Iain Cameron's Diary
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2004-08-22 - 8:16 a.m.
Andrew Sue and I got back from the Tanworth event about midnight and after a cup of tea and a brief review I began to fade fast. I have just woken up and so I thought I would get some impressions down. Laurence came up from Witney and he agreed with the three of us that the event was pretty out of the ordinary – in a mixing dimensions of reality kind of way – something Laurence can engineer from time to time.
Ashley Hutchings opened the 2nd half with a specially written song about that episode at the Round House – during which it occurred to me that he and I have been playing on the same bill for thirty seven years on and off. It’s like Round the Horn isn’t it? And it is more than thirty five years that I’ve been bumping into Robert Kirby at peculiar gigs. Robert was very kind about the Dhorn on Fruit Tree .
My Dear Killer did Milk and Honey – I was tempted to say to them the last time I played that song was at the Albert Hall in 1968 where it was part of the emerging folk rock movement with Al Stewart and other Cousins luminaries on the bill. But I thought that was too pretentious even by my standards.
The MDK version wasn’t folk-rock but I can hear now that it related quite strongly to episodes in New York a couple of years earlier. Theirs was a Cale-Reed derived approach to the music which you can piece together from listening to the Ludlow St demos and Chelsea Girls. Steve Wilkinson was in the same area with his reinvention of Hazey Jane 1 which I heard as a TRex influenced conception. (Andrew and I had been going to do a TRex influenced version of Tow the Line but we decided we should pare the audience's tolerance.)
Talking of Cale, Peter Michaels played the piano part to Northern Sky a long while Tom McNevin sang and played guitar, I have never heard that piano part before but he had it down very well – even though it was played on the “found” upright in St Mary Magdalene and the music survived the experience to good effect. In fact I am not sure I have heard a ND song played on guitar and piano before - and in this version of Nothern Sky you got some insight into that post Marble Index overtone trick that Cale pulls off on the track.
Peter accompanied Denise on the Robin Frederick song – Angel Cover Me – which I have only heard on disc performed by the writer. This was the penultimate song of the evening. Peter had done a fine job in transferring Robin’s synth part to guitar. He has a small Guild which everyone agreed sounded such that it must have been the same model that ND used on a lot of recordings. Denise’s reading was about 80% pretty faithful to the original and then at the climax of the verse went her own way.
Andrew and I last did one of these celebrations in Leyland five years ago and we were thinking about the differences . One similarity is that at that even someone had gone to the trouble of transcribing the Cale viola line off Fly – which was fascinating to both listen to and read – and like Peter’s piano part on Northern Sky made you hear the original in a new way.
Peter also gave her heroic versions of Cello Song and Road. I never really like the former on the record. But as when Ken Nichol played it with Keeling ensemble at Leyland, Peter went at the opening passage furiously and the song took on a much more muscular demeanour.
Cameron Devlin (who lives in Surrey and studied gtr at gfd) like Peter chose a fairly forensic approach to the original guitar parts – in this case River Man and Voice from the Mountain – but both played in such a way that you could hear voicings or transitions that aren’t easily evident in the original. I hadn't realised how much Mountain is about fouth suspensions and augmentations.
I talked to Tom McN and it turned out that he is a GP who studied at Manchester in the late 1980s – he said that he had first come across ND there, when he had a folkband. Apparently there was a thriving folk scene in the middle of Madchester. We talked about tunings and I explained that the whole tuning business had been invented by Davy Graham as he explored Indian and Turkish music and began to integrate it with traditional English music.
On the subject of Madchester I have loaned Andrew my copy of James Young’s Songs They Don’t Play on the Radio which is located in that milieu. Andrew I observed that the focus of the repertoire was very much outside the 3 releases – so there was a good coverage of the last songs – plus the early material.
Mark Atherton played Blossom which I had previously heard Beth Orton do. I chatted to Robert K about the mysterious episode with Beth Orton at the Skin Too Few premier in Amsterdam. Robert had an arrangement and it was rehearsed in the afternoon with BO, but when it came to the evening all the parts had disappeared so it couldn’t be performed. This led onto a conversation about her writing and performing method and the degree to which it may have been influenced by the Chemical Brothers. Mark played one of his songs and as was the case with several performances you could hear how their interpretation of the ND song and their own music were part of a stylistic unity. I think Andrew had a word about which dimensions of that unity were going to be most important.
The Belgian singer Bruno D who is a very powerful performer – I talked to him a bit about the country element in his approach and how his take on that seemed to have common elements with Leonard Cohen’s. He did Time and Has Told Me with very very powerful punctuation. Andrew and I agreed that it reminded us of the Mike Chapman version at Leyland. For his second song he performed with Martin B who lives in Amsterdam near Denise. I have to say that the one song of his own that Martin performed struck me as the most original bit of non-ND writing performed on the programme. To find equivalents and linkages I had to go back to Song To A Seagull especially in an approach to the guitar that is truly orchestral in its range. At the other extreme and on the Cohen/Cale axis was Jon Cousins' version of Hallelujah which followed the AK-IC Dhorn Fruit Tree foray.
Towards end of the evening – the event started at 5pm and didn’t finish until nearly 9pm – I was reminded of Cousins – a sequence of different performers – strong but not exclusive emphasis on guitar picking and a lot of different approaches to tradition. In that sense it was also like the Knitting Factory in NYC which is an odd think to say about an Early English church in South Warwickshire. In fact I told BBC Birmingham as much – don’t imagine this stuff is just about some sort of English pastoralness!
Bruno’s manager is organising a tribute tour in Holland and Belgium which begins shortly and which I believe Gilbert Isbin is playing. We talked quite about Gilbert’s Group’s new CD and what a fantastic thing it is. Apparently it was only force of circumstances that prevented Gilbert from showing up.
I took Gilbert’s name in vane by using in him in a rhetorical link I put into a letter which Denise let me insert into the programme. The letter said:
“I hope you enjoy this evening’s concert in St Mary Magdalene – it’s a fantastic venue for an event of this kind with its own unique atmosphere.I would like to invite you to a related concert in another marvellous venue – St Martins in the Fields in Trafalgar Square - a concert of Lullabies on 27 November 2004 - to mark World AIDS Day 2004.
You may have heard of some of the performers. Gilbert Isbin, the Belgian guitar virtuoso and celebrated interpreter of Nick Drake’s songs, will be performing a specially written lullaby as will Paul Wheeler, a close friend of Nick’s. I hope that Andrew Keeling will be writing something as well. Robin Frederick and I have each written lullabies which will be appearing on the CD linked to this event.
Other performers include Simon Prager, one of the original UK blues pioneers from the Streatham scene which hosted the first bluesmen to tour the UK like Leadbelly and Sonny Boy Williamson in the late 50s/early 60s. Simon’s style is based on Reverend Gary Davis – the blues guitar virtuoso who influenced a whole generation of British acoustic players. His friend, Charlie Alexander, founder of Jazzwise, is also performing a specially written lullaby - Charlie wrote and presented the Radio 3 series on the history of the jazz guitar a few years back and was a close associate of Steve Pheasant founder of HORN.
Cathy Bell who has just finished her studies at Caius College with the poetic visionary J H Prynne will be singing Lullabies by Schubert and Barber. (Wheeler, Pheasant and Kirby were all members of Caius).
I am also looking forward to the lullaby from Meridian which includes Richard Jones (Principal Edwards Magic Theatre, Climax Blues Band) and features the fabulous vocals of Anna Tabbush – very remiscent of Sandy Denny.
I think the Lullabies concert will be an outstanding event in a wonderful location. You can find out more about it at: http://www.kwase-kwaza.org/lullabies.htm/. While you are have a look around – you can download Paul Wheeler’s new CD Red Blues and hear some of the strange things Gilbert and I have got up to. Sooner or later we will be putting up the recording of Gilbert Isbin’s radio concert of Nick’s tunes. You can also find out how the projects fit together with the South African scene particularly the Highveld area to the east of Johannesburg – also at http://www.bstrust.org./
I hope to see you at St Martins in the Fields on the evening of 27 November.”
Andrew and I enjoyed performing the opening stuff so much that I think we are going be doing a Lullaby together.
Obviously I wrote this before the event – but I was on target about the building. Next Sunday I am going to be doing something at St Mary’s Guildford which has Saxon parts and where Lewis Carroll preached . Last Summer someone put on a concert where I did Debussy’s En Bateau and the building showed this amazing power to encompass and enhance the various contributions. It was the same when I did Blink Music Beyond Belief there earlier this year. St Mary Magdalene had the same power . I talked to Peter who is married to the Church Warden at MM about this – he said his son worked just round the corner from St Martins. Peter and his wife had worked amazingly hard to get the show on the road – just for its own sake. Yvonne remarked when we were at St Martin’s on my birthday to meet Zudoli Mbuli (see KK news for 20 Aug) that the Anglican church from time to time undertakes the most preposterous ventures but its always fuelled by cups of tea and quiche – and that was one of the many things that the organisers got together yesterday.
Probably better save the rest for later.