Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Tim Hart & Maddy Prior

This is folk post #4563536, sorry for those who don’t like it that much. I think I'm running out of inspiration. Lately, I’ve found myself listening to two albums very often, and only a few days ago I downloaded a third one, quite similar to the others. I’m talking about three albums Tim Hart and Maddy Prior did together: Folk Songs Of Olde England Vol I & II and Summer Solstice.

Let me issue a warning first: do not use these albums as pre-party music. Do not use these albums if you feel very active. Please. You will not like them and you will hate me for recommending them.
Instead, do listen to Hart and Prior if you want to relax, if you want to listen to the combination of two beautiful voices accompanied by very delicate instrumental arrangements. I read a review, not sure where, which said some may not like Tim Hart’s voice. I'm not sure if it's because I tend to like male voices more than female ones when I'm listening to music, but I can't really understand why someone wouldn't like Hart's voice. I'd personally love to sing like that; unfortunately, my voice is so "good" I try to only let the shower listen to my singing.

A little side note, before I briefly comment on some of the songs: if you’re into folk music, you may know Steeleye Span. Maddy Prior is still a member, and Tim Hart was one as well, until his death in 2009. Steeleye Span is an English folk-rock band with a very characteristic style. I won’t talk about them here, although I may do it in the future.

Folk Songs Of Olde England Vol I came out in 1968, before Steeleye Span released their first album. Although the second album wasn’t released until 1976, it sounds like a natural follow-up to its predecessor. The first one uses only guitar and mandolin arrangements, and in some of the songs you can only hear Hart’s and Prior’s voices (Adieu Sweet Lovely Nancy is an example). Tim Hart even sings some songs on his own, without Maddy Prior or any instrumental arrangement (The Rambling Sailor).



My favourite songs on the first album are Lish Buy a Young Broom, Farewell Nancy and Who’s the Fool Now. Concerning the second one, I’d like to compare it to any pre-made artificial cheap pop song that you can so easily find on the radio. It’s a matter of taste, of course, but for me the difference is so obvious that I can’t help making a pretentious music nazi remark. Anyway, all in all the album is simple yet beautiful.



I only downloaded Folk Songs Of Olde England Vol II a few days ago so I probably need more time to have a really strong opinion about it. Still, it’s quite similar to its predecessor, although a fiddle can be heard on Paddy Stole the Rope. For now, I’d say my favourite songs are My Son John and Capt. Wedderburn’s Courtship.



Summer Solstice is a bit richer instrumentally, although the arrangements are still relatively simple and the focus of the album is on Hart’s and Prior’s voices. My favourites are the beautiful I Live Not Where I Love and especially The Ploughboy and the Cockney. Here is a link to the whole album.



These three albums are a very good choice to get into English folk if you’re in the mood for calm music.

As always, here's the facebook page for this blog. Like it and you'll make a silly guy in his twenties moderately happy.

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Jethro Tull (XI): the end of an era

It’s amazing how things can change so suddenly. In the late seventies, Jethro Tull were at their absolute best. Songs from the Wood and Heavy Horses had been two amazing folky rock albums and, suddenly, the band almost died.

It was 1979 and the band was recording Stormwatch, their last seventies album. Bassist John Glascock rejoined after taking some time off because of congenital heart problems but, after three songs had been recorded, he just couldn’t continue. He was advised to stay at home and rest, but he apparently was too much of a party animal. Ian Anderson played the bass in the rest of the album and he did a damn good job, although that’s not really surprising.

The album is extremely dark, and it is when I am in a dark mood when I listen to it. Ian Anderson wrote the following about the album: “the songs were to be a mixture of moody and dark pieces reflecting the troubled state of the economy. The oil price escalation, energy crises and other depressing world events influenced my writing and thinking”.

However, dark doesn’t mean bad. In fact, I think the album is excellent. Most of the songs are incredibly powerful and the instrumentation is great as always (Barlow and Anderson make a very good rhythm & bass duo). It is true that, unlike other Tull albums, you need to be in a very specific mood to properly enjoy Stormwatch, but that’s not a problem.

There’s not a single happy song in this album. The closest to that is Warm Sporran, an instrumental which is, in my opinion, the weakest song. The other instrumental is Elegy, a beautiful and extremely sad song composed by David Palmer.



Fast paced songs are not common in this album either, but Jethro Tull has never been the fastest of bands, I guess. North Sea Oil gives you a pump of adrenaline to start the album and Something’s On The Move refills the adrenaline supply halfaway through, but other than that, the songs are slow. Well, there’s the Tull-esque tempo change in the phenomenally gargantuan Dark Ages, but the song just goes from slow to normal-paced. By the way, special mention to the badass job Barlow and Anderson do on the drums and bass respectively. The tense calmness of the beginning of the song is amazing as well.



Other than that, I’d like to highlight the melancholy in Orion, the nostalgia in Home, the magic in Dun Ringill and the elegance and darkness in Old Ghosts. I think not that many Tull fans are crazy about this album, but, in my opinion, the band pulled an amazing bunch of songs this time.




David Pegg, who would be Tull’s bassist for sixteen years, joined for the tour. When the band was in the States, they got dreadful news- John Glascock had died. That, and disillusionment with touring, made Barrie Barlow’s relationship with Anderson extremely tense. In fact, Barlow left the band.


It would finally be down to Anderson and Barre, because Palmer and Evans would leave as well, although the circumstances are a bit different and I think it’s better to explain that bit when I write about A, the following Jethro Tull album. In any case, Stormwatch was, in terms of lineup and music, the end of an era for the band. They would still produce some good music in the eighties (again, I’d say more than most Tull fans think, but it’s just my opinion), however things would never be the same.

As always, here's the facebook page for the blog.

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Pop music gone good

I’ve said a few times, I think. I’m not a fan of pop. I’m not a fan of commercial pop and I’m not even going to bother to explain why. I’m not a fan of so-called indy pop (part of what I call “hipster music”) because I find it terribly dull. Sorry about that, I just can’t understand what people see there. But well, to each his own.

There are, of course, exceptions. Paul Simon is one. Paul Simon is an amazing musician, that’s why I wrote my first post about him. But enough with Mr Simon, today I want to tell you about one of my most recent discoveries. Of course, anyone who knows me personally and reads this won’t be surprised, as I’ve posted stuff on my personal facebook, talked to everyone about them and so on. For those who don’t know me, I hope you don’t know Manel; I’ll be happy to introduce this band to you.
Manel is a Spanish band that doesn’t sing in Spanish. This is actually not weird at all, as several more languages are spoken in my country. Manel come from Cataluña, on the north-east of Spain, and Catalan is spoken there, so why not?


Their music can be described as pop, but it’s obviously not the kind of stuff you find every day on the radio, otherwise I wouldn’t write about it. The great thing about Manel is their original folky instrumentation. If memory serves, I’ve heard wind instruments, an ukelele, a banjo, a flute and the more often but nicely used keyboards.

Manel has released three albums so far. I only have listened to a couple of songs from the first one, but you can already appreciate the unconventionality (not sure that word even exists, but you get my point) of their music in, for example, En la que el Bernat se't troba.



I haven’t given a change to their last album yet, shame on me, but I’ve listened to the second one on countless occasions, and I’m in love with it. 10 Milles per Veure Una Bona Armadura is a superb album which has an exquisite and yet not pompous at all instrumentation. I’ve read online that the lyrics are very good, however I have not bothered to translate them yet. Of course, as I’m writing this I’m starting to feel ashamed, so expect me to do it soon. I will remind you for the hundredth time (basically for those who haven’t had a look at my blog yet) that while I can appreciate good lyrics, I can say “yeah, that’s quite witty” or whatever, what really makes me feel, feel deep, is the melody, the instruments, the arrangements.

It is one of those rare times in which I apparently agree with the majority of the people, as this was the first album sung in Catalan which reached the number one slot in the Spanish charts in more than fifteen years. Not a single song is bad, and the album doesn’t sound repetitive at any point, but I’m too lazy to talk about every single song, so I will quickly mention four of them.

Manel starts this CD with a clear statement about the originality of their music, as the lyrics share the spotlight with a trombone (or a trumpet? I suck at this) which gives the song a lot of energy in Benvolgut. I feel a passion in this song I can’t really explain, and it makes me feel something I can’t explain either, I only know it makes me feel a lot, and very deep. This is what happens with music I like: I can’t really explain how it makes me feel, but there’s some kind of rush inside me that makes me walk around my room, waving my closed fist at the ceiling.



La Cançó del Soldadet is beautifully sung and the simple but effective piano melody is a total success. It is a pretty sad song, but don’t worry, there are others that will cheer you up, such as El Miquel i l'Olga Tornen, which right now is helping me battle the grey clouds I see from my window.



Finally, Deixa-la, Toni, Deixa-la sums up the band perfectly. The almost- a capella beginning, only accompanied by an accordion, the mandolin (or is it a banjo?) playing big part, more than you’ll notice the first time, in the middle section, and the fanfare music ending. You don’t see these things often at all, and they should be appreciated. Manel certainly has a huge fan in me, and I’ll dig deeper both in their music and in their lyrics soon.


Facebook page for the blog, in case you're interested in this link.

Monday, 14 September 2015

Jewish music in the South of Poland

It’s been ages since I last wrote and, honestly, the reason I’m writing now is because I feel a bit guilty about that and I don’t want to abandon this blog. In the next few weeks I want to introduce you to a Spanish band that has surprised me in a very positive way and I want to keep writing about the history of Jethro Tull, as the next album I have to talk about was the end of an era. Today, however, I’ll write about my holidays, or rather about a band that has some kind of connection with them.

I went to Poland in August and stayed there for three weeks. I love that country and I have lots of friends there, so why not? One of my stops, the one that Polish people would consider the most unexpected, was Rzeszów, a small town in the South-East of the country. I studied there for a year some time ago, and my Polish teacher kindly hosted me. He also gave me a little present: a CD from Rzeszów Klezmer Band, Kameleon. Not gonna lie, I think I had heard the word klezmer before, but if anyone had asked me what that is, I wouldn’t have answered, so I’ll assume some of you may not know what it is. To put it in a few words, it’s Jewish folk music, which consisted largely of dance tunes and instrumental display pieces for weddings and other celebrations. And it sounds good.

The inside of the CD cover explains the history of the band (until 2009, which is when the CD was recorded) in a few words. Here’s what it says:

Rzeszów Klezmer Band was formed in November 2004 in Rzeszów, due to the exhibition decdicated to Bruno Schulz which took place at a city art gallery at that time. No one thought then that a coincidence and the passion of young artists would be a starting point of a great adventure with klezmer music. In the beginning of its existence RKB was giving concerts in Rzeszów, where it has been appearing on the local stage and taking part in different contests and musical reviews. After a year of their activity, artists were invited by Robert Sulkiewicz to give a concert in his restaurant “U Fryzjera”, located in Kazimierz Dolny. They have met with bigger audience there and earner their acknowledgement. This led to a permanent co-operation with the restaurant. Provided by the regular performances in Kazimierz Dolny, RKB was receiving more and more invitations from all over the country.

By this time the band gave over 300 hundred concerts not only in Poland but also abroad. They participated in a number of contests and festivals such as “Warszawa Singera” Festival (2007, 2008; during which by accompanying they took part in a breaking Guinness record in chassid dance), “Nowa Tradycja” Festival in Warsaw (2006), Festival of Klezmer Music and Tradition (2006, 2007, 2008) and “Kazimierskie Inspiracje” Festival (2008) in Kazimierz Dolny. They also took part in “Spotkania z Kulturą Żydowską” (2007) in Łódź and multicultural “Galicja” Festival (2007) in Rzeszów. Young musicians consider participating in “SZIGET” Festival (2007) in Budapest, in “Klezfiesta” (2008) in Buenos Aires and in the “EXPO” Exhibition (2010) in Shanghai their biggest accomplishments. They were also giving concerts in Lithuania, Armenia, Georgia, Romania, Greece, Macedonia and many other countries. They repeatedly co-operated with klezmer dance choreographer Leon Bank and with Steven Lee Weintraub.

RKB also participated in recordings for Polish Television and Polish Radio. Tunes played by the musicians are klezmer melodies arranged in a way to combine tradition and modernity. Their first album “Siedem” consists of a part of the previous works of the band. Young and energetic artists create music which appeals to the audience. Their performances are full of life, diverse and ravishing. RKB´s music can both make you want to dance and move you deeply.


Here are some songs from the band, not necessarily from this album. Oh, and I will try to write a post in which I don’t just copy stuff soon! Enjoy Rzeszów Klezmer Band and remember, if you want to suggest/ talk about random music, click here





Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Heiemo and the troll

Three years ago, more or less, I decided I wanted to have a wider knowledge of folk music. Until then, folk music and celtic music were the exact same thing in my mind. I started surfing the net and I eventually found a post in a Spanish speaking website called “Around the world in eighty albums”; I guess I downloaded fifty of those albums. I’ve kept searching and searching and I still think celtic and English folk are my favourites, but lately I’ve found myself listening to Scandinavian folk quite often.

There’s one specific song that is stuck in my mind these days. I found it in a Norwegian music compilation called Music of Norway- Nordisk Sang and its title is Heiemo og Nykkjen. I searched for a youtube link to post it on facebook and not only I found the link, but I found what the song is about in the description of this video, which also has a nice version of the song. Thanks to Sheila Louise Wright for the video, the story, the lyrics and the translation!



The story behind this song is an ancient one. In researching this piece I have found versions of the tale all over the world. Water trolls, sprites, mermaids and sirens are found in nearly every culture, many of which share a similar name for the creature at the centre of the tale. In Scandinavia, Nykkjen (of 'Nykr' in Old Norse) is a "water-horse", but is also a shape-shifter who can assume any visage he chooses. He is usually seen luring unsuspecting people to the waterside and their death by singing or playing music. 

Perhaps some of the more familiar tales come from "The Iliad & Odyssey") Odysseus & the Sirens), the 7th cen. Anglo-Saxon tale from Beowulf (Grendel's Mother was a water troll or "merewif"), and the 15th cen. French tale of "Melusine".

This particular version of the story in Scandinavia originally comes from "Nokken Svig" (Nokken's Fraud/Trick), first written down in "Karen Brahe's Folio/Visebog", a Danish collection of songs dated 1570-1583ad. The age of tune is a more vague. Based on the mode it was written in and its small note range, it it is very likely medieval, though it was first written down only in the 1800s in Norway.

The tale tells of a young girl who is pursued and kidnapped by a water troll who is in love with her, having fallen in love with her singing voice. The earliest versions of the tale say that she dies in the end. In this version however, Heiemo escapes by stabbing the troll in the heart and leaving him to die.

Enjoy!

Sheila Louise Wright

Here’s the first version of the song I heard, sung by Kirsten Bråten Berg, plus the lyrics in English and Norwegian which I found in Sheila Wright’s video. By the way, I'm leaving on holidays in three days so I won't be able to write again until September.




English


Heiemo sang her poem, it was singing in the hillside
- wake up you noble youngsters-
The Water spirit heard it, striding on the sea,
- Because you now have overslept -

Heiemo sang her poem, it was singing in the hillside
The Water spirit heard it, the pagan dog.

The Water spirit spoke to his helmsman:
"You steer my ship upon christian land!"

"I will go upon christian land,
the beautiful maid I will have."

He then enters her house
with high hat and rosy cheek

The Water spirit danced and Heiemo sang her poem
it pleased all folks in the houses

"Now every one has to go to his own home,
Heiemo I bring with me on the ship."

"Heiemo, Heiemo, quiet your wrath,
You should sleep on water spirit's arm."

She stabbed the water spirit in his chest,
the nail ran into the root of his heart.

"Here you lay water spirit, naked to raven and dog.
Still I have my singing need."

Norwegian

Heiemo kvad, det song i li.
- vakna dikko ædelege drengje --
Det høyrde nykkjen, på havet skrid, 
- For de hev sove tidi for lengje.-

Heiemo kvad, det song i lund
Det høyrde nykkjen, den hei'inghund

Nykkjen tala til styringsmann:
"Du styre mitt skip på kristne land!"

"Eg vil meg på kristne land gå,
Den vene jomfruva vil eg få."

Så gjeng han seg i stova inn
med håge hatt og blomekinn

Nykkjen han dansa, og Heiemo kvad, 
det gleddes alt folket i stogunne var

"Nu må kvor gange heim til seg,
Heiemo tek eg på skipet med meg."

"Heiemo, Heiemo, still di harm,
Du skapo sove på nykkjens arm."

Ho stakk til nykkjen i holamot,
odden han rann i hjarterot

"Her ligg du, nykkjen, fyr ravn og hund
enno hev eg min kvedarlund."

Saturday, 27 June 2015

Jethro Tull (X): their absolute peak

If there’s still someone out there who reads this blog, I apologize for the delay, it’s been more than a month but I just didn’t have time for anything. My brain is still fried from the latest exams and presentations so I have to write about something that doesn’t require much effort. Exactly, I mean Jethro Tull.

One year after Songs from the Wood, Ian Anderson was still living in the countryside and the folk influences could still be heard in his music. Still, the theme was not popular folklore and myths anymore, but the songs from Tull’s following album, Heavy Horses, were more about “normal” life in the countryside, and animals, many animals.

Where to start, where to start? Although right now I don’t think I have a favourite, this was, for many years, my favourite Jethro Tull album, and that’s saying a lot. The folky melodies, Ian’s singing, the lustiness of the songs... everything’s absolutely brilliant.

Regarding Ian’s singing, he cheated a little bit there. It’s true he gives the impression to sing as if there was no tomorrow, with a passion I don’t remember hearing from him, but he also doubles his voice in all the tracks, making it especially crispy and deep (thanks Antonio Luis for the info and for finding the specific words I was looking for).

Oh, and there’s another tiny little flaw I have to mention before I keep praising this album until I moist. Ok that was kinda gross, please ignore it. Back to the little flaw, which is the way John Evan(s) is underused in this album. Right now, I can only recall him having a noticeable role in the title track, which is, by the way, a beautiful song about English shire horses, the number of which were sadly decaying. The song is more than eight minutes long and features mood changes, Darryl Way’s violin and exquisite musicianship from all band members. It is also an example (one more) of how effing underrated Martin Barre is, another reminder of how you don’t have to play speed-of-light fast to be a great guitar player. Weathercock is another good example of that.



Heavy Horses, as many other Tull albums, combine peaceful acoustics, intrincate rock songs and David Palmer’s orchestral arrangements, better than ever. In the acoustic section you can find Moths and One Brown Mouse, which takes the first stanza of To a Mouse, a poem written by Robert Burns in 1785.



The great rythm duo of Barlow’s drums and Glascock’s bass nails it especially in No Lullaby and Journeyman. The first is the rockiest song of the album, combining very slow moments and musically dense louder and faster frenzies. The second is a great example of how Ian Anderson can create poetry out of the most mundane situations.



Talking about every single song on the album makes no sense, as all of them are superb. From the ones I haven’t mentioned yet, pay special attention to Acres Wild, where Glascock does a great job again.


There are two bonus tracks in the remastered version. One of them, Broadford Bazaar, features Ian’s singing at his absolutely best. And I do mean his best: I have never heard him sound better, never. His voice is incredibly sweet yet not cheesy at all.



All in all, an absolute must. Give it a try!


Stormwatch, Jethro Tull’s following studio album, would have a dramatic context and would be the end of an era, but I’ll leave it for another occasion. As always, here's the link for the facebook page for this blog.

Thursday, 21 May 2015

The excellent taste in music of Portuguese gas stations

Today I want to write about an album which, apart from being excellent, will always be my best purchase. Yeah, this means there’s a grandpa story coming, so be patient. I was fifteen years old and I was on a school trip. While we were driving through Portugal to go to Galicia, we stopped at a gas station. I often enjoy having a look at the music they sell in some of them, as the covers are usually ridiculous (the music probably sounds even more ridiculous, to be honest). You can imagine how surprised I was when I saw an Eric Clapton CD there. No, wait, not one CD: a double CD plus a DVD. For nine euro. It was too cheap to be true, but I had almost no money so one of my best friends (a huge Clapton fan) and me bought it together and decided to copy everything so we could have one each. I must admit that, right now, I have the original CDs and DVD, although my friend doesn’t listen to that much music so I don’t think he really cares.

By the way, I’m talking about One More Car, One More Rider, a live double CD from 2001. It combines songs that were new back then (damn, it’s already been fifteen years!) and old ones; jazz, blues and rock.

It’s a really amazing concert and there’s not a single bad song. The instrumental jazzy Reptile, Change the World, She’s Gone, Over the Rainbow (that was a nice closer!)... I find it impossible to highlight specific parts of the concert, so I encourage you to just buy or download the album. I uploaded it on youtube a long time ago, but as you may know, those c*nts deleted my channel.



All the musicians do a great job. I especially like Billy Preston and David Sancious, both on keyboards. Check out Sancious’s performances every time he does a solo, it’s a real show. Have You Ever Loved a Woman? is a good example of this.




Now that I think about it, there’s one song I want to highlight, and it’s Layla. Best version ever, by far. Here’s a link to that version and to some other songs from that concert. Enjoy Clapton at his best, I’ll watch the whole DVD one of these days.



Monday, 4 May 2015

Atkins, Knopfler and a beer make life easier

Mark Knopfler isn’t only part of Dire Straits. He has also made a lot of music on his own or with other artists, such as Chet Atkins. Atkins was an American guitarist born in 1924 who, along with Owen Bradley, created a smooth country music style known as the Nashville sound, which helped country music reach adult pop music fans. During his life, Atkins received 14  Grammy Awards as well as the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, nine Country Music Association Instrumentalist of the Year awards, and was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum and the Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum. Atkins died in 2001.

Both artists recorded together Neck and Neck in 1990. It’s been a while since I have the album, but I didn’t really listen to it carefully until about six or seven weeks ago; I was studying (or rather trying to study) for my exams and needed something relaxing. If that’s what you need, this is a perfect CD for you.



Neck to Neck is a simple album, country stuff with a jazzy touch. You won’t find incredibly complex arrangements, but both the singing and the guitar playing flow smoothly, there isn’t a bad track on the album and, as I said, it’ll help you breathe and forget whatever’s stressing you.

The tracks can be divided in two groups. The first one, which is the one I like the most, is formed by the chilled, happy songs, such as Poor Boy Blues and There’ll Be Some Changes Made. I love to listen to that last song sitting on my little terrace with a beer in my hand, by the way. I feel there’s nothing else I need. Nothing.





The second group is the one with the more melancholic songs, such as Sweet Dreams or So Soft, Your Goodbye. It’s good stuff, but now I’m used to listening to this album when I need to relax and cheer up a bit, so I don’t enjoy it as much.



To end this short post, here's the facebook page for the blog. As I mentioned there, I'll probably write monthly from now on, as I'm definitely too busy now, plus I have also started writing for another website. Cult showcases aspects of the culture from every country in the world. One correspondent per country writes monthly about food, cinema, music, places, people, internet memes, etc, which makes it a great way to learn about stuff you won't necessarily find in the news. I'm personally very interested to learn about countries that are really obscure to me. Here's the link for Cult, I hope you find it interesting!

Monday, 13 April 2015

The Alan Parsons Project's darkest secret/ F*ck Youtube

If you thought I was done writing about The Alan Parsons Project, you were dead wrong. I still haven’t written about their darkest secret... although I’d like to talk about Youtube first. I had a channel there, Aqualung1989, where I uploaded more than seven hundred songs, most of them more than four years ago. In the last couple of years I barely uploaded two or three albums for blogging purposes. I obviously got no money from that channel. Obviously.

However, two days ago, my account was “permanently cancelled” because of some copyright issues. First of all, I’m seriously pissed by Youtube Censorship Squad (yeah, I just made that name up). Secondly, they could have, I don’t know, given me a warning: “either you delete those five videos in a week, or your channel’s over”. I spent many hours uploading those songs and I obviously didn’t get any money from it, so I’m very pissed off. There’s nothing I can do about it though, and as I don’t have the free time I had five or six years ago, I doubt I’ll ever go back to uploading stuff, so let’s talk about music.



This is where you stop reading, unless you’re a big geek. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

It was around 1979 and the band and Arista Records were having some trouble in reaching a contractual agreement. Parsons and Woolfson wanted a rest, but Arista set deadlines for their third and fourth albums, so they decided to have a laugh and record whatever sh*t they could do in three days. They had to record an album according to their contract... but they could choose how good they’d make it. The band recorded two albums at the same time: Eve and... this.

That’s how The Sicilian Defence was born. Quite an appropriate name, considering the negotiations between the band and Arista could be seen as a chess game. The music is dissonant and atonal. Weird. Parsons and Woolfson just fiddle with piano, keyboards and electronic drums for a bit more than half an hour.

Arista wasn’t exactly pleased with the result. The album was rejected for being “incomprehensible, inaccessible and impossible to release”. Even Parsons had stated in several occasions that he hoped the album would never be released, and that he hadn’t listened to it since it was recorded.


The album finally resurfaced, though. Ah, the wonders of the internet. I think it was also included in some compilation, but I’m not sure. Anyway, the thing is that I was relatively surprised. Sure, it’s obvious that Parsons and Woolfson didn’t take the album seriously, but I actually like having it as background music, and there are a couple of rather enjoyable tracks.


Monday, 23 March 2015

Sodade

Busy life, no time, short post. I know I’ve been saying the same thing for the last four months, but last year I had way too much free time so I could spend a lot of time writing. Let me stress again, last year. Anyway, this post is about a song I used to hate when I was a child. Funny how things change, right? I’ve never been into African music, but I’m slowly starting to like some stuff.

Sodade was written by Armanzo Zeferino Soares, a Capeverdean composer. At least, that’s what was decided in court on December 2006, as there were several disputes due to the authorship, some of them including Amandio Cabral and Luís Morais.

Armando Zeferino Soares told the newspaper A Semana that he created the music about six decades ago, in a farewell celebration to a group of friends that embarked for Sao Tomé e Príncipe.

The song talks about the nostalgia experienced by Cape Verdeans emigrants who have been emigrants for centuries. It has never been the richest country, so I guess many people had no other choice but to migrate if they wanted to survive. For example, there’s a recorded migration of Cape Verdeans to New England, as their exceptional seafaring skills helped them to be recruited as whalers. When people migrated from Cape Verde, departures of friends and family were accompanied by serenades to bid farewell to loved ones. Sodade is reminiscent of this tradition.

Specifically, Sodade refers to the migration of some people as contract laborers to São Tomé, which happened during the authoritarian rule over Portugal and its former colonies by Antonio de Oliveira Salazar.

You can find quite a few versions of this song in youtube; I haven’t found any recording in which Armando Zeferino Soares takes part in, though. I think it was Cesária Evora, the barefoot diva, who made this song famous. Or maybe it’s just the first version of the song I ever listened, who knows. I really disliked her music as a child, but I’m listening to her album Miss Perfumado quite often lately. You should definitely give it a try.







I’ve also listened to Bonga’s version. Bonga is an Angolan musician who was the Portuguese record holder for the 400 metres (Angola was a Portuguese colony back then) before becoming a full-time musician. Apart from his version of Sodade, I have his first album, Angola 72, also good stuff. 



By the way, I have to admit my main source here was wikipedia, slightly rephrased to release part of the guilt I feel. But hey, many of you wouldn't have read this otherwise, would you?


Friday, 13 March 2015

The Spanish Sugar Man

This time I’m not really going to write about a band or artist I love; this post is more about a man who was... more successful than he thought at first. Let’s face it, I’m not even a fan of the artist, but I think many of you may like the story. Ok, I must admit this is the same article I just wrote for another website (which I’ll tell you about when it’s operative), but I don’t really have time for much lately. So, without further ado, here it goes: the story of Fernando García, the Spanish Sugar Man.

Although he sang in a band called Rey de Copas in the eighties, very few people in Spain know about Fernando García Sánchez and, elsewhere, the situation is pretty much the same. At least, that's what Fernando himself would have said if he had been asked three years ago, before he decided to google his own name. When he did, he couldn't have been more surprised: there were countless references to Frontera del Ensueño (Frontier of Dreams), a song that was included in his band's second album. The song hadn't even been a single at the time, but a remix changed it all.



Rey de Copas was born in 1987 and, while it wasn’t the most successful band, its members enjoyed making music. By 1988, they were recording their third studio album, but Fernando’s son had an accident (a bus pretty much destroyed his leg) and he had to spend the next ten years taking his injured son to different hospitals and doctors. By then, he had divorced and was back to writing music and giving some small gigs, with very limited success.

Fernando went on with his life, putting his musical hopes behind him. However, when he decided to google his name, he saw that Dave Ball, who was part of Soft Cell, had remixed Frontera del Ensueño for his new band, The Grid. The remix had become an international hit and he had had no idea. Theparallelism with Sixto Rodríguez, that American musician who was a star in South Africa while barely surviving in the States, is obvious.



Nowadays, 26 versions of Frontera del Ensueño have been released; many vinyls, thousands of CDs (one with 14 different versions of the song), endless downloads (the song is available on iTunes)... probably not what Fernando had been expecting. DJ Onionz, one of the people who remixed the song in the States, wrote the following words to him: “I’ve been a fan of your music and it was an honour to remix such a classic”. Fernando couldn’t believe that someone had just referred to his song as “a classic”.
Fernando García, during a recent interview (photo by Juan Carlos Toro)

Warner still receives 50% of the royalties, but when Fernando traveled to its offices, he was ignored. The company claims the matter is the responsibility of Warner Chapell, its publishing division, but Warner Chapell doesn’t want to talk about it either.

If he continues being ignored, Fernando García will take legal action against the company. For now, he continues giving guitar lessons in order to survive.



Bonus track: the "real" Sugar Man.





Thursday, 26 February 2015

Jethro Tull (IX): folk rock(s)

I’ve tried to diversify a little bit in the last couple of months and I’ve written about a few new things or continued talking about bands I hadn’t mentioned in quite a while, but now it’s time to go back to Tull.

Most people think Tull’s first few albums were their best. I’ve read people who said their favourite Jethro Tull album was Stand Up, Benefit, Aqualung, Thick as a Brick... not many people say the band had a better era. You probably know where I’m going: I love disagreeing too much. I sure love the aforementioned albums (ok, I don’t love Benefit, I just like it a lot), but I think Ian and the boys got even better by the end of the seventies. Songs from the Wood, Heavy Horses and Stormwatch, the folk trilogy. Fantastic. These three albums are too good to share a post, so I’ll just write about Songs from the Wood this time.

First of all, let’s explain the context, as, considering their previous album, nobody would have imagined the band would suddenly get so (British) folky. There’s a number of factors that may explain this prog-folk-rock album full of pagan melodies, the first one being that Ian Anderon, right after getting married for the second time, bought a house in the countryside and moved there. That, and Anderson’s fascination with early British folk melodies, make an interesting mix.

Anderson moving to the countryside may not look as a good enough reason to explain the change in the band’s music. Don’t worry though, there’s more. Tull’s relationship with british folk band Steeleye Span may also have something to do with this. About four years earlier, Jethro Tull employed Steeleye Span as their warm-up band for the Passion Play tour. A year after that, Ian Anderson produced one of Steeleye Span’s albums, Now We Are Six. Finally, Maddy Prior, Steeleye’s vocalist, sang in a couple of tracks on Too Old to Rock ‘n’Roll, Too Young to Die!, Tull’s last album to date.

These circumstances make the band’s musical switch more or less understandable. Also, I’ve mentioned pagan elements in the lyrics, but I’ll leave that for the end and talk about the music itself first, as I’m afraid to bore you to death.

I’ve also said before how great this album is. True, my love for folk/folk-ish music helps, but Songs from the Wood is nonetheless Tull at their finest and most uplifting. The moment the album starts and you listen to Ian Anderson sing a capella let me bring you songs from the wood/ to make you feel much better than you could know, you know that, forty minutes later, you’ll be a happier person. This song, the title track, is a good example of how the album is: a surprisingly fitting mix of folky arrangements with occasional outbursts from Martin Barre and his guitar.




Then comes Jack in the Green, another joyful song in which Anderson played all the instruments. I’ve read somewhere that Ian Anderson had the idea for the song just before lunch, so he decided to stay in the studio for the afternoon and record it before he could forget it. So, thanks to Barrie Barlow forgetting his drum sticks, Ian recorded his voice, acoustic guitar, flute, bass and drums, and the song was ready.




Cup of Wonder and Hunting Girl are the next two songs, the first being again very joyful and the second somewhat rockier. Both are very catchy, although after listening the live version of the latter in the Bursting Out live album, the studio version sounds somewhat slow. The fifth song, Ring Out, Solstice Bells is the pagan equivalent to a Christmas song.

Then comes a masterpiece. I’ve loved Velvet Green since I first heard it: an very medieval-ish sounding track where Ian and the boys go full minstrel with a beautiful harpsichord intro, several tempo changes and some very lusty lyrics. The song is about a man who has an affair with a much younger woman, and it was a detailed evocation of the countryside as a place to do, ahem, grown-up stuff. Ian is a true poet.

Now I may tell you that it’s love and not just lust
And if we live the lie, let’s lie in trust
On golden daffodils, to catch the silver stream
That washes out the wild oat seed on velvet green.
We’ll dream as lovers under the stars,
Of civilizations raging afar,
And the ragged dawn breaks on your battle scars
As you walk home cold and alone upon velvet green.




The Whistler is the album’s single. An unusual single, true, but we should all be used to unusual with Tull by now. Again, the song is about a not really serious relationship... the whistler will stay with you for a short time, but he must be gone on the seventh day. I wonder if Ian Anderson was missing his single man life and that’s the reason he started writing all those songs. 

Pibroch (Cap in Hand) is actually a sad song which features lots of melody and tempo changes. It starts with a loud guitar solo, followed by a sad, slow melody beautifully sung by Anderson, then goes a beautiful and faster-paced instrumental part (I’m in love with all the instrumental parts on this album), then the slow melody again, and, finally, Martin Barre’s guitar closes the song. Pibroch is about a man who goes to war and finds himself replaced by someone else when he goes back home to meet his wife/woman:

Catching breath as he looks through the dining-room window:
candle lit table for two has been laid.
Strange slippers by the fire.
Strange boots in the hallway.
Put my cap on my head.
I turn and walk away.




Fire at Midnight, a very gentle love song, closes the album. Beltane was left out but included in the remastered version; no wonder why, as it’s a weak song compared to the rest, and it gets repetitive in the end. A live version of Velvet Green is also included in the 2003 remaster.

If you haven’t given up reading this yet, congratulations. Before finishing this post, I think it would be interesting to mention some of the pagan elements which can be found here. As I don’t really know anything about the subject, I’ve had a look at several reviews, it's not especially deep information but it's interesting nonetheless.


Perhaps the most obvious pagan reference is Ring Out Solstice Bells, which talks about the winter solstice (Now is the solstice of the year, winter is the glad song that you hear), celebrated in pagan folklore. Also, Beltane is not only the name of a song, but also the Gaelic May Day festival.


However, that’s not the only reference to the May Day, there is another obvious one in Cup of Wonder (For the May Day is the great day, sung along the old straight track).  I’ve read somewhere that the “cup of wonder” may refer to a vagina, the “crimson” to menstrual blood, and so “Beltane’s flower” would also take a different meaning. Still, although it’s perfectly possible, that depends on what you want to think. Ian does like leaving his lyrics open to interpretation. I personally don’t really believe in the “dirty” interpretation. Finally, Jack in the Green is, to many pagans, an echo of the Green Man and other earthy/fertility type deities.

All in all, Songs from the Wood is an amazing album, definitely one of my all time favourites. You'll probably either love it or really dislike it, hopefully the first. By the way, this is the facebook page for the blog, in case you want to discuss music or listen to random songs once in a while.