Midsommer

Midsommer by Agent Starling, our celebration of the summer solstice.

“Sun, stand still, fires burn, I will swim in waters that shine, and flow towards the rising sun

Sun, stand high, and long, come dance through the waves, and hear the song that heralds the dawn

Sun, stand still, fires burn, I will herald the dawn”

From album ‘Constellation of Birds’. Available from all the usual digital outlets and Bandcamp: https://loudhaileruk.bandcamp.com/album/constellation-of-birds

Agent Starling: Quentin Budworth hurdy-gurdy, other instruments/voice Lou Loudhailer. Violin by special guest Dexter Duffy-Howard.

NMC Big Music Lockdown Survey

Agent Starling music has been chosen for the NMC Recordings Big Lockdown Music Survey Interactive Map which launches today. You can click on the listening map to hear the nationwide tracks here: https://www.nmcrec.co.uk/nmc-lockdown-map

There is also more info, liner booklets, in-depth analysis of the data collected in the survey and a free educational resource pack about recording music at home: https://www.nmcrec.co.uk/big-lockdown-music-survey-map

BBC Radio Interview

We had a good day with the BBC filming a piece for TV and an longer interview for radio. This is the longer radio interview:

Agent Starling interview for BBC Look North & Radio Humberside. Music and video: Il N’est Plus Temps (Time Travel Mix) by Agent Starling

Visit our Bandcamp Shop here: https://loudhaileruk.bandcamp.com/music

The Stonemason’s Dream

The Stonemason’s Dream by Agent Starling. From album ‘Constellation of Birds’.

Available from Bandcamp: https://loudhaileruk.bandcamp.com/album/constellation-of-birds

A call for cathedral-thinking in the world

The master mason studies the bare ground and sees the sacred building of his children’s future
His grandchildren’s house of prayer
His great grandchildren’s sanctuary
The master mason peers at the rock face and the quire rises up before him
He stumbles over a rock fall and the nave emerges from the stones
He spots a cairn, and the transept appears before his eyes
Crosses a quarry and a tower materialises in the air
The master mason hears the bells ring out loud and clear against the exposed precipice

The master mason looks at a pile of stones and sees a cathedral

Rock by rock in a lifetime the foundations take form
Stone by stone a lifetime more to carve the arches
To raise the beams, shape the vaults, set the gallery

He won’t see it finished
But he knows
That this magnificent cathedral will live and breathe for generations thereafter
That this green and blue planet will live and breathe for generations thereafter

The visionary forester catches a spinning seed as it flies by
She sees a mighty sycamore stand up tall
The forester stakes a lone beech sapling
And the dappled light of the future woodland flickers in her eye
She gathers a handful of acorns and an ancient oak wood grows high up before her
Season by season, little by little the foliage becomes dense, and the forest deepens

She won’t see it mature
But she knows
That this green and blue planet will live and breathe for generations henceforth

Rivers will flow clean and clear
Oceans will teem with life
The air will be fresh and pure
Daylight clear and luminous
The night sky shimmering with planets
Afar

Lyrics by Lou Duffy-Howard © 2022 Agent Starling all rights reserved

Agent Starling emerge from isolation

Yorkshire-based duo emerge from isolation of remote recording sessions to launch second hurdy-gurdy album

A lockdown music collaboration made in Yorkshire is catching the ears of aficionados from international specialist magazines and bloggers to pop superstar and BBC Radio 6 presenter Tom Robinson with audiences doubly impressed by the fact that the pair behind the project didn’t meet at all during the recording process.

Agent Starling – which comprises bass player and singer Lou Duffy-Howard and hurdy-gurdy player Quentin Budworth – have just released their second album in a year with all the tracks recorded remotely.

Add in a few numbers issued on a winter EP and you have a total of 27 songs which were pinged back and forth between Quentin’s home in Bridlington and Lou’s house – and home studio – in Hull prior to being polished and packaged ready for release.

The first album, European Howl, came out in May 2021 as the result of a lockdown project hatched when the pair couldn’t do their usual summer of festival gigs.

As the pandemic dragged on and the material mounted, a second album became inevitable, and the pair have now released Constellation of Birds. Yet the first time they got together in more than two years was for the photoshoot to promote the new record.

Both are well known internationally for their music and have worked together on various projects, including performing live shows at green gatherings and pagan festivals as part of world fusion medieval rave band Celtarabia.

Quentin Budworth and Lou Duffy-Howard at the Northern Green Gathering

Lou is a founder member of psychedelic rock band Loudhailer Electric Company and is currently working towards a reunion tour of England in April with the Red Guitars, the Hull-based band which became a John Peel favourite and topped the Indie charts in the 1980s.

Originally part of Suns of Arqa, Quentin tours the continent as part of a unique musical culture, exploring and developing his playing of the hurdy-gurdy and studying style, technique and repertoire with leading players of the rare and historic instrument from many different folk traditions.

Lou said: “During the pandemic it’s been really important for me to remain creative so I upgraded my home recording system and we used it to record the Agent Starling music. We have had some great results and we had a fantastic time doing it.

“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.”

Lou developed the songs in her studio, adding rhythm tracks, playing bass and working in the lyrics, vocals and harmonies. Found sounds from around the house added some texture as did violin and cello parts contributed by Lou’s teenage son Dexter.

Lou and Dexter Duffy-Howard photo by Richard Duffy-Howard

The fact that the tracks could be sent for professional mastering to Kevin Carafa in Oregon is less surprising than the revelation that his main area of work is hip-hop and electronic dance music.

Agent Starling are preparing to tour in 2023 and anticipation is building as a result of a strong of encouraging early reviews.

In his review in Songlines, Tony Gillam wrote: “Experimental hurdy-gurdy on duo’s impressive debut. European Howl is a complex, immersive and at times disorienting listening experience.”

Neil March wrote in the Trust the Doc blog: “…an album that both respects and goes far beyond the traditions of hurdy-gurdy and European folk, embracing genres and creating lovely textures. You will not hear another album like this in 2022.”

Mike Davies, writing on the UK folk and Americana website Folking, described  “… the disparate textures and threads they weave coalesce into a mesmerising tapestry of sound that is uniquely theirs.” 

Tom Robinson told listeners on BBC Radio 6 Music: “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.”

In Fatea Magazine, John Reed found Agent Starling “compelling, demanding, progressive” and said their music “fuses a range of cross-cultural folk-based sounds and moods. The album challenges and stretches boundaries, and occasionally – in a good way – feels slightly unhinged, but I absolutely love it when musicians dare to tread forth where many would turn on their heels and run…” 

Quentin said: “I’ve played the hurdy-gurdy professionally for most of my adult life. Its drone, chanters and buzzing trompette create 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 bring the knowledge from my travels 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.

Lou added: “There are not many people who play the hurdy-gurdy and Quentin is at the top of his game. He spent the first year of lockdown doing sessions and workshops with other hurdy-gurdy players throughout Europe.

“With lockdown I was free to just be creative and that’s how the Agent Starling tracks have come about. We have a third album partially recorded and we have made enough money to have some CDs made, building up what we can offer to the public, and enabling us to continue our musical adventure.”

By Phil Ascough

Constellation of Birds on Bandcamp: 

https://loudhaileruk.bandcamp.com/album/constellation-of-birds

Visit the Agent Starling website: agentstarlinguk.wordpress.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/AgentStarlingUK/
Twitter: twitter.com/AgentStarlingUK
Agent Starling Video Playlist tinyurl.com/yvmr2r3v  

Startling Agent Starling album takes flight and heads for the stars

Agent Starling – Constellation of Birds review in Eighth Day Magazine, written by Dave Hammond

Startling Agent Starling album takes flight and heads for the stars

‘Constellation of Birds’ is the third release in a year from Agent Starling, a band centred around Lou Duffy-Howard (Red Guitars, Loudhailer Electric Company) and Quentin Budworth (Suns of Arqa, Celtarabia). Conceived during lockdown, both bring their own skills to the sound of the band- Lou with her distinctive, driving bass and Quentin with his prominent and experimental hurdy-gurdy.

Despite being largely instrumental with bass and hurdy-gurdy, the variety of music and styles is quite astounding. Elements of dance, psychedelia, Eastern (both middle and far) mysticism, drone and indie folk run seamlessly through the tracks, presenting a heady and, at times, intoxicating mix of songs and cinematic style soundtracks. It’s obvious the main protagonists are serious students of music from many decades (if not centuries!), and the addition of strings, electronic sounds and spoken word only enhances the feeling that, while the music being played is a blend of both old and new, this is a forward-looking album.

The versatility of the hurdy-gurdy is shown in the first two tracks, the first being enhanced by layered harmonies and scratchy violin in a paean to the beauty of nature. The smell of incense pervades the air. ‘Leave No Trace’ has a trance like beat and a keyboard line that, unexpectedly, evokes memories of The Who’s ‘Baba O’Riley’. The track is quite danceable in a cross legged, hands in the air kind of style. In keeping with the explorative, as in mixing the old and new, traditional with modern, ‘Hälleforsnäsar’ is an arrangement of an old Swedish folk tune which works perfectly well in adding another dimension to the flow of the album with its more ambient, even ethereal feel. Another string to the bow is added with the spoken word of ‘Paqaratz’ and its diatribe against the current government, which is driven by some rather exotic sounding percussion. More ‘found sounds’ weave their way into ‘Midsommer’ which invokes an earthy spirit of worship with its mix of hurdy-gurdy drone and chant like outro. The next track drags you in with its insistent charm until the final ‘Have your cake and eat it’ drags you, startlingly, from its hypnotic pull. Close call, that. Shadowland starts like the most contemporary sounding track on the album, fabulous bass line and vocal from Lou, while the hurdy-gurdy, played as it is here, sounds like the equivalent of a mediaeval synthesiser.

The penultimate track, ‘Bridget Cruise’ is a traditional Irish waltz played in what can only be described as a Geisha style and is really rather lovely, while the closing ‘The Master Mason’s Dream’ has a bass line that ascends and descends while a bell tolls, a Cathedral organ chimes and Lou’s spoken word entices us into a world of natural beauty.

The hurdy-gurdy is an often heard about, but an often less heard instrument in contemporary music, so it’s fascinating to hear it take a prominent position in the sound over the course of a full album, proving its ability to be both traditional and modern at the same time. A wonderful achievement. Dave Hammond Eighth Day Magazine

The album is available via the link below:

https://loudhaileruk.bandcamp.com/album/constellation-of-birds

Fatea Magazine Review – Constellation of Birds

We are absolutely made up to read this excellent, intelligent and well considered review of our new Agent Starling album. Big thanks to Fatea Magazine and reviewer John Reed.

Read the full review and more here: https://www.fatea-records.co.uk/magazine/reviews/AgentStarling/

Artist: Agent Starling
Album: Constellation of Birds
Label: DHM
Tracks: 9
Website: https://agentstarlinguk.wordpress.com/

Agent Starling is a new(ish) project for accomplished musicians Lou Duffy-Howard and Quentin Budworth, supported on violin and cello by Lou’s son, Dexter. Bassist and “occasional acoustic guitarist” Lou had indie chart success with Red Guitars (hugely successful back in the day, with their single “Good `Technology” being championed by the late great John Peel, appearances on The Tube, OGWT and others), and fronts Hull based Loudhailer Electric Company with partner Rich. Quentin is an award winning, Bridlington based film maker, photographer, and digital artist, who specialises on hurdy-gurdy, performing as a soloist and lead musician with world music band Celtarabia, historical musicians the Grinnigogs and the deeply traditional Hessle Ceilidh Band. I could add much, much more.

Lou and Quentin have known each other for some years. Agent Starling was borne out of a love of music experimentation and paying a kind of futuristic homage to folk traditions. Loudhailer released a work in 2017 called The Auricula Suite, which tells “a re-imagined story of a historical journey to a new land, inspired by folk tales of the alpine flower – the Primula Auricula – and its 16th century journey to England with the Huguenot refugees”. Quentin played hurdy-gurdy on that album.

The Agent Starling project has allowed the two to experiment with new sounds and to fuse elements of music from around the world specifically from Quentin’s recent travels: “just prior to lockdown travelling widely throughout Europe to study style, technique and repertory with leading players from many different folk traditions”. The result is compelling, demanding, progressive, and fuses a range of cross-cultural folk-based sounds and moods. The album challenges and stretches boundaries, and occasionally – in a good way – feels slightly unhinged, but I absolutely love it when musicians dare to tread forth where many would turn on their heels and run.

“Constellation of Birds” is their second product from the last two pandemic years. Unable to gig, the duo decided to record a song together remotely, and that quickly metamorphosed into two albums worth of music, with the first “European Howl” being released in July 2021. Lou expands: “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.” And so, to their new album…

On first hearing the opening song “Valley to Mountainside” I felt it created a pan-European hybrid, fusing Pentangle-esque sounds with those from Eastern reaches of Europe, similar to Ukrainian quartet DakhaBrakha – and how sadly topical is that? I still feel the same after several listens. Lyrically very simple and evoking birds in flight, the song celebrates the beauty of nature.

We’ve all had a taste of the meaning of “Leave No Trace”, that feeling of being an alien stranded on Earth during the pandemic. With its wonderful hurdy-gurdy drone and driving percussion, the song again continues a European mood, which carries into “Scandiland (Hälleforsnäsar)” with its a beautifully bleak instrumental mood. It’s reminiscent of a cold, rock-strewn Icelandic landscape, yet a place we still inhabit in some peripheral way.

“Pagaratz” finds me politically very much on the same page, and is an observation of the band’s dissent with the British government. It’s a progressive rock infused folk rap that nails its colours firmly to the mast:

“There’s a sage in the gallery takin’ in the view
And the Doc’s in the science lab cookin’ up a brew
And the rats in the cabinet are jumpin’ at each other
Gonna pick ’em up and pack ’em off and bring in another”

The lyrics for “Midsommer” are delivered Patti Smith fashion, and showcases Lou’s intuitive bass playing. It’s a joyful celebration of the summer solstice. At times punk folk with a percussive reggae rhythm, this is a real earworm of a tune, with the hurdy-gurdy and violin drifting in and out of the song like a gypsy dance around a stone circle. “Princess Julia” presents in mantra form a fairy tale of a royal pretender and her secret, with its folk tale seeming to take a more general aim at dishonesty, of which there is much in the highest levels of our society.

“Shadowland” opens with a dub reggae rhythm that sits beneath the song, which according to the album notes “depicts a mysterious chance meeting by the dark sea”. There’s a ’60s sound to the vocal, with a whispered section seeming to carry messages on the sea breeze:

“So raise a glass as the night comes in
And steal a kiss in the shadowland”

“Bridget Cruise” provides an oriental instrumental interlude, with another earworm created this time by a repeating melody weaving together violin, cello, and guitar – a delightful tune has the atmosphere of a Japanese ritual.

The sound of a hammer hitting an anvil introduces the album’s final song, the poetic “The Stonemason’s Dream”. The song is “a call for cathedral-thinking in the modern world to preserve it”, which very much speaks to the heart of a man who has been banging on for decades about the dangers of short term thinking in politics, business, and life in general and specifically in connection with our treatment of the planet we live on.

Thought-provoking and courageous are two words that seem so lacking in today’s dysfunctional world, and in providing this innovative album of truly original music, Agent Starling remind us we are so much better than this. Well worth spending proper money on.

John Reed

Get the album here: https://loudhaileruk.bandcamp.com/album/constellation-of-birds

Valley to Mountainside

Today! Constellation of Birds is released on all the usual digital platforms today, to coincide with the release, here is our new video of the opening track. Join the birds in flight, a celebration of the beauty of nature.

Valley to Mountainside by Agent Starling. From album ‘Constellation of Birds’.

Available from Bandcamp: https://loudhaileruk.bandcamp.com/album/constellation-of-birds

Valley to mountainside high up and look down at sea salt to ozone and fly out and don’t look back

Valley to mountainside climb up and look out and tumble back down

Valley to mountainside high up and look down at sea salt to ozone and fly out and don’t look back

Valley to mountainside climb up and fly out and

Don’t look back

Lou Duffy-Howard