Hellebore – New Agent Starling Single & Video

Agent Starling has a brand new single and video, Hellebore. It’s a fabulous tune composed by Toon van Mierlo, arranged and recorded by Agent Starling’s Quentin Budworth and Lou Duffy-Howard with guest Dexter Duffy-Howard on violin. It’s from our new album, Clandestine which will be available from Bandcamp on November 4th as a special edition CD and download with full release on 18th November on all the usual digital platforms.


Agent Starling – Fresh On The Net – People’s Choice –

Lovely to get an Agent Starling Track featured on Fresh on the Net – and a great review of it to boot – here’s what they have to say about ‘Valley to Mountainside’ from our second album ‘Constellation of Birds’.

‘One thing I like about Fresh On The Net’s inbox is that you never know what you’re going to get. You will always get surprised. You can never accurately tell which way it’s going to go, and that’s the beauty of an independent music blog. The ten that we close out the summer with are all thought provoking and the first track to open this Fresh Faves is no different, and while I’m listening to this, I hear a bit of folk, a bit of prog rock, Celtic… it’s all there. And it’s dizzyingly good! 3/4 time, a flute, fiddle, a bass riffing away, and vocals drenched in reverb and sung in a round, I feel like I’m in a time warp – a tv show from the 60s and 70s, or maybe lying in the grass in Greenwich Park watching the clouds go by and making shapes… This is something isn’t it? Very dreamy. “Valley to mountainsidehigh up and look down at sea salt to ozone and fly out and don’t look back” This is all sung in a round! Agent Starling is Quentin Budworth on Hurdy Gurdy, Lou Duffy-Howard all other instruments and vocals, except violin by special guest Dexter Duffy-Howard. According to their gorgeously designed site: “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.” For some reason I have deja vu around them but I just can’t think why, maybe they are time travellers, and they are evoking the multiverse with their sound, whatever it is, it’s definitely left an impression on me’.


Agent Starling in the Big Lockdown Music Survey with their Track Helicopter Arms

Really great to be included in this rather wonderful lockdown project… Funded by an Arts Council England National Lottery Project Grant, the Big Lockdown Music Survey is a snapshot in recorded music of a once-in-a-generation experience shared by the nation.

The Big Lockdown Music Survey tells the story of the national lockdown introduced in response to the pandemic on 23 March 2020 from the perspective of music creators, through recorded music and sound, data and testimony. We were interested in representing the broadest range of musical styles and forms, including fragments and works-in-progress, and in showcasing music creatives from the broadest range of backgrounds. The survey is an account of exceptional personal circumstances, of emotions engendered by enforced isolation (or enforced community), but also of creativity, technical innovation, personal resilience, and originality.

By making music that was created all over England during this period accessible, we examine questions such as: How do you make music together, remotely? How has creators’ music-making been facilitated by new technologies? How has the experience of the pandemic influenced the content and form of the work of music creators?

Contributing creators and artists whose tracks are selected were paid for their work according to a Musicians Union-approved fee scale, remunerating composers/performers whose work was cancelled as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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

NMC Recordings is an award-winning record label with charitable status. We believe that new music is a dynamic and engaging art form and seek to inspire and challenge audiences through the release and promotion of recordings by British and Irish composers, innovative artistic partnerships, and delivering education projects to young people.

We fulfil our charitable aims by:

  • collaborating with leading composers, artists, orchestras, and ensembles
  • producing high-quality recordings of outstanding works
  • promoting recordings and other resources to expand new music audiences worldwide 
  • preserving this creativity for future generations

Teaching and Playing music from John Playford’s Dancing Master on the hurdy-gurdy at the Bagpipe Society Blow-out weekend (on my birthday)

I was very privileged to be asked to teach a hurdy-gurdy music workshop on playing music from John Playford’s Dancing Master on the hurdy-gurdy at the Bagpipe Society Blow-out weekend. The workshop was well attended with 15 attendees from all corners of the UK.

We looked at 3 tunes during the hour and a half workshop and all members of the group mastered them and we were able to play them together by the end of the session and create a joyful noise!

The tunes we worked on were Drive the Cold Winter Away, Argiers , and Nonesuch. I provided dots but the tunes were learnt by ear. I chose the first and second tunes and the group chose the third tune in the workshop.

We were lucky to have with us Ruth Bramley a re-enactor who dances Playford and her comments and additional information supported the learning and interpretation of the tunes in an applied, knowledge experiential real world way.

At various points I encouraged members of the workshop (Nicholas and Lucille) to lead the tunes and for me this is really important as it lays the groundwork for future workshop leaders .

Some notes on Playford for those that will:

John Playford

b. Norwich, 1623 d. London, 1686
Music publisher and bookseller, clerk to the Temple Church and Vicar-Choral of St Paul’s Cathedral. In 1639 he was apprenticed for seven years to John Benson, a London publisher, and in 1647 became a member of the Yeomanry of the Stationers’ Company.
As a Royalist, Playford began publishing political tracts, culminating in “The Perfect Narrative of the Tryal of the King”. This was an age when music publishing was part of the more general field of book publishing, a situation changing by the time of his son Henry.
On 7th November 1650 he entered in the stationers’ registers “The English Dancing Master or Plaine and Easie Rules for the Dancing of Country Dances’, which was published in 1651. It is generally thought that this was his first musical publication but “A Musical Banquet” bears the mark of John Benson as well as his own and so there is some speculation that it may have been earlier. “The English Dancing Master”, with enlarged editions, continued until 1728, each ‘new edition’ often differing little from its predecessor, although new lessons may have been added and some taken away.

John Playford published hymns and psalms and we have records of his personal feelings and ideals in introductions to his works.

An enormously important figure in the development of English music publication and a source of inspiration for Cecil Sharp’s English folk revival.

There is no exact record of Playford’s burial but it is of interest that Purcell wrote the “Elegy on my friend, Mr John Playford”.

My guiding principle in the workshop and interpretation of the Playford tunes was that music is correct when it sounds good.

PS. I was very surprised to have happy birthday sung to me in the evening and to hear the tune Argiers played in the session led by the hurdy-gurdy playing of my good friend Peter Kanssen from that there Laaandan Tooon!

Link to bagpipe society website here: https://www.bagpipesociety.org.uk/

Learn the hurdy-gurdy in 4 days

I had the privilege of being able to teach a musician from the Far East who has never touched a hurdy-gurdy before how to play the hurdy-gurdy, to play tunes and set-up the instrument for optimal play.

This is a huge learning curve and I can report that my student has done very well and also that they are in possession of a very fine instrument made by Neil Brook without the hassle of 1-6 year wait for a new professional instrument.

What did we look at:

Good posture, ergonomics, safe practice.

Playing in a relaxed and attentive way with focus and purpose.

What did we study well all the trompette coups relating to the following time signatures:







Some simple and more complicated tunes

Major and Minor Keys and Modes for G/C instrument

History of the instrument.

Different approaches to fingering on the keyboard

Youtube and Spotify viewing and listening lists.

Identifying, next steps, things to work on and develop over the next few months.

Five hours a day for four days is an intense learning experience and regular cups of tea, biscuits and meals out really helped to keep energy and attention high.

If this sounds like something that is of interest to you email me at: quentinbudworth@yahoo.com

I registered a 4-day intensive course from Quentin and it’s super comprehensive! The course started with history, developments and innovations, then recent community moves, famous hurdy-gurdy players, CDs and concerts – it’s not a small world and it keeps on evolving!

Then getting to know the instrument – different strings, the chien, the crank and most excitingly, how it buzzes and works with the rhythm! Then I started to learn the notes, basic music theory, fingering, the rhythms on cranking moves – from beginning to picotage… and that’s how the beat got started! It’s gonna be an exciting journey ahead!
J W.

Drone Theory

The drone is a constant it’s one of the  main things that drew me to the hurdy-gurdy. Here is a list of words that I associate with the drone:

sacred, eternal, infinite, spiritual, ancient, transcendent, universal, constant, meditative, sinister, comforting, home, calmness, fear, worldly, other worldly, stillness, continuum, source, universe, God, ritual, trance, dream, oneness, wholeness, completion

The drone has meaning changes as a direct result of my mood and the context in which I hear and understand it.

Some wider context before delving into the music, drones have existed and continue to exist in many corners of the world. The systematic use of drones originated in instrumental music of ancient Southwest Asia, and spread north and west to Europe and south to Africa. They seldom resonated on their own but for the most part they were embedded into instrumental arrangements. The drone or “burden tone” (Bourdon) has served as the backbone to many folk music traditions, from Southern Italy to Scandinavia. Most bagpipes have up to three drones, in America, most forms of the African-influenced banjo contain a drone string. Since the 1960s, the drone has become a prominent feature in avant-garde and film music.

In the Middle Ages, Europe and Byzantium sang over a foundation of drones. Back then, larger cities in the Christian world hosted huge entertainment venues called cathedrals that showcased psychedelic light shows backed by endless drones and aesthetic semi-narcotic heady incense fog: cathedrals, where choirs and organ players pushed their audience into ecstasy with what was then the loudest music imaginable, resonating from the walls with lots of heavy overtones bringing heaven to earth with a lot of help from the drone. So even in their purest form, drones connected people with a vibrating universe from early on.

Drones change the original piece of music fundamentally as the melody plays against the drone. They also change so much more in terms of the audience’s actual act of listening and experience of the music. The sound world created by the drone and its interplay with the tune adds a dynamic a constant, a pull towards or away from the home tone. Each note has its own special relation to the drone creating a dyadic cadence  ( a two-tone musical interval). The drone is the essence of life itself in its most primitive state the point from which all melody stems from, is related to, understood by and must return to.

Human beings are wired to respond viscerally to the drone it embodies our sense of the infinite and  eternity it is a heady and powerful sonic form that is very much a part of our spiritual DNA connecting us to the one, the eternal life force. It embodies the understanding that “God is Sound,” and “Sound is God.” The drone is eternal and takes us to a deeply spiritual place within a few seconds.

The drone sets up a ritual, a play space where magic can happen and this feels strangely comforting to me, like home and yet a sustained tone to evoke disquiet, a sense of lifting the curtain of the everyday. A place where Mystery and magic live. Here be dragons!

The drone harnesses time in an unmarked, uninterrupted spiritual ritual, an audio element within music that transcends borders and stretches back millennia. The drone creates a sacred sonic space it entranses us .

When we play the hurdy-gurdy we create a sound world in which we can dream, drift and explore. The instrument powers up the synapses and feeds the soul. It really is a magical thing. It takes us back to our ancient past; it takes to everywhere and nowhere. When we play the instrument runs deep into our psyche, it’s like free basing history and universal geography. The drone comes from a place of resonance and intuition, something primal that exists within everything and is everywhere.

With the drone you can enter a trance state if you’re luck you’ll be able to leave your body and become the spirit of the music. It can be a full on psychedelically revelatory out of body experience through music. That is what I’m aiming for when I play with Celtarabia.

Often with the drone in the hurdy-gurdy, it’s about playing the silences, especially with melody strings  and the trompettes. It’s finding those moments, those punctuations, pauses and silences.

I think of the drone as like ‘the universal one’ of God it’s the home tone. Each note played melodically is one step away from or towards home and this is where the musical tension and meaning resides in the relationships between melody and drone.

The drone exists outside of us and deep within us. It is an oral expression of a universal hum we can only hope to fleetingly channel when we play. 

When we play the drone we are also played by it. It changes our psychological state by facilitating a focus on the present by limiting our experience of the constant of change. Putting us in the moment for a continuous period of time.

The drone allows us to take control of time by releasing us from our need to mark time. It takes us away from the mundane in every way and allows us to enter a sacred space dream and just let go. To be in the moment for as long as we choose.

In a way, the drone represents the ultimate folk music a powerful tool of personal liberation. The drone unites us as a feeling of togetherness by dint of communal or and shared wonder and allows us the freedom from the tyranny of time and the now normalised imperatives of human achievement and digital social validation.

The drone is the sound of a free universe in which anything is possible.

This is a short except from my forthcoming book ‘The Secret Life of the hurdy-gurdy’ Field notes on playing the hurdy-gurdy from the world’s most respected players.

EFDSS Monday Singers ‘Cos Group’ (Carry on singing)

Here’s a song taught to me by Lisa Knapp but originally by The Copper Family and sung by some of the wonderful Monday Folk Singers ‘COS GROUP’ from the EFDSS Zoom class. It’s a wonderful song that I’ll be recording soon. Thousands or More (Sorrows Away) The Copper Family All recorded remotely and co-ordinated and mixed by Andrew Cheal.

I’ve been exploring traditional folk singing mainly through the Monday Night Folk Singers class organised by the EFDSS and have had the delightful experience of being taught by Emily Portman (Furrow Collective) and Lisa Knapp this term I’ll be in the esteemed company of Cohen Braithwaite-Kilcoyne from ‘Granny’s Attic’

Each term I’ve had the opportunity to learn repertoire, arrangements and folk style singing from an established folk singer and educator. All material is taught by ear.

I’ve learnt some great songs from Emily and Lisa’s repertoires as well as harmony singing but the focus is definitely more on developing as folk singers in a supportive environment. I’ve been able to listen to different interpretations of songs, see examples from archives and field recordings and learn about the tutors’ approach to their singing and folk songs which has been amazing.

It’s been a fantastic experience and I’ve learnt so many songs! I can highly recommend the sessions. More info here: https://www.efdss.org/learning/adults/monday-folk-singers

And here’s a quick video ‘warts and all’ of me singing it unaccompanied.

Agent Starling’s ‘Constellation of Birds’ available on all major streaming platforms

Agent Starling’s ‘Constellation of Birds’ is released on all the usual digital platforms, distributed by Label Worx. To coincide with this major release, here is the new video of the opening track, evoking birds in flight, a celebration of the beauty of nature. The album has been getting great reviews in the press and loads of air play. Take a moment and have a listen.


Hull Papers – local news – deep roots

We’ve been in the local press this week with appearance in 4 local papers and a forthcoming feature in the Yorkshire post. Big thanks to Phil Ascough for writing the article.

Holderness Gazette March 2022



Agent Starling Reviews


To buy any album click on the image to arrive at the Bandcamp page.

“…(Constellation of Birds) 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…” John Reed Fatea Magazine

“…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 

“… the disparate textures and threads they weave coalesce into a mesmerising tapestry of sound that is uniquely theirs.” Mike Davies, Folking

“Purveyors of hurdy-gurdy and weirdness” Andy Inns, Black Dog Radio 


Experimental hurdy-gurdy on duo’s impressive debut. European Howl is a complex, immersive and at times disorienting listening experience. Opening track ‘Helicopter Arms’ sets the tone – pulsating, intriguing, the distinctive droning, buzzing but melodic sound of the hurdy-gurdy and whispered spoken-word vocals … ‘Minor Surgery’ is a cyber-Morricone soundtrack with whipcrack noises and a splendid rumbling bassline. (SONGLINES July 2021)

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)

This is wonderful. It has a feeling of antiquity and a feeling of something new. The music is a blast and the images are a constant wow (Dan Kellaway – Luthier)

Its epic! Really well constructed, like reading a book. (Jim Mclaughlin Director Musicport Festival)

Very interesting instrumentation, textures and approach… ambient meets world. Very unique and enjoyable. (Kluane Takhini)

Both haunting and exhilarating at the same time. (Les Ray – Strummers and Dreamers Radio Show)

Such original use of a hurdy-gurdy (Readifolk Radio)

A multlayered varied thing, wonderful! (Rick Stuart, Roots & Fusion Radio)

This is wonderful. Love the fluid bass figures (Landi Michaels)

You went deep with this! Cool experimental track! (Minor Surgery) (Jaguar – BBC Introducing Dance)

There’s only room for the most fabulous music on the planet. We started our two-hour #681 sound journey from the UK with ′′ European Howl “, formidable debut album of the Agent Starling trio, training that breaks out strong in the landscape of traditional inspiration with a proposal that has its gravitational center in the zanfona. (Jordi Demésenllà Transglobal World Music Chart)

Very tasty mix of beats with the exotics. Great work! (Junkyard of Silenced Poets)

Brilliant again! If someone ever did a spaghetti western film in the graphic novel cinematic style of Sin City – this would be perfect music for it! Very tasty mix of beats with the exotics. Great work! (Junkyard of Silenced Poets)

Absolutely loving these tunes (Mark Whitby Dandelion Radio)

I love the sound of a hurdy-gurdy and this album’s wonderful arrangements of hurdy-gurdy, strings, percussion and softly spoken lyrics really hits the spot for me (Folk Roots News)

Lots of wonderful hurdy-gurdy, drones, bass experimentalism, and other worldly goodness. Recommended! (Ian Stacey)

I am listening to this as I write. I will certainly play something from the album in next week’s show. I am only halfway through listening but already this has gone on to my long list for Album of the Year 2021 … it’s up there with anything else I have received this year. (Ian Blues and Roots Radio) 

This stunning track is difficult to pigeon-hole since it is too organic to be considered electronic, too ambient to be considered anything to do with Rock but does verge on classical. Lou provides enigmatic story-telling spoken word while the music develops from long chords, tremolo violin and a host of other ideas and techniques to create a semi-meditative feel despite the busy activity continuously driving it along. Earthy but complex, this is an impressive demonstration of how they are able to combine such individual timbres to create such an uplifting atmosphere. (Trust the Doc Edition 54)

Congratulations on your new release! I really enjoyed listening to it today, there’s so much depth! Very interesting sounds too, it reminds me of Lithuanian folklore at some points. (Jonas Lapinas)

What a great song (Maija Handover Sound UK – Extraordinary musical encounters)

Great video and what a wonderful, unusual sound! (Aine Kennedy)

Agent Starling – I see the deserts of Mongolia and flags blowin’ in the wind (Cowboy DC)

Love this stuff soul-moving (Kelvin Richmond)

It’s a 21st century Van Der Graaf Generator (Andrew Lee)

What a wonderful album. It’s the kind of sound and complexity that I love to hear as well as play. (Cruise Cycle)

Beautiful in every way. The music, the playing and the photography are all amazing (Richard Harries)

This was a fascinating experience… Interesting, confusing, thought provoking, earie, troubling and hypnotic – all at the same time. I didn’t know what to make of it – but loved it! I think it’s more – a piece of art than it is music, it begs to be part of a larger physical experience within an art instillation or a maze or to be listened to while rotating in a gyroscope… All in all – very interesting! 

For once I am lost for words… In short, I think this is something with much greater potential than just the music on its own. It’s very clever and powerful – I hope you have plans for it. I’d be interested to know what happens next? Congratulations on creating something truly original and uniquely mystifying… (Trevor C. Krueger Founder Equal Ability Radio) 

Klasse!! (Merit Zloch)

Beautiful, and great production (Don V.Lax)

The album is freaking excellent! (Michael Hunter Roots and Branch Radio Australia)


“I doubt very much that you will hear anything quite like this anywhere else in current music in 2021. Truly wondrous.” Neil March Trust the Doc Issue 62 

“Festive EP… features the self-penned, spoken poem title track with its tinkling icicle keyboards (and a snatch of Prokofiev’s ‘Troika’), shimmering melody lines and cascading chorus alongside new arrangements of traditional tunes ‘Stockport Polka’ and ‘The Cordwainer’s Lament’” Folking Magazine

“Something very different here, something quite addictive to listen to, from the Northern Lights EP I give you Agent Starling …” One World Music Radio

‘Wow what a track that is, absolutely awesome and compelling that was Agent Starling and Northern Light taken from their winter EP The Northern Lights Trilogy’. David Chamberlain-Acoustic Routes

“The Cordwainer’s Lament owes its unique sound to the Hurdy Gurdy, that strange medieval instrument that’s part hand-cranked organ, part bowed string instrument, but sounds equally like neither. Capable of producing eerie drones as well as bowed melodies, it infuses the track with an atmosphere of the distant past, with an almost Eastern quality in its texture.

And this track really does have texture. Images of moss-covered cliffs, lashed by storm waves and haunted by souls lost at sea instantly spring to mind; you can practically smell the sharpness of the salty mist in the air, as Gulls whirl daringly above the sea foam. This is perfect music for a BBC costume drama or a film soundtrack.” Andy Page Fresh on the Net moderator

“The Cordwainer’s Lament’ sounds like an atmospheric musical walk down a snowy country lane. ‘Northern Lights’ … mixes spoken-word with musical quotes from Prokofiev’s ‘Troika’ … It’s a joyful, wintry offering. Amid a soundscape of sleigh bells and church bells, Lou sings “I know you yearn for calm, long for night, but my heart dances with the Northern Lights.” Finally, we have the exuberant ‘Stockport Polka … “

“It’s all terrific fun and, for me, it’s the 2021 equivalent of the Cocteau Twins’ glorious 1993 Christmas EP Snow. If you’re short of Christmas cheer this year, you could do worse than to go to Bandcamp and get hold of the Northern Lights Trilogy.” Tony Gillam, Passengers in Time

Quentin Budworth is a Hurdy-gurdy player and composer from Yorkshire, England, who makes music from 'Every-hear'.