenced English Pastoral that owed not a little to the Amazing Blondel of the start-of-the-70s but with more than a soupçon of Dr Strangely Strange or Tir Na Nog in the mix there too maybe. They would've been a bit of an anachronism in either time-frame, methinks, but an appealing one nonetheless. The salient point is that for some reason or other Rebec never actually got around to recording their music at the time, and therefore this release is somewhat of a curio in that it has only been now, through the interim advancement of technology, that Rebec's two members have been able to come together "on record", laying down their respective parts (Michael in England, Robert in New Zealand) remotely over a two-year period, with further creative augmentation from Roger Child (viola da gamba) and other guest musicians playing violin, cello and clarinet (though interestingly enough, the rebec itself does not actually appear in the otherwise exhaustive register of musical instruments used on the recording!).

What of Rebec's music? Well, for a start it's not at all the Blondel clone that the above comparison might imply, although there are distinct shades of the "courtly-medieval-troubadour" mode on pieces like Lament For A Season and the renaissance tripping recorders-and-lute gallantry of Youth Have Pride. Robert's song structures aren't necessarily contiguous with early-music models either - again, not a bad thing by any means - but often rather closer to wyrd-folk like COB (Life's Game, which incidentally features the decidedly non-period tones of the bowed psaltery and kalimba). For much of the time, convenient opportunity has been taken to flesh out the duo sound with a significant quotient of additional instrumental lines, but care has been taken to ensure that textures aren't swamped and the evident joy of the music-making (even at a remove) is certainly there in the recording.

What could easily have sounded out of place, out of time and even over-pretentious instead emerges as endearing, and quite often more than mildly intriguing. One or two of the songs may have a slight air of the unfinished opus, and one or two passages of singing sound a touch mannered or contrived, even off-kilter, but these are forgivable lapses indeed given the trials and tribulations of getting this recording together. Rebec's music may not be of "great lost discovery" status, but it's nevertheless an experience I'm very glad to have undergone, and I shall be returning to the album without a doubt.

David Kidman (FATEA magazine)