The Magpie Never Wept by Hatchet Field

Release date: September 1, 2023
Label: Black Tragick Records

Many years ago I ventured to Belfast’s Limelight and witnessed one of the most astonishing performances I have ever seen. The band in question, We Are Knives, were new to me, and I was completely blown away by the ferocity of their frontman, as well as the extremely tight musicianship of the bass player and drummer. They specialised in extremely complex math-rock with intricate patterns, riffs, and mind melting tempo changes. Their vocalist/guitarist, Hornby, was playing his guitar like it was sending electric shocks through his body as he jolted and jerked about the tiny stage. Yet throughout this turmoil, he never missed a note, and he was also building up patterns on a loop pedal, while howling and shrieking like a man in some distress.

Now operating under the name Hatchet Field, the music has become infinitely more placid and is a far cry from We Are Knives, or indeed the two-piece he set up The Continuous Battle of Order. Re-united with his former bass player Steve Anderson, the Belfast based musician is back with another extended play, entitled The Magpie Never Wept. Inspired by the myth and lore of corvids (magpies, crows, ravens etc), this 6-track e.p combines various exquisite sounding guitars, organ, harmonium and autoharp, and it finds Hornby in better form than his previous releases. The music has a more absorbing feel to it with the additional instrumentation.


Opening song ‘The Magpie’ is based on wondrous droning autoharp and harmonium, Hornby harmonises with Steve giving the listener a comforting warmth. I’m reminded of Will Oldham on top form. The production here is pristine yet retains a lo-fi campfire feel as the underpinning guitar is perfectly picked. The additional little flourishes are a delight and really enhance Hornby’s folk leanings, over his previous metallic material. In We Are Knives Hornby and Steve proved to be dexterous players of a stringed instrument and the gorgeous instrumental ‘The Crow’ flows with a beautiful fluidity keeping you engrossed as the melodies intertwine. ‘The Scarecrow’ takes the mood into a darker domain with haunting tones. A droning Chaplain’s Field Organ props up the picked guitar with a mournful sorrow as Steve tenderly sings the heart-breaking melody.

The instrumental ‘Jackdaw Blues’ lifts us back up again sprightly popping along on a brilliant shuffling groove, created by playing an acoustic guitar with a paint brush! It’s impossible not to nod your head and tap your feet as the guitars playfully nudge each other. ‘The Raven’ continues this glorious curiosity with an insistent riff courtesy of a 12-string Danelectro guitar, the uplifting harmonies and the euphoric melody offer a little hope despite the dark tones of the lyrics.

Final song ‘The Birds’ is a soothing lullaby of a song with delicately picked guitar, a droning mix of ebows and harmonium rises to the fore as Hornby and Steve harmonise sweetly. Each track on this extended play has its own unique identity and you feel like you’ve been on a little journey. The emotions sway throughout but as ‘The Raven’ winds its way to a close you’ll want to go back round through the songs again to find little nuances you missed. Not a note is wasted.

This is a beautiful little collection of tunes, from artists who have taken some brave steps over the years. Clearly letting his muse drive the musical output, when Hornby releases music, it has always found this listener stop in his tracks. I may not have always understood the man’s music, or even enjoyed it all, but there is no mistaking his musicianship, whether it be electric guitar, banjo or acoustic. Having Steve back in the fold is a masterstroke too. Let this music into your life. As the nights draw in, and the temperatures drop, these songs will warm your heart. Highly recommended.

Pin It on Pinterest