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

FATEA MAGAZINE REVIEW – CONSTELLATION OF BIRDS

We are absolutely made up to read this excellent, intelligent and well considered review of our upcoming Agent Starling album, Constellation of Birds. 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/

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

Agent Starling release Constellation of Birds

NEWSFLASH! Our brand new Agent Starling album ‘Constellation of Birds’ is released on 25th February, but extra good news, tomorrow – Friday 4th Feb – Bandcamp waive their fees. You can pre-order the album, getting the two single releases straight away. Hope you enjoy it, here’s the link: https://loudhaileruk.bandcamp.com/…/constellation-of-birds

“…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.” Neil March Trust The Doc

Our second album ‘Constellation of Birds’ is released on February 25th 2022, following our debut album European Howl and winter EP The Northern Lights Trilogy, both released in 2021.

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

The single release, Princess Julia

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.


Debut album European Howl was internationally well received, 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)

“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)

We 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 and Quentin with lyrics by Lou, except Hälleforsnäsar and O’Carolan’s Bridget Cruise trad arr. Agent Starling.

‘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

Album cover by Agent Starling based on the original artwork by Karl Wilhelm de Hamilton (1668–1754) The Parliament of Birds.
Agent Starling Quentin and Lou photograph by Richard Duffy-Howard

Visit the Agent Starling website: agentstarlinguk.wordpress.com 

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AgentStarlingUK/

Twitter: @AgentStarlingUK

Agent Starling Video Playlist https://tinyurl.com/yvmr2r3v