DHM Record Label Press Release
Agent Starling release Constellation of Birds
Agent Starling release their second album ‘Constellation of Birds’ on February 25th 2022. It follows debut album European Howl and winter EP The Northern Lights Trilogy, both released in 2021. Agent Starling are Quentin Budworth hurdy-gurdy and Louise Duffy-Howard aka Lou Loudhailer voices & other instruments, also featuring special guest Dexter Duffy-Howard on violin and cello. Recorded in Yorkshire UK by Agent Starling, the album was mastered in Oregon by Kevin Carafa.
In ‘Constellation of Birds’ real instruments, hurdy-gurdy, bass, violin, cello, hypnotic drones, vocal harmonies & spoken words are interwoven with found sounds and manipulated electronic synthesized tones. The melodies are inspired by traditional tunes, playing techniques, chants and refrains. The rhythm tracks are constructed from samples recorded around the home and field recordings to make rolling patterns and trap beats. The resulting mix is a very modern sound, a complex, compelling musical counterpoint full of catchy tunes with Pop, Indie, Folk and Dance sensibilities, all with an experimental edge.
The album features seven new original songs telling stories inspired by the environment in the contemporary world and influenced by musical traditions from nations across Europe, together with Agent Starling’s arrangements of two traditional tunes, O’Carolan’s Irish waltz Bridget Cruise and Swedish polska Hälleforsnäsar.
Agent Starling’s original songs span a joyful celebration of the summer solstice, Midsommer, to the song of an alien stranded on Earth during the pandemic – Leave No Trace. Paqaratz is an observation of the band’s dissent with the British government. Shadowland depicts a mysterious chance meeting by the dark sea, while dance track Princess Julia tells a fairy tale of a royal pretender and her secret. Valley to Mountainside, with its compound time signature changes and layered overlapping harmonies extols the beauty of nature, and in the album’s closing spoken word track – The Stonemason’s Dream – Agent Starling call for cathedral-thinking in the modern world to preserve it.
Watch the video for single Princess Julia
Watch the video for Paqaratz
Quentin and Lou both have strong musical provenance. Lou was originally in recently reformed prophetic UK Indie band Red Guitars and has gigged and recorded ever since, currently heading up psychedelic rock band Loudhailer Electric Company. Originally part of Suns of Arqa, hurdy-gurdy specialist Quentin is the force behind world fusion medieval rave band Celtarabia. Agent Starling are preparing to tour in 2023.
Info and links
‘Constellation of Birds’ by Agent Starling is released on Friday 25th February 2022 on the DHM record label, catalogue number DHM032. Digital distribution by Label Worx and limited edition CD from selected stores.
Available from Bandcamp: https://loudhaileruk.bandcamp.com/album/constellation-of-birds
Visit the Agent Starling website: agentstarlinguk.wordpress.com
Agent Starling Video Playlist: https://tinyurl.com/yvmr2r3v
Agent Starling was originally a lockdown project when Quentin and Lou were both unable to play their usual summer of festival gigs. Isolating in their respective homes in Bridlington and Hull they decided to record one track together and didn’t stop until they had recorded over two album’s worth of new works – despite having not met up in person since before the pandemic.
Lou explained: “Typically for each song we started with a conversation about the framework of the song – the general feel, tempo, key, time signature. Then Quentin would record a hurdy-gurdy part in his home studio and send it to me. I would use it as inspiration to shape up the song in my home studio, adding rhythm tracks, playing bass – my main instrument so the bass grooves are central to the tracks. I’d write lyrics and add vocals, vocal harmonies and build up the textures using found sounds I record around the house and manipulated samples. My teenage son Dexter is a violinist. He was at home, so he became Agent Starling’s special guest, and I recorded his violin and cello parts for many of the tracks. I’d do a rough mix, Quentin and I would discuss it and after two or three mixes we’d agree it was finished. We then had the tracks professionally mastered by an engineer in Oregon who is known for his work on Hip Hop and EDM music. It makes for an interesting mix of traditional instruments with a modern sound.”
The band wanted to showcase the hurdy-gurdy in a new setting.
Quentin explained: “I’ve played the hurdy-gurdy professionally for most of my adult life and am very aware of being part of a unique musical culture that spans a millennia and the continent of Europe from Spain to Sweden from England to Italy. The hurdy-gurdy with its drone, chanters and buzzing trompette creates a unique musical world encompassing the ancient, modern and modal. When played as a solo instrument the hurdy-gurdy creates a delightful universe of sound in its own right needing no accompaniment. I spend most of my time, energy and focus exploring and developing my playing of the instrument, just prior to lockdown travelling widely throughout Europe to study style, technique and repertory with leading players from many different folk traditions. I bring this knowledge to my playing when recording for Agent Starling whether writing new compositions or interpreting traditional ones. I often spend several days researching, rehearsing and recording my parts to ensure that I am happy with my playing on the record before I send them to Lou, sometimes with an accompanying midi copy of the tune.”
Debut album European Howl was internationally critically acclaimed, making number one in the EthnoCloud Mediterranean music chart 2021.
“Experimental hurdy-gurdy on duo’s impressive debut. European Howl is a complex, immersive and at times disorienting listening experience.” (SONGLINES July 2021)
Agent Starling are Quentin Budworth hurdy-gurdy and Louise Duffy-Howard aka Lou Loudhailer voices & other instruments, also featuring special guest Dexter Duffy-Howard on violin and cello. Recorded in Yorkshire UK by Agent Starling, the album was mastered in Oregon by Kevin Carafa. All songs written and composed by Lou Duffy-Howard and Quentin Budworth with lyrics by Lou Duffy-Howard, except Hälleforsnäsar and O’Carolan’s Bridget Cruise trad arr. Agent Starling.
Album cover by Agent Starling based on the original artwork by Karl Wilhelm de Hamilton (1668–1754) The Parliament of Birds.
“I doubt very much that you will hear anything quite like this anywhere else in current music… Truly wondrous.” (Review of Northern Lights by Neil March in Trust the Doc Issue 62 December 2022)
“In all the years since this podcast started I don’t think we’ve ever knowingly featured a hurdy-gurdy – but there’s a first time for everything thanks to Agent Starling.” (Tom Robinson, BBC Radio 6 Music)