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A frontline of three flutes and whistles isn't the kind of thing to guarantee success, even in the folk field, but that's what Flook (named for a cartoon-strip character who used to appear in one of the British dailies) opted to do when they began life in 1996. There's no denying that it brought them plenty of attention, but in part that was because of the quality of the playing and the backgrounds the musicians brought to the project. Irishman Brian Finnegan had been a member of Upstairs in a Tent, while Sarah Allen was a veteran of the adventurous the Barely Works and Bigjig. Added to their talents was Michael McGoldrick, born in Manchester to Irish parents and winner of the 1995 Young Tradition Award (in addition to being a founder of Flook, he was in at the beginning of Lúnasa and has toured with Afro Celt Sound System and Capercaillie, in addition to maintaining a strong solo career). Rounding out the band was acoustic guitarist Ed Boyd. The lineup was preserved on Flook's 1996 debut album, Live! -- a daring first move for an unknown quantity, but one which won rave reviews for the fledgling outfit. However, it quickly became all change as the restless McGoldrick moved on to fresher pastures. Instead of replacing him with another flutist, though, the band brought in another Mancunian, John Joe Kelly, a virtuoso on the bodhran, who added a completely different dimension to the sound. Over the next three years, the foursome refined their sound, with Finnegan's inspired flute work in the spotlight, perfectly supported by Allen's harmonic abilities (and her prowess on piano accordion, which offered yet more fullness to the sound), while Boyd and Kelly took on something far more important than a mere supporting rhythmic role. The progress they'd made was celebrated on 1999's The Four of Us, yet another live record (and an indication that Flook absolutely refused to play it by the book). Indeed, they didn't go into the studio until August 1999, for the 2000 release, Flatfish (which, like its predecessors, they issued themselves), a mix of traditional and contemporary instrumental material that covers the spectrum of waltzes, jigs, and reels in uncompromising and thoroughly thrilling fashion. While not a completely Irish band, they have the feel and swing of a perfect pub session raised to high art. ~ Chris Nickson