Winter Blues (27/3/13) Luna Lee and The Brothers Groove
I really don't like Winter - my hands and legs freeze, my mind slows down, my spirits crash. I just don't like it. However, there must be something in the air because this last week or so I've felt a fresh burst of creativity. It might be snowing again outside, there's ice all over the pavements, I'm still waiting for my daffodils and early tulips to appear, but inside me there's something happening - I'm beginning to feel hopeful again! And here's the perfect counterpart to that...
A friend of mine posted a link on Facebook to this YouTube video of a certain Luna Lee (I'm guessing Korean descent?) playing on a gayageum (a Korean 12 string zither similar to the koto and guzheng). OK, very 'world music' you'd say. But check it out, the girl uses it to play blues and rock! Just fabulous!
The first video I heard was a jaw-dropping arrangement of Hendrix's "Voodoo Chile". It starts off all moody and broody and dark - gorgeous, especially the way she bends the notes, all blue and mean. As it carries on to what would normally be a guitar solo she gets all dirty and kick-ass on us! Woah! Somebody get this girl on tour over here! Love it. Here's a link to "Voodoo Chile":
Luna Lee: "Voodoo Chile" - http://youtu.be/NfOHjeI-Bns
But before you click it, WAIT! There's another track I want you to check out too - so come back to this blog page and click the link on this highly addictive rendition of "Scuttle Buttin" - trust me this is one you'll want on repeat play again and again (and again!). Luna Lee's treatment of this is like an intravenous injection of adrenaline and monosodium glutamate! The only fault with it is that it's too short! Check it out:
Luna Lee: - "Scuttle Buttin" - youtu.be/JX-T0eBr31w
I can also recommend her versions of Steve Vai's "Tender Surrender" and a Stevie Ray Vaughan arrangement of "Little Wing". They've all been on the net for a few years - but here in WorldMusic.co.uk, it's all about good music, no matter where or when it was created.
Yep! That's definitely put me in the right frame of mind for Spring! Now will someone just get that bleeding snow and ice to go away and let me flowers poke their heads above ground.
Now, some news just in ace broadcaster/journalist/writer Andy Kershaw has just posted on Facebook. His website is finally up and running after experiencing many difficulties last year. So, here it is:
Use it to find out all about what he's up to, the current speaking tour to promote his BRILLIANT 5* star autobiography "No Off Switch" - and if you haven't got a copy then beg, borrow or buy one (yes, I know, Andy, 'buy' is the important word here... but you know what I mean).
For my full and in-depth review of it just click here: www.worldmusic.co.uk/andy_kershaw_no_off_switch_an_autobiography_rev or scroll down this blog page and find it. Wonderfulness.
In the meantime, on a bluesey tip, I want to big up a truly talented homegrown blues band from Birmingham (West Midlands, not Alabama): The Brothers Groove (not to be mixed up with the Detroit trio of the same name).
If things happen as they ought to, these guys should go international. Paul Jones on BBC Radio2 is now a fan and the message is spreading...
With a sound all their own and a deep musical and personal connection between them, the four piece have been really hitting their stride recently with electrifying performances to those lucky enought to know about them.
The line up includes a rhythm section of drums and bass, and the two guitarists (Telecaster and Stratocaster) that alternate lead and rhythm parts as well as vocals.
I say 'rhythm section' and 'lead' but it's almost meaningless; the whole band is like an unstoppable rhythm machine and there's no tiresome lead guitar/singer ego trips as in many bands. The Brothers work to one purpose: it's all about the GROOVE.
Their sound is so deep in the groove, not even a JCB would dig them out of it. The rhythm section is so 'in the pocket' it's in danger of smuggling budgies.
The Brothers Groove. Look 'em up, check 'em out and catch 'em while you can.
Glyn Phillips, WorldMusic.co.uk (27/3/13)
Interview with Rhythmtree Festival - "the New Wave of World Music"
Tagged with: Rhythmtree Festival Isle of Wight World Music Three Gates Farm Dele Sosimi Electric Jalaba Simo Lagnawi Lokkhi Tera Awale Wara Jungle By Night By The Rivers Skp McDonald London Bulgarian Choir Son of Dave Eugene Bridges Yaaba Funk Prince Fatty
With the end of Winter within sight if not yet here, it felt like a good time to look ahead to the sunnier days of the forthcoming festival season. In this interview the guys from the Isle of Wight's Rhythmtree Festival give us some insight into their vision and motivation and explain what make them different from other world music festivals.
Rhythmtree Festival (19 - 21 July 2013)
So what's happening at the Rhythmtree HQ this year?
"Well the first piece of good news is that we have been granted a three year license for the event. This is great for our forward planning including securing our present site at Three Gates Farm for the next few years at least. We’ve also been going out a lot more this year to see bands and Djs in action. We have booked some exceptional Rhythmtree bands for 2013.
What do you mean when you say 'Rhythmtree bands'? Aren't they all classified as world music artists?
Well, that is a really interesting one. One thing that has occurred to us is that we should be looking to find a short way of saying, defining, what the Rhythmtree is all about. A strap line, a phrase or slogan that will give an immediate insight into the festival and the music for those who don't yet know anything about us. Not an easy task and it is something we have thought about long and hard.
Well aren't you simply a world music festival?
Well, yes and no. Going back to the question about what is a Rhythmtree band. It is just not possible at the moment to book the many artists and bands that apply from overseas and maybe represent in peoples minds the ‘traditional’ world music act. The added travel and accommodation costs would sap up a lot of our budget and that is even if we could sort out the visa problems. Most of our artists are based here in the UK and of course that makes things a lot easier. We have been doing a lot of traveling to see gigs, mostly in London, and a couple of things have become very obvious.
Some of the most exciting bands are those who are taking the concept of world music in a very different direction.
Bands like Electric Jalaba, with Simo Lagnawi, who is singing traditional Gnawa songs, playing a camel skin Guembri yet is surrounded by electric guitars and analogue effects that create a very modern sound but the essence of his Gnawa music heritage is still there.
Bands like Lokkhi Terra, Awale and Wara who are not only retaining various traditional influences in the music but also bringing together a whole cultural mix of both people, instruments and musical genres.
Then there are bands like Jungle by Night and By the Rivers. Very young musicians who are taking genres like afrobeat and reggae and really stamping their own mark on the music. Not just cover bands but musicians creating something new and vital and uniquely their own.
So is this what sets the Rhythmtree apart? Booking bands like those you have described.
Yes, but of course it is not the whole story.
We are still pleased to book musicians like Dele Sosimi and Skip McDonald who have paid their dues and play exceptional music.
We love Cajun and Zydeco bands and you will see them on the line-up every year.
And then we’ll throw in the London Bulgarian Choir and amazing drum bands like Malian djembe master Nahini Doumbia and his ten piece Sankoule Kan.
It looks like you have themed each evening on the main stage this year. What's that all about?
Two reasons. Many of the people who come to the Rhythmtree have little or no knowledge of the bands we are putting on other than somebody has told them what a great festival it is and they’re going to see something very different. So we decided to give each day's main stage line- up a name.
The 'Blue Planet stage' on Friday is our take on blues music with artists like Son of Dave, Eugene Bridges, Skip McDonald.
And then, being the Rhythmtree, we’ll programme Senegalese singer Madou Toure and the West African Blues Project.
The 'Outro Mundo' stage on Saturday is a real mix of 'out of this world' music with a very diverse theme for 2013.
Along with Yaaba Funk, By the Rivers, and Soothsayers by contrast you will also hear the unique style of Malagasy guitar player Modeste Hugues, our first main-stage DJ Prince Fatty and the UK afro-pop of AJ Holmes and The Hackney Empire.
Sunday is our big night in more ways than one. It is called the ‘Felabration’ and includes some amazing bands headed up by the godfather of UK afrobeat (and Fela Kuti’s keyboard player for many years) Dele Sosimi lined up with the new young guns Dutch band Jungle by Night, the London Afrobeat Collective and King Porter Stomp.
So have you found that phrase that sums up the Rhythmtree?
Getting closer. For a while it was going to be the 'Out of this World' Music Festival with its obvious double entendre but we’re sure others have used it before. What is gradually happening is that the selection of bands this year is really setting the tone and feel of the festival which has not really happened in the past. The young bands, the bands that as we have said are making their own mark and experimenting with world music genres.
So this is our latest effort. 'The New Wave of World Music'. It presses a number of buttons for us. ‘New’ we are a new festival; ‘New Wave’ with its wink back to the the 70s and 80s music scene and the underground music of Velvet Underground and later punk; (music that could not and did not want to be classified as main stream) and of course ‘World Music’.
So the classic final question. What’s new for 2013?
Well beside introducing a no booking fee deal for all our online tickets we think what will be happening in the RhumbaRumBar will be our most exciting development.
We introduced the tent last year with a fruit cocktail bar at one end and local DJs set up in the other. They did a great show and it was very popular so we are investing money in booking some additional main-land DJs this year and we have some surprising people who have agreed to come over.
Prince Fatty has already been announced and he is being joined by Miles Cleret owner of Soundway Records, Volta45, Jamie Renton, Cal Jader, Simon Mandala, Koichi Sakai and Karamel, all DJs with long established connections with the world music scene.
We also have exciting news regarding a link between us and another very large festival here on the Isle of Wight. There will be an official press release about that soon."
For more information on the Rhythmtree Festival 2013:
(25th Feb 2013)
3 Nov 2012 - What I've been listening to over the last couple of weeks...
Tagged with: Glyn Phillips blog Joe Driscoll Seckou Kouyate Faya Analog Africa Diablos del Ritmo Blick Bassy Hongo Calling Jamie Smith Mabon Windblown Yasmin Levy Libertad Concha Buika Eva Ayllon Kimba Fa Tarkany Muvek Los Destellos C K Mann Fania
Loads of great music being released currently. Here's just a few things that have been in my cans, on my computer and in my car.
Joe Driscoll and Seckou Kouyate's "Faya" album -
This one's very much on repeated play.
Electric kora meets urban USA.
(see my review of their performance at Womad 2012 in the blog below this ("Womad - The Big Review" or click here:
Analog Africa's great compilation of 60s, 70s and early 80s Colombian music and old fusions: "Diablos del Ritmo - the Colombian Melting Pot (1960-1985)".
A mixture of Caribbean Funk, Puya, Afrobeat, Terapía, Mapalé, Cumbias etc, etc. Fabulously groovy! See review here:
Blick Bassy's "Hongo Calling" -
Smooth yet funky meld of Cameroonian, Beninese, Senegalese, Cape Verdean and Brazilian based tunes with jazz stylings and sensitivity.
Jamie Smith's Mabon's "Windblown" -
Stylish British interceltic folk (see review of album here:
Yasmin Levy's "Libertad" -
The Sephardic singer hits gold with this mix of ladino with flamenco and shades of tango and fado and covers of Persian and Turkish songs.
And to top it off, a duet with the wonderful Concha Buika! Sublime.
Eva Ayllón's "Kimba Fa" -
Three years old now but full of delicious afro-peruvian grooves and achingly romantic criollo music from Peru's coast.
Saw her in concert last month and got to interview her too!
Watch this space...
Also grooving to Hungary's Tarkany Muvek, Peru's Los Destellos, the funky highlife of C K Mann and his Carousel 7, and the Empresarios dubplate especial of the Fania All Stars "Ponte Duro". Wonderfulness!
So much music, so little time!
Glyn Phillips, WorldMusic.co.uk (3/11/12)
Book Review of Andy Kershaw's autobiography: "No Off Switch"
Back in March 2012 I finished reading Andy Kershaw’s autobiography “No Off Switch” and wrote on the blog page of www.worldmusic.co.uk:
“Best autobiography I have ever read. Bar none. Thoroughly recommend it. Nuff said. I’m looking to write a review of it when I get a moment or ten and I’ll expand my thoughts in that, so watch this space . . .”
It’s taken 6 months for that moment to arrive and it’s been one of the most difficult reviews to write. I stand by what I said back then: “Best autobiography I have ever read”. Now I need to explain why…
Andy Kershaw only really popped his head up into my consciousness around 1989. Kershaw and protest singer Billy Bragg were being filmed crossing the Andes on 'The Silver Road’ from Potosí in Bolivia, one of the highest cities in the world, all the way down to Arica in the Atacama Desert in Chile (both areas I was familiar with myself having travelled them in the mid-80s, so I was interested in what they’d got to say about it). The film was for the BBC series “Great Journeys”.
Picture the scene. It’s night-time, way up high in the Bolivian altiplano. It’s bitterly cold, very dark and there’s a small camp-fire lit under the stars. Around it are our two heroes and a couple of Aymaras (members of the indigenous population). The locals finish singing and playing a piece of deep Andean music that probably has roots in pre-Incan folklore. They indicate to Barking and Rochdale’s finest that they would like to hear a piece of traditional English folklore in return. It’s the basic rules of hospitality when travelling, share and share alike. Well, there’s only one song you can sing when sat around a campfire isn’t there? Ready? All together now:
“Giiin… Gaaaan… Goolie-Goolie-Goolie, Watchum, Gin Gan Goo, Gin Gan Goo . . .”
"A man of adventure, integrity and supreme silliness."
From that moment Andy Kershaw had earned his stripes for me. A man of adventure, integrity and supreme silliness.
You might think you know all you need to about “the Boy Kershaw”, but trust me, if you haven’t read this autobiography, you know nothing. It’s a substantial book and yet he packs more into each and every chapter than most autobiographers have lived in a lifetime. It’s truly astounding. I kept thinking: he can’t top that now, can he? And yet you turn another page and he does. There’s story after story. And they’re absolute bobby-dazzlers!
"Kershaw lays it all on the line, often with embarrassing candour."
From his days as a spotty Herbert in 1960s Rochdale, becoming a cub reporter for motorbike racing, being at the helm of the famous Leeds Uni Ents Dept and Stage Crew, The Clash, The Rolling Stones, The Who, his days as a roadie to Billy Bragg, presenter for Radio Aire, presenting the Old Grey Whistle Test, consistently winning awards for his ground-breaking Radio One shows, his years spent sharing an office and producer with John Peel, championing the musics of the world, The Bhundu Boys, Ali Farka Toure, his interminable wars with the Birtists at the BBC, his globe-trotting documentaries (both on music and harrowing wars) and the switch from Radio 1 to Radios 3 and 4 and to being an official FOOC (From Our Own Correspondent), the dangers of Rwanda and to his own dark days on the run in 2008 following the breakdown of his marriage, Kershaw lays it all on the line, often with embarrassing candour.
"style, wit and ... great grace. He is a wonderful writer."
I’m barely scratching the surface with this description. What makes this book remarkable, is that not only has Kershaw led the kind of life most of us could never even begin to imagine, he writes about it with style, wit and above all great grace. He is a wonderful writer.
"Engaging, passionate and with a real love of language and storytelling."
The book is truly a joy to read from beginning to the very end. This is no dodgy ghost-written money-spinner, nor some old bore’s collection of cobbled-together after-dinner anecdotes. This is proper writing. Engaging, passionate and with a real love of language and storytelling.
"you feel you’re at his shoulder the entire way"
I promise - no, I guarantee - you’ll not only be blown away by the wealth of experiences and characters, but you’ll be laughing and crying along with him throughout. Kershaw has that quality of writing (just like his radio shows) as if he’s talking just to you alone. You feel you’re at his shoulder the entire way, whether he’s belatedly popping his cherry in the back of an Austin Allegro in Saddleworth (accompanied by a rampant girl, Van Morrison’s “Cypress Avenue” and a hundred mallard ducks - you see it’s those little details…) or, on a sober note, peering down a Rwandan well full to the brim with the chopped-up remains of machete-massacred victims and trying not to vomit. The truth is Andy’s been there, done that and - luckily for us - has now written the book.
"He’s also a serious, hardcore journalist"
Kershaw’s personality is a combination of Boys Own hero, stubborn activist, musical explorer and excitable kid and it’s this combination that is so endearing. He’s also a serious, hardcore journalist - and this is precisely because he is not part of the cozy club. It’s his status as an outsider that makes him so credible and pertinent. You might not always agree with his opinions (and he's got plenty of those), but they’re always worth listening to.
"a bottomless bag of one-liners"
One of the problems with reviewing a work like this is that it is difficult not to repeat what he’s already said or give the game away. Andy’s already taken all the best lines for himself! He has a bottomless bag of one-liners. In fact, he’s at his best when taking the curved scimitar of his tongue and slicing the legs off the kind of arrogant characters who routinely strut around the entertainments business - and there are pallets full of those . . . ! He doesn’t pull punches either. His critiques of Bob Geldof are scathing, hilarious (and worth the price of the book alone) especially their showdown at Leeds University where the Boomtown Rats were performing. I also remember seeing the Boomtown Rats at Sheffield during that same tour and likewise hated Geldof on sight too!
What’s great about “No Off Switch” is the ‘behind-the-scenes’ and ‘warts-and-all’ approach. It’s not a gratuitous kiss-and-tell as such (well, occasionally), but it is illuminating and very, very funny. The chapter on the Rolling Stones at Roundhay Park in 1982 is priceless. If you ever need to know how to find enough ‘grass-green’ paint for a mile-long 10’ high plywood fence, or more importantly, how to source a thrust-grommet for a 60˚ inverter with a retaining flange, at a moment’s notice then Andy’s yer man.
Want the inside gen on the workings of BBC Radio, (especially Radio 1 from the mid-80s)? Get the lowdown on such ‘personalities’ as Simon Bates, Steve Wright, Peter Powell, Bruno Brookes and all the rest of their happy, fun-loving gang . . . (including the currently very topical Jimmy Savile). Find out what it really was like sharing an office with the two John’s, Peel and Walters . His insights into Peel are absolutely fascinating - like shining a torch into the newly broached underground tomb of some fabled pharoah’s pyramid. Vignettes of loads of people before they were famous: Mark Mardell, James Whale, Carol Vordermann, Caron Keating, Courtney Love, Duran Duran…
Want to find out what on earth the likes of Frankie Howerd, Little Richard and Ned Sherrin could all possibly want out of our hero in person? Then you need to get hold of this book.
In fact, if you were ever even alive between 1960 and now, then this book has something for you!
"the great and the good as well as the vile and evil of the past 50 years"
It’s peopled with the great and the good as well as the vile and evil of the past 50 years - and Andy’s been there with ‘em all: talented musicians, egotistical musicians, talented and egotistical musicians (plenty of those), DJs (from the de-hagiofied John Peel through all of Radio 1, 3 and 4 down to the execrable Tim Westwood!) as well as media-types (from the awful Janet Street-Porter to innovative and committed producers like Chris Lycett and John Walters).
Kershaw also hangs out with the Heads of State of almost every African country (saints and sinners aplenty), mass-murdering warlords and dictators (from the Ton Ton Macoute to Hastings Banda of Malawi), freedom fighters and political activists (from boy soldiers in Rwanda to Jean-Baptiste Aristide of Haiti and Mandela days after his release from prison).
"you never know what’s coming next."
The thing is, you won’t believe me until you read it for yourself. People pop in and out of Kershaw’s life in the bizarrest of circumstances (from Jimmy Carter and Princess Margaret to Tariq Ali and a particularly poignant encounter with Prince). The secret of Kershaw's autobiography is that - like his radio show - you never know what’s coming next.
Let’s face it, the musicians he’s been involved with in one form or other wrote much of the soundtrack to the last half-century, and the DJs he's worked alongside have broadcast it (or in many cases didn’t!).
His job as a reporter on world events is woefully ignored by many in the business and yet he’s travelled to 97 of the world’s 193 countries and put himself, quite literally, in the front-line of wars, coups and revolutions in a way that most acknowledged reporters wouldn’t dream of - and often financed his trips out of his own pocket. As he says: “The frontlines of the Angolan Civil War were not what you’d call overcrowded with R1 DJs”. I don’t care what anybody says: the man’s got credibility.
Reading “No Off Switch” made me realise just how much more there is to ‘our Andy’ than “the one that plays all the weird stuff”, or the tabloids’ image of him as ”the troubled DJ”. The last two chapters were probably for me the most poignant in the whole book - as a loving Dad of two young boys myself I can only say I’d have cracked long before if that had happened to me.
"Just who the chuffin’ ‘eck is Andy Kershaw?"
So the big question is: ‘just who the chuffin’ ‘eck is Andy Kershaw?’ If you want to find out, then read this book. You will not regret it. I promise.
As for me, am I on any kick-back for this review? No. I’ve not been asked to write this or had any contact with him or his publishers or anything. Don’t know him personally, never met him before. I just read it and thought it was just a book that screamed for attention. Yes, I would like to meet him one day - although there’s always that fear that once you meet them in the flesh you discover a completely different person.
Thing is with Kershaw, you feel like you know him personally. That Rochdale burr, the rhythm of his delivery, it’s all there and instantly comforting. But, apart from that, I’m only also 3 years younger than him; we’ve grown up in parallel lives throughout the same periods of culture and politics, often loving the same music, so in a sense “No Off Switch” is about my life too (you see Andy, I too have an original vinyl copy of “Sixty Miles By Road or Rail” and furthermore I only have to look at a faded tartan, brushed-cotton shirt to instinctively think of Rory Gallagher).
The truth is, one day I want to ride the trail alongside Our Andy, the Boy Kershaw, The Rochdale Cowboy, as our horses trot along side-by-side to the sound of a North Korean pop band playing a jit-jive version of “Lawyers, Guns and Money” and we ride off into the sunset in search of some long-forgotten musical hero washed up in the faded hotel of a potty banana republic.
Of course, what I really want to do is pop Andy the question that’s on a million red-blooded, middle-aged blokes’ lips: did the wild, thumping beats of Eddie Cochran’s “Somethin' Else” (booming out of a Rock-Ola Jukebox at full volume) ever tickle the auditory senses of the delicious Carol Vordermann?
No idea what I’m going on about? Then you’ll have to buy the book and find out!
Go on, our Andy, spill the beans!
"No Off Switch: An Autobiography" by Andy Kershaw is published in paperback by Random House and hardback by Serpent's Tail.
Womad 2012 - The Big Review
Tagged with: Womad Charlton Park Review Glyn Phillips WorldMusic.co.uk world music Festival Masekela Ane Brun Raghu Dixit Vadoinmessico Kayrece Fotso Balkan Beat Box Ska Cubano Deolinda Alaev Joe Driscoll Seckou Kouyate Pine Leaf Keb Mo DJ Yoda Buena Vista Portuondo
“For size, quality and breadth it’s the biggest world music festival on the planet.”
I love Womad. For size, quality and breadth it’s the biggest world music festival on the planet. Period. However, this naturally brings its own problems, not least being that it’s quite impossible to see and hear all the things I want to. Each year I salivate at what’s on offer, yet am always forced to make agonising decisions between which favourite artistes to try and savour or which new ones to nibble and taste.
So this review doesn’t claim to encapsulate Womad 2012, but it does give a sample of my 2012 Womad experiences. Some of them are covered in great detail in my special in-depth reviews on particular artists (Manganiyar Seduction, Grupo Fantasma, Sensational Space Shifters - see text below for links to them), but here are some of my impressions from the rest of what I managed to see.
“the burning sun of a mini-heatwave.”
I arrived at the beautiful Charlton Park on Thursday 26th July in the burning sun of a mini-heatwave. Exhausted after the hot drive, the longs walks to and from the carpark and setting up camp, I managed to miss both Ballet Nimba & the Malmesbury Schools Project and Linton Kwesi Johnson with the Dennis Bovell Dub Band. Yeah, not the best start…
However, being a huge fan of the music of the Crescent City, the one band I was really looking forward to on Thursday were The Soul Rebels from New Orleans!
And what a treat they were! Soc au’lait!!
To describe them as ‘where hip-hop joins New Orleans funk’ only hints at what they can do.
These guys blew up a storm with rasping trombones, trumpets and sax, huffing, puffing, pumping sousaphone and crazy rattling snare and bass drum combo - one huge gumbo ya-ya. They definitely put the ‘PH’ into funk and then added an ‘O’ for good measure!
This is “PHONK!” y’all!
“a brilliant choice for opening night.”
Yeah, they rap and lay down some serious hip-hop grooves and you get the feel they’ve literally just walked off the streets of the Big Easy, but there’s still that timeless, matchless N’awlins groove running right through everything they do. They also know how to party! At one point one of the band came down off the large Open Air Stage climbed over the barrier into the crowd and got everyone down onto their haunches ready to leap up on command as the music hit the sweet spot. A great festival band and a brilliant choice for opening night.
So, hoist up the flambeaux, pass a good time y’all, and laissez les bon temps rouler!
The next day, Friday 27th was the first ‘official’ full day of Womad 2012 and first up for me was the iconic South African trumpeter and flugelhorn player, Hugh Masekela who was on the Open Air Stage too. There was a huge crowd to see him as you’d expect from someone of his pedigree and musical stature and we were not to be disappointed. After about three songs a relaxed Masekela addressed the audience:
“Thank you very much Womad for receiving us with so much joy and generosity and we’re not going to charge you for the sunshine!”.
Throughout his one hour set, Hugh was on fire with his trademark fluid flugelhorn and not least his expressive singing (which went from low, gravelly tones to high screaming falsetto). His band were every bit as good as you’d expect, displaying some great guitar solos and percussion work on congas and timbales, salsa bass-lines and tracks with lots of rhythmic chanting and vocal percussion.
Luckily there were very few sound problems on the main stages this year and the engineers made a good job of Masekela’s performance - not too loud, nice and clear and good separation of instruments with a lovely bass sound and crisp, sweet-toned congas.
At one point Masekela got the whole crowd engaged in a vigorous call-and-response section that prompted him to ask: “are you sure you’re not from Soweto? “Damn, you are bad!”. “Give yourselves a hell of a scream - you’re bad!”
“still a world class musician at the top of his game.”
Hugh might be in his 70s, but he shows no sign of slowing down at all. This is still a world class musician at the top of his game.
I passed by the Siam Tent and caught some of Narasirato, a band from the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific, who perform on bamboo pipes (both blown and struck) and in costumes that don’t leave much to the imagination.
Their panpipes have more pipes than the traditional South American ones most people are familiar with - in fact they look like someone’s stuck about three sets of them in a row about 18” to 2 foot wide. But they tend to use them in a more polyrhythmic style that is augmented with song, drums, dance and their large bamboo ‘boomwhackers’ (a series of thick bamboo pipes mounted on a frame and thwacked with a paddle - or just the end of a flip-flop! - to produce a ghostly note).
I cut short my enjoyment of this to head into the Arboretum to try and see some of the Quebecois trio Genticorum from Canada over at the Radio 3 Stage.
Now, in previous Womads the R3 Stage was, for me, the place to be. I loved the setting, the atmosphere, the green coolness and the choice of acts. I’ve had some memorable experiences there (see my previous reviews of Womad 2011!).
However, I was stunned and severely disappointed by the siting of the new R3 Stage. It was getting crowded last year as more and more people flocked to it and you needed to be early to get a good spot, so when I’d heard they’d moved it I assumed it was so that more people could enjoy it, with better sightlines and more comfort. Not a bit of it. It’s infinitely worse now. The sightline is largely in a tunnel-like effect only visible from right in front of the stage (sight from the wings is negligible due to the severe lack of space) and to make matters worse, they’ve changed the stage: it’s lowered so that it’s barely off the ground, there’s a barrier in front, and they musicians are way back in the dark under a deep canopy. Crazy. Absolutely crazy. If you’re not right in the front few rows of people and standing right in front of the stage, you’ve no chance of seeing the band. OK, it works for radio, for sure! But not as a visual spectacle at all.
So, not only did you need to get there an hour in advance, once in place it was difficult to get out again due to the log jam of people. Really not impressed with the decision at all. Consequently, after forcing my way through people, sneaking under a shrub, getting mangled by branches and treading on people’s feet and hands to try and even get a peek at the band. I reluctantly decided to abandon the R3 Stage for the duration of the entire festival. What an utter shame. Can I comment on Genticorum? No. By the time I’d made it to within camera shooting distance, I realised I needed to leave straightaway to give me enough time to pick my way back to the main arena… Not a happy bunny.
I diverted by the Big Red Tent and whipped in to take a few snaps of the Anglo-Kenyan band Owiny Sigoma and then had to high-tail it right up to the other end of the Arena to the Siam Tent where the Norwegian singer Ane Brun was about to start.
Ane Brun has achieved quite a measure of success in her native country with 8 albums in the last 10 years, all noted for their deep imagination, causing some commentators to compare her to household names like Bjork or Kate Bush. She’s receiving a much-needed publicity boost outside of Norway via her inclusion on Peter Gabriel’s “New Blood” album, but here she was showcasing her own band and own work.
Even from back in the middle of the large Siam Tent, Ane seemed to dominate the stage with her presence, not least her image - ethereal and floaty in a white, head-to-toe outfit with a shawl covering her hair, (looking halfway between an Arabic singer and the Lady Galadriel). Quite beautiful and it seemed to draw the admiration of many of the women around me.
Most of Ane’s songs were sung in English. You could see why she’d been working with Peter Gabriel. There was a similar attention to detail in the soundscape. Her starting band consisted of kitdrums, two percussionists, keyboards and cello.
There were however some sound problems during the first song, soon brought under control by the second song luckily, since what Ane and her band produced was a carefully controlled sonic scape. These were obviously well-constructed, well-crafted, songs.
“well-constructed, well-crafted, songs”
In the third song, which I think was entitled “Devil Worshipping”, Ana started to play guitar as well as singing. There were lovely harmonies (sung like an echo) from the percussionists and a backing singer (who had just come on). The male percussionist moved onto kitdrums alongside the drummer.
By the fifth song or so a very dramatic almost theatrical sense show had pervaded the set. Ane was often lit in a way that looked as if she emanated light from her flowing clothes.
The drums sounded very ‘Peter Gabriel-ish’ in their tone, the two kit drummers thundering away. There was also some inventive use of gongs, krotales, shakers, jingles, brushes and cymbals throughout. In fact, the whole band seemed to mutate and expand as new people came on or musicians swapped roles and instruments throughout the show.
During a slow, rather spacey tune with much use of descending arpeggios and vocal “ohs’ and ‘aahs’ (there were now two backing vocalists and the female percussionist had moved onto on keys), the two kit-drummers ended the tune playing in unison on their own - a truly EPIC sound - all rumbling thunder and earthquakes, which earned them a rapturous applause from audience.
Ane eventually treated us to a Norwegian language song, sung in the dialect of her hometown in the south West of Norway. She described it as a “song of comfort”.
“full of subtle flavours, delicacy and yearning.”
Even though her vocals skills had been effortlessly showcased up till this point, it was now when singing in her own language that I noted a remarkable difference to her voice. There was a new vitality, a freshness, a depth of tone that even surpassed her English language songs. Quite beautiful - full of subtle flavours, delicacy and yearning.
My only criticism was that somehow the whole performance was almost too perfect, too managed. Yes, I know that sounds like I’m nit-picking but I was left with a sense of having witnessed something of great artistry and beauty, but that didn’t leave me with the warm glow that such occasions usually engender in me. Maybe it’s just me, maybe it was the setting of the cavernous Siam Tent, but I’d have liked to have connected more with the singer somehow.
“one of my unexpected highlights of Womad 2012”
There was no such sense of distance with the next band, even though they were on the towering Open Air Stage.
Grupo Fantasma were one of my unexpected highlights of Womad 2012 and you can read my in-depth review of their performance, plus my interview with them (and I urge you to read both!) in the following links:
After Grupo Fantasma (and en route to interview them) I paused for a short while in the Siam Tent and caught some of the Senegalese singer and guitarist Carlou D and his band.
They were very good indeed with some complex grooves throughout.
Special mentions must go to his loxed-up electric guitarist who had some great jazz licks and to his bassist for the funky bad-ass riffs.
In particular I enjoyed the combination of Amadou Diagne on kit-drums (drafted in at the last minute - an accomplished guitarist, singer, songwriter and percussionist in his own right) and the amazing hand-percussionist on congas and djembe who delivered some ear-splitting solos that were as sharp as knives!
“total euphoric musical madness”
After a wonderful interview with Grupo Fantasma (see link above), I pegged it back down to the Big Red Tent to try and see the total euphoric musical madness that is the Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra - sheer exuberance! But I could barely even get into the tent! No time to do anything apart from smile at the antics of the guys on stage and envy those in the audience who were right down the front being soundly exuberated!
“My absolute highlight performance of Womad 2012.”
However, there was one performance more than any at Womad that I was determined not to miss at any cost and that was the delectable promise of the show that had garnered praise from every part of the world that it had been performed. I’m speaking of course of India’s The Manganiyar Seduction. I have written a very long, very detailed review of this performance here:
I shall say no more, apart from: read it. Read it and you might begin to understand why this show has caused such a stir worldwide.
My absolute highlight performance of Womad 2012.
So enraptured was I by the Manganiyar Seduction that I didn’t even turn up for Jimmy Cliff! Now that should tell you something.
I was completely emotionally sated and couldn’t take any more stimulation for a while.
Saturday dawned and with it, my ability to access the photographer’s pit. This is a controlled area immediately in front of the stages, only available to accredited press photographers and subject to strictly adhered to rules. You have to be escorted there by Womad PR agents, you have 3 numbers or 15 minutes (whichever is less) to shoot photos from and are not allowed to use flash or otherwise impede on the performance. After that you must be escorted out of the area again. It’s how the pros get the close-up shots without other people’s heads being in the way.
It does, however, bring a different appreciation of the performance. It emphasises the visual aspect over the musical and means you have to telescope a whole artistic performance into a very short amount of time (usually the first three tunes when many artists are just settling in and warming up).
In fact this 30th Anniversary Womad was quite a strange one for me. At concerts and festivals you can usually find me sitting at the front or on a little stool to the side, notebook on my knee, scribbling away and staring intently at artist, crew and crowd, feeling my way into a performance, trying to capture the essence of the experience as well as analyse the music itself.
However, this year I was having to double-up as photographer as well (keeping my eyes as well as ears open) and trying not to miss photo opportunities - a very different kind of working method. Writing is more sedate, sedentary and contemplative; the latter often frantic and full of movement and adrenaline. So I apologise if anyone's reading this and wondering why much of the article is written from the point of view of the Pits and more concerned with the 'visual'. I can only write what I experienced. I'm not a professional photographer - I'm a writer with a camera, trying to get photos to illustrate my words.
Consequently, my experiences of Womad 2012 were quite fragmented in the main, as if viewing a film through a wicker fence, and it meant I had precious little time - if any at all - to make review notes whilst photographing. Still, you work with what you get and below I offer up what I did experience.
The first act I photographed on Saturday was Raghu Dixit in the Siam Tent at midday.
Always a tough gig, the first one of the day, but Raghu (the Indian folk-rocking singing ex-microbiologist) and band killed it with a storming set and a charming collective personality.
It was very well received by the audience and made a great start to the day.
Race down on foot in the intense heat round the perimeter road of the arena to the other end to the Big Red Tent where the London-based international melange of Italian, Mexican, Austrian and British musicians of Vadoinmessico were about to perform.
Their blurb in the Womad programme has them as ‘tropically edged, floaty folk-pop’. No, that doesn’t normally float my boat, but I was curious (and that’s the nice thing about world music festivals, you can sample all kinds to see if you like the taste).
I was a little late getting there, but luckily for me they hadn’t started. Unluckily for them they weren’t able to start on time due to some kind of unexplained technical problems, during which the lead singer was huddled just off stage with the sound engineer desperately seeking a solution, whilst the other members on guitar, keys, percussion and bass improvised an evocative soundscape. Evocative of what I don’t know. But it was evocative…
Anyway, eventually the lights came on, the singer-guitarist came back and they started to play properly.
From the almost lethargic ‘mood music’ of before, Vadoinmessico started gearing up and layering many different FX and dense textures of sound into their folk-pop creations.
They also injected a lot more energy into their performance - although most of the energy came via the drummer through both his playing and his facial expressions.
“a seductive personality”
The early delay meant I couldn’t stay any longer and hotfooted it to the Charlie Gillett Stage halfway up the Arena where the lovely Cameroonian singer Kayrece Fotso was about to perform. This young singer-songwriter (oh, and like Raghu Dixit, from a scientific background - hers being in biochemistry!) came on with just an acoustic guitar and a delicious smile!
Well, obviously clothes as well - in this case a long ample skirt in pinks, aubergines, reds and golds, with a gold top and an intense russet bow in her hair and some dried fruit shakers tied to her left ankle which she used to accent her second song which was about the living spectre of AIDS destroying all the young population in Africa.
In ¾ time she stomped out a very insistent rhythm on her shaker foot against some very harsh guttural interjections of ‘Ah, Oh’. Very simple but very effective.
This was followed by a track sung in both French and English entitled “I Don’t Know” - again in ¾ tempo but this time slow and relentless.
Kayrece’s songs and subject matter have an intensity and seriousness well-fitting a singer-songwriter of integrity, but it’s also worth pointing out that when she sings, and especially when she speaks to the audience, Kareyce has very lively eyes and a seductive personality. It’s hard not to be drawn in by her. One to watch.
After eating and shooting English instrumental folk fusion band Spiro performing for Radio Womad (and thus, alas, missing the enticing Egyptian frame drum and vocal ensemble Nuba Nour) I caught some of the set of Kimmo Pohjonen the Finnish accordionist in the Siam Tent.
Kimmo’s an apocalyptic sight with an apocalyptic sound to match. There’s nothing shrinking about this guy and the only violet is the colour of the veins on his head.
The truth is, I’m struggling to remember the music, so overpowering was the physicality of its delivery and the intensity of the sounds created - it sure ain’t the Skye Boat Song.
I’ll go further: at the End of Days, if there’s an orchestra playing at the Restaurant at the End of the Universe, then Kimmo Pohjonen will be in it and centre stage… Check him out.
“Bags of charisma. Utterly exhilarating.”
With a quick stop to shoot Raghu Dixit at the Radio Womad stage, it was back to the Open Air Stage to see what the Brooklyn-based band Balkan Beat Box (now renamed - so the announcer told us - as BBB) had to offer.
Wow! Offer they did. This was a full-on performance from a high-energy explosive band with bags of charisma. Utterly exhilarating.
I’ve really nothing more to offer than that. If they’re on at a festival near you, grab a ticket!
Another quick photo session at the Radio Womad stage where Nuba Nour were being recorded and interviewed, and then stop for a breather to watch Femi Kuti being interviewed by the BBC World Service, before taking some snaps of Scottish traditionalists Breabach at the Radio Womad stage.
As the evening started to turn into a beautiful night I headed off to the Siam Tent to see the UK-based, international festival stormers that are Ska Cubano.
I’ve seen them on a number of occasions and fully enjoyed myself every time. This was to be no exception - apart from having only 15 minutes to get every ounce of pleasure out of the experience whilst undertaking my photographic duties.
Some 235 photos later - most taken whilst simultaneously dancing to the unstoppable groove of Natty Bo and Co - I had to force myself to leave the pit as per instructions. I couldn’t stop dancing.
I’ve heard their music countless times, DJed it at clubs, presented it on radio shows, seen them live, even done live versions with bands myself - but there’s still something scintillatingly electric about a Ska Cubano performance.
Outside, the sky is almost completely clear, but indigo dark, and the gibbous moon is intense behind the few white clouds there are. It’s beautiful.
I can hear Khaled and his band giving it everything they’ve got over on the Open Air Stage, but food and a trip back to the tent are calling. It’s at times like this that you want to clone yourself…
To finish off the night I headed over to the Siam Tent at 11pm to shoot another Cameroonian, Blick Bassy. Smooth, sweet, soft, jazzy fusions of music with roots in the African diaspora worldwide. As some jazz buff on telly once said: “Nice!”
“Coquettish yet commanding”
And the musical equivalent of the mint chocolate and strong, sweet black coffee to round off the evening? The captivating Deolinda from Portugal taking the graveyard shift from 12.30-1.45am.
Fado, fado, meu fado. Love this music.
But with Deolinda there is always a lightness, a deftness, a wry smile that just keeps it bobbing above the profoundly melancholic. Fado is not all about doom and gloom. It can also be playful, upbeat and life-affirming and Deolinda is a good ambassadress for this other face of Portugal’s most famous music.
Coquettish yet commanding, Deolinda held court in a short black jacket and an almost kitsch, lemon-yellow frock accompanied by her trio of two guitarists and a double-bass player.
A magic way to end Saturday at Womad. What a pity I couldn’t stay awake any longer. I spotted a friend of mine supine on the floor snuggled up against one of the huge tent poles, her mind probably already aboard a Lisbon barco heading off under a starlit sky towards the deep dark Atlantic.
And so to bed, and so to bed…
Sunday, the final day, started off much cooler and what was that I could hear hitting my tent? Rain? Really? The drop in temperature was almost welcome, the rain wasn’t. Fortunately it was just a shower and by the time I’d walked past the half-hour queue for the shower en route to the loos and back, it had passed over.
So, final day to cover and it started with the Alaev Family. Didn’t know anything about them, but thought it might be a nice gentle way to start the day. Ha ha ha! Beware of assumptions. The Alaev Family were not at all what I thought they’d be. A very pleasant surprise!
Hailing originally from Tajikistan and now resident in Israel, the Alaevs are from a Central Asian Jewish background. Their music draws upon the traditions of both Tajikistan and the neighbouring Bukharan region of Uzbekistan and heavily features vocals and percussion, often played on hand-held frame drums (called doira), although they also incorporate zither, accordion, violin, bass guitar, drumkit, clarinet and timbales.
With each member of the three generation family wearing beautifully embroidered costumes and hats in a dazzling array of rich reds, purples, pinks, burgundy and gold there was a lot to see on stage.
But it was their amazing energy and spirit that really hit home. Whoa! There was nothing quaint and polite about this, trust me! My head was saying “take photos, take photos” but my body had a completely different agenda, deciding all it wanted to do was thrust my hands in the air and dance till I dropped! The Alaev Family are utterly irresistible once they start playing. Be warned, beware of the music, it’ll bewitch your mind and liberate your limbs…
Yet another visual and rhythmic overload was provided by the next act I saw. This was a performance by The Lions of Africa on the Charlie Gillett Stage. It’s a mixture of dance and music that recounts the ancient Senegalese tradition of ‘simb’ or the lion. The blurb states that it’s “a magical ritual handed down by griots through the generations” each artist putting their own stamp on the story and the performance.
In this one the Lions of Africa are led by master drummer Modou Diof and two other drummers. These guys alone are worth seeing for their undeniable skills, complex rhythms and electrifying playing. But the stars of the show are the dancers. Dressed as a wild lion who intends to attack a village of terrified villagers the lead dancer is almost demonic in his make-up, facial expressions and acrobatic leaps. These guys are full on and plugged straight into the mains.
The energy levels were ramped up so high, it’s surprising the whole ensemble didn’t short-circuit themselves! Very impressive. The villagers fight back as the griots start to dance, drum and sing to ward off the lion with feats of strength, artistry, acrobatics and endurance. As ever I could only catch the first 15 minutes of what was a ¾ hour performance; but what I saw was testimony enough to the potency of Senegalese arts.
Quick bite to eat and then back to the Charlie Gillett Stage to see a very unusual pairing: Joe Driscoll (from upstate New York) & Seckou Kouyate (from Guinea Conakry).
Collaborations aren’t unusual at all in the world music scene, but I suppose it’s more the unlikeliness of the personalities. They’d met in Marseilles where they did a performance together, even though neither spoke the other’s language. Music, of course, always has a way of sorting these minor problems out though! After some weeks of jamming they realised they were onto something, with music that encompasses influences from folk, reggae, hip-hop and various West African styles, but which falls into none of them.
I’d seen the excellent Seckou Kouyate earlier on this year touring with Cuban pianist Roberto Fonseca and he’d struck me as gifted, but almost painfully shy, barely able to lift his eyes to look at the crowd and then always fleeting and nervous.
“Springsteen meets Electric Griotland!”
On the other hand, Joe Driscoll instantly struck me as, well… very American, if you get my drift. Confident, breezy, outgoing, completely at home in front of a crowd. You could imagine him going to baseball games, sitting in a bar drinking beer with his mates and leaping on and off a subway. Cee-Lo Green described him once as “the gangsta with an iron lung”. The rest of the band was made up of bass guitar and drumkit.
The Womad brochure described them as “rap meets kora”, which, if anything, kind of put me off. However, the music and vibe was actually more like Springsteen meets Electric Griotland!
Driscoll has a quirky charm which belies his laddish image (he looked like he’d just grabbed some old clothes back out of the ‘to be washed’ pile and shoved them on again) and an intriguing way with lyrics, as well as some interesting facial expressions, weird body postures and hands that flapped about when not on the guitar. You definitely warm to him.
Seckou on the other hand was his usual quiet self, standing fairly still and ‘apart’ on the left of the stage.
Dressed in a knee-length, white jacket that was embroidered with cream, beige, brown, red and gold silks and set with turquoise and amber rhinestones, and some ‘designer-ripped’ jeans (poles away from Joe’s ‘how many times have I come off a skateboard-ripped’ jeans!), Seckou had a far-away look in his eyes. Even when singing he seemed slightly disengaged.
However, as the songs developed he seemed to relax, occasionally glance over at Driscoll and smile. He even focussed his eyes on the audience and started to move his body to the music.
“slices open your brain and messes with your head!”
And what music! It’s very cool in style, but warm in feel. Driscoll’s acoustic guitar and vocals (often utilising rap, hip-hop and Jamaican dancehall rhythmic patterns) cradle the song and set up a trance-like rocking that puts your body on auto-pilot and draws you in to where Kouyate’s amazing kora just slices open your brain and messes with your head! Wow! Didn’t see that coming.
Even better, Kouyate’s obviously more relaxed now and begins to smile to himself as he plays, firing off sonic bullets from his kora. But it’s when he taps on one of his effects boxes and turns his kora into a fuzzbox inferno that you see why he’s known in France as “the Hendrix of the kora”. The effect is completely unexpected and instantly electrifying.
There’s no stopping these two now. With Driscoll bent over his guitar dancing his butt off and gurning away, Kouyate starts to smile wider and wider. It’s as if someone’s turned on the floodlights - his teeth are brighter than a roomful of BeeGees!
The whole band are locked into an unstoppable groove and I’m getting that oh so familiar feeling of warmth, adrenaline and dizziness when the music hits and you get lifted up on a natural high…
And then I realise my 15 minutes are up and it’s time to move on. Aaaaaargh! Noooooo! Still, this is yet another band to add to my wish list. Catch ‘em while you can!
Racing back to the Media Centre I nip round to Radio Womad and shoot a few photos of the Alaev Family being interviewed and then it’s round to get in the pit ready for a slice of Cajun heaven from the Pine Leaf Boys.
The five piece play a mix of Cajun and Creole music from their homeland of South Louisiana.
No strangers to Europe and the UK their leader Wilson Savoy (of the famed Savoy Family Band - who also played Womad recently) stated that it was their last day of their UK tour and and this was the gig they all really been looking forward to.
With violin, squeezebox and acoustic guitar at the front, and backed by bass and kitdrums, the boys delivered a faultless set of classic cajun music, with even the drummer handling some of the vocals.
Passing by the Siam Tent again I spent a little time shooting and checking out Keb’ Mo’.
Now, I very much like cajun music, but I like the blues even more and this three-times Grammy award-winning guitarist is the man to deliver.
Keb’ (born Kevin Moore - hence Keb’ Mo’) is a man for whom the words “polished’ and “assured”, not to mention “consummate”, and “professional” were made to measure.
There’s almost not a lot else left to say about that, apart from his looks belie his 61 years by a significant amount and his music just gets you right there.
Great backing band (keys, bass, drums and rhythm guitar) and a nice bass solo.
“As smooth and rich as rum-soaked butter!”
Keb' Mo's music is as smooth and rich as rum-soaked butter! Definitely need to get hold of some of his albums!
Race off down to the Big Red Tent next for what promises to be a very interesting spectacle if only based on the name alone: DJ Yoda and the Trans-Siberian March Band! My brother was raving about this so we’d agreed to meet up there and make sure it was well covered.
Now, I have no notes from this or the next three bands so this is very much from memory, but I seem to remember waiting a heck of a long time whilst yet another problem was sorted out in the Big Red Tent. Although, admittedly Yoda’s partners the 13-piece Trans-Siberian March Band need an awful big soundcheck - no easy D.I. plugging in for these guys!
I’d better explain, DJ Yoda is a 'don' turntablist - with but one mission: to rock the house to its core!
It’s his sense of visual and musical humour that marks him out from the ‘worship me’ variety of ego-centric DJs.
So, for this Womad he decided to appear with a 13-piece group of massed brass, reeds and percussion to add some extra power and a whole heap of cartoon comic silliness to the proceedings.
Once they were all finally soundchecked (a monumental task) they musicians left the stage and I turned round in the pit to survey the absolutely ram-jam-packed Big Red Tent. It was heaving!! It appears DJ Yoda carries some serious clout. Whilst us photographers were beginning to worry that the delay might affect our ability to get to the next shoot, Yoda started up. I cannot adequately describe the dense layers of sound and image that he conjured from split-second to split-second, but in the blink of an eye and the damage of an eardrum I became an instant convert to the intergalactic cause. DJ Yoda, may the force be with you indeed.
We were allowed to photograph him for a few minutes and then were told to wait stage-side until the full band came on. It was an agonising wait. One reason was for the agony was the relentless ticking of the clock and the knowledge that I needed to get back to the other end of the Arena well in time for the Buena Vista Social Club.
But the other reason was a literal agonising. I’ve seen and played in some deafening bands in my time (Deep Purple, mid-70s, I hold responsible for my tinnitus), but as I walked from the pit to the side of the stage I was in no way prepared for the jet engine strength sonic boom of Yoda’s bass bins. Oh my god! My body was moved in ways no-one’s ever managed to do! I think my internal organs all landed up in different positions and my brain-waves must have been permanently altered. I am not joking when I say that the decibel level was truly awesome. I was in awe. And then some. Not to mention shock. A kind, calm, placid, lady steward in a flowery-covered hat looked over at me and mouthed: “Take these” and handed me some industrial strength ear-plugs. I owe her my ears.
“hitting the auricular G-spot every time”
The music though, was faultless, exhilarating and very cleverly spliced together. The crowd were going wild, mental, transported to a million galaxies. And this was just the first 10 minutes! Oh my days! Yoda himself was bent over his desks and laptop looking up to see the effect he was having on the crowd and grinning away when he knew he was hitting the auricular G-spot every time. Missus.
Eventually, the Trans-Siberian March Band trooped on and the press photographers were let loose once again in the pit. “Five minutes, that’s all!” we were told. Fair enough.
We ran around like a load of loons. Who on earth to photograph first? The asian trumpeter with the pink and orange feather in her hair? Their top-hatted conductress in fetching ring-master’s jacket? The rather butch-looking trombonist in drag? The lip-sticked guitarist not in drag? The tuba player who looked she’d just walked off the set of Holby City? “That’s it, time’s up!”
We left with big smiles on our face, but whether from the spectacle, the music or just that my face had been permanently rearranged by the soundwaves, I can’t tell…
“Cuban Royal Family of world music”
Out the back of the Big Red Tent and run and walk and pant and wheeze all along the dusty perimeter road to the Siam Tent and one of the big guns of world music, virtually the Cuban Royal Family of world music, Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club.
Now, obviously, not many of the originals are left with us now, but still it’s a class act.
One of the integrants on this particular tour was the great Eliades Ochoa (who I saw at Womad last year with Afrocubism - see review here: http://worldmusic.co.uk/afrocubism_womad_charlton_park_29711).
The other was their featured vocalist, the wonderful Queen of Cuban Music, Omara Portuondo (now 81). I also spotted the world’s leading laud player Barbarito Torres in the line up and Omara’s husband, the 75 year old tresero Papi Oviedo. I’m afraid I don’t know the names of the other members, but you just know they drip quality.
“the soundtrack to the life we should have been born into…”
We had one song to shoot in at first. This was because Ochoa was kicking off the singing and then we were told we could come back a bit later on, when Omara took to the stage. And so it was.
Once again, with Buena Vista it was like coming home and slipping into a hot scented bubble bath after a tiring day. There’s just something so ineffably ‘right’ about the music, the sound, the atmosphere, it almost defies analysis. I’m sure most people who hear the OBVSC or indeed any of the Cuban greats share the feeling that this is the soundtrack to the life we should have been born into…
One of the highlights for me was when the diminutive - and sometimes rather frail-looking - Portuondo dragged her husband up from his place behind her and the two of them started dancing together. But hey, no crap ‘wedding dance smooch’ this! No, no no! They flirted, wriggled, giggled and showed off what their footwork and even ended up ‘wining’ down to the ground - to wild cheers of course. Fabulous. I want to be like that when I grow old too!!
I said Omara was looking frail. Well, in a sense, yes. I’ve seen her a few times now (the first time was when I met her in Havana in the mid-90s) so I’m always going to see the difference, but believe me her spirit is as strong as ever. This lady loves to perform.
Like I said: the Queen of Cuban Music. I’m blessed to have seen and heard these giants when I could. If there’s a heaven up there then you can be sure that it’s got a bar full of mojitos, a wooden dancefloor and a Cuban orquesta on the bandstand . . . Bliss!
The evening was thickening now and I only had a couple more acts to cover. The next was another band I knew nothing about, but who sounded interesting.
Balkan Alien Sound are a 7-piece Irish band from around Derry and Donegal. Ok. Not exactly Serbia, but who cares these days.
With a repertoire that encompasses gypsy, klezmer and balkan musics these guys have been building up a reputation worthy of a place at Womad.
I went down to photograph them at the Charlie Gillett Stage and really enjoyed their sense of purpose and fun. They certainly seemed to be having a good time and that’s always infectious. The line-up includes leader Martin Coyle on bouzouki and the others on fiddle, accordion, bass guitar, electric guitar and drums.
I was just about to leave after having spent the statutory 15 minutes shooting them - most of the other photographers had just left - when they announced that their singer was coming on now. Oh? I didn’t realise they had one. Ok, fair enough. I’ll snap a few off.
And on walks the rather lovely Aideen McGinn.
I’ll just say that I stayed a tadge longer than I should have, for purely professional reasons of course, you know, just to make sure the photos were all in focus, and so on and so forth… ahem. Lovely! Oh, she can sing too.
And so... and so... and so, it’s almost time for the big one. The headline act of Womad 2012. The big name. The equivalent of the Olympics closing ceremony. I’m talking of course of ‘Robert Plant presents Sensation Space Shifters’ at the Open Air Arena.
It was an unmitigated . . .
But no! I’m not going to tell you. I’ve already written the review. In detail. And you can read it here. That’s all I’m saying. If you want to know how it all ends, just click here:
Just click it!
Hope you enjoy my epistolic recollections - and remember if you don’t agree with any of them, then these are just my experiences and my impressions told in my own way.
Womad means many different things to many people.
“Womad. It’s the daddy of ‘em all.”
Thanks to Borkowski PR for making it all happen and with all the assistance and problem solving - very much appreciated. Hope we can do it all again next year. Thanks to all the wonderful people I met over the four days and with whom I shared time and talk.
Womad. It’s the daddy of ‘em all.
Mid-May Round-up (Part 1) - Boogaloo, Bombay & Pop
Tagged with: Glyn Phillips blog world music worldmusic.co.uk boogaloo bombay pop surinder sandhu funkawallahs karma machine los fulanos barcelona si esto se acaba lovemonk joe bataan vampisoul Bombay Royale You Me Bullets Love Hope Street Bollywood India Katzenjammer
As this cold, wet, truculent, so-called Spring trundles on towards an uncertain Summer, I’m sitting here staring out of the window at a monochrome grey sky, which has just spat hailstones over my poor flowers, complete with thunderous belches (the sky, not me). Really not the most inspiring of days.
However, I think it’s time to try and address some of the almighty backlog of music that endlessly flows down my digital river.
Except of course that now my youngest son wants help with his homework . . . And you wonder why I never write about all the things I ought to. Yes, yes, I’m just coming! Hold on, uncompleted maths homework from the previous weekend to do. SuperDad to the rescue. Kind of. Back in a mo. Or two. Or three.
Right I'm back. Oh, bloody hell, now the missus is calling me for dinner. Yeah, I know, I shouldn’t complain, especially when someone else is cooking it for me. I’m not. I love the food. I just wish I had a 30 hour day and a 9 day week, that’s all.
OK, it’s now ‘tomorrow’ today, so let’s try again. Spent last night at the house of my dear friend and ace producer/musician, Surinder Sandhu editing some Spanish language interviews for use as promos for his new project, the Funkawallahs and the forthcoming album, “Karma Machine”. Very exciting indeed - but keeping all that under wraps until it’s all ready to go . . .
"Spanish heat, urban cool and Nuyorican sabor"
So, now to all these new albums pouring in.
First up, I’m listening to the sounds of Barcelona’s Los Fulanos who deliver a modern take on that 60s hybrid boogaloo.
Very tasty indeed, with enough foundations in 60s latin soul groove (a controversial mix itself in its own time!) to be really grounded, some added retro-psychedelia, Spanish heat, urban cool and Nuyorican sabor and all marinated in a rhythm’n’blues salsa.
It might look backwards for inspiration but it all works very well in today’s world. Sweet as a nut!
This debut album is entitled “Si Esto Se Acaba Que Siga El Boogaloo” (‘If All This Ends, Keep On With The Boogaloo’) and it's on the Lovemonk label (LMNK46).
There are 10 tracks (and a prelude) and it's sung in a mixture of English and Spanish with bags of energy and credibility and what I can only describe as a very authentic ‘American sound’ - especially the horns. Very infectious album indeed.
"great ideas ... well-produced album, all executed with ... clear vision and a big dollop of gusto!"
Mixed in with the boogaloo and disco, there are also plenty of other genres represented. For instance, there is some great rumba and explosive 70s style funk on “El Que No Está Se Lo Pierde” (Parts 1 & 2 respectively), “Sobran Cuero” is a very danceable salsa whilst “Manny” leans more towards rhythm and blues.
There's also a jazzy New Orleans vibe on “Kind of Guy”, groovy proto-rock on the New Order tune “Blue Monday”,“Hold On (Baby Hold Me)” is a bolero underpinned with wonderfully cheesy organ, and we get a nice jazzy montuno on “The End of the World”, to name but a few.
There are lots of great ideas in this well-produced album, and all executed with slick musicianship, clear vision and a big dollop of gusto! The producer is Miguelito Superstar (from Fundación Tony Manero)
I first came across Los Fulanos a few years back when they recorded an album “King of Latin Soul” on the Vampisoul label) with the Latin Soul legend, Joe Bataan (“Subway Joe”, “Ordinary Guy”, “There’s a Riot Going On”, “Gipsy Woman”, etc) and loved how they’d tastefully updated what I had always considered were anthems so classic that to mess with them would be foolish. So, respect where it’s due!
Next up is the Australian band The Bombay Royale from Melbourne, who specialise in bringing to life - and to the live stage - versions of many of the classics of India’s Bollywood film industry.
The album’s called “You Me Bullets Love” (on Hope Street Recordings), and is a 10 track CD/DL/Vinyl that showcases old songs such as the 1965 chestnut “Jaan Pehechan Ho” (from the film "Gumnaam") as well as entirely new pieces 'in the style of'.
The ‘golden years’ for Bollywood films are often cited as the 60s and 70s and The Bombay Royale mix these old songs in Hindi and Bengali with newer material they have written themselves (and including some English lyrics) inspired by these classic masterpieces.
In fact “You Me Bullets Love” features eight original numbers and two re-workings of almost forgotten Bollywood production numbers (the other is "Sote Sote Adhi Raat").
"heavy retro vibe ... that - bizarrely - makes it sound very fresh and bang-up-to-date!"
There’s a heavy retro vibe to the album that - bizarrely - makes it sound very fresh and bang-up-to-date! (obviously some weird tear in the time-space fabric…).
For instance the opening track “Monkey Fight Snake” features massed brass, swirling organs, siren-like vocals and sarangi in the background, sub-Spaghetti Western blaring trumpet (Spaghetti Eastern anyone?) and wouldn’t sound out of place in some kind of drug-induced, trippy dream-sequence scene from The Avengers (the 1960s British series with the bowler-hatted, brolly-wielding Steed, not the Hollywood Marvel heroes one!).
Conversely the title track is drenched in surf music, sort of 'Tarantino goes to Mumbai' (or is it India comes to South Melbourne Beach?).
At times the whole album sounds as if someone’s taken a giant cocktail shaker and thrown in some vintage 50s, 60s and 70s Bombay kitsch, a shot of James Bond, a gaggle of Go-Go girls, two slices of Eddie Cochran and Gene Vincent, a pinch of Massive Attack, the serried ranks of saxophones, trumpets and trombones, a veritable forest of violins and yards and yards of orange, pink and turquoise silk, and then recorded the whole lot via the audio-equivalent of a Kodak Instamatic shot through a Dub filter. Someone with more knowledge of Hindi music would probably be able to pick up on the Bollywood strands better than me, but that’s about as near as I can get to it at the moment!
The Australian papers have described it as being “where A R Rahman and Ennio Morricone converge, where Slumdog Millionaire meets Goldfinger head on, with Quentin Tarantino and Indiana Jones lurking in the corner”.
Now, what’s really weird is that description has some parallels with my preceding paragraph; weird because I deliberately make a point of NOT reading Press Releases or other people’s reviews until after I’ve written my own - so as not to be influenced by anyone else in the initial stage . . .
I just happened to consult the band’s Press Release to check the singers names and spotted the above quote.
Well, I must be doing something right! Ha ha! Just noticed they also use the words ‘surf’ and ‘spaghetti’ too in another part of it. As I always say: ‘Mate Grinds Link Athike’…
Incidentally the vocalists are Parvyn Kaur Singh and Shourov Bhattacharya. The MD is Andy Williamson.
It’s a really fun album. A lot of it is, I’m sure, very tongue-in-cheek, but then again so is much of Bollywood, and it plays with all those elements of East meets West meets East again (and in the case of Australia, South).
So, if you like Bollywood music, or surf music, or the 60s, or trippy music, or just have a predeliction for multicoloured kitsch and musical cheese to let your hair down to and shake your thang, then book yourself a night at The Bombay Royale.
The album was released this week and the website link for The Bombay Royale is:
There's also a groovy video of the title track here:
"highly polished album"
As a real contrast comes the all-girl outfit, Katzenjammer from Norway and their highly polished album “A Kiss Before You Go” (Propellor Recordings - released May 2012).
The whole album is sung in English and comes across as an uplifting blend of pop, folk, acoustic, country, bluegrass and rhythm’n’blues, a sprinkle of balladry, whimsy, acapella and rock, and all laced through with a healthy dose of idiosyncratic eccentricity and sonic cabaret theatricality.
"enough singalong lyrics to keep you going all through the summer"
However, it is also all bound together with very credible pop production values, accessible melodies and enough singalong lyrics to keep you going all through this summer’s festival season (especially the tracks “Rock-Paper-Scissors” and “I Will Dance When I Walk Away”).
I must admit, I was slightly dubious as to whether or not I’d like Katzenjammer at first, since their music is far more ‘poppy’ than I’m used to writing about or even listening to, but a bit of suspended disbelief paid dividends and I’m now quite happy to recommend them.
Formidable ladies, these Katz . . . !
Here’s a link to their website and other contact points:
and also to some YouTube Videos:
Katzenjammer are touring the UK this month:
Thu 17th BRISTOL, Academy 2
Fri 18th MANCHESTER, Academy 3
Sat 19th GLASGOW, King Tuts
Sun 20th BIRMINGHAM, Academy 2
Tue 22nd BRIGHTON, Concorde 2
Wed 23rd LONDON, XOYO
See the RPS video here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=WqmbqnjbLco
Host RPS here: www.soundcloud.com/yourfriendbam/katzenjammer-rock-paper
and don’t forget you can get a Free Download of "Cherry Pie" here:
So there you go - three albums down and only *mumble, mumble, mutter, mutter* to go (I’ve even taken my shoes and socks off and have still run out of toes to count on).
I’ll sign off this blog here and carry on soon. Off to yet another rehearsal with yet another band (sweet reggae, soul and nyabinghi behind some very conscious lyrics). Time to make some music myself now!
Glyn Phillips (WorldMusic.co.uk)
It’s Jazz, Jim, but not as we know it!
Tagged with: World Music Glyn Phillips Ayanna Truthfully Ida Kelarova Desiderius Indies Scope Roma Jazz Gypsy Romska Balada Tomas Kaco Skampova Kuarteta ARC Music Re-Orient Undiscovered Time Baluji Shrivastav Linda Shanovitch Chris Conway Charlie McMahon Gondwana Didj
Some interesting albums have come across my desk in the past few weeks with, to a lesser or greater degree, an element of jazz within them.
"Powerful, poignant, great integrity"
The first is singer/composer/ace cellist Ayanna’s EP “Truthfully” (AWJ001) which is simply sumptuous and gorgeous - it somehow operates in the territory beyond jazz and soul where beautiful music is just beautiful music. Powerful, poignant, great integrity. Highly recommended. Contains her skin-tinglingly idiosyncratic version of “Roxanne” (yes, that one!).
Here's a link to my full, in-depth review of the EP: http://www.worldmusic.co.uk/ayanna_truthfully_cd_review.
Check it out.
And if that doesn’t sell it to you then check out my review of her recent concert at Birmingham Town Hall (http://www.worldmusic.co.uk/ayanna).
Catch her while you can. (For more info: www.ayannamusic.com).
And if I haven’t already exhausted my stock of hyperboles, then let me sprinkle a few more over the next artist.
I already mentioned the Czech Romany singer Ida Kelarova a a few weeks ago and her collaboration with guitarist Desiderius Duzda and his band Jazz Famelija on the album “Sunen Savore” (Listen Everyone) (MAM509 / 2012 Indies Scope) featuring special guest the Serbian accordionist Lelo Nika.
I’ll just repeat what I put then: “Really beautiful music - sort of bossa meets gypsy meets jazz - very mellow but really gets under your skin without forcing itself - had it on repeat play for ages last night. … sumptuous. quivering, heart-string tugging accordion …” .
"percolates into the aquifer of your soul"
Ida and Desiderius take jazz in one hand and Roma music and traditions in the other and breathe new life into both of them. It’s really impressive stuff. The kind of music that seeps into your skin and percolates into the aquifer of your soul. Love it. Love it. Love it. I’m just an old romantic at heart sometimes, I know, but the world would be a poorer place without music like this to pour out like a healing balm over bruised and broken hearts.
Well, I still stand by all that. But interestingly last week, by sheer coincidence, I unearthed some more Ida Kelarova buried deep in my archives on an album entitled “Romska Balada” (Roma Ballad) on the Indies Scope Records label from the Czech Republic and released in 2010.
Here she’s teamed up again with Desiderius Duzda (on vocals), but this time with the assistance of Tomás Kaco on piano with backing from the Skampa String Quartet and some guest vocalists (including Lukás Horvath) on an album of Gypsy Ballads. So there’s no bossa and the jazzy influences are less obvious, but there's still an underlying jazz sensibility. However, the lushness quotient is raised significantly and the tender, aching, melancholy is plumbed to the depths. Even as I listen to it right now all my hairs are standing on end and I’m covered in goosebumps. And it’s not all about Ida’s voice either - Desiderius’s vocal chords have that quality too. Gorgeous. Love the duets and vocal ensemble tracks too.
The album is written and recorded so that each song runs musically into the next one (they are divided up as separate tracks though), so that the overall effect is one long musical journey, a rollercoaster of emotions. Track titles such as “Mama”, “I’m Dying”, “My God”, “Brother”, “My Daughter”, “Our Children”, “Hear Me Out God”, “I Love you So Much”, “Why” and “My Love” give you a feel for the subject matter.
But don’t let that put you off even if you’re at all afraid of the power of emotion. We might be British but we’re still human after all! This is unashamedly romantic music, often sad, but always from the heart - there’s not a hint of cheesiness anywhere.
The sleevenotes state “When a Roma’s wife died, though sad, he could not cry. The doctor warned, that he must weep or his very heart would die. But crying caused too great a pain so he sang with all his heart… and his heart was fine again”. If you like Fado or Tango, then you’ll definitely love this.
The sleeve notes also portray the album as ‘Contemporary Roma Music Creation’ and that’s pretty accurate. Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoy a lot of the new Gypsy collaborations as well as the remixes and mashups (although there’s a lot of dross out there too), but it’s just so refreshing to see someone use the fabulous heritage of the European Roma and take it in a different direction. Both albums highly recommended. (www.indies.eu and www.kelarova.com)
Well, I’ve written loads already and only covered three albums . . . In the words of Gardeners' Question Time’s Eric Robson “onwards and upwards”.
Long-time world music specialists ARC Music have sent me through a couple of albums from their bottomless catalogues. The first is called “Undiscovered Time (Indian World Music Fusion)" by the band Re-Orient (EUCD 2371). The trio consists of multi-instrumentalist Baluji Shrivastav and singer-songwriter/poet Linda Shanovitch alongside another multi-instrumentalist (and uber-prolific album releaser - 80 to date), Chris Conway.
The album is a fusion of world musics with influences from both Indian classic and Indian folk, the Balkans, Bossa, the Celtic world, and assorted jazz balladry and other flavours. So often these sorts of fusions can become messy and fall between the cracks, but this is a very interesting, very listenable album.
Each member has contributed their own compositions to the 10 tracks on the CD (three by Chris, three by Linda, two by Baluji and a couple of joint works) and as you’d expect they tend to each emphasise different facets of the fusions. Baluji draws more from the raags and the classical Indian music tradition, Linda’s from jazz and ballads and poetry with a sparser and more reflective nature, whilst Chris tends to have a more overall balanced fusion of flavours spent from years of experimenting with ingredients and fiddling with menus in the world music kitchens.
I must admit to having a connection to Chris Conway since we used to play together in the mid-90s as part of the Sabri Ensemble (an Indo-Jazz fusion band) although our paths have never crossed since. So, ‘Hi Chris’ and it’s nice to know you’re every bit as talented as I remembered!
With instruments including sitar, dilruba, surbhabar, tabla, naal, gopichand, darbuka, piano, keys, tin whistle, low Irish whistles, and 9-string electric and acoustic guitars, theremin, swarmandal, nattuvangam, bodhran and a variety of vocal styles there’s a lot to listen out for here. There are also sporadic appearances by special guests Eric Junkes on saxes and Andy Platt on bass.
It’s difficult to accurately describe the music, so I’ll just try and give you a flavour of what I’m hearing. These are just my impressions.
Global Reunion feels like the soundtrack to a film and is an uplifting theme to introduce the disparate members of the band as they re-unite for this new album. Brave Boy is more of a straightforward midnight jazz ballad, real torch-song stuff for the end of the night when the audience have all gone… Very sad lyrics, deepened further by Junkes’s weeping sax and Baluji’s mournful dilruba. Portrait of a Swan is a fairly straight meeting of jazz and Indian tarana in Raag Hansadhwani mode featuring the sax and sitar. The Gift of Time is a form of Indo-Irish ballad and Dangerous Ground a slow bossa with flamenco undertones featuring a solo on the strange sounding gopichand (a one string plucked instrument).
Celebration cracks along in a joyous vein with elements of Brazilian nordestino pifano music set against Indian bols, kalimba, crows, monkeys and a global background of sounds. Tides is another meditative piece featuring Linda’s words and vocals and the rather otherworldly sounds of the theremin, gentle ostinatos and the sound of the waves. The Long Summer is a piece inspired by Balkan music in ⅝ time yet is more akin to Brazilian jazz in the vocals. Celestial, which draws inspiration from the Bhagavad Gita, is as spacy and ethereal as the name implies, whilst Garland of Light is a floaty collective improvisation utilising their three very different vocal sounds.
"one to listen to and then listen again..."
Interestingly, the whole album hangs together surprisingly well, given the amount of influences, the plethora of instruments, the different backgrounds of the members and the highly collaborative nature of the work. It’s not an easy thing to pull off. We’re often used to the concept of a dominant musician or producer having an idea and dragging everyone else along in the direction they want (sometimes necessary to bring a vision to life), but that this album works as well as it does I can only attribute to Re-Orient’s ability to really listen to each other, support and co-create. After 20 years I suppose they’ve got the right fusion after all. This is one to listen to and then listen again... (More info on Re-Orient from www.baluji.com, www.chrisconway.org and www.arcmusic.co.uk).
The other album from ARC Music comes from Australia and is by Charlie McMahon and Gondwana and is called “Didj Heart” (EUCD 2370). To be honest it’s not really my thing, so I’m not going to comment one way or another on it as what doesn't float my boat, might well rock yours. There’s rarely such a thing as ‘bad music’, just music you haven’t been able to appreciate yet. If you like didgeridoo fusion music then check it out. Maybe I just need to go walkabout and get my head around the style. (www.arcmusic.co.uk)
Well there we go for this blog. How on earth do I do it? Every time I sit down I tell myself: “just a few words on each one; don’t get carried away”. Nah, can’t be done - I’ve too much to say! Time for tea, I think! Tomorrow, I really will keep it brief . . . !
Glyn Phillips (WorldMusic.co.uk) - Wed 2nd May 2012
The Devil's Music
Tagged with: Devil's Music BBC Alexis Korner Blues Booker White Houston Stackhouse Sonny Blake Sam Chatmon Laura Dukes Big Joe Williams Little Brother Montgomery James DeShay Victoria Spivey The Aces Fenton Robinson Good Rockin Charles Henry Townsend Billy Boy Ar
I love those chance happenings, those random, unexpected quirks of fate that lead you to something completely unexpected yet enrich your life. There I was last night, a bit jaded from sitting in front of the computer all day and slowly freezing in this crazy cold wet Spring and I thought "Can't leave it any longer. I'm hungry!". Off to the kitchen, warm up some three-day old food (what? you think I live in luxury?) and back to the computer.
Hmmm. Ok, don't fancy working my way through any more of the 14 CDs that arrived in the post today - just need a little sumtin' to watch while I eat my lentils. To BBC iPlayer, nothing grabbed my eye, looked under Categories, tried the Comedy selection - nah, nothing there to fill 15 minutes of my time, chomp, chomp, chomp, Entertainment, Factual, chomp, chomp, chomp, Films, Lifestyle & Leisure . . . Nada, zilch. Oh God, not back to Music again! Chomp, chomp. Click. Show All Music. Click. Chomp, chomp. Yeah, yeah, yeah... Not interested, seen that already... Uhh? What?? Oh my days! Praise be! It can't be... Really?! I thought I'd never see it again. Hair standing on end, adrenaline coursing through my body, ripples of pleasure and a wild crazy smile from ear to ear.
I'd only stumbled onto a link to a series broadcast back in 1979 (although it might possibly have been actually made in 1976 - anyone know?) and repeated but once since then (in 1982), featuring one of the three or four big musics of my childhood and youth (blues) and presented by my all-time Radio Hero, Alexis Korner: "The Devil's Music". Click.
"curly-haired, lamb-chop sideburned, gravel-and-honey-voiced"
And there it is, the familiar intro music (shamefully not credited anywhere) and then there he is. The man himself, the Father of British Blues, the curly-haired, lamb-chop sideburned, gravel-and-honey-voiced musician, scholar, facilitator, commentator, presenter and all-round 'don' that was Alexis Korner. Unbeknownst to any of us he would be dead within a few years of this recording, but at the time I still hung onto his every word.
Straightaway, I'm transported back in time over 30 years ago, sitting in the front room with my Dad, fingers on the big old cassette recorder (the size and weight of a housebrick!) audio-recording from the telly. For those too young to understand the concept, you turned up the TV volume as loud as possible, pushed the recorder with the built-in microphone pinhole under the telly and hoped that the phone wouldn't ring or that yer Mum wouldn't come in and start talking over it...
"treasured them in the way only true music fanatics can"
For years after me and my Dad would listen to those tapes over and over again. We'd long forgotten the television images that went with them, but the music lived on in our heads and hearts, let alone the words and cadences of Korner's commentary. Magic. We wore those tapes out, yet treasured them in the way only true music fanatics can. This was way before the advent of endless repeats, computers, digitalisation, mass music mobility, file-sharing, archives, etc, etc, even before video (at least for our household). If you missed it, that was it. Hence the cassette tapes.
In the series Alexis Korner gives his idiosyncratic take on the history of the Blues. With only four episodes and only 25 minutes in each one, there's not a lot of time to get it all in and Korner and the producers (Giles Oakley & Maddalena Fagandini) obviously wanted to feature living musicians, so this is no standard, chronological, history book telling of the story. True to Korner's beliefs it focusses on the spirit of the blues rather than the usual big names.
"you'll end up the richer for it"
You won't find Robert Johnson, Sonny Boy Williamson (any of them!), Elmore James, Lightnin Hopkins, John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, BB King, etc here. You will find a lot of names you've probably never heard of - but, as ever, you have to just go with Korner and let him lay out his take on it. And you'll end up the richer for it, whether or not you carp on about 'so-and-so' (fill in the name of your favourite blues hero here) being more relevant than whoever Korner uses to illustrate his story.
But there's the magic, you see. We get to hear people like Houston Stackhouse (backed by Joe Willie Wilkins) eerily warble through the fantastic "Cool Drink of Water", Booker White steel-slide his way through "Poor Boy" using a knife on his trademark National steel guitar (which he nicknamed Hard Rock - and is now in northern England!) and folk-blues legend Sam Chatmon (looking like Gimli son of Gloin's great-grandfather) singing of his love for his "Brown Skinned Woman".
And then there's the tiny Laura Dukes and her ukelele version of "Crawdads", Big Joe Williams getting "Sloppy Drunk" and the highly animated face, coquettish eyes and jet-black wig of Victoria Spivey (who died shortly after the recording) singing the "TB Blues" (yes, a blues about tuberculosis!) whilst playing a woefully out-of-tune piano.
There's also material from Henry Townsend and Sonny Blake. Many of these recordings were actually filmed in 1976 and yet they already seemed to come from another world altogether.
And if that wasn't enough to whet your appetite you get to hear the (then) current state of electric blues emanating from the small clubs of Chicago, with bands like The Aces (featuring the Myers brothers and the legendarily groovy Freddie Below on drums) backing 'young bucks' like Billy Boy Arnold and Charles Edwards aka Good Rockin Charles.
As well as that there's Fenton Robinson and his funky be-hatted band (straight from the imaginary backdrop to a club scene from 'Starksy and Hutch'!) complete with, as Korner puts it, 'the statutory white musician'.
Ironically, although Korner was highlighting the contemporary blues scene at the end of the 70s and indicating its future, it's almost a farewell to it, since apart from a brief renaissance spearheaded by the likes of Robert Cray, Jeff Healey and Bonnie Raitt, blues fell from commercial favour yet again during the 80s.
Incidentally, I saw Good Rockin Charles around 1979/80 at Birmingham Town Hall as part of a blues package .
True to his name Charles was nowhere to be found when he was due to perform his numbers. After a while he was tracked down, bottle of spirits prised from his hand and he was shoved on stage (I can picture it now) and he swayed across to the mic - all of us praying he wouldn't veer to his right and walk straight off the front into the stalls - where after a few seconds to focus on where the audience was and fumble around for his harmonica, he launched into his set. Priceless.
What I found out from Korner's documentary is that Charles spent most of his time in Chicago living on Welfare payments and trying to get spots in the Chicago clubs. I guess things don't change much for most of us musicians.
"The groove is to die for"
But best of all from this unexpected foray into the music of my past was to hear two performances in particular. The first was James DeShay (playing a V-shaped electric guitar) and his band (which included a poker-faced drummer sporting a Kung Fu headband) and his version of a tune called - I think, since surprisingly none of the tracks featured were actually credited - "Brand New Pony". The groove is to die for, especially when they double it up off the cuff - and so I just sat and drooled, wishing I was right there in the audience that night, lost in a haze of smoke, booze and blues. Sigh!
"stupendous rhythmic subtleties"
However, there is one performance from The Devil's Music that stands head and shoulders above the rest. Since we first heard it on that Monday night in July 1979 it occupied a place of awe-full reverence in the musical pantheon of both my father and myself. For years to come we would put on our home-spun audio cassette and be transported to a better place. We would sing, dance and play air-piano to the utterly stupendous rhythmic subtleties of a truly great artist. I almost wish that you could hear it without seeing the film, so that you are entirely dependent on the music to stir your imagination. In my head, I can still hear the hiss of the tape, the rumble of the cassette recorder, the peculiar ambience of our front room and the hum of the television all captured for posterity and mixed in with the music proper.
"this tune has haunted me for decades"
I'm often loathe to recommend certain pieces of music to other people, particularly when they've seeped so deeply into my psyche. I get worried that they won't feel the same way about it - and why should they? Music is a very personal thing, both to performer and listener. Yet, I can only say that this tune has haunted me for decades. It goes straight to my soul. For me, it's that good.
The cassette tape we made of it got lost somewhere along the years, yet I can still hear every note, every pause, every push and pull of the performance in my head. The tune is called "Vicksburg Blues" and the artist is the Louisiana-born, latterly Chicago-based pianist, Little Brother Montgomery. Bliss.
If anyone has or knows how to get hold of the soundtrack to this series - or at least an audio-recording of Little Brother Montgomery performing "Vicksburg Blues", can you let me know? I'd really appreciate it. Off the top of my head, there was a book to accompany the series too.
So what can I say? If you can get BBC iPlayer go and check the series out (The Devil's Music - produced by Maddalena Fagandini and Giles Oakley) - at less than two and half hours in total, it's well worth your time. I've put all the details below (although I've had to guess at many of the titles of the tracks - apologies if I've got any wrong) and also put direct links to each episode. Enjoy!
Devil’s Music, Series 2, Ep 1 - http://www.bbc.co.uk/i/p00lk3lz/
(First Broadcast BBC 1, Mon 9 Jul 1979)
Presenter: Alexis Korner
Performers: Booker "Bukka" White (slide steel guitar/vox) - “Poor Boy” and “Aberdeen Mississippi Blues”
Houston Stackhouse (guitar/vox) with Joe Willie Wilkins (gtr) - “Cool Drink of Water”
Sonny Blake (harmonica/vox) with unknown (pno) & LT Lewis (dms) - “One Room Country Shack”
Sam Chatmon (gtr/vox) - “Brown-Skinned Woman” and “That’s My Girl”
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Devil’s Music, Series 2, Ep 2 - http://www.bbc.co.uk/i/p00lk4rq/
(First Broadcast BBC 1, Mon 16 Jul 1979)
Presenter: Alexis Korner
Performers: Laura Dukes (ukelele/vox) - “Crawdads”
Sam Chatmon (gtr/vox) - “That’s All Right”
Big Joe Williams (9-string guitar/vox) - “Sloppy Drunk” and “Highway 49”
Little Brother Mongomery (pno/vox) - “Vicksburg Blues”
James DeShay & Band (elec gtr/vox) and band - “Brand New Pony”
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Devil’s Music, Series 2, Ep 3 - http://www.bbc.co.uk/i/p00lk5pk/
(First Broadcast BBC 1, Mon 23 Jul 1979)
Presenter: Alexis Korner
Performers: Big Joe Williams (guitar/vox) - “Providence Help The Poor People”
Henry Townsend (pno/vox) - “I’m Leaving”(?)
Victoria Spivey (pno/vox) - “TB Blues”
James DeShay & Band (elec gtr/vox) and band - “Crossroads” and “Mistake in Life” (?)
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Devil’s Music, Series 2, Ep 4 - http://www.bbc.co.uk/i/p00lk5yh/
(First Broadcast BBC 1, Mon 30 Jul 1979)
Presenter: Alexis Korner
Performers: Billy Boy Arnold with The Aces - “She Fooled Me”
Fenton Robinson & Band - “You Don’t Know What Love Is”
Sonny Blake (harmonica) with LT Lewis (dms) & Joe Willie Wilkins (gtr) - “Bring It on Home To Me”
Charles Edwards with The Aces (aka Good Rockin Charles) (harmonica) - “Don’t Start Me To Talkin”
The Aces: Freddie Below (dms), Dave Myers (bass), Louis Myers (guitar/vox) - “Take a Little Walk”
Fenton Robinson & Band - “Someone Lend Me A Dime”
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Glyn Phillips (WorldMusic.co.uk) - Wed 25th April 2012
Late-March Round-Up (29/3/12) - Fonseca, Folk, Finns & Flu
Tagged with: Glyn Phillips Blog World Music worldmusic.co.uk Roberto Fonseca Ida Kelarova Desiderius Duzda Lelo Nika Indies Scope Poletime? Aulaga Folk A Menos Cuarto Armando Records Urban Folk Quartet Off Beaten Tracks Kardemimmit Introducing World Music Network
Well, after 3 days supine and pretty much comatose in bed with the worst dose of 'man-flu' and eyeball-ache I've had in years and unable even to look at a light source, let alone a computer screen, I'm back on the digital treadmill and trying once again to catch up with the endless river of music that washes through my door . . .
Looking forward to reviewing Roberto Fonseca and band live at Birmingham Town Hall this Sunday (1st April) - an 8-piece stripped-down version of the 15 -piece album band, including Africans Baba Sissoko on percussion and Sekou Kouyate on kora against a fabulous Cuban band. Oh, yes, it's going to be a good one!
Just been sent some fabulous Roma Jazz from the Czech Republic featuring Czech and Slovak Roma musicians headed up by singer Ida Kelarova and guitarist Desiderius Duzda and the band Jazz Famelija.
The album's called "Sunen Savore" (Listen Everyone) on the Indies Scope label (MAM509 / 2012 Indies Scope - EAN: 8595026650923) to be released on 6th April 2012.
Really beautiful music - sort of bossa meets gypsy meets jazz - very mellow but really gets under your skin without forcing itself - had it on repeat play for ages last night. And can I point out the sumptuous, quivering, heart-string-tugging accordion of Lelo Nika . . .
Also from the same label Indies Scope, and already released is something quite different: Polish Country and Western. No, don't laugh! Seriously. And it's not bad either - it's fairly tongue-in-cheek and mixed up with punk and pop elements. The band is called Poletime? and the album (MAM505 - 2012 Indies Scope) is called "Kroskantry" (cross-country - get it?).
The young band from Brno have a 'banjo-punk' ethos and bags of humour even if you don't speak Polish (and trust me, I don't). If you do, you might pick up on the lyrics "which are straightforward, poetic, yet slightly vulgar" according to their liner notes. It also states "they confirm their position of joyful band, full of brisk rhythm and melodic choruses." So now you know!
(info for Ida Kelarova and Poletime? via Indies Scope: www.indies.eu/en/)
Before I succumbed to whatever damnable virus floored me, I was also checking out a couple of contemporary folk offerings. The first from Spanish band Aulaga Folk and their album/DVD "A Menos Cuarto" on Armando Records (ARD-123).
The album title means literally 'at quarter to' (as in being ready 15 minutes earlier than the agreed time) and refers to their perception of being in the right place at the right time.
The band pride themselves on rejuvenating the traditional folk of their region (the little known area of Extremadura) and mixing it with the Celtic traditions of Galicia and Asturias to the north and elements of rock, latin, jazz, etc. Their facebook link is here: www.facebook.com/pages/AULAGA-FOLK/236668229479
The other folk album comes from closer to home and is Birmingham and the UK's Urban Folk Quartet. This is called "Off Beaten Tracks" and was largely written whilst on the road during their 2011 tour of Europe and North America playing a mixture of venues from 30,000 strong festivals to small coves (many off beaten tracks, I shouldn’t wonder).
The 'off beaten tracks' theme really suits their style of music, which although recognisably folk in feel and acoustic orientation sees them running free through the world's diverse musical genres like kids through a summer meadow. The music seamlessly weaves countless threads of varied styles into the whole - going from Celtic folk to reggae to arabic to jazz and elsewhere, almost in a single phrase at times.
It's all quite beautifully done and so natural (I nearly said organic then!) that it's quite easy to miss the plethora of worldwide folk reference points and just treat it as... well, music! No bad thing I suppose.
Their PR has them as "a dozen instruments and four voices coming together to craft a knockout show of globally–influenced, electrifying acoustic music". Yeah, I'll buy that.
Watch out for Frank Moon’s quavering oud and soaring fiddle aviatics from Galicia’s Paloma Trigas and England’s Joe Broughton - all topped of with Tom Chapman’s rattling cajón.
The album is described as: "a travelogue of musical snapshots from the road - compositions dedicated to Spanish bus rides or The Vancouver Island coastline, for example - and a collection of highlights from the set that had people dancing the night away at festivals from The Bay of Biscay to edge of The North Pacific."
There you go, does what it says on the tin! For more info check here:
Also been listening to some quite beautiful contemporary Finnish folk from the female vocals-and-kantele quartet: Kardemmimit and their album "Introducing Kardemimmit" on World Music Network. Very chillaxed...
And if you fancy some mad, mad, but totally brilliant Pakistani jazz - you can't do much better than Sachal Studio's remake of Paul Desmond's "Take Five" (part of their homage to Dave Brubeck). Stunning! I'd first heard it some months ago, but came across it again yesterday and thought it was too good not to include here:
Massed violins and cellos backing some fabulous sitar, acoustic guitar and crazy, crazy tabla-playing . . . Bliss!
OK, gotta go. As ever I start off thinking "I'll just jot a few sentences and thoughts down" - and, as ever, my mind runs away with itself, leaping through those meadows of musical wildflowers into the late afternoon sun . . . What's a man to do?
Glyn Phillips (WorldMusic.co.uk) - Fri 30 March 2012
Mid-March Round-up (15/3/12)
Tagged with: Glyn Phillips world music worldmusic.co.uk Andy Kershaw No Off Switch Rachel Harrington Knock Outs Julaba Kunda Sensational Space Shifters Dub Colossus Spiro Putumayo Bombino Roberto Fonseca Flavia Bittencourt Soundway Leilia Ceu Rough Guide Sefiroth Omi
"Best autobiography I've ever read. Bar none"
Just a few quick observations and round-ups of what's going for me recently.
Just finished reading Andy Kershaw's autobiography "No Off Switch".
I'll put this as simply as I can: Best Autobiography I've Ever Read. Bar None. Thoroughly recommend it. Nuff Said.
I'm looking to write a review of it when I get a moment or ten and I'll expand my thoughts in that, so watch this space . . .
[* The FULL REVIEW of ANDY KERSHAW's "NO OFF SWITCH" can now be found here: worldmusic.co.uk/andy_kershaw_no_off_switch_an_autobiography_rev]
Saw the American Country band Rachel Harrington and the Knock Outs a couple of nights ago (currently on tour round the UK) -
a fabulous all-girl outfit with great musicianship, harmonies and some classy pen(wo)manship from Harrington.
(see Review here:
And a few weeks previously saw the brilliant Julaba Kunda featuring the Scottish fiddler Griselda Sanderson and the Gambian fiddler Juldeh Camara, alongside Senegal's Amadou Diagne.
Catch 'em while you can - before Juldeh gets too tied up in Robert Plant's new band the Sensational Space Shifters this summer . . .
(Review of Julaba Kunda here: worldmusic.co.uk/julaba_kunda_at_birmingham_1922012)
On my car's CD player for the last few weeks:
"Dub Me Tender" - the remix versions of Dub Colossus's Award Winning album "Addis Through The Looking Glass."
I still prefer the original, but the remixes are great music for chilling out to when driving.
(For a review of the original click here: worldmusic.co.uk/dub_colossus_addis_through_the_looking_glass_re)
Previous to that a sampler of tracks from Spiro's "Kaleidophonica" album, Putumayo's "Latin Beat" compilation and Bombino's "Agadez" were all getting me from A to B when driving.
However, I spend most of my time sitting at my computer and these are some of the albums, artists and tracks that have been on constant rotation on my iTunes...
Soundway's wonderful compilation "The Original Sound of Cumbia: The History of Colombian Cumbia & Porro As Told By The Phonograph 1948 - 79", a must for all you colombiphiliacs out there,
Galician female vocal outfit Leilía and their new album "Consentimento" (on the Spanish Fol label) - the ladies in the groovy hats below!
Brazil's Ceú and her new album "Caravana Sereia Bloom"
and the really most excellent compilation: "The Rough Guide To The Music Of New Orleans" from World Music Network.
(You can read my review of that last one here:
Other interesting things to drop on my digital doormat have been:
some great old Afro Jazz from Nigeria's Monomono and Trinidad's Black Truth Rhythm Band,
Rocky ratafolk from the EP Scecchendaun from Italy's Colletivo Mazzulata,
American folky-pop from Girlyman,
and some tasty ska and reggae from the UKs Chain SkaBrassika (EP "South East Beats").
Also flying in have been the Rough Guides to Celtic Women and Psychedelic Africa* (just two of many World Music Network releases this year),
The Sefiroth Ensemble's new EP ('Arboles Lloran Para Lluvia')*,
BraAgas's new album "Fuerte" (including a couple of versions of the classic "Chaje Sukarije")
and the album "Siempre Pa'lante" from a feisty salsa combo from Denmark called Jorge Cordero and the Gran Daneses.
[* Reviews for these two albums here]:
I've also been enjoying some mad mashups and remixes from the likes of Cafe de Calaveras & Add On de Bass who take on Pastor Lopez's "Mentirosa" in a moombahton style, Birmingham's G-Corp and Nuff Wish's delightful mash-ups of Marley and Whitney, Bobby Blue, and Michael Jackson with Adele.
And what about Rude Hi-Fi's Barriobeat Jungle Reggae remix of "Lascia Che Sia" featuring Amparo Sanchez? Or his Dubwise DnB version of "Jungle Reggae Party" featuring Lucky Hernan?
Also liking the Capt Cumbia remix of Chaka Demus and Pliers's "Slim Thing" and an unknown remix of Amy Winehouse on "Sweet Guitar" featuring Italian reggae supremo Alborosie with shades of Dawn Penn. Lush.
And how can I leave out Capt Cumbia's "Under Mi Serbie (Under Mi Sensi -Soundclash Edit)" - a mad electro-balkanic-cumbia dancehall mashup featuring Mr Vegas vs Boban Markovic vs the Amsterdam Klezmer Band! Excellent.
On the jazzy, bluesy side I've got to mention Cardiff's Ecklectic Mick who specialises mostly in electro-swing remixes - but here has taken a little detour. Firstly mixing jazz with Indian music, notably his gentle mash-up of that old standard "Sweet Georgia Brown" - although you can also check out his softswing treatment of it too; and then a fabulous remix of Howlin' Wolf's "Spoonful" (mixing in "Rosie/Be My Woman" along the way).
However top of the mash-up list these past few weeks has been the ever-reliable Fissunix and his deliciously creamy mash of Alicia Keys and Chic in "Good Times Fallin". Lushness personified.
Worth checking out his full-on and imaginative Beatles mashups too: "Beautiful Prudence" (with Christina Aguilera), "End of the Walrus", "Owner of the USSR" and "Don't Let Me Down On The Dancefloor", as well as his Zeppelin mash-ups like "HitzBreaker" (Heartbreaker sounding like it's been re-recorded inside a beehive the size of a small city! Intense).
Loving also Diabel Cissokho's "Allah Lako",
Escalandrum's latin jazz tango treatment of "Adios Nonino",
"Cheerleader" by Jamaica's Omi
and finally, the new afrocuban jazz album "Yo!" by Cuban pianist Roberto Fonseca - this is fantastic and definitely getting an in-depth review very soon! [Oh, and here it is!]: www.worldmusic.co.uk/roberto_fonseca_yo_album_review
All this and I've been working on some lyrics in English for Brazil's sublime songstress Flavia Bittencourt for her new album...
Busy boy indeed!