Renowned percussion tutor and drummer Tom Gregory hits all the right notes with revamped and updated folk tinged take on Christmas Carols and Wassails.
When you have spent the bulk of your musical life ensconced behind a drum kit, or teaching all manner of percussive instrumentation it makes sense to stick (apologies for the pun) with what you know, and have done well for many years. However, Tom Gregory found himself moving further forward on stage, enjoying singing as well as drumming and he had a vision. That vision was to take some of his favourite Carol’s and Wassail songs, update, revamp, record and release them, and in ‘Rejoiced Much’ that is exactly what he has done.
When he was young Tom’s parents were Folk dancers, which, together with an early love of the drums led to him joining his first Ceilidh band at the age of 12. A lifelong love of Folk, dancing and drums began leading to a now 20 year career teaching drums and percussion as well as following in his parents footsteps and teaching Morris, Step, Maypole and Broom dancing. He has also played in a wide variety of bands from Folk, Swing and Hip Hop to running his own Latin Big Band, and is in the Guinness book of records for leading the worlds largest Samba band (1,675 drummers), and for giving the worlds largest drum lesson. Add to this becoming a Director of Folk Active in 2018, teaching at the Musical Expo, London Drum show and writing examination pieces for The Trinity Guildhall the album has surely got to be a percussive take on religious texts that some might consider to be sacrilegious right? Wrong.
Yes Tom has transformed the songs and given them a new perspective, but he barely hits anything on the album, except the right notes. Ably abetted by the newly christened Dust and Mischief band ‘Rejoiced Much’ stays true to the traditional Carols and Wassail songs to some extent but at the same time breathes new life and verve into them giving them an extra edge.
With the guitars of Chris Taylor and Aiden Hampson providing the backbone over the top of this float the melody lines of Threepenny Bit fiddle player Chris Nicholls and box player Danny Harmer from Days of the Rabblement, with Tom’s robust vocals centre stage driving the songs forward instilling an urgency.
The album opens with ‘The Wren (The Sloe)’ which builds up into a ceilidh tune just crying out for people to dance the ‘strip the willow’ to, and then leads into ‘The 7 Joys of Mary’ with its rolling guitar and vocal line redolent of Richard Thompson in full force. ‘Cranbrook’, perhaps better known as ‘While Shepherds watched their flocks by night’ follows which in turn originally derives tune wise from Yorkshire’s fines Ilkley Moor Bar tat, while in Tom’s hands it is given an upbeat makeover, verve and dynamic, with the fiddle turning it into a Christmas jig. On ‘The Holly and the Ivy’ with its religious symbolism and mediaeval roots a joyful accordion melody line is underpinned by a solid rhythm guitar as Tom leads us through a new rendition of an old favourite.
Tom has a religious background and has played on many a church music album, and so the inclusion of ‘Sussex Carol’, a Carol discovered by both Cecil Sharp, and Ralph Vaughan Williams, and a celebration of the birth of Christ, with its crystal clear guitar and rolling fiddle and accordion lines it is perhaps fitting that Tom puts his heart and soul into the stirring vocals. The subtle ‘Dark December’ follows with its thought provoking refrain of ‘Should we curse the Winter’ being sung over a haunting violin leaving us contemplating the arrival of bitter weather and hopeful of better times to come. On ‘Here we come a Wassailing’ Tom does add a percussive element taking it in a jaunty new direction as fiddles flow and guitars chime. On ‘Down in yon Forest’, a song dating back to the Renaissance era, Tom takes to the tuned percussion exchanging melody lines with atmospheric guitars and subtle violins.
On the 17th century and Biblical ‘I saw 3 ships’ eerie and atmospheric fiddles and accordions underpin Tom’s distinctive and robust vocals, while the upbeat and energetic ‘Drive the Dark Away’ with its firm guitars, flowing fiddles, and strong vocal lines seek to celebrate the arrival of the Winter Solstice. On the ‘Gloucestershire Wassail’ Tom sings an 18th century tale of the old tradition of roving from house to house at Christmas of sorts singing for your supper as guitars ring out, accordions drone and fiddles emerge, and the album concludes on an upbeat note in ‘Joy to the world’ a song of salvation enhanced by some fabulous fiddle playing.
A joyful album indeed what Tom has had the desire and courage to do is to step out of the shadows from behind his drum and percussive barrier and into the spotlight proving that you don’t have to stay where you are in life, you don’t have to be just one thing, and that you can branch out, and break out of what people expect you to be, and that you can produce an unexpected album. Who knows what his next move will be, probably not even Tom, but what he has given us is a new take on an old tradition and it will be interesting to see what he does next.
Photo Credits: (1)-(2) Tom Gregory, (3) Chris Nichols (Threepenny Bit), (unknown/website).