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Duo Noir - Sintra

Sintra captures a live performance from Duo Noir at the Casa de Teatro de Sintra, Sintra, Portugal, from late 2009. This formation of Duo Noir features Tony Wakeford and Andrew King, both current members of Sol Invictus who need no further introduction on these pages.

There's a rawness to the performance with simple and effective arrangements largely built around Wakeford's strum and pluck, punctuated by spartan drum beats, bells, glockenspiel and some backing tapes. Both Wakeford and King take turns at lead vocals. The set trawls through Wakeford's back catalog (many from Sol, one from Howden/Wakeford, one from Orchestra Noir) more than a handful of Andrew King's arrangements of traditional song, plus one from their collaborative project The Triple Tree.

Sintra really comes into its own where their voices combine as on the opening 'We Are The Dead Men', 'Eve' and 'The Cruellest Month'. The simplicity of approach which is often just voice, guitar and drumbeats taps into an old English vibe, with Andrew King's timeless presentation and Wakeford's dour tones. Their own songs fit nicely with the traditional songs. To compensate for the minimal approach some of the tracks are bolstered by backing tapes: the harmonium drone of 'Worcester City' and 'The Wild Wild Berry', the lapping waves of 'Edward', the cawing birds of 'Twa Corbies', the scraping strings of 'Night Forever'.

Interestingly since Wakeford is strongly associated with heathenism and runic mysteries, it's only really 'Death's Head', symbolically evoking the ouroboros serpent, which calls on Wakeford's old interests. Much of Wakeford's compositions, like 'An English Garden' lament a lost England, and especially 'Down The Road Slowly' where Wakeford ruefully reflects "England is funny but sometimes she scares me" over a folk strum, punctuated by pounding drums and bells.

Surprisingly Wakeford revives two tracks from his tenure with Death In June. Both recast in acoustic settings, 'Holy Water' is complemented by bells, while the tower block hell of 'All Alone In Her Nirvana' comes complete with the looped cacophonous squawking voices. Andrew King, meanwhile, presents a trilogy of war poems from Rudyard Kipling. From the a capella performance of 'Have You News Of My Boy Jack', reflecting on the death of Kipling's son in the Great War, to the harmonium drone and solemn drum beats of 'Gethsemane' this is stirring stuff. Set against an old scratchy vinyl recording of 'Melita', King delivers 'Recessional' in a moving hymn-like fashion. The poem now synonymous with Remembrance Day is given greater relevance to the performance, which took place three days after the 2009 commemoration, as Paulo Rinhonha (arcane.zero) recites the names of those men of Sintra who gave their lives, while a bugle plays out the last post.

There are quite a number of live releases featuring Tony Wakeford but this is an intriguing and memorable collaboration with Andrew King, casting a fresh light on the material. Listening to Sintra it's clear why they were compelled to release it on CD. Followers of the work of Tony Wakeford and Andrew King won't want to miss out on this. Sintra is released in an edition of 1000 copies. For more information go to www.myspace.com/tursa or www.myspace.com/andrewstewartking