THOS. RAPP AND PEARLS BEFORE SWINE-ONE OF FOLK MUSIC’S BEST KEPT SECRETS.

Thos. Rapp and Pearls Before Swine-One Of Folk Music’s Best Kept Secrets.

When Pearls Before Swine  released their fifth album City Of Gold in April 1969. it was the first  album credited to Tom Rapp and Pearls Before Swine. This seemed only fair, as Tom Rapp was the only original member of Pearls Before Swine left. The rest of the band left en masse in 1969, before Pearls Before Swine signed to Reprise Records. Since then, Pearls Before Swine consisted of Tom Rapp, his wife Elisabeth and session musicians that were brought onboard for recording sessions and tours. It was no surprise that Tom Rapp wanted equal billing with Pearls Before Swine. However, that hadn’t always been the case.

Pearls Before Swine was founded by Tom Rapp in Melbourne, Florida in 1965. The nascent band featured Tom Rapp and his high school friends Wayne Harley, Lane Lederer and Roger Crissinger. Tom Rapp quickly became the band’s songwriter-in-chief, and wrote the material that would feature on the demo that Pearls Before Swine sent to the avant-garde label ESP-Disk. By then, the band were sporting the name Pearls Before Swine, which they took from a quotation in The Bible (Matthew. 7:6). 

Not long after sending their demo to ESP-Disk, Pearls Before Swine were offered a recording contract by the label. This was what every new band dreamt of, and Pearls Before Swine signed on the dotted line. Soon, they began work recording their debut album, One Nation Underground with producer Richard L. Alderson.

One Nation Underground.

While Pearls Before Swine were a four piece band, they didn’t have a drummer. So session drummer and percussionist Warren Smith was drafted in before work began on One Nation Underground at Impact Sound, in New York. 

The sessions began on the ‘6th’ of May 1967, and were scheduled to last just four days. The band planned to record ten songs, including the six penned by Tom Rapp. He had written Another Time, (Oh Dear) Miss Morse, Drop Out, Morning Song, Regions Of May and Uncle John. Lead vocalist and guitarist Tom Rapp also two songs cowrote Ballad To An Amber Lady and I Shall Not Care. It took just four days for Pearls Before Swine to record One Nation Underground, and the session was completed on ‘9th’ May 1967.

Five months later, and Pearls Before Swine released their debut album One Nation Underground. Critical acclaim accompanied the release of this minor psychedelic folk classic. When One Nation Underground was released, it was soon, well on its way to becoming ESP-Disk’s most successful recording. It’s thought that One Nation Underground sold anywhere between 100,000 to 250,000 copies. This should’ve proven profile for Pearls Before Swine.

Alas, contractual problems meant that Pearls Before Swine received very little in the way of royalties. Later, a rueful Tom Rapp alleged: “we never got any money from ESP. Never, not even like a hundred dollars or something.” For Pearls Before Swine this must have been disheartening, especially as they were still under contract to  ESP-Disk. 

Balaklava.

In early 1968, Pearls Before Swine’s begun work on their sophomore album, Balaklava. By then, there had been a change in the band’s lineup. Jim Bohannon had replaced Roger Crissinger. Meanwhile, Tom Rapp continued in his role as Pearls Before Swine’s songwriter-in-chief.

For Balaklava, Tom Rapp wrote eight of the ten songs on the album and cowrote Translucent Carriages. The other song on the album was a cover of Leonard Cohen’s Suzanne. These songs were recorded with producer Richard L. Alderson[ at Impact Sound in New York.

When the recording sessions began, Pearls Before Swine were augmented by session musicians. They added flute, English horn, piano, organ, guitar and strings. Overdubbing was used extensively, with recordings of Florence Nightingale and the original buglers from the Battle of Balaclava in 1854 added to Balaklava. They played their part in an album of evocative, cerebral and complex music which was full  of allegorical classical references. 

Just over a year after the release of One Nation Underground, Balaklava was released to the same critical acclaim as its predecessor in November 1968. Critics marvelled at the innovative way songs were arranged and the eclectic nature of instruments deployed on Balaklava. It was an album that the band were extremely proud of, and which critics hailed as more than a fitting followup to One Nation Underground. However, despite the critical acclaim Balaklava received, all wasn’t well within Pearls Before Swine.

Not long after the release of Balaklava, Tom Rapp managed to negotiate his way out of the contract with ESP-Disk. This left him free to sign with Reprise Records, which was home to many folk and folk rock artist. However, the rest of Pearls Before Swine didn’t follow Tom Rapp to Reprise Records and called time on their career with the band.

The rest of Pearls Before Swine had never played live during their time together. This wasn’t ideal for a band trying to make a breakthrough. After that, Pearls Before Swine consisted of Tom Rapp his wife Elisabeth and session musicians that were brought onboard for recording sessions and tours. The first album that this new lineup would feature on was, These Things Too. 

These Things Too.

Having signed to Reprise Records, Tom Rapp was keen to get to work on the next Pearls Before Swine album. This would eventually become These Things Too, which marked the start of the Reprise Records’ years.

For These Things Too, Tom Rapp wrote ten new songs. He also wrote Green And Blue and Mon Amour with his wife Elisabeth and added music to W. H. Auden’s poem Footnote. The only cover version on the album was Bob Dylan’s folk anthem I Shall Be Released. It was covered in the familiar surroundings of Impact Sound, in New York.

This was the same studio where Pearls Before Swine recorded their first two albums. They were produced by Richard L. Alderson, who returned to produce These Things Too. He helped put together the session musicians who would feature on the album. One of the musicians Richard L. Alderson brought onboard was Jim Fairs who previously, had been a member of the garage band The Cryin’ Shame. Jim Fairs played on These Things Too and co-produced the album. It featured jazz drummer Grady Tate, bassist Bill Salter, electric violinist Richard Greene, who later would join Seatrain. This small, but tight and talented band recorded the fourteen songs that became These Things Too.

The release of These Things Too was scheduled for September 1969. Before that, critics had their say on Pearls Before Swine’s Reprise Records’ debut. While the album was well received by critics, it didn’t receive the same critical acclaim as previous albums. Critics described These Things Too as a mystical and “dreamy” sounding album. Later, it turned out a reason for the album’s dreamy sound. Tom Rapp later admitted that These Things Too was the first Pearls Before Swine album that: “reflected drug use in the writing of the songs.” This was a first for Pearls Before Swine.

Nowadays, These Things Too has  been reappraised by critics, and is regarded as one of Pearls Before Swine’s most underrated albums. 

It was also one of the Pearls Before Swine’s least successful albums. These Things Too didn’t sell in vast quantities, and was a disappointing start to Pearls Before Swine’s time at Reprise Records. 

The Use of Ashes.

By the time that Tom Rapp began writing Pearls Before Swine fourth album, The Use of Ashes he and his wife Elisabeth were living in the Netherlands. That was where Elisabeth was born and brought up. Tom and Elisabeth Rapp had sailed from New York to the Netherlands on the maiden voyage of the QE2. This was idyllic journey and one that was sure to provide inspiration for Tom Rapp.

On their arrival in the Netherlands, Tom and Elisabeth Rapp spent several months living in a house near Utrecht. That was where Tom Rapp began writing The Use of Ashes. 

Most of the ten songs that feature on The Use of Ashes were written by Tom Rapp in Utrecht. It was the first album he had written entirely himself. Elisabeth is credited as having helped pen God Save The Child, while Rocket Man was based on a short story by Ray Bradbury. Rocket Man was heard by Bernie Taupin, and would inspire him to write Rocket Man for Elton John. That was still to come.

Before that, a decision was made to record The Use of Ashes in Nashville. Peter H. Edmiston was brought onboard to produce the album,  and some of Nashville’s top sessions musicians would feature on The Use of Ashes. This included many of the members of the country rock band Area Code 615. They made their way to Woodland Studios, in Nashville where they spent much of March 1970 was spent recording material for The Use of Ashes. By the time the sessions were over, Pearls Before Swine had more than enough music for one album. However, the albums wasn’t complete and some sessions took place at Impact Sound, in New York. After that, The Use of Ashes was ready for release.

In August 1970, The Use of Ashes was released to widespread critical acclaim. Critics hailed the album a return to form from Pearls Before Swine. They had reached the same heights as One Nation Underground and Balaklava. However, some critics preferred The Use of Ashes which featured country rock, folk rock and psychedelic folk. It was a much more eclectic album, which featured some of Tom Rapp’s finest songs. Especially The Jeweller, which was later recorded by This Mortal Coil, the cinematic Rocket Man and the jazz-tinged, playful Tell Me Why? One of the highlights was Riegal, a sobering song that was inspired by a newspaper article that told how 4,000 prisoners of war died after the prison ship MS Rigel was sunk. It’s a poignant song, that shows just how Tom Rapp was maturing as a songwriter. The Use of Ashes featured some of Tom Rapp’s finest songs. He seemed to have come of age as a songwriter, on what was Pearls Before Swine’s most successful album for Reprise Records. Things were looking up for Pearls Before Swine.

City Of Gold.

When it came time for Pearls Before Swine to begin work on their third album, and fifth album overall, Tom Rapp announced that he wanted equal billing with the band he had founded six years earlier in 1965.  From City Of Gold, onwards the band would be billed as Thos. Rapp and Pearls Before Swine. 

Much of what would become City Of Gold had already been recorded in Nashville, during the sessions for The Use of Ashes’ album. Further sessions would take place at Impact Sound, in New York with Tom Rapp taking charge of production. Eventually, eleven tracks featured on City Of Gold.

This included seven Tom Rapp compositions, including Once Upon A Time, Raindrops, City Of Gold, The Man, Casablanca Wedding and Did You Dream Of? Tom Rapp also added music to William Shakespear’s Sonnet #65. They were joined by cover versions Leonard Cohen’s Nancy, Jacques Brel and Rod McKuen’s Seasons In The Sun and Judy Collins My Father. These tracks became City Of Gold, which was Pearls Before Swine’s fifth album.

Once Upon A Time was scheduled for release in April 1971, and was a mixture of country folk, country rock and folk rock. The album was well received by critics, who noticed that Tom Rapp was continuing to mature as a singer and songwriter. He had come of age as a songwriter on The Use Of Ashes, and this continued on Once Upon A Time, much of which was recorded at the same time. 

 

Just like his two previous albums for Reprise Records,  Once Upon A Time didn’t sell in vast quantities. Pearls Before Swine had a loyal fan-base, but their music deserved to reach a much wider audience. That hadn’t happened so far. Tom Rapp was hoping that  things would change when …Beautiful Lies That You Could Live In was released.

 …Beautiful Lies That You Could Live In.

Recording of …Beautiful Lies That You Could Live In had taken place in early 1971, so that Pearls Before Swine could embark on their first tour. That was highly unusual for a band that was formed in 1965. Most bands spent much of their time on the road. However, Pearls Before Swine weren’t most bands.

They were one of music’s best kept secrets, despite releasing five albums. Pearls Before Swine had still to make a breakthrough. Taking the band on the road it was hoped, would introduce Pearls Before Swine to a new audience. So with an all-star band that featured drummer Billy Mundi , guitarist Amos Garrett and pianist Bob Dorough, Tom and Elisabeth Rapp headed out on their first ever tour.

In November 1971, Pearls Before Swine were preparing to release their sixth album …Beautiful Lies That You Could Live In. It featured eleven songs, including nine from the pen of Tom Rapp. Elisabeth Rapp wrote music to A. E. Housman’s Epitaph On An Army Of Mercenaries. The other song on …Beautiful Lies That You Could Live In was a cover of Leonard Cohen’s Bird On A Wire. These songs were recorded at three studios with producer Peter H. Edmiston.

Recording of …Beautiful Lies That You Could Live In took place at A&R Studios and Aura Sound, New York, and at Bearsville Studios in Woodstock. This was where Tom Rapp and Pearls Before Swine recorded an album that moved towards what was a much more orthodox folk rock sound.

When critics heard …Beautiful Lies That You Could Live In, they hailed the album as one of Pearls Before Swine’s best albums.  No wonder, as the music was beautiful, enchanting, evocative and captivating. The album opener Snow Queen, Butterflies, Simple Things, Island Lady and Freedom were among the album’s highlight of …Beautiful Lies That You Could Live In. It was a cohesive album that showcased Tom Rapp’s skills as a singer, songwriter and storyteller. Just like on previous albums, he had the ability to breath meaning and emotion into the lyrics and make the songs come to life. This he did on throughout …Beautiful Lies That You Could Live In, which surely, would introduce Tom Rapp and Pearls Before Swine to a much wider audience?

Sadly, that wasn’t to be, and when …Beautiful Lies That You Could Live In was released was a familiar story. The album didn’t reach the wider audience that it so richly deserved. That was despite the popularity of folk rock. It seemed that Tom Rapp and Pearls Before Swine were destined to remain one of music’s best kept secrets.

Especially after Tom Rapp decided to embark upon a career as a solo artist. This came not long after the release of …Beautiful Lies That You Could Live In, Tom Rapp decided to embark upon career as a solo career. This marked the end of the road for Thos. Rapp and Pearls Before Swine.

Tom Rapp’s  debut solo album Familiar Songs, was released on Reprise Records in 1972. Despite what was another album of carefully crafted songs, it was a familiar story for Tom Rapp, when the album failed to find an audience. For Tom Rapp, Familiar Songs marked the end of era.

Not long after Reprise Records released Familiar Songs, they parted company with Tom Rapp. He signed to Blue Thumb Records, and released Stardancer later in 1972.  Stardancer featured the impassioned underground anti-war anthem Fourth Day Of July. It played its part in an album that won the approval of critics and cultural commentators. Despite this, still, commercial success continued to elude him.

Tom Rapp returned in 1973 with Sunforest, which featured a mixture of folk rock, art rock and jazz. Although Sunforest wasn’t as strong an album Stardancer it showcased a talented a singer-songwriter. When the album was released in 1973, it failed commercially and Tom Rapp’s talents were no nearer to finding a wider audience. For Tom Rapp this was hugely frustrating.

So much so, that after his contract with Blue Thumb Records expired, Tom Rapp turned his back on music. He enrolled at  Brandeis University and graduated in 1981. Tom Rapp then enrolled at University of Pennsylvania Law School and three years later, in 1984, embarked upon a career as a civil rights lawyer. This was the start of a successful legal career for Tom Rapp.

It wasn’t until 1997 that Tom Rapp returned to music, when he made a guest appearance at the Terrastock music festival. Although his comeback was successful, still Tom Rapp continued his career as a civil rights lawyer. However, two years later in 1999, Tom Rapp returned with a new album A Journal Of The Plague Year. This was the first album that Tom Rapp had released since Sunforest in 1973. Since then, Tom Rapp hasn’t released a followup to A Journal Of The Plague Year. Instead, he’s concentrated on his successful legal career. Law’s gain is music’s loss.

Twenty years have passed since Tom Rapp released A Journal Of The Plague Year. Since then, his quartet of solo albums and the six albums he released with Pearls Of Swine are starting to find a wider audience. This hopefully, will continue to be the case, as music lovers young and old discover the musical delights ofThos. Rapp and Pearls Before Swine who are one of the folk rock’s best kept secrets.

Thos. Rapp and Pearls Before Swine-One Of Folk Music’s Best Kept Secrets

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MOGWAI-EVERY COUNTRY’S SUN-BOX SET.

Mogwai-Every Country’s Sun-Box Set.

Label:Rock Action Records.

Over the last fifty years, the music industry has been transformed beyond all recognition. One of the biggest changes is how the music buyers purchase and listen to music. Back in the late-sixties and early seventies, most people listened to music on vinyl. Usually, younger record buyers started off buying singles, and eventually graduated to albums when their budget permitted. Buying their first album was bit like a  rite of passage, and everyone remembers where and when they bought their first album and what it was.

Soon, though, not everyone was buying vinyl. By the early seventies, some cars had were fitted with an eight-track which allowed music lovers to enjoy music on the move. While it enjoyed a degree of popularity, the eight-track never captured the imagination of music lovers in the way the cassette did. It’s something that many people still have fond memories of. Especially after the introduction of the Sony Walkman. This allowed people to enjoy music on the move and even record their own mix tapes. For many people this was a game-changer.

So was the introduction of the compact disc in the early eighties. They offered music lovers perfect sound and were said to be indestructible. Many people were won over by this brave new world and soon, record collectors were offloading their vast collections that they had put together over a many years. These they replaced with compact discs and their promise of  perfect sound. This was the start of a new era where perfect sound was within the budget of everyone. It was what everyone wanted. Now they were able to hear  music as the artist intended.

Meanwhile, hi-fi fans were celebrating the introduction of a new way to listen to music, the mini disc. Again it offered perfect sound quality, and soon became part of many hi-fi systems. Many people also bought portable mini disc players which allowed them to listen to music on  the go. However, the mini disc player was short-lived, and was soon consigned to musical history.

Despite the introduction of the compact disc and mini disc, which meant music fans were able to enjoy perfect sound quality, scientists were working away on a new way for people to listen to music…the MP3. It was far removed from the perfect sound quality of the compact disc. Despite that, a new generation of music fans like the idea of being able to carry vast quantities of music on an iPod of MP3 player. They didn’t care about the inferior quality of the music. Instead, they were more interested in how many songs their iPod or MP3 player held. It was a sad day for music. Suddenly, sound quality no longer mattered for many.

That was the least of many people’s worries as a revolution was underway within the musical industry. It would result in many casualties and the musical landscape was transformed forevermore. By the time the revolution was over, and the music industry took shape how people listened to and purchased music had changed considerably.

Sadly, there are still many so-called ‘music fans’ that listen to MP3s on iPods and phones using cheap ear buds, while other listen through their tinny laptop speakers. For them, music is mere background noise. Thankfully, there are still many people who care about music and indeed sound quality. They’re not satisfied with the MP3s and care about sound quality.

This is reflected in how they buy music. Over the last few years, vinyl has made a comeback and sales are at their highest for twenty years. Many older record buyers are regretting selling their original vinyl collections. There’s even been a resurgence of popularity in the cassette. While CDs sales are nothing like they once were, they’re still one of the most popular ways to listen to music.   

Nowadays, when  an artist or band releases a new album they take into account the different formats that people prefer and give them a choice of  various difference formats.That was the case with Mogwai’s ninth studio album,Every Country’s Sun, which was the thirteenth album of their career.  Every Country’s Sun was a multi format release, and was released  CD, MP3 and as a two LP set on heavyweight white vinyl. There was also a  indies only vinyl edition pressed on clear vinyl, and finally, the limited edition box set of Every Country’s Sun. It’s the latest chapter in the Mogwai story, which  began in 1991.

That was when Stuart Braithwaite and Dominic Aitchison first met in Scotland’s musical capital, Glasgow.Four years later, they met drummer Martin Bulloch and formed Mogwai, which film buffs will remember, is a character from the movie Gremlins. Mogwai was always meant as a temporary name, until they came up with something better.  

Later in 1995,  three become four when guitarist John Cummings  joined Mogwai. Since then, John’s role in Mogwai has changed, and he’s now described as  playing “guitar and laptop,” as is regarded as the maestro when it comes to all things technical. However, not long after John Cummings joined Mogwai in 1995, the nascent band started honing their sound and making plans for the future.

In 1996, Mogwai founded their own record label Rock Action Records. It would play an important part in the rise and rise of Mogwai over the next twenty-one years.  So would Mogwai’s Castle Of Doom Studios, which was cofounded by Mogwai and Tony Doogan in 2005. It’s situated in  the West End of Glasgow, and is a home from home for Mogwai, when they record a new album. That was still to come.

Before that, Mogwai released their debut single Tuner on their newly founded label Rock Action Records. Tuner was released to critical acclaim and the NME awarded it their single of the week award.  Later in 1996, Mogwai released two further singles.  Angels v. Aliens and Summer. By then, Mogwai were well on their way to becoming  one of the hottest bands of the late nineties.

Mogwai’s career continued apace in 1997, when they released two more singles.The first of these was New Paths To Helicon Pt. 1, which  showed Mogwai growing and maturing as a band. NME agreed, and just like their  debut single Tuner, New Paths To Helicon Pt. 1 won NME’s single of the week award. The followup Club Beatroot  was also well received by critics. This was the perfect time for Mogwai to record their debut album, Mogwai Young Team.

Mogwai Young Team.

For Mogwai Young Team, Mogwai brought onboard Brendan O’Hare the Teenage Fanclub’s drummer. Another guest artist was Aidan Moffat of Falkirk based band Arab Strap. He added the vocal to R U Still In 2 It, while the rest of Mogwai Young Team consisted of instrumentals. Mogwai Young Team was recorded at Chem 19 studios and produced by two of  Scotland’s top producers, ex-Delgado Paul Savage and Andy Miller. Once Mogwai Young Team was completed, it was then released on Scotland’s  biggest record label, Chemikal Underground Records.

Before its release, Mogwai Young Team was a hailed as a groundbreaking album of post-rock by critics. They were won over by Mogwai Young Team, and Mogwai were hailed as a band with a big future. 

That proved to be a perceptive forecast. When Mogwai Young Team was released on 21st October 1997, sold over 30,000 copies and reached number seventy-five in the UK. The Mogwai Young Team were on their way. However, a few changes were about to take place.

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Come On Die Young.

A year later, Mogwai were back in the studio recording their sophomore album Come On Die Young. Much had changed. A new member had joined the band, Barry Buns a flautist and sometimes pianist, who had already played a few gigs with the band. He was invited to become the fifth member of Mogwai.  Not long after this, violinist Luke Sutherland joined Mogwai, but not on a full-time basis. This wasn’t the only change.

Recording of what became Come On Die Young was split between New York and Glasgow. This time, they’d forsaken Chem 19 in Blantyre and recorded parts of the album in Rarbox Road Studios, New York. Some sessions took place in Glasgow’s Cava Studios. Producing Come On Die Young was Dave Fridman. For some critics, his addition changed Mogwai’s sound.

Some critics felt his production style resulted in a much more orthodox sounding album. However, others felt that Come On Die You was part of Mogwai discovering their “sound” and direction. Come On Die Young is a much more understated, but also ambient, experimental, multi-textured and melodic. There’s a fusion of ambient, grunge and post rock on Come On Die Young, which was released in 29th March 1999. 

On its release, Come On Die Young  reached number twenty-nine in the UK. Mogwai it seemed  were now on their way to finding their sound and fulfilling the potential that was evident on their debut album. This was apparent with tracks of the quality of  CODY and Hugh Dallas s. However, like all innovative bands, Mogwai continued to reinvent their music.

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This proved to the case on their eponymous E.P, which  includes Stanley Kubrick, which was recorded in the exotic surroundings of Cowdenbeath in  Fife. Burn Girl Prom Queen was recorded at Cava Studios, in Mogwai’s hometown of Glasgow. These two tracks were part of E.P., which further enhanced Mogwai’s reputation as post rock pioneers. So did their third album Rock Action.

Rock Action.

Mogwai’s music continued to evolve on their third album 2001s Rock Action. More use was made of electronics on Rock Action. This was part of a process that would continue over the next few albums. There were even more layers and textures on Rock Action, as Mogwai continued to expand their sonic palette. Seven of the songs were instrumentals, while Dial Revenge featured Gruff Rhys of Super Furry Animals. Again, Rock Action was produced by Dave Fridman, while recording took place in New York and at Glasgow’s Cava Studios. Once Rock Action was completed, it became Mogwai’s first album to be released on Play It Again Sam.

Rock Action was released in April 2001, and proved to be Mogwai’s most successful album. It reached number twenty-three in the UK. Critics remarked upon how Rock Action wasn’t as dark an album as its predecessors. That didn’t mean that Mogwai’s view of the world had changed. They were still worldweary which   would become a Mogwai trademark.

Six months after the release of Rock Action, Mogwai returned with another single, The My Father My King. It was released in October 2001, and was described “as the companion piece to Rock Action.” A sticker on the cover bore Mogwai’s description of the single as: “two parts serenity and one part death metal.” That was about to change. Soon, they’d be happy people writing happy songs and making a breakthrough into the American market.

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Happy Songs For Happy People.

Happy Songs For Happy People was released in 2003, and Mogwai’s evolution continued. Their music continued further down the electronic road. While Mogwai still deployed electric guitars and a drummer, synths were playing a more important role in Mogwai’s music. So were the addition of strings and a piano. They played their part in what was a much more understated album. Part of this change in style was a change of producer.

Tony Doogan was brought onboard as producer, and replaced Dave Fridman. Gone were transatlantic recording sessions. Happy Songs For Happy People was recorded at Cava Sound Studios, Glasgow. On its release in June 2003, Happy Songs For Happy People was well received by critics. Critics drew attention to I Know You Are But What Am I? and Hunted By A Freak,  two of the album’s highlights. The critics also welcomed Mogwai’s latest change in style. So did record buyers. 

While Happy Songs For Happy People only reached number forty-seven in the UK, it spent a week in the American charts, reaching number 182 in the US Billboard 200. After four albums, Mogwai had broken into the American market. Happy Songs For Happy People it seemed, was a landmark album.

Having made inroads into the lucrative American market, Mogwai didn’t rush their fifth album. It was released three years after Happy Songs For Happy People. There’s a reason for this. They were working on tree separate projects. 

The first was their fifth album Mr. Beast. Then there was the first soundtrack they’d written and recorded. This was for the 2006 movie Zidane: A 21st Century Soundtrack. Mogwai also collaborated with Clint Mansell on the soundtrack to The Fountain. Although soundtracks were a nice sideline for Mogwai, their fifth album Mr. Beast was of huge importance. Especially, if it was a commercial success in America.

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Mr. Beast.

Recording of Mr. Beast took place at Mogwai’s new studio, Castle Of Doom Studios in Glasgow. Co-producing Mr.Beast with Mogwai, was Tony Doogan. Between April and October 2005, Mogwai honed their fifth album, and after six months, Mr. Beast was complete. It was Mogwai’s most important album.

Everyone realised the importance of Mr. Beast. Mogwai were on a verge of breaking into the American market. Happy Songs for Happy People had got Mogwai’s foot in the door of the American market. Now was the time for the Mogwai Young Team to kick the door of its hinged, and make their presence felt.  That was what Mogwai intended to do with tracks like Travel Is Dangerous, Friend Of The Night and We’re No Here. They featured Mogwai at their innovative and creative best. This trio of tracks were part of an album that would please critics, Mr. Beast.

On its release, it was mostly, to critical acclaim. Critics were fascinated at how Mogwai’s music continued to evolve. For Mogwai, standing still was going backwards. Record buyers agreed and expected Mogwai to continually release groundbreaking and innovative. That was what Mogwai delivered.

When Mr. Beast was released on 5th March 2006, record buyers found an album of groundbreaking and innovative music. It climbed thirty-one in the UK. Across the Atlantic, Mr. Beast reached number 128 in the US Billboard 200. Mogwai were now one of Scotland’s most successful musical exports. They were certainly well on their way to becoming Scotland’s most innovative band. This was a title they weren’t going to give up without a fight. 

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Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait.

Following the release of Mr. Beast, the other two projects that Mogwai had been working on, were released. The first was Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait. This was project that came about in late 2005, when artist Douglas Gordon asked Mogwai to write and record a soundtrack to a film he was making about footballer Zinedine Zidane. This was Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait. Having heard the details of the project, it didn’t take Mogwai long agree to provide the soundtrack  to Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait, which gave them their entry into the world of soundtracks.  

Mogwai grasped this opportunity, and recorded Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait at their Castle Of Doom Studios. During the sessions, Mogwai recorded ten tracks, which were produced by Tony Doogan. However, when the soundtrack was released, it came baring a secret.

This was the hidden track Untitled, which was a twenty-three minute epic, that  featured Mogwai at their most inventive. That was the case throughout Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait. Most critics realised this. However, a few didn’t seem to ‘get’ Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait. Despite the slings and arrows of the critics that didn’t get Mogwai’s introduction into the world of soundtracks, the critics that mattered gave Mogwai the recognition they deserved when Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait was released on 30th October 2006. Then less than a month later, the soundtrack to The Fountain was released on 27th November 2006.

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The Fountain.

The Fountain was a collaboration between contemporary classic composer Clint Mansell, string quartet the Kronos Quartet and Mogwai. To some onlookers, it looked like an unlikely collaboration. That wasn’t the case though.

Mogwai had spent December 2005 locked away in their Castle Of Doom Studios with producer Tony Doogan. Other parts of The Fountain project were recorded in New York and Los Angeles. Then once the project was complete, The Fountain was released on 27th November 2006.

When The Fountain soundtrack was released, the reviews were positive. Mogwai’s contribution to the soundtrack had proved vital, while the Kronos Quartet proved a perfect foil the Mogwai Young Team. Mogwai’s lasted soundtrack had enhanced their reputation as the go-to guys for a soundtrack. That would their sideline in the future. However, before they released another soundtrack, Mogwai would release another two albums.

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The Hawk Is Howling.

The first of these was The Hawk Is Howling. To ensure they kept their title of Scotland’s most innovative bands, Mogwai returned to the studio where it all began, Chem 19 in Blantyre. 

Andy Miller who had co-produced Mogwai Young Team, Mogwai’s debut album was chosen to produce what became The Hawk Is Howling. This was Mogwai’s sixth album and marked a first. It was Mogwai’s first album to consist of just instrumentals. Among them were I’m Jim Morrison, I’m Dead, The Sun Smells Too Loud, Batcat and Scotland’s Shame. They feature the post rock pioneers pushing musical boundaries to their limits, and sometimes, beyond. Once The Hawk Is Howling was recorded, Garth Jones mixed the album at Castle Of Doom Studios in Glasgow. After that, The Hawk Is Howling was ready for release.

The Hawk Is Howling was released on 22nd September 2008. Critics were won over by The Hawk Is Howling. There were no dissenting voices. This was one of Mogwai’s best albums, and it was no surprise it sold well in the UK and America.

On its release, The Hawk Is Howling reached number thirty-five in the UK and number ninety-seven in the US Billboard 200. It seemed with each album, Mogwai’s music evolved and matured. This resulted in even more success coming their way. Would this continue with Hardcore Will Never Die?

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Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will.

For their seventh album, Mogwai returned to Chem 19 Studios in Blantyre, where they hooked up with ex-Delgado Paul Savage. Since  he had produced Mogwai’s debut album, Mogwai Young Team Paul had established a reputation as one of Scotland’s best producers. 

By then, Paul Savage had worked with everyone from Franz Ferdinand to R.M. Hubbert. However, it was a very different Mogwai Paul encountered. They were very different to the band who recorded Mogwai Young Team Paul. Their music had evolved and was continuing to do so. They’d matured as musicians and embraced the new technology. Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will was proof of this.

Here was an album of groundbreaking, genre-melting post-rock with attitude. Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will was also an album not short on humour. Poppy soulster Lionel Ritchie provided the inspiration for You’re Lionel Ritchine. There was also a celebratory sound to Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will.

The death of Scotland’s nemesis, Margaret Thatcher sparked celebration in Glasgow’s George Square. Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will, celebrated provided the soundtrack to the celebrations.  It was just one track on an album of pioneering, post rock music crammed full of hooks, humour and attitude.  Others highlights Mexican Grand Prix, Rano Pano and How To Be A Werewolf .  With music of this quality, surely Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will couldn’t fail? 

Before the release of Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will, Rano Pano was released as a single. On the flip side was Hasenheide, which didn’t feature on Hardcore Will Never Die. . Things it seemed were looking good for Mogwai.

Yet again, Mogwai won over the majority of critics with Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will. A couple of contrarian critics proved to be mere dissenting voices in the wilderness. Most critics realised that Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will was one of Mogwai’s finest hours. Record buyers would agree.

Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will reached number thirty-five in the UK and number ninety-seven in the US Billboard 200. For Mogwai, they were now into their third decade as band and had just enjoyed their biggest album to date. The question was, what would Mogwai do next?

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Les Revenants.

The answer to that was Les Revenants, a soundtrack to a French television series.  Les Revenants or The Returned, is essentially a television program about zombies, albeit with a twist. Just like similar films, Les Revenants, finds  the “undead” returning to the town they lived in. However, the zombies in Les Revenants  weren’t how most films portray zombies.  Another difference was the way Mogwai were commissioned.

Usually, someone writing a soundtrack can watch the film they’re writing music to. Not Mogwai. They were just shown a few scripts, which gave them an overview of what the series was about. From there, Mogwai wrote thirteen of the fourteen tracks including Wizard Motor and Hungry Face. They’re two of the album’s highlights.  The other track on Les Revenants was What Are They Doing In Heaven Today, which was written by Charles Elbert Tilney. These fourteen tracks were recorded by Mogwai, who produced Les Revenants with Neil MacMenamin. Once Les Revenants was finished, it was released in February 2013.

Before Les Revenants was released an E.P. was released. It featured four tracks. That was a tantalising taster of what was to come. After all, Mogwai would approach a soundtrack like Les Revenants in a different manner. They wouldn’t do anything predictable. Les Revenants was a case of expect the unexpected. Critics loved Les Revenants and hailed the album as one of the best albums Mogwai had released. However, Mogwai had other ideas.

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Rave Tapes.

Rave Tapes features ten tracks which were written by Mogwai. These tracks were recorded at Mogwai’s Castle Of Doom Studios, in Glasgow. Producing Rave Tapes was ex-Delgado Paul Savage, who had produced previous Mogwai albums and knew how the band worked. This was important, given Mogwai were at last, enjoying the critical acclaim and commercial success their music deserved. Work began on Rave Tapes on the 28th August 2013. 

This was like the first day back at school for Mogwai, as they began recording what was their eighth studio album. The lineup of Mogwai has been settled for a few years. This included a rhythm section of bassist and guitarist Dominic Aitchison, drummer Martin Bulloch and guitarists Stuart Braithwaite and John Cummings who also played piano. Barry Burns plays organ, piano and guitar. at Castle Of Doom Studios, Glasgow, Mogwai recorded the ten tracks that became Rave Tapes, which was released on 20th January 2014.

Rave Tapes was one of the most anticipated albums of 2014. The big question was, what direction Mogwai’s music would head? After all, Mogwai’s music never stands still. It’s in a constant state of evolution. That’s no bad thing. Standing still is akin to going backwards in Mogwai’s book. On Rave Tapes, Mogwai’s music continues to evolve. Musical  genres and influences melt into one on tracks like Remurdered, The Lord Is Out Of Control and Tell Everyone I Love Them. However, one of the most prominent influences on Rave was Krautrock. Add to this ambient, avant-garde, electronica, experimental, indie rock and rock. We hear different sides to Mogwai on Rave Tapes. Whether it’s fuzzy soundscapes or kicking out the jams, Mogwai didn’t disappoint with Rave Tapes.

Critics agreed. Rave Tapes was released to widespread critical acclaim. Superlatives were exhausted in search of a fitting description of what many felt was Mogwai’s finest hour. Some critics wondered aloud whether Mogwai’s music was mellowing. Others felt that Mogwai were improving with age. Record buyers agreed.

When Rave Tapes was released on 14th January 2014, the album reached number ten in Britain and fifty-five in the US Billboard 200 charts. Rave Tapes became Mogwai’s most successful album in Britain and America. Elsewhere, Rave Tapes sold well across Europe. Mogwai were enjoying the most album of their three decade career. However, it would be two years before Mogwai released a new album. Before that, Mogwai decided to celebrate their twentieth anniversary in style.

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Central Belters.

In 2015,  Mogwai were celebrating their twentieth anniversary. By then Mogwai were Scottish music’s elder statesmen, A lot had happened to them during the first twenty years of their career. Mogwai have released eight studio albums and three soundtracks.  That’s not forgetting there’s countless singles, E.P.s and two remix albums. It was official, Mogwai had been one of the hardest working bands in music between 1995 and 2015. They were also one of the most innovative.

It was no surprise that critical acclaim and commercial success accompanied the release of each Mogwai album. Suddenly, the Glasgow-based were enjoying success not just in Britain, but in Europe and in America. Now was the perfect time for Mogwai to release Central Belters,  a  three disc career retrospective box set. Central Belters tells the story of the first twenty years of Mogwai.

With Mogwai not planning to release a studio album or soundtrack during 2015, Central Belters was a perfect stopgap. It was released on 23rd October 2015, and reached number forty in Britain, Central Belters sold reasonably well across the Europe, and was a perfect primer to the first twenty years of Mogwai’s career. The  next chapter of Mogwai’s career began with a soundtrack album, Atomic.

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Atomic.

Having enjoyed celebrating their twentieth anniversary during 2015, Mogwai got back down to business on 1st April 2016. That was when they released Atomic, their first new album in over two years. Atomic was Mogwai’s fourth soundtrack album,

During the  summer of 2015, Mogwai had provided the soundtrack Mark Cousins documentary Atomic: Living In Dread and Promise. It was aired on BBC Four, and was a very personal memoir of growing up in the nuclear age. Using archive film, Mark Cousins constructed an impressionistic cinematic memoir of what was a harrowing time.

Post rock pioneers Mogwai were commissioned to write the soundtrack to Atomic: Living In Dread and Promise.  It was hailed as the perfect backdrop to Atomic: Living In Dread and Promise, which was a personal and poignant cinematic memoir. However, after the documentary was aired in the summer of 2015, Mogwai decided to re-record Atomic.

At their Castle Of Doom Studios in Glasgow, Mogwai were joined be an old friend, occasional band member Luke Sutherland. Mogwai were also joined by Sophie, Robin Proper-Sheppard formerly of The God Machine and Glasgow composer Robert Newth. Together, they got to work on Atomic, which was Mogwai’s twelfth album since they formed back in 1995.

Once Atomic was completed, it was scheduled for release on 1st April 2016. Before that, Atomic was hailed as Mogwai’s finest soundtrack album, and a welcome addition to their discography.

On Atomic, Mogwai combine disparate and eclectic musical genres. Elements of avant-garde, Berlin School, electronica and experimental music are combined with indie-rock, Krautrock, post-rock and psychedelia. This results in a genre-melting, cinematic album. Atomic captivates and compels, and takes the listener  on a musical journey. It veers between dramatic and dreamy, to surreal and lysergic, to beautiful, pensive and understated to melancholy and melodic. Other times the music is dramatic, moody and broody. One thing the music never is, is boring. That is one thing that can never be levelled against Mogwai. Instead, it was another case of always expect the unexpected.

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That’s been the case since Mogwai were formed in 1995, and released their debut album Mogwai Young Team. Since then, it’s always been a case of expect the unexpected from the  Mogwai, who continue to release albums of ambitious and innovative music. There was no way that Mogwai would contemplate recording the same album twice. Instead, they leave that to lesser bands who specialise in albums of twee or pseudo-intellectual music. That isn’t Mogwai’s bag. They’re constantly moving forward musically and making music that pushes boundaries to their limits, and sometimes, way beyond. Proof of that is Every Country’s Sun, which is their ninth studio album and thirteenth overall.  

Every Country’s Sun.

Every Country’s Sun is Mogwai’s first studio album since they released Rave Tapes in January 2014. However, Mogwai haven’t been resting on their laurels and enjoying the fruits of the rock star lifestyle. That isn’t Mogwai’s style. Since the release of the Rave Tapes, Mogwai have released  the three CD best compilation Central Belters in October 2015, and the soundtrack album Atomic in April 2016. There’s also the small matter of running their own record label Rock Action Records and their Castle Of Doom studio in Glasgow’s West End. Still, the four members of Mogwai found the time to return to the studio and record their ninth studio album Every Country’s Sun, which showcases their new sound.

When the time came for Mogwai to record  Every Country’s Sun, they didn’t renew their successful  partnership with Tony Doogan, who had produced their most recent album Atomic. Tony Doogan had also produced Mr. Beast and Zidane-A 21st Century Portrait, and is part of Mogwai’s inner circle. He knows Mogwai better than most, and knows that they often work with different producers. That was the case on Every Country’s Sun, where Mogwai renewed their partnership with experienced American producer Dave Fridmann.

The last time Mogwai had worked with Dave Fridmann was on Come On Die Young, which was released in 1999. Since then, much had happened for Mogwai and Dave Fridmann. Mogwai have released twelve albums and Dave Fridmann now has over 200 production credits to his name. He’s worked with some of the biggest names in indie music, including Flaming Lips, Mercury Rev, Jane’s Addiction, The Delgados, MGMT and The Vaccines. Dave Fridmann had beefed up his CV since the last time he worked with Mogwai.

Having made the decision to work with Dave Fridmann, Mogwai decided to record Every Country’s Sun at their own  Castle Of Doom Studios in Glasgow. The alternative  was for Mogwai to travel to New York to work with Dave Fridmann at Tarbox Road Studios in New York. That was unnecessary expense, considering that Mogwai had their own studio. They could always send the tracks over to Dave Fridmann in New York. This was very different to when Mogwai recorded their debut album Mogwai Young Team in 1996,

Each day, drummer Martin Bulloch, bassist Dominic Aitchison, guitarist and vocalist Stuart Braithwaite plus multi-instrumentalist Barry Burns entered Castle Of Doom Studios and began laying down the eleven tracks. These tracks were sent to Dave Fridmann in New York, who took charge of production. Gradually, Every Country’s Sun started to take shape and Mogwai were well on their way to completing what would be their first studio album in over three years. Eventually, Mogwai completed recording Every Country and Dave Fridmann mixed the album at Tarbox Road Studios. All that remained was for the album to be mastered by Frank Arkwright at Abbey Road Studios, in London. Now Mogwai were ready to embark upon a new chapter in a career that began twenty-two years ago in 1995.

Since then, post rock pioneers Mogwai have enjoyed an unrivalled longevity, and are now one of the most successful Scottish bands of their generation. Remarkably, the three original members of the band, Stuart Braithwaite, Dominic Aitchison and  Martin Bulloch still remain are still part of Mogwai’s and played their part in latest album ambitious and innovative album, Every Country’s Sun

There was an air of excitement when Mogwai announced the arrival of Every Country’s Sun earlier in 2017. The big question among critics and cultural commentators was what direction would Mogwai’s music head in? Most agreed that Every Country’s Sun would mark another stylistic departure for Mogwai.

Side One.

As Coolverine opens Every Country’s Sun, there’s a degree of urgency as synths tremble and shiver almost nervously. They meander along, before a drum cracks and powers the melodic arrangement along. Meanwhile, a subtle bass joins a shimmering crystalline guitar while a vortex of synths swirl. Soon, there’s a mesmeric quality to the carefully crafted arrangement as it flows, twists, turns and swirls all the time revealing its secrets. Later, there’s a lysergic sound as drums crack and join the bass and fuzzy synths. By then, the arrangement is building, and sweeps the listener off their feet, as it veers from dreamy, euphoric and dramatic to anthemic as Mogwai seamlessly combine Balearic, electronica, post rock and space rock. In doing so, they create an elegant, cinematic, hymnal that sets the bar high for the rest of the album.

Mogwai throw a curveball as a buzzing sound makes its presence felt on Party In The Dark. Soon, it’s all change Mogwai’s rhythm section provide a 4/4 backdrop to one of the most poppy sounding songs they’ve ever committed to vinyl. It’s also one of the few tracks to feature Stuart Braithwaite’s vocal. Effects have been added to the vocal which sits back in the mix, and is surrounded by the pounding, driving rhythm section, jangling guitars and banks of synths. They play their part in uplifting and joyous anthem where perfect pop meets psychedelia and electronica.

Tribal drums open Brain Sweeties and provide an ominous backdrop before a tender, chiming guitar adds a contrast as the arrangement flows along. Soon, an electric piano plays and is joined by the rhythm section. Together, they create a dreamy, hypnotic track that floats along. Especially when the arrangement is stripped bare, leaving just the piano. Even when the arrangement rebuilds, there’s still a dreamy, hypnotic and cinematic quality to this slice of musical sunshine.

Side Two.

Straight away, there’s a moody, ruminative post rock sound to Crossing The Road Material. A chirping guitar is joined by a distant searing guitar and the rhythm section. The drums have a ratty indie rock sound and crack as the arrangement swirls and builds as Mogwai jam. By then, Mogwai deploy one of their secret weapons…distortion. Despite its use, a melodic and memorable  sounding post rock track is unfolding. As Mogwai lock into a tight groove, they put twenty-years of experience to good use. Having reached a crescendo, the track becomes understated and elegiac as it meanders memorably and melodically to a close.

Lysergic describes the thick, lush synth sounds that open Aka 47. Soon, they’re joined by a dark, menacing bass synth. Adding to the dark, cinematic sound are gnarled guitar and eerie synths. Deep in the multilayered mix are a myriad of otherworldly and sinister sounds. They play their part in a chilling and sombre cinematic sounding track, that has been inspired by Mogwai’s recent soundtrack work.

 20 Size starts of slowly, with instruments flitting in and out of the mix. Soon, a searing guitar, pounding drums is joined by synths that beep and squeak. At the heart of the action is Mogwai’s rhythm section guitars. They play slowly and deliberately, referencing classic rock, but moving the arrangement in the direction of grunge and post rock. Playing a supporting role are the synths who fill out and fatten the arrangement. Playing a starring role, are Mogwai’s rhythm section and guitars who find their inner rocker during another explosive track that is akin to the sonic equivalent of a firework’s display.

 20 Size starts of slowly, with instruments flitting in and out of the mix. Soon, a searing guitar, pounding drums is joined by synths that beep and squeak. At the heart of the action is Mogwai’s rhythm section guitars. They play slowly and deliberately, referencing classic rock, but moving the arrangement in the direction of grunge and post rock. Playing a supporting role are the synths who fill out and fatten the arrangement. Playing a starring role, are Mogwai’s rhythm section and guitars who find their inner rocker on what’s akin to a sonic equivalent of a firework’s display.

 20 Size starts of slowly, with instruments flitting in and out of the mix. Soon, a searing guitar, pounding drums is joined by synths that beep and squeak. At the heart of the action is Mogwai’s rhythm section guitars. They play slowly and deliberately, referencing classic rock, but moving the arrangement in the direction of grunge and post rock. Playing a supporting role are the synths who fill out and fatten the arrangement. Playing a starring role, are Mogwai’s rhythm section and guitars who find their inner rocker on what’s akin to a sonic equivalent of a firework’s display.

Side Three.

A chirping guitar is panned hard right on 1000 Foot Face, while a lo-fi synth is panned hard left. In the middle are the tender, ethereal harmonies while drums pitter, patter. At one point, the tape quivers as the elegiac vocals deliver what sounds like a mantra. This they do, against an understated, but carefully crafted arrangement. It shows another side of Mogwai on a track that is beautiful, dreamy, meditative, mesmeric and melodic.

Mogwai pay homage to Public Enemy on Don’t Believe The Fife, which is a take off of Don’t Believe The Hype. It’s one of the longer tracks on the album, and straight away, has a dark, moody and cinematic sound. Drums pound and crack, with the double tapped sound providing the arrangement’s heartbeat. Meanwhile synths meander, shimmer and quiver, veering between dark, to hopeful and rueful. Meanwhile, the bass probes its way through the arrangement, as synths reverberate adding to the ruminative and sound. Up until then, the arrangement is almost spartan and spacious. This changes when keyboards emerge from the arrangement, which is underpinned by the drums. The final piece of the jigsaw are the blistering, rocky guitars that cut through the track. By the end of this captivating two-part opus, Mogwai have provided more excitement and enjoyment than a weekend in the Kingdom of Fife.

Side Four.

The guitar that opens Battered At A Scramble is heavily distorted as it cuts its way across the arrangement. It’s all change at 1.29. Gone is the distortion as arrangement explodes. The rhythm section and searing guitar combine as Mogwai work their way through the gears. Again, they’re in touch with their inner rocker as blistering, scorching,  and fuzzy guitars take centre-stage as the rhythm section power the arrangement along. By then, it’s as if Mogwai is channelling the spirit of Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and even Big Country as a glorious wall of sound assails the listener. It features chameleon like Mogwai at their hard rocking best, as they show yet another side to their music.

Mogwai keep on rocking on Old Poisons, where they carve out a melodic slice of hard rock that later, heads in the direction of psychedelia, grunge, space rock and latterly space rock. From the get-go, the rhythm section lock into a groove with scorching fleet-fingered guitar solos. Seamlessly, they unleash washes of rocky guitar licks and riffs, that soar high above the rest of the arrangement. Inspiration seems to include the classic hard rocking and psychedelic sounds of late-sixties and early seventies; Neil Young’s grunge era and the recent space revival. Midway through this blistering wall of sound, the volume drops but the intensity doesn’t. Still Mogwai play with speed, power and ferocity as they keep on rocking in the free world. Soon, Mogwai kick out the jams and play with power and intensity during another uber rocky anthem.

Closing Every Country’s Sun is the title-track, which is a musical dichotomy.  That is apparent from the moment shimmering, crystalline, angular sounds emerge from the dark, ominous arrangement. It hints at what’s to come over the next 5.38. Playing a leading role are the searing, scorching, blistering and distorted guitars while rhythm section anchor the frenetic arrangement. This includes thunderous drums, crashing cymbals, while synths create a vortex of darkness and drama. Each member of Mogwai plays their part as they ensure that Every Country’s Sun closes the album on a memorable and dramatic high, with another cinematic epic. This is just part of the story of Every Country’s Sun.

There’s still a lot more to discover within the  depths of the luxurious Every Country’s Sun Box Set. This includes a CD, a two LP set pressed on heavyweight white vinyl and a download code. Then there’s a limited edition six track 12″ of album demos which are  a every welcome addition and featured Mogwai at their inventive best. In the box set there’s also a set of art prints and a signed 12×12 screen print. Just like the indies only pressing on clear vinyl, the pressing on heavyweight white vinyl is of the highest quality. Don’t expect to hear any snap, crackle on pop, as this is a quality product from Mogwai’s Rock Action Records. However, the Every Country’s Sun box set is a limited edition, so it’s a case of grab a copy while you and can and enjoy Mogwai’s comeback.

Every Country’s Sun marks the triumphant, rocky and explosive return of the Mogwai Young Team. Three years have passed since they released their eighth studio album Rave Tapes in January 2014. Over three years later, and Mogwai return with Every Country’s Sun a carefully crafted epic album. It’s also poppy, joyous and uplifting and sometimes, elegiac and ethereal. Other times, the music is dark,  dramatic, eerie, moody, ominous and otherworldly. Often, there’s a cinematic sound to Mogwai’s music, as they switched seamlessly between and combine musical genres and influences.

Mogwai combine elements of numerous disparate musical genres, ranging from classic rock, grunge, pop, post rock, psychedelia and space rock, to ambient, avant-garde, the Berlin School, electronica, experimental music and Krautrock. These are all part of the rich and vibrant musical tapestry that is Mogwai’s ninth studio album Every Country’s Sun, which was recently released by their own Rock Action Records. Every Country’s Sun and is Mogwai’s finest hour. 

The grand old men of Scottish music put their twenty-two years of experience to good use on their latest carefully crafted opus Every Country’s Sun. It finds Mogwai reaching new musical heights, on this latest album of ambitious and groundbreaking music. Continually, Mogwai push musical boundaries to their limits, and sometimes way beyond, on Every Country’s Sun. It’s the thirteenth album that Mogwai have released since 1996.

Mogwai have come a long way since then, and are now by far one of the most successful Scottish bands of their generation. Many of the bands that started out alongside Mogwai have called time on their career. It’s a similar case with bands that were formed long after Mogwai started out. Long gone are the days when Scotland produced many a successful band. Sadly, gone are the days when groups like The Blue Nile, Lloyd Cole and The Commotions,  Teenage Fanclub and the Trashcan Sinatras enjoyed commercial success and critical acclaim. 

Nowadays, it seems that Scottish music is largely populated by third-rate bands who create albums that are mediocre at best.  Occasionally a new band makes a breakthrough, with an album that excites even the most cynical critic.  Unfortunately, many bands and artists fail to build on that album, and never live up to their breakthrough album.  Sadly, it seems, Scotland is no longer blessed with a plethora of talented up-and-coming bands. The only saving grace for Scottish music is that some of its bigger and more established bands are still around and making groundbreaking music. 

This includes Mogwai, who rode to the rescue of the damsel in distress that is the Scottish music industry. Mogwai have returned with the Magnus Opus that is Every Country’s Sun, which is a career-defining album. Every Country’s Sun stands head and shoulders above the rest of albums released during 2017, and in most countries, Every Country’s Sun would be a certainty for its most prestigious musical award. After all, Mogwai’s cinematic epic and career-defining album Every Country’s Sun has been the glittering prize during what has been another annus horribilis for Scottish music.

Mogwai-Every Country’s Sun-Box Set.

SOUNDS OF THE UNEXPECTED.

Sounds Of The Unexpected.

Label: Ace Records.

Ever since she was teenager growing up in Southend-on-Sea, on the Thames Delta, Vicki Fox loved music and was an enthusiastic and knowledgeable  collector of vinyl. It was no surprise that when Vicki Fox moved to London, she would embark upon a career in the music industry.

One of Vicki Fox’s first jobs was working on Ted Carroll’s market stall in Goldborne Road. At first, Vicki Fox sorted through the burgeoning selection of records on the stall, and even kept Ted Carroll supplied with bacon sandwiches. It may not have been the most glamorous job, but it was good experience and stood Vicki Fox in good stead for the future.

While many people would’ve been keen to spread their wings, Vicki Fox spent over thirty years working for Ted Carroll’s Rock On Records, which by 1975, had three outlets. By then, Ted Carroll had cofounded Ace Records with two of his friends Roger Armstrong and Trevor Churchill.

Later, Vicki Fox would also work at Ace Records. She spent the majority of her career at Rock On Record and Ace Records. That was apart from a brief sojourn at Island Records where Vicki Fox worked as a photographer’s assistant. However, Vicki Fox returned to Rock On Record/Ace Records family where she would spend the remainder of her career.

During her time at Ace Records, Vicki Fox put her encyclopaedic knowledge to good use. Especially when she was involved in compiling records, including Feline Groovy in 20008 and All Aboard! 25 Train Tracks Calling At All Musical Stations which was released in 2015. Sadly, by then tragedy had struck and Vicki Fox when she was diagnosed with cancer in 2011.

Despite this devastating blow, Vicki Fox bravely battled cancer for the next six years. She continued to work, and even began compiling a new compilation of instrumentals, Sounds Of The Unexpected. Soon, it was starting to take shape. A few songs were still awaiting clearance, and the artwork was almost complete. Vicki Fox worked on Sounds Of The Unexpected right up until the final weeks of her life.

When Vicki Fox entered hospital for what proved to be the final time, she took with her the proofs to the artwork to Sounds Of The Unexpected. She wanted to check them one last time before approving the artwork. Vicki Fox was a perfectionist, and was determined that Sounds Of The Unexpected would be released.

Sadly, within a few days, Vicki Fox had fallen into a coma and passed away shortly afterwards. For everyone at Ace Records, this was a huge loss, as Vicki Fox had been a familiar face for three decades.

After the death of Vicki Fox, a decision had to be made about the Sounds Of The Unexpected compilation. Cofounder of Ace Records Roger Armstrong and Tony Berrington, who was Vicki Fox’s partner decided to complete Sounds Of The Unexpected. They ensured that Sounds Of The Unexpected which was lovingly curated by Vicki Fox was recently released by Ace Records. 

Sounds Of The Unexpected features twenty-four instrumentals chosen by Vicki Fox’s eclectic record collection. Going by the track listing she had impeccable musical taste. There’s tracks by Jan Davis, The Atlantics, Timmy Thomas, Gabor Szabo, Bo Diddley, Big Walter and The Thunderbirds, Leonard Nimoy, Jean-Jacques Perrey, The Martinis, The Upsetters, The Ventures and The Zanies. It’s an intriguing and eclectic selection of instrumentals from the sixties and seventies.

The name Jan Davis means different things to different people. For some, he’s best known for his work with B. Bumble and The Stingers or The Ventures, while others know Jan Davis for his flamenco guitar songs and film scores. Jan Davis also enjoyed a solo career, and in 1964, released Watusi Zombie on Holiday Records. It’s a captivating mixture surf guitar, searing saxophone  and a myriad of percussion. It sets the bar high for the rest of Sounds Of The Unexpected.

Anyone who enjoys surf guitar wizardry will enjoy The Atlantics’ contribution War Of The Worlds. For those unfamiliar with The Atlantics, they’re regarded as Australia’s greatest instrumental band, and released War Of The Worlds on CBS in March 1964. It also featured on their 1964 album The Explosive Sound Of The Atlantics. This is a fitting description of War Of The Worlds up until 1.44. After that, it almost becomes understated, before paying homage to The Shadows and later, Dick Dale before the track revisits  The Explosive Sound Of The Atlantics. 

Timmy Thomas is best known for his 1972 hit single on the Glades label, Why Can’t We Live Together? Tucked away on the B-Side was Funky Me which was penned and produced by Timmy Thomas. It pioneers the use of a drum machine, while Timmy Thomas unleashes a fleet fingered solo on the Hammond organ. It’s proof that it’s always worth checking the B-Side of a single for hidden musical treasure.

In 1967, Hungarian guitarist Gabor Szabo covered Duke Ellington’s Caravan for his album Jazz Raga which was produced by Bob Thiele and released in Impulse! It features drummer Bernard “Pretty” Purdie and bassist Johnny Gregg. Meanwhile, Gabor Szabo switches between guitar and sitar as he and his small band combine elements of blues, jazz, psychedelia and Indian ragas on this lysergic, otherworldly and innovative genre-melting track. It’s one of the highlights of Sounds Of The Unexpected, a reminder of Vicki Fox’s impeccable musical taste.

The Tornados are best known for the Joe Meek production Telstar. Joe Meek also wrote and produced The Tornados’ single Hot Pot. It  was released on Decca in February 1964, but failed to replicate the success of Telstar. Despite that, Hot Pot is a reminder of pioneering producer Joe Meek, and his talented house band The Tornados who played on the majority of his productions.

Big Walter was a truly talented bluesman, who sadly, passed away in 2012. He cut a number of R&B singles during the fifties, and later, recorded a number of sides for the Goldband, label. That wasn’t all. He released a number of singles as Big Walter and The Thunderbirds. This included Watusie Freeze Part 1 which was released on the short-lived Myrl label in 1959. Watusie Freeze Part 1 which fuses surf rock and exotica and features Albert Collins on lead guitar. Sadly, the single failed to make any impression on even the regional charts. Two years later, The Vibrations enjoyed a hit with Watusie Freeze Part 1 which launched a dance craze.

Leonard Nimoy’s Music To Watch Space Girls By was taken from the 1967 album Leonard Nimoy Presents Mr. Spock’s Music From Outer Space. It was released by Dot Records and combines easy listening, lounge and sci-fi sounds. This is a potent combination, and one that epitomises that sixties easy listening sound.

The Nashville based Do-Ra-Me label was founded in the late fifties and was around until the early sixties. In 1960, The Imps a Nashville based band released their one and only single Uh-Oh. It was penned by Mary Biggs and Eddie Stuteville and features some stunning guitar licks as The Imps combine blues, rock and rockabilly. Sadly, despite oozing quality this hidden gem failed to make any impression on the charts, and The Imps never released another single. 

Jean-Jacques Perrey was one of the early pioneers of electronic music. He was born in France, and was a medical student when he first met Georges Jenny, inventor of the Ondioline. This meeting resulted in Jean-Jacques Perrey turning his back on medicine, and travelling the length and breadth of Europe demonstrating the Ondioline, which was a predecessor of the synth. By 1970, Jean-Jacques Perrey was just about to release his seventh solo album Mood Indigo on Vanguard. One of the highlights was the title-track Mood Indigo, where musical pioneer Jean-Jacques Perrey created a truly innovative instrumental that he believed was the of tomorrow. Forty-seven years later, and Mood Indigo still sounds way ahead of the music many other electronic music pioneers were making.

The Martinis released a couple of singles during 1967, and were led by a familiar face from the Memphis music scene…Packy Axton. His mother Estelle Axton founded Stax Records, and Packy Axton had been an original member of The Mar-Keys. Since then, Packy Axton had recorded a number of tracks for a variety of record labels. This included Hung Over which was released in September 1967 on the Bar label and features the future Hi rhythm section. Hung Over is a laid-back and soulful instrumental, with the Hammond organ, guitar and saxophone playing leading roles in its sound and success. Adding authenticity is what’s meant to be the sound of Packy Axton vomiting in the vocal booth. Sadly, his lifestyle caught up with him seven years later, when Packy Axton died from compilations caused by his alcoholism.

Over the years, Vicki Fox amassed a large collection of reggae, so it’s no surprise that she decided to choose a reggae instrumental. She was spoilt for choice, and chose The Upsetters’ Long Sentence which features on Lee Perry’s 1971 album Africa’s Blood. It was released on Trojan Records. At the heart of this carefully crafted instrumental is Glen Adams’ organ playing, which transforms the track. As a result, it’s one of The Upsetters’ best contributions to Africa’s Blood.

Closes Sounds Of The Unexpected is The Zanies’ Russian Roulette. It was released in 1962, on Dore which was owned by comedian turned musical impresario Lew Bewdell. By 1962, The Zanies had been together four years, and featured Earl Palmer. Russian Roulette drew inspiration from The Volga Boat Song, and found The Zanies combine finger clicks, handclaps, a braying saxophone and jangling piano on one of their most memorable singles. It closes Sounds Of The Unexpected in style, as The Zanies combine music and humour. This compiler and Ace Records’ stalwart Vicki Fox would’ve enjoyed and approved of.

Sadly, Vicki Fox didn’t live long enough to see Sounds Of The Unexpected released by Ace Records. After her death, Ace Records cofounder Roger Armstrong and Vicki Fox’s partner Tony Berrington, decided to complete Sounds Of The Unexpected. They ensured that Sounds Of The Unexpected was lovingly curated tribute to Vicki Fox. It reflects the music she loved and collected during her long and successful career within the music industry. 

During her career, Vicki Fox did a variety of jobs, including compiling two critically acclaimed compilations. The first was  Feline Groovy in 2008, with All Aboard! 25 Train Tracks Calling At All Musical Stations following in 2015. Now two critically acclaimed compilations become three with the release of Sounds Of The Unexpected. 

It features twenty-four tracks from old friends, familiar faces and a few new names. That is not all. Quite simply, Sounds Of The Unexpected oozes quality and features an intriguing selection of eclectic music from Vicki Fox’s vast record collection. Going by the twenty-four tracks on Sounds Of The Unexpected, Vicki Fox obviously had impeccable musical taste. 

Her impeccable taste is apparent from the opening bars of Jan Davis’ Watusi Zombie to the closing notes of The Zanies’ Russian Roulette. In between these two tracks, Vicki Fox dug deep into her record collection for what she must have known would be the final compilation she would compile. As a result, she chose each and every track on Sounds Of The Unexpected with the utmost care. Sounds Of The Unexpected can only be described as a lovingly curated compilation that reflects Vicki Fox’s enthusiasm, knowledge and love of music. That shines through on Sounds Of The Unexpected, which was Vicki Fox’s parting gift to music lovers everywhere.

Sounds Of The Unexpected.

SHUJAAT HUSAIN KHAN, KEVIN HAYS, KATAYOUN GOUDARZI, TIM RIES, DIBYARKA CHATTERJEE-WILL YOU?

Shujaat Husain Khan, Kevin Hays, Katayoun Goudarzi, Tim Ries, Dibyarka Chatterjee-Will You?

Label: Tames Records.

Shujaat Husain Khan, Kevin Hays, Katayoun Goudarzi, Tim Ries and  Dibyarka Chatterjee started working together in 2009, and four years later the multitalented quintet released their debut album Dawning in 2013. It was released to widespread critical acclaim, with critics hailing the album as a “beautiful,” “tonally luscious,” and a “hypnotic” cross cultural collaboration. Dawning epitomised everything that was good about world music and was on the top forty CMJ charts for more than seven weeks. That was no surprise given the musical background of the personnel involved in the band play live as Saffron Ensemble.

The five members of the band may be from very different cultural backgrounds, but the close friends and have one thing in common…music. They enjoyed playing together and recording their debut album Dawning. It was a true cross cultural collaboration with musicians from three countries playing their part in its success. 

Master sitarist and vocalist Shujaat Husain Khan was born in Calcutta, India and is from a family of musicians. He released his debut album Sitar in 1979, and since then, the son of the famous sitar maestro Aftab-e-Sitar has been nominated for a Grammy Award. Joining Shujaat Husain Khan was a young up-and-coming Indian musician.

This was tabla player Dibyarka Chatterjee, who is the son of sitar master Pandit Samir Chatterjee. Just like Shujaat Husain Khan, music was in Dibyarka Chatterjee’s blood and he followed in his father’s footsteps. He made his debut as a child, and moved to New York with his family when he was ten. Since then, he has been playing alongside Indian and Western musicians. 

Among then, are American saxophonist, flautist and composer, Tim Ries. He was born in New York, and nowadays, is based in New Jersey, where he divides his time between a solo career and playing alongside the great and good of music. This includes jazz musicians Donald Byrd and Jack DeJohnette to rock royalty like Donald Fagen, Rod Stewart and the Rolling Stones. With over a hundred credits to his name, Tim Ries is a vastly experienced musician.

So is American jazz pianist Kevin Hays, who also combines a solo career with working as a sideman. He’s previously been part of Al Foster, Benny Golson, Eddie Henderson, Ron McClure, Seamus Blake and Chris Potter’s bands and been a member of the Sanga Quartet and The Blue Note All-Stars. Kevin Hays has also collaborated with a number of artists, including with Benin-based guitarist Lionel Loueke. They released their first collaboration Hope, earlier in 2017. Hope wasn’t the only collaboration Kevin Hays was working on.

He was working with vocalist Katayoun Goudarzi, who was born in Tehran, in Iran. She began writing poetry when she was seven, and since then, has become known for her distinctive and melodic style of recitals. Katayoun Goudarzi combines an  emotive rendition of her poetry with painstaking attention to the linguistic and lyrical integrity of the piece. This had paid off, and her work has featured in books and albums including Dawning in 2011, and four years later, the long-awaited and much-anticipated followup Will You? 

After a four-year wait, Shujaat Husain Khan, Kevin Hays, Katayoun Goudarzi, Tim Ries, Dibyarka Chatterjee return on the ‘22nd’ of September 2017 with Will You? It will be released on Tames Records and marks the welcome return of this multitalented quintet and their very special sophomore album Will You? 

It found the five musical friends returned to the recording studio record their second cross cultural collaboration. The ensemble featured the two Americans, two Indians and Iranian vocalist Katayoun Goudarzi. To outsiders, they were an unlikely ensemble, with three traditional musicians working side-by-side with Kevin Hays and Tim Ries who had spent much of their careers playing jazz and rock. However, as Shujaat Husain Khan, Kevin Hays, Katayoun Goudarzi, Tim Ries and Dibyarka Chatterjee all sat in the same studio, they were trying to find new arrangements for Rumi’s centuries-old teachings. He was a 13th Century Persian Sunni Muslim poet, jurist, Islamic scholar, theologian and Sufi mystic. However, the ensemble had made progress since the project began.

Initially, all they ensemble had were a few snippets of tunes sung over Whatsapp. They had been inspired by phrases translated from Rumi’s teachings. This was a starting pointing for what eventually became Will You?

Soon, they had made progress. Shujaat Husain Khan remembers that time well.  “I come up with the skeleton of the tunes, but that’s really just what we build out from…We converse to make this music. It’s never the same interpretation, the same sound, the same song twice.”

Meanwhile, Katayoun Goudarzi cautions: “the music is not classical Persian music. It’s Persian classical poetry sung in Indian idioms, but with a touch of jazz. In that respect, it’s perhaps different than things that have been done in the past.” If anyone was going to spot these differences it would Katayoun Goudarzi.

Musically, she prides herself on being a perfectionist, who pays attention to the finest details. Katayoun Goudarzi is also someone whose not afraid to experiment musically. There’s a reason for this though, as she wants to honour the spirit and sense of the poetry that she loves and holds dear. It inspired much of the music on Will You?

This includes Don’t, which is a plea to save a beloved from arrest and torment. It required a very different vocal technique from Katayoun Goudarzi. Fortunately, she’s a versatile vocalist who has broadened her musical horizons over the years.

Katayoun Goudarzi’s career began reciting Persian poetry. This requires a very specific technique that is best described as a sweeping spoken approach. However, for Will You? Katayoun Goudarzi changed tack and decided to return to singing. She switches between several styles during Will You? as Katayoun Goudarzi attempts and succeeds to heighten the intensity. During a series of powerful, poignant and emotive performances, the rest of ensemble accompany Katayoun Goudarzi. Playing an important part is Shujaat Husain Khan’s fluid, graceful, reactive playing style. Sometimes it’s understated and subtle, and is yin to Katayoun Goudarzi’s yang, on what is a very personal album for her.

Her reason for singing on the album was the poem Don’t. Vocalist  Katayoun Goudarzi explains:“that poem was the reason I sang on this album. The lyrics are saying, he’s my life, don’t beat him up, don’t take him away. I had to portray that pain. I had to sing those lyrics with all the passion it required. If I couldn’t do it right, I wouldn’t touch them. That was one of the inspiring songs that made me think of singing a lot of the album.” 

Katayoun Goudarzi also explains a little about Rumi’s work: “With Rumi you can find all different kinds of poems, chronicling all different kinds of human experience. Some are wildly romantic. Some are edgier like ‘Don’t.’ Most of the verses we use on the album are love poems. The way I present the lyrics this time, on the title track, is to use three different poems to make sure I’m completing the story.” This is what one would expect of a perfectionist like Katayoun Goudarzi. She’s willing to use three separate poems to tell a story effectively.

The rest of the ensemble play their part in the storytelling process on Will You? They expand the narrative of stories and complete the story. Kevin Hays added to Sweet Caroline, while the rest of the ensemble use their instruments to augment Katayoun Goudarzi’s vocal. They become part of the musical tapestry on the ten tracks that became Will You? Sometimes, it’s a case of the rest of the ensemble reacting or responding to Katayoun Goudarzi’s vocal.

An example is Void, where Shujaat Husain Khan hums as he dawns the part of Rumi, adding to this evocative and moving song. Other times, the rest of the ensemble frame Katayoun Goudarzi’s vocal, or create a backdrop for the vocal. They range from dramatic to haunting and chilling to atmospheric  and ruminative. One of the best examples is Don’t, where Tim Ries’ lone saxophone sets the scene for Katayoun Goudarzi’s vocal. It provides a thoughtful and moving backdrop before the baton passes to the tabla, sitar and piano. Only then does Katayoun Goudarzi deliver an emotive, heartfelt vocal. This adds to what is a powerful, poignant and moving album. So do the pregnant pauses when the band stop playing and allow Katayoun Goudarzi’s vocal to take centre-stage on several songs. One of the most successful example is on Will You?, which adds to what’s already a powerful and poignant song. It’s part of the much-anticipated album from Shujaat Husain Khan, Kevin Hays, Katayoun Goudarzi, Tim Ries, Dibyarka Chatterjee, Will You?

It is no ordinary album. Instead, it’s a powerful, poignant, moving  and thought-provoking album. Will You? is to some extent best described as an outpouring of grief and fear, that features paeans plus songs about hurt and heartache. All this was inspired by Rumi’s poems, which nearly 800 years later, continues to endure and resonate emotionally, across cultures and people of all ages. This includes Katayoun Goudarzi and the rest of the ensemble. Their hope is that the lyrics and music on Will You? will result in an emotional awakening. It should provoke a variety of emotions that are shared by people the world over. Katayoun Goudarzi explains:  “happiness and sadness. Love and hatred. These are universal feelings, no matter what language we speak, the colour of our skin. No matter how you express it, the feelings are the same. We wanted to bring those emotions to the surface.” This the ensemble do successfully from opening bars of Will You? to the closing notes of Disarray. 

Four years after the release of their debut album Dawning, Shujaat Husain Khan, Kevin Hays, Katayoun Goudarzi, Tim Ries, Dibyarka Chatterjee make a welcome return with Will You? It will be released by Tames Records on the ‘22nd’ of September 2017. This is the second successful cross cultural collaboration from Shujaat Husain Khan, Kevin Hays, Katayoun Goudarzi, Tim Ries, Dibyarka Chatterjee.

Despite coming from three different counties, speaking different languages and practising different religious, the ensemble are close friends, who were brought together by their shared love of music. 

Since then, the friendship has extended beyond music and the five friends realise that they’ve more in common than they maybe first thought. Even in these worrying times where  political tension and uncertainty cast a shadow across the world. Despite that, the five members of the ensemble have grown closer during the last eight years. They’ve also created two very special albums, their debut album Dawning in 2013, and the eagerly awaited and much-anticipated followup Will You?

Katayoun Goudarzi reflecting on the different background of the ensemble reflects: “Isn’t it something? A diverse group can create things a homogenous group can’t. Each of us interpreted these emotional musical phrases through all our experiences, all different, yet it all gels. Perhaps because at the end of the day, we’re all human. It’s important to remember that.” 

In doing so, the five members of the ensemble have created a power and poignant followup to Dawning, Will You? It finds Shujaat Husain Khan, Kevin Hays, Katayoun Goudarzi, Tim Ries, Dibyarka Chatterjee fusing elements of Iranian poetry with traditional Indian music and jazz on the ten tracks on Will You? They were recorded during two days in May and August 2016 at Tedesco Studio, Paramus, New Jersey. This is how albums used to be recorded.

Nowadays, bands can take months even years to record an album. Especially the followup to a critically acclaimed debut album. That wasn’t the case when Shujaat Husain Khan, Kevin Hays, Katayoun Goudarzi, Tim Ries, Dibyarka Chatterjee recorded Will You? These experienced and talented musicians spent just two days recording this beautiful, emotive, ruminative, thoughtful and melodic  music. Other times, the music is atmospheric, chilling, dramatic, mellow and mesmeric. Everyone plays the part in the sound and success of Will You? Especially, Katayoun Goudarzi who delivers a series of vocals that are heartfelt, impassioned and full of emotion. 

Meanwhile, the rest of the ensemble respond react to Katayoun Goudarzi’s series of vocal masterclasses. In doing so, they play their part the sound and success of the Will You? the latest cross cultural collaboration between Shujaat Husain Khan, Kevin Hays, Katayoun Goudarzi, Tim Ries, Dibyarka Chatterjee who it seems can do no wrong.

Shujaat Husain Khan, Kevin Hays, Katayoun Goudarzi, Tim Ries, Dibyarka Chatterjee-Will You?

MOEBIUS STORY LEIDECKER-FAMILIAR. 

Moebius Story Leidecker-Familiar. 

Label: Bureau B.

It was in early 2012 when sound artist Jon Leidecker first phoned Dieter Moebius and Tim Story to invite the pair to visit him in a studio high in the mountains of Montana, where they would spend a week recording together. This was unusual because by 2012, most collaborations didn’t take place face-to-face, but over the internet. The proposition sounded too good to be true. However, but Jon Leidecker made it clear that there were strings attached. 

Tim Story knew of Jon Leidecker and had been aware of his work for some time. He knew that Jon Leidecker was a member of the experimental music and art collective Negativland, and produced music as Wobbly and was also a member Sagan and The Freddy McGuire Show. The music Jon Leidecker produced was inventive and innovative, and Tim Story had admired the music from afar. Now he was getting the chance to work with him for a week, in a stunning setting in a studio high in the mountains of Montana. This was a tantalising prospect for Jon Leidecker.

The late Dieter Moebius was of the same opinion, and always enjoyed an adventure. He needed very little persuading to make the journey to Montana, and was soon penciling the date into his diary. By then, Jon Leidecker and Dieter Moebius had decided to take their wives with them, and they could spend some time sightseeing while their husbands spent the day in the recording studio. 

In September 2012, Dieter Moebius and his wife Irene, and Tim and Maggie Story flew out to Whitefish, Montana. The plan was that Irene Moebius and Maggie Story would spend some of the time visiting the nearby Glacier National Park, and then would spend the rest of the time at a motor lodge on the outskirts of the town of Whitefish. As the two couples touched down in Montana, everyone was looking forward to the week ahead.

Especially Dieter Moebius and Tim Story, when they arrived at the recording studio high in the mountains of Montana. This was no ordinary studio though. Instead, it was Brett Allen’s state-of-the-art Snowghost recording studio, which was perched chalet-style above Whitefish Lake. This was an ideal location for Dieter Moebius, Tim Story and Jon Leidecker’s to record their first collaboration.

Over the next week, Dieter Moebius, Tim Story and Jon Leidecker worked together in the Snowghost recording studio. The sessions were like how albums used to be recorded, with the three musicians interacting and working late into the night. So much so, that the days became as the collaborated on what they hoped would be their first album together. By the end of a fruitful week, Dieter Moebius and Tim Story flew home with the basis for not one, but two albums stored on a hard drive.

When Dieter Moebius and Tim Story arrived home, the next step was post production process. Eventually, Moebius Story Leidecker’s first collaboration together, Snowghost Pieces was released by Bureau B in 2014. Critical acclaim accompanied the release of  Snowghost Pieces, which was hailed as one of the finest electronic albums of 2014. However, the success of Snowghost Pieces proved to be a Pyrrhic victory. 

Tragedy struck when Dieter Moebius had been diagnosed with cancer. Suddenly, music didn’t matter any more, as Dieter Moebius was fighting for his life. Sadly, Dieter Moebius died on the ‘20th’ of July 2015 after what had been a brave and lengthy battle against cancer. He left behind a richest musical legacy.

This included some of the music from the Snowghost sessions in September 2012. During that week, some of the music that Dieter Moebius, Tim Story and Jon Leidecker made, emerged out of sessions where the three men improvised. Suddenly, music emerged that was variously beautiful, ambitious, abstract and had a restlessness.  It included some of the best music that had been recorded during that week during September 2012. Tim Story and Jon Leidecker decided that the time had come to release this music.

While Tim Story had taken charge of post production on Snowghost Pieces, it was decided that this time, Jon Leidecker should do so. He began post production, and eventually the second album from Moebius Story Leidecker was complete. It became Familiar, which will be released by Bureau B on the ‘6th’ of October 2017.

With Familiar ready for release, all that was needed was an album cover. That was when Tim Story and Jon Leidecker remembered a photo that Dieter Moebius had taken during their adventure in Montana. The pair remembered visiting a particularly beautiful part of the Rockies and stopping to admire the vista. As most of party enjoyed the view, Dieter Moebius noticed a pink plastic construction marker half-buried in the gravel. It was a  crass, tasteless and dusty manmade ‘flower’ that sat in the midst of what to many was paradise. However, Dieter Moebius saw something in this piece of alternative art. It was subversive, and totality unexpected and unexplained, but also had a familiarity. Realising this, and that it had the same inquisitive spirit that resulted in Moebius Story Leidecker embarking on musical career, Dieter Moebius took a quick picture not of paradise, but the marker buried in the gravel. That photo became Familiar’s album cover.

Now Moebius Story Leidecker’s sophomore album Familiar was ready to release by the Hamburg based label Bureau B. It’s eagerly awaited followup to their critically acclaimed debut album Snowghost Pieces.

A myriad of disparate, leftfield sounds combine as Wrong unfolds, and opens Familiar. They create a futuristic, but strangely melodic backdrop. It sounds as if it’s part of the lost soundtrack to an Eastern European cartoon from the seventies. By now, there’s a mesmeric and robotic sound as if Kraftwerk’s man machine has come to life. Meanwhile, a variety of squeak, beeps, boings, cheeps and whistle combine with whines, whistles and drums. There’s even bursts of trumpet as the man machine breakdances and during this ambitious, but melodic and genre-melting soundscape.

A squelchy Acid House synth beeps and squeaks mesmerically on Zucken. It heads in the direction of the dance-floor as percussion and found sounds join with squawking, squeaking and squelchy synths. They play their part in this hypnotic, dance-floor friendly soundscape. Later, haunting, otherworldly sounds join the drums as synths continue to squawk, squeak and beep as Moebius Story Leidecker create what sounds like the a hypnotic floor filler at an interplanetary disco. 

Straight away, the shuffling beat in the introduction to Familiar has an early eighties sound. It’s soon joined by handclaps, eerie, futuristic sounds and a booming bass synth that adds an ominous backdrop. Whirring, whirling, fluttering, hovering and ghostly sounds are joined by percussion. Meanwhile, the bass synth create drama and tension as otherworldly, sci-fi sounds assail the listener. Later, when the arrangement is stripped bare, the drama, tension and futuristic sounds join percussion and the broody bass as Moebius Story Leidecker continue to create the soundtrack to a journey into another world. That soundtrack is dramatic, futuristic, melodic and cinematic. It’s also full of  imagery and guaranteed to paint pictures in the mind’s eye.

A bass synth makes its presence felt on We Need You in Our Soups before a piano plays slowly, thoughtfully and deliberately. They’re joined by a subtle sprinkling of percussive, droning, eerie and metallic sound. Meanwhile, swells of bass synth rise and fall as if replicating a small plane, while keyboards provide a melodic accompaniment. Soon, the bass synth moves to the front buzzing and droning, as the arrangement reverberates. By now there’s a degree of drama, which is omnipresent for the remainder of the soundscape. It finds drums combining with percussive sounds as the bass synth plays a starring role in this carefully crafted and captivating cinematic soundscape.

Futuristic and otherworldly describes Block Blow as it reveals its secrets. Beeps, speak, chirps and cheeps accompany a bass synth and briefly, a piano. Soon, sci-fi sounds join glacial and squelchy synths as an array of disparate sounds are added to this mesmeric, genre-melting soundscape. It combines elements of  electronica, avant-garde and experimental music. Later sci-fi synths are unleashed as ethereal vocals soar above the choppy, arrangement as bell rings and join drums and urgent piano. At one point, some of the sounds Moebius Story Leidecker unleash sound as if they belong on computer game. By then, choppy an d urgent has become robotic and hypnotic before dissipating, as the three pioneers  continue to push musical boundaries in their pursuit of musical excellence.

Vexed is a fifteen minute epic and closes Familiar in style. As a piano plays slowly, melodically and ruminatively, drums provide the heartbeat and a myriad of sounds interject. They range from found sounds to ethereal and eerie to futuristic and otherworldly. Sometimes, strings are plucked and join drones, as sounds buzz, beep and crack adding to what’s now an eerie, otherworldly soundscape. Later it becomes dark and ominous as growling, groaning, ghostly and cracking sounds emerge. Soon, this chameleonlike soundscape becomes understated before rebuilding as a piano plays and shows a much more melodic side. Gone is the darkness, although a few futuristic and leftfield sounds interject and join strings as a quite beautiful ethereal soundscape takes shape. It’s very different to the earlier part of the Vexed suite, which shows Moebius Story Leidecker’s versatility and inventiveness.

Three years after Moebius Story Leidecker released their debut album Snowghost Pieces, the much-anticipated and eagerly awaited followup Familiar will be released by Bureau B on the ‘6th’ of October 2017. It’s a fitting followup to their critically Snowghost Pieces and finds the three musical pioneers continuing to push musical boundaries to their limits and sometimes, behind on their genre-melting sophomore album Familiar.

It finds Moebius Story Leidecker fusing elements of abstract, ambient, avant-garde, Berlin School, electronica and experimental with industrial, Krautrock and Musique concrète. It’s a powerful and potent combination where Moebius Story Leidecker combine traditional instruments with technology, samples and found sounds. The music Moebius Story Leidecker made was then manipulated with an array of effects. This was the musical equivalent of sleight of hand, with nothing as it seems on Familiar which is a multilayered musical tapestry woven by the triumvirate of Moebius Story Leidecker high in the mountains of Montana. 

Over a week, the trio created two captivating albums of captivating and cinematic soundscapes, Snowghost Pieces and Familiar. It features music that is dark and dramatic, to elegiac and ethereal, to eerie, futuristic, haunting and otherworldly. Other times, the music is atmospheric and evocative, before becoming ruminative and thoughtful. Always the music on Familiar is imaginative, inventive, innovative and cinematic. So much so, it’s as if Moebius Story Leidecker were creating a series of soundtracks to short films that are rich in imagery and sure to paint pictures in the mind’s eye. That was the case with much of the music that one member of the triumvirate created during a long and illustrious carer.

That is the late, great Dieter Moebius, who sadly, passed away on the ‘20th’ of July 2015, after what a brave battle against cancer. He left behind a rich musical legacy including his contribution to Moebius Story Leidecker’s eagerly awaited sophomore album Familiar. It was recorded five years ago in September 2012, and will be released just over two years after Dieter Moebius’s untimely death. Familiar is just of one of countless collaborations Dieter Moebius was involved with during his career. Sadly, it was his final collaborations during a career that spanned six decades. Fittingly, Dieter Moebius’ final collaboration Familiar, was a meeting of musical minds, where the talented triumvirate of Moebius Story Leidecker create an ambitious album of atmospheric and evocative cinematic soundscapes.

Moebius Story Leidecker-Familiar.

ERLAND DAHLEN-CLOCKS.

Erland Dahlen-Clocks.

Label: Hubro Music.

For the last three decades, forty-six year old drummer and percussionist Erland Dahlen has been regarded as one of Norway’s top drummers. He’s the drummer’s drummer, and the man who the great and good of Norwegian music go to when they’re looking for a drummer. As a result, Erland Dahlen is constantly in demand for session work, and has now over 3000 credits to his name. Erland Dahlen has been like a musical gunslinger who travels from town to town, playing on album after album. So much so, that studios are like a second home to Erland Dahlen. However, in 2011, there was one was thing missing from Erland Dahlen’s impressive CV…a solo album.

By then, Erland Dahlen has just turned forty, and decided that now was the time to record his debut album. Rolling Bomber was released Hubro Music in February 2012. It was hailed as one of the finest albums of 2012. Erland Dahlen’s solo career was underway.

In August 2015, Erland Dahlen returned with his much-anticipated sophomore album Blossom Bells. Critical acclaim accompanied the release of Blossom Bells, which was nominated for a Spellemannspris, the Norwegian equivalent of a Grammy Award. Erland Dahlen’s solo career was going from strength-to-strength, and the followup to Blossom Bells was eagerly awaited. 

Soon, the wait will be over when Erland Dahlen releases Clocks on Hubro Music on he ‘6th’ of October 2017. Clocks features six epic cinematic soundscapes, is the most ambitious album of Erland Dahlen’s long and illustrious career. 

Erland Dahlen was born in Ulefoss, Norway, on the ’15th’ of May 1971. Growing up, Erland Dahlen discovered music, and started to learn to play the drums. Little did he know that this was when he had first lesson that he would end up one of Norway’s top drummers.

As the new millennia dawned, Erland Dahlen’s career was well underway. He was by then, an established session musician and was had a countless credits to his name. This included playing on albums by some of the biggest names in Norwegian music. However, when he wasn’t working as a session musician, Erland Dahlen was a member of a couple of groups.

This included the jazz group HET, who released their debut album Lost In The Lurch in 2002. Erland Dahlen wrote four of the seven tracks, played and programmed the drums, marimba, added vocals and took charge of the electronics. Alas, there was no followup to Lost In The Lurch, and Erland Dahlen concentrated his efforts on another group, Kiruna.

They released their genre-melting debut Irun in 2002. By the tine Kiruna returned with groundbreaking sophomore album Tarasarus in 2007, Erland Dahlen was a member of two other groups.

Erland Dahlen had joined Madrugada in 2005, and played on their fourth studio album Deep End, and their live album, Live at Tralfamadore. Both of these albums were released to plaudits and praise in 2005. Then in 2007, Erland Dahlen played on Madrugada’s eponymous sixth album. When Madrugada was released in 2008, it proved to be the band’s swan-song. By then, Erland Dahlen was a member of another new band, Boschamaz.

Just like Kiruna, Boschamaz’s music incorporated a variety of disparate influences. That was apparent on their debut album This Is Not Sweden in 2007. It was an ambitious genre-melting album that fused elements of ambient, electronic, experimental,  jazz and post rock. However, it would be another four years before Boschamaz returned with the followup to This Is Not Sweden.

Over the next four years, Erland Dahlen continued to work as a session musician, and by 2011 he was recognised as one of Norway’s top drummers. He had spent over a decade as working as a session musician, and had divided his time between playing on other people’s albums and as a member of HET, Kiruna, Madrugada and Boschamaz. They returned with their sophomore album Rød in 2011, a year later. It was the last album the group released. Meanwhile, another group were about to hit the comeback trail, Kiruna.  

Kiruna made a welcome return after five years away when they released their third album The River in 2012. While the album was well received by critics, Kiruna like Boschamaz haven’t returned with another album. Since then, Erland Dahlen has had other things on his mind…his solo career.

When Erland Dahlen turned forty, he realised that there was still one glaring omission from his impressive and burgeoning CV, a solo album. He was a veteran of a couple of hundred seasons, and took to the stage with everyone from Stian Westerhus, Eivind Aarset, Hannah Hukkelberg,  Anja Garbarek, Nils Petter Molvaer and Xploding Plastix, to John-Paul Jones and Mike Patton. Still, though Erland Dahlen hadn’t released his solo album. He decided that now, the time was right to embark upon a solo career, which he could fit around his session work and his work as a producer.

As 2012 dawned, Erland Dahlen was preparing to release his eagerly awaited debut album Rolling Bomber. It was released by Hubro Music to praise and plaudits in February 2012. When the year drew to close, Rolling Bomber was hailed as one of the finest albums of 2012. Erland Dahlen’s solo career was underway.

Just over three years later, in August 2015, Erland Dahlen returned with his much-anticipated sophomore album Blossom Bells. Critical acclaim accompanied the release of Blossom Bells, which was later, nominated for a Spellemannspris, the Norwegian equivalent of a Grammy Award. Erland Dahlen’s solo career was going from strength-to-strength, and the followup to Blossom Bells was eagerly awaited. 

After a two-year wait, the drummer’s drummer Erland Dahlen will make a welcome return when he releases Clocks, which features six epic cinematic soundscapes. They’ve been carefully created by Erland Dahlen and using his newly expanded musical arsenal.

Throughout his career, Erland Dahlen has collected a myriad of disparate musical instruments. Some of these he’s put to good use on his two previous Rolling Bomber and Blossom Bells. However, for Clocks Erland Dahlen has put together an unlikely array of musical instruments. He explains: “before I went into the studio to make this album I bought some Cymbells, a Mellotron, several large sheets of metal and a variety of drum machines and stringed instruments.” That isn’t all. 

On Clocks, Erland Dahlen also used antique drums from the thirties, a selection of gongs, xylophones, bells, bowed instruments and strings as well as drone-boxes and electronics. Sometimes, Erland Dahlen has to think outside the box to recreate the sound he wants to create. This resulted in him using the sounds of knives and forks, or even marbles rolling on a plate. Erland Dahlen believed that: “it’s incredibly inspiring to explore new instruments and find new sounds.” They certainly play their part in what’s the most ambitious album.

So did two of Erland Dahlen’s ex-colleagues in Xploding Plastix. Hallvard W. Hagen remixed the track Lizard, while Jens Petter Nilsen mixed Clocks. All that remained was for Helge Sten to master at Audio Virus Lab and Clocks would be ready for release. It’s the album that critics, cultural commentators and music fans have spent two years waiting for.

As the title-track opens Clocks, there’s an element of drama and tension. This comes courtesy of the rhythmic, rounded sound of the drums. They’re panned as an array of disparate sounds flit in and out of the arrangement. This ranges from a scrabbled guitar, synths, drone box, gongs, percussion and a steel drum. Later, eerie, buzzing and jangling sounds join with guitars and soar high above the arrangement as drums power the arrangement along. By now, Erland Dahlen is a one-man band as he unleashes a myriad of instruments. They combine to create a soundscape that is full of drama and tension, as it veers between uplifting to otherworldly. Always, Clocks has a cinematic sound and sets the imagination racing before it reaches a crescendo. 

Briefly, there’s an understated, orchestral sound at the start of Glas. Soon, karate drums are unleashed and crack, as flourishes of percussion join washes of shimmering guitar and bells. They create an elegiac backdrop while drums scamper and a myriad of beeps and squeaks join the ominous sound of a bass synth. It taps out a code, as if sending a message to distant land on what could easily be part of the soundtrack for a sci-fi film. 

As Ship unfolds, Erland Dahlen’s drums briefly reference Krautrock. Then a drum roll signals it’s all change as drums pound and join with gongs, bells, xylophone, percussion and electronics. By then, there’s an element of drama, as this eight minute epic starts to reveal its secrets. A gong adds a hypnotic siren sound, as if the Ship is distress. Meanwhile, Erland Dahlen powers his way round his drum kit combining drama and urgency, as a variety of sounds flit in and out. This ranges from Eastern sound to jangling and deliberate sound. All of a sudden, a haunting vocal emerges from deep in the mix, and adds the to the drama. So do a variety of stringed instruments, electronics, handclaps, percussion, and bells. They’re all part of a carefully crafted and dramatic soundscape, that documents life and drama aboard the Ship as it sets sail across the ocean.

What better way to follow one eight minute epic than with another, Bear. Straight away, a drone box combines with the drums to create an ominous backdrop. They’re joined by a droning

organ as a searing guitar cuts through the arrangement. This adds to the drama. So do the keyboards as the arrangement ebbs and flows, drama almost ever-present. Meanwhile, bells rings and effects are added to the arrangement which briefly distorts. Then eerie, otherworldly and buzzing sounds are added as the soundscape shimmers and shivers, as it marches to the beat of Erland Dahlen’s drum. Latterly, the soundscape is haunting, futuristic, atmospheric and evocative. It’s without doubt, one of the pieces of music Erland Dahlen has ever recorded during his three album solo career.

In the distance the ethereal sound of Lizard can be heard. As it unfolds, beeps and squeals are added and create a mesmeric backdrop. Soon, a drum roll signals that things are about to change. Effects are added, and as the arrangement howls, beeps and buzzes. By now, the soundscape sounds like a man machine, as it slowly comes to life. Meanwhile, bells ring and jangle, while eerie, otherworldly sound are added as drums pitter patter. When rapid fire beeps emerge from the arrangement, it’s as if the man machine is malfunctioning. Later, quivering, shivering sounds join bells, beeps and squeaks during this captivating cinematic soundscape that features Erland Dahlen at his inventive and innovative.

Closing Clocks is Wood a seven minute epic. Just drums play while  Erland Dahlen improvises and the sound of a marble rolling across a plate can be heard. So can a drone boxes, keyboards and percussion. They’re joined by bells, gongs and bursts of thunder. Sounds flit in and out, some playing a fleeting visit, while others play a leading role as Erland Dahlen puts his mutual palette to good use. This includes the eerie, otherworldly sound that Erland Dahlen has put to good throughout Clocks. It joins an array of bells and drums, and plays its part in the sound and success of another atmospheric, evocative and thought-provoking cinematic soundscape.

After six tracks lasting thirty-nine minutes, Erland Dahlen’s third album Clocks is over. All that remains is the memory of what’s without doubt the most ambitious and cinematic album from sonic pioneer Erland Dahlen. He wrote, played all the interments and produced the six epic soundscapes on Clocks. It sounds like a soundtrack album, awaiting a film.

Erland Dahlen unleashed his creating and imagination on Clocks, which has been compared to Antonio Sanchez’s percussive score for Birdman. However, given the array of influences and reference points, a much more accurate comparison would be the soundtrack work of Tangerine Dream, Ryuichi Sakamoto or former Stewart Copeland’s music for Rumblefish and pa. They may have been amongst the influences and inspirations for Erland Dahlen. So to some extent was Japanese musician, composer and producer  Yasuaki Shimizu, plus American composer, music theorist and creator of bespoke musical instruments Harry Partch. He also successfully transformed an array of everyday items into musical instruments. This Erland Dahlen did when recording his genre-melting, cinematic opus Clocks.

On Clocks Erland Dahlen combines elements of ambient, avant-garde, Berlin School, electronica, experimental, Krautrock, Nordic Wave, post rock, psychedelia and rock. Disparate musical genres melt into one, on an album that’s variously dark and dramatic, to elegiac and ethereal, to eerie, futuristic, haunting and otherworldly. Other times, the music is atmospheric and evocative, before becoming emotive and uplifting and then ruminative, thoughtful and thought-provoking. Always the music on Clocks is inventive, innovative and cinematic as Erland Dahlen creates music that is sure to set the listener’s imagination racing. That is not all.

Without doubt Clocks is the most ambitious album of forty-six year old Erland Dahlen’s career. Although Clocks is just his third album, Erland Dahlen draws upon a lifetime’s musical experience that comes with playing on over 300 albums. The result is Clocks, a breathtaking, career-defining album of atmospheric epic cinematic soundscapes from sonic pioneer, Erland Dahlen.

Erland Dahlen-Clocks.

YASUAKI SHIMIZU-MUSIC FOR COMMERCIALS: MADE TO MEASURE VOLUME 12.

Yasuaki Shimizu-Music For Commercials: Made To Measure Volume 12.

Label: Crammed Discs.

Thirty years ago, in 1987, Marc Hollander’s label, Crammed Discs, released an album that went on become one of their most sought after releases. This was Yasuaki Shimizu’s Music For Commercials, which featured a total of twenty-four tracks.  Twenty-three of them were short pieces of music which were originally meant to provide the soundtrack to commercials on Japanese television. They showcased Yasuaki Shimizu’s versatility as a composer and saxophonist as he flitted between musical genres on tracks that featured titles like Seiko 1, Boutique Joy, Sharp 1, Honda and Bridgestone 4. These tracks lasted less than two minutes. The exception was  Ka-Cho-Fu-Getsu which was the soundtrack to a computer animated short film. Just like the rest of Music For Commercials it captivating introduction to Yasuaki Shimizu, who was a truly talented, versatile, and innovative composer and musician.

Since then, Yasuaki Shimizu’s career has gone from strength-to-strength. He’s released numerous albums and soundtracks, and has also collaborated with everyone from  Björk to Elvin Jones and Manu Dibango right through to Van Dyke Parks, Ryuichi Sakamoto and DJ Towa Te. Despite having released so much music during the last thirst years, still, Music For Commercials continues to generate interest amongst record buyers and old and new. 

So much so, that Marc Hollander’s Crammed Discs has just reissued  Yasuaki Shimizu’s Music For Commercials on LP and CD. This made sense as copies of Music For Commercials were almost impossible to find. Those that had a copy weren’t willing to part with their copy.  With demand outstripping supply, Crammed Discs decided to reissue Music For Commercials as Volume 12 in their critically acclaimed Made To Measure Series.

When the Made To Measure series began in 1983, this was just two years after Marc Hollander had founded his new label Crammed Discs in Belgium in 1981. For the nascent Made To Measure series, Marc Hollander came up with a loose concept. Each album in the Made To Measure series could’ve been made as a soundtrack for film, television or dance. With this concept in mind, the Crammed Discs series began in 1983.

Over the next twelve years, Crammed Discs released thirty-five albums of mostly instrumental music by musical pioneers and innovators. This included albums of new and intriguing music from Arto Lindsay, Aksak Maboul, Benjamin Lew, Brion Gysin, David Cunningham, Fred Frith, Harold Budd, Hector Zazou, Minimal Compact, Peter Principle, Steven Brown and Peter Principle. These albums were described as the aural equivalent of a collection of art books, and were released to critical acclaim. Sadly, the Made To Measure series came to an end in 1995.

That looked like the end of this popular and crucially acclaimed series. Then in 2013, with no fuss Crammed Discs decided the time was right to bring back the Made To Measure series. Since then, there’s been five new instalments in the series from Bérangère Maximin, Brown Reininger Bodson, Jozef Van Wissem, Le Ton Mité and Tuxedomoon and The Cult With No Name’s Blue Velvet Revisited soundtrack. They were welcome and worthy additions to this long running series. 

Still, though, many people wanted Volume 12 of the Made To Measure series reissued. They got their wish when Music For Commercials: Made To Measure Volume 12 was recently reissued by Crammed Discs. It was originally released in 1987, and by then, Yasuaki Shimizu was well into his second decade as a musician.

Composer, saxophonist and producer Yasuaki Shimizu was born in Shimada, Shizu on August the ‘9th’ 1954. Growing up, he embraced music and learnt to play the saxophone. By the early seventies Yasuaki Shimizu had decided to embarked upon a career as a professional musician. 

The first many people heard of Yasuaki Shimizu was when the twenty-four year saxophonist released his debut solo album, Get You, in 1978. This carefully crafted combination of jazz and jazz-funk and would introduce Yasuaki Shimizu to Japanese music fans. 

A year later, and Yasuaki Shimizu returned with his sophomore album Far East Express in 1979.  By then, Yasuaki Shimizu had formed a new experimental rock band, Mariah.

The newly founded Mariah released their eponymous debut album later in 1979. This was the first of six albums that Mariah released between 1979 and 1983. 

Mariah returned with their sophomore album Yen Dreams in 1980. By then, Mariah music was continuing to evolve. That would be the case throughout the band’s career.

Despite leading the experimental rock band Mariah, Yasuaki Shimizu continued his solo career. He released his sophomore album Berlin in 1980, with his third album IQ 179 following in 1981. Meanwhile, Yasuaki Shimizu’s groundbreaking band Mariah were about to release two albums during 1981.

The first of these albums was  Auschwitz Dream. It was followed by Marginal Love in 1981, and then Red Party in 1982. By then, Mariah’s music continued to evolve and was being discovered by a wider, international audience.

It was a similar case with Yasuaki Shimizu’s solo albums. He was already regarded as a musical pioneer, and someone who was capable of pushing boundaries to their limits, and sometimes, way beyond. That was the case on Kakashi, which was released in 1982, and nowadays, is regarded as a genre classic. However, it was the last album Yasuaki Shimizu released until 1987.

The following year, Mariah released what was their swan-song Utakata no Hibi which fused traditional Japanese festival rhythms with rock tempos and sounds. It was an hailed as ambitious classic album, and a fitting farewell from Mariah.

With Mariah consigned to musical history and Yasuaki Shimizu’s solo career seemingly on hold, the musical pioneer embarked on yet another musical project, Yasuaki Shimizu and The Saxophonettes. This was essentially a one-man band, and over the next two years, Yasuaki Shimizu released two albums as Yasuaki Shimizu and The Saxophonettes.

Later in 1983, Yasuaki Shimizu and The Saxophonettes released their  debut album was L’Automne à Pekin. It was an ambitious homage to the golden age of Hollywood, albeit with a twist. Yasuaki Shimizu and The Saxophonettes combined lush, underrated strings with a myriad of electronic sounds and a reggae rhythm section. It was an intriguing and captivating combination that found favour with critics. So did the followup Stardust, when it was released in 1985. By then, Yasuaki Shimizu had left Japan, and was spending his time in Europe.

Yasuaki Shimizu was dividing his time between London and Paris, where he became part of both cities vibrant music scenes. Marc Hollander remembers: “I met Yasuaki Shimizu when he was living in Paris, around the mid-eighties. We were mutually interested in a Shimizu/Crammed collaboration, and we came up with the idea to gather the short pieces he had created for television commercials, and release them in our Made To Measure composers’ series which, at the time, already included ten releases of mostly instrumental music.”

Now that Crammed Discs had agreed to release a Yasuaki Shimizu album, the Japanese composer, saxophonist and producer began choosing the tracks that would feature on Music For Commercials: Made To Measure Volume 12. It featured twenty-four instrumentals, with twenty-three tracks lasting two minutes or less. There was one exception, Ka-Cho-Fu-Getsu which was the soundtrack to a computer animated short film. Mostly, though Yasuaki Shimizu was keen to showcase his work creating Music For Commercials.

Yasuaki Shimizu recalls how: “TV commercials in the late ’70s and ’80s didn’t advertise the practical features of products, they were meant to build strategic corporate images. You might even say they took a musical approach in their visual expression, though perhaps that’s an overstatement. Being restricted to a time span of a minute or less made it ideal work for refining my intuitive powers. I made a conscious choice not to remix the tracks for this album. The final version of the original recordings appear here untouched, although I do remember working to link the individual tunes, and on the overall mood.” That is apparent throughout Music For Commercials: Made To Measure Volume 12.

When Crammed Discs released Music For Commercials: Made To Measure Volume 12 in 1987, critics and cultural commentators lavished plaudits and praise on this captivating and intriguing compilation of music. Little did anyone know that over the next thirty years, that Yasuaki Shimizu’s Music For Commercials: Made To Measure Volume Kakashi would become one of Crammed Discs most sought after releases. 

Now thirty years after the original release of Music For Commercials: Made To Measure Volume 12, Crammed Discs have recently reissued this compilation of twenty-four inventive and innovative short soundscapes. It makes a welcome return after three decades out of print.

On Music For Commercials: Made To Measure Volume 12, Yasuaki Shimizu flits between, and fuses musical genres on  Music For Commercials: Made To Measure Volume 12.  He combines elements of ambient, avant-garde, classical, electronic and experimental with jazz and traditional Japanese music. These genres are combined twenty-four tracks that are very different. 

Tachikawa is elegiac and ethereal, before Seiko 1 becomes urgent and dramatic, while Seiko 4 has a similar urgency. Very different are Seiko 2 and Seiko 3 which are understated soundscapes with an enchanting minimalist sound. Sen-Nen 1’s is a beautiful ambient sounding track, and like many of the tracks in evocative and rich in imagery. It’s a similar case with tracks like Boutique Joy. By comparison, Ricoh 1 has a much more experimental sound. So does Ricoh 2, which is a genre-melting track with a mesmeric and futuristic sound. Laox also showcases a futuristic eighties sound and combines with this with lush strings. This is an intriguing and successful combination, and like all the tracks on Music For Commercials: Made To Measure Volume 12, has a cinematic sound and is full of imagery.

Shiseido has an orchestrated and evocative sound that is guaranteed to paints pictures. It’s also one of the most memorable tracks on Music For Commercials: Made To Measure Volume 12. Seiko 5 has a jaunty robotic sound, as if trying to sell a groundbreaking futuristic product. It gives way to Sharp, which mixes sultry jazz with electronics, avant-garde and industrial music. Sen-Nen 2 finds Yasuaki Shimizu combining his jazz saxophone with experimental and ambient music. Mesmeric but beautiful describes Honda, which is one of several tracks which incorporates elements of Japanese music. It’s a similar case on Suntory, where a myriad of percussion adds an almost hypnotic sound. Knorr is another genre-melting track where classical vocal and cello combine with occasional flourishes of piano and crisp drum rolls. They may be unlikely bedfellows but play their part in the success of this beautiful, evocative soundscape. It gives way to the Bridgestone 5.

This is the five soundscape that Yasuaki Shimizu recorded for Bridgestone. They have a much more experimental sound than many of the other tracks. Bridgestone 1 head in the direction of free jazz So to some extent does Bridgestone 2, which combines a myriad of experimental and ethereal sounds. Then on Bridgestone 2 found and experimental sounds are fused with a braying horn and drama. Very different is Bridgestone 4 where the saxophone plays slowly and ruminatively before strings sweep and swirl on Bridgestone 5. It closes the Bridgestone quintet. 

Ka-Cho-Fu-Getsu is ten minute soundtrack where Yasuaki Shimizu showcases his skills and versatility during this captivating musical adventure. It takes twists and turns as Yasuaki Shimizu throws curveballs springs surprises, as a myriad of subtleties unfold as this musical pioneer creates a groundbreaking and genre-melting opus. This leaves just Seibu, which sounds like an excerpt from an opera. It closes Music For Commercials: Made To Measure Volume 12, which was recently reissued by Crammed Discs thirty years after its original release in 1987.

For many music fans, the recent reissue of Music For Commercials: Made To Measure Volume 12 will be a  welcome one. After its release in 1987, Music For Commercials: Made To Measure Volume 12 became Crammed Discs most sought after release as new record buyers discovered the delights of this groundbreaking album. Eventually, it was almost impossible to find a copy of Music For Commercials: Made To Measure Volume 12. Those that owned a copy of the album were holding on to them. As a result, demand was greatly outstripping supply. It made sense to reissue Music For Commercials: Made To Measure Volume 12, which showcases Yasuaki Shimizu’s versatility as a composer and saxophonist as he flits between and combines musical genres. The result was a captivating album from a true musical pioneer, and one of the best instalments in Crammed Discs’ Made To Measure series. 

Thirty years later, and the Made To Measure series recently released the fortieth volume in the series. Still, though Yasuaki Shimizu’s Music For Commercials: Made To Measure Volume 12 is still regarded as one of the best instalments in Crammed Discs’ long-running and prestigious series. That will continue to be the case for the foreseeable future as Yasuaki Shimizu’s Music For Commercials: Made To Measure Volume 12 was an ambitious album of inventive, innovative and cinematic music that is evocative, rich in imagery and is truly timeless.

Yasuaki Shimizu-Music For Commercials: Made To Measure Volume 12.

TAKE WHAT YOU NEED: UK COVERS OF BOB DYLAN SONGS 1964-1969.

Take What You Need: UK Covers Of Bob Dylan Songs 1964-69.

Label: Ace Records.

As 1969 drew to a close, Bob Dylan was without doubt, one of the biggest names in popular music, and had come a long way since releasing his eponymous debut album on March ’19th’ 1962. This was the first of nine studio albums that Bob Dylan released during the sixties, and was the start of a glittering career.

By 1969, Bob Dylan had sold over eight million studio albums in America between the release of Bob Dylan in March 1962 and Nashville Skyline in April 1969. Two albums were certified gold, five certified platinum and when Blonde on Blonde was released in 1966 this classic album was certified double-platinum. Bob Dylan could do wrong in the eyes of critics, cultural commentator and record buyers. So much so, that when Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits was released in March 1967, it eventually sold five million copies. Bob Dylan one of the most popular and influential albums in America. It was a similar case in across the Atlantic in Britain.

Bob Dylan had already enjoyed four number one albums in Britain by 1969. Every album he had released between The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan in 1963 and Nashville Skyline in 1969 had reached the top ten in Britain. By then, Bob Dylan had amassed two silver discs, six gold discs and a platinum disc for Blonde On Blonde. British record buyers held Bob Dylan in the utmost regard, and had been won over by his music. It was a similar case with British musicians.

Many British artists and bands had taken to covering Bob Dylan’s songs since he made his debut in 1962. Especially between 1964 and 1969, when a whole host of British artists and bands covered Bob Dylan’s music. This includes the twenty-two who feature on Ace Records’ new compilation Take What You Need: UK Covers Of Bob Dylan Songs 1964-69. It features everyone from The Fairies, Marianne Faithfull, Manfred Mann, Noel Harrison, Julie Felix, The Picadilly Line, The Alan Price Set, Fairport Convention, The Mixed Bag, Cliff Aungier, Joe Cocker and Sandie Show. Their covers range from country rock to folk, pop and R&B, and include a number of songs that make their CD debut. Take What You Need: UK Covers Of Bob Dylan Songs 1964-69 also finds a number of artists reinventing familiar songs, and taking them in a new direction.

Opening Take What You Need: UK Covers Of Bob Dylan Songs 1964-69 is The Fairies cover of Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right. It was released by Decca on the ‘31st’ July 1964 as The Fairies’ debut single. This was the first of a trio of singles the R&B band from Colchester, in Essex released. Alas, it’s the only one to feature drummer John ‘Twink’ Alder who later joined Tomorrow, The Pretty Things and The Pink Fairies. He plays his part in the sound and success of Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right which marries country rock and folk beat, on The Fairies’ finest hour.

After the success of Marianne Faithfull’s debut singe As Tears Go By, it was decided that she eighteen year old should cover Bob Dylan’s Blowin’ In The Wind.  It’s given a baroque arrangement by producer by Andrew Loog Oldham Marianne Faithfull delivers a haunting, melancholy vocal. However, when Blowin’ In The Wind was released as a single by Decca in 1964, it failed to find an audience. For Marianne Faithfull, Blowin’ In The Wind  was the single that got away.

When Bob Dylan toured Britain for the first time in 1962, he met and became friends with the folk group The Three City Four. Three years later, they were about to record their eponymous debut album with producer Gerry Bron. One of the fourteen songs on The Three City Four was an impassioned rendition of Oxford Town which deals with the subject of racial hatred. Later in 1965, Decca released The Three City Four, and of the highlights was the powerful cover of Oxford Town.

When Manfred Mann released If You Gotta Go, Go Now in 1965 already enjoyed seven hit singles. If You Gotta Go, Go Now became number eight when it reached number two in the UK. That was no surprise, as Manfred Mann’s cover of If You Gotta Go, Go Now intense, emotionally charged and full of drama. It’s without doubt, one of the best singles Manfred Mann released during the sixties.

In 1963, Chad Stuart and Jeremy Clyde formed a folk pop duo, Chad and Jeremy. They were quite unlike many of the musicians around at the time. They were well-educated, polite and dressed smartly, and  immediately, comparisons were being drawn with Peter and Gordon.  By late 1964, and with commercial success continuing to elude Chad and Jeremy they made the decision to move to California. The man who brokered the deal was none other than Alan Klein. This move paid off, with Chad and Jeremy signed to Columbia and  enjoyed three hit singles. They also released a dreamy pop folk cover of Mr Tambourine Man which featured on their 1965 album I Don’t Want To Lose You Baby.

The Picadilly Line were a relatively short-lived band managed by Roy Guest, who specialised in managing folk artists and bands. In 1967,  his clients included Al Stewart The Picadilly Line. They went into arranger and producer John Cameron and recorded their debut album The Huge World Of Emily Small. It was a concept album that featured eleven tracks. When Emily Small The Huge World Of Emily Small was released by CBS in 1967, one of the highlights was the dramatic folk psych of Visions Of Johanna. Sadly, there  was no followup to The Huge World Of Emily Small, which nowadays changes hands for up to a €1,000.

Having departed The Animals in 1965, Alan Price embarked upon a new chapter in his career in 1966 when he formed The Alan Price Set. In 1967, The Alan Price Set returned with their sophomore A Price On His Head which was released on Decca. It featured To Ramona, which Bob Dylan had previously covered. To Ramona is given understated piano lead makeover, which featured  an impassioned and emotive vocal from Geordie troubadour Alan Price. 

Two years after starting playing the club circuit, Manchester based The Factotums were signed to Picadilly. They released I Can’t Give You Anything But Love as a single in 1966. Tucked away on the B-Side was a carefully crafted cover of Bob Dylan’s Absolutely Sweet Marie. It’s obvious that the members of The Factotums are fans of Bob Dylan, with the lead vocalist trying and succeeding to replicate Bob Dylan’s vocal style. This vocal plays a part in the sound and success of song that could only have been released during one decade…the sixties. 

I Shall Be Released is an oft-covered track, and in 1968 Boz added their name to the artists and bands that had covered Bob Dylan’s anthem. It was arranged by Jon Lord and produced by Derek Lawrence. The pair help Boz reinvent the song, as they add washes of wah wah guitar and blistering guitar lacks. Boz then released I Shall Be Released as a single on Columbia. Sadly, its pop rock sound failed to find an audience. Nearly fifty years later,  Boz’s hidden gem has been unearthed and introduces their rework of Bob Dylan’s anthem to a new generation.

Very few of the bands on Take What You Need: UK Covers Of Bob Dylan Songs 1964-69 are still going strong, that is apart from Fairport Convention. They covered  I’ll Keep It With Mine for their album What We Did On Our Holidays. It was released by Island Records in 1969, was one of Fairport Convention’s finest albums. One of the album’s highlights was I’ll Keep It With Mine, where the late, great Sandy Denny plays a leading role in the songs sound and success.

Joe Cocker was born and brought up in Sheffield, and went on to become one of Britain’s best male vocalists. This was a long way from when he was a gas fitter and sung in Sheffield’s pub’s. In 1969, Joe Cocker was about to record his debut album With A Little Help From My Friends. It was released in 1969 and released on the Regal label. One of the highlights of the albums a needy cover of Just Like A Woman where Joe Cocker combines raw power and emotion. This was a powerful combination, and was a taste of what was to come from Joe Cocker.

Closing Take What You Need: UK Covers Of Bob Dylan Songs 1964-69 is Sandie Shaw’s cover of Lay Lady Lay. She recorded the song for her 1969 album Reviewing The Situation, and in the process, reinvents a familiar song. Sandie Shaw delivers a beautiful, tender, breathy and sensual sounding cover of Lay Lady Lay. It’s one of the highlights of the compilation, and ensures that Take What You Need: UK Covers Of Bob Dylan Songs 1964-69 on a high.

During the sixties, many artists and bands covered Bob Dylan’s songs. That was no surprise, as he was one of the most successful and influential artists in music. Bob Dylan spoke to and for a generation, who bought his albums by the million. Other artists looked on enviously, wishing they had Bob Dylan’s way with words. Many, including some of the biggest names in music decided to cover Bob Dylan’s songs, including the twenty-two songs on Take What You Need: UK Covers Of Bob Dylan Songs 1964-69. 

It features songs from familiar faces, including some of the biggest names in British music between 1964 and 1969. They’re joined by artists and bands that many people won’t have heard of. Sadly, commercial success eluded these artists, and they never enjoyed the commercial success and critical acclaim their music deserved. However, they all  covered Bob Dylan songs between 1964 and 1969.

Some of the artists and bands on Take What You Need: UK Covers Of Bob Dylan Songs 1964-69 stay true to the original, while other reinvent familiar songs and take then in new and unexpected directions. That is the case several times, on Take What You Need: UK Covers Of Bob Dylan Songs 1964-69, which is best described as a lovingly curated homage to Bob Dylan. It features a mixture of best known songs and some leftfield choices. The majority of these songs on Take What You Need: UK Covers Of Bob Dylan Songs 1964-69 were penned by Bob Dylan and are a reminder, if any was needed, of how good a songwriter he was.  It’s no surprise that artists were almost queuing up to cover Bob Dylan’s songs.

Fifty years later, and artists continue to cover Bob Dylan’s songs. Ironically, on his last couple of albums, he’s taken to covering albums from the Great American Songbook. Maybe fifty years down the line, and the songs on Take What You Need: UK Covers Of Bob Dylan Songs 1964-69 will be regarded as part of the Great American Songbook? 

Whether that happens or not, Bob Dylan will always be regarded as one of the most important and influential singer-songwriters of his generation. Especially during the sixties, which was a golden period for Bob Dylan and is documented and celebrated on Take What You Need: UK Covers Of Bob Dylan Songs 1964-69.  

Take What You Need: UK Covers Of Bob Dylan Songs 1964-69.

DIETER MOEBIUS-THE SOLO YEARS.

Dieter Moebius-The Solo Years.

Ten years after Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Dieter Moebius formed Cluster in 1971, the first chapter in the Cluster story drew to a close 1981, after the release of their seventh studio album, Curiosum. Hans-Joachim Roedelius said: “Cluster had run its course. We decided to concentrate on other projects. There was no fall-out, Cluster just came to a natural end.” 

In the post-Cluster years, Dieter Moebius divided his time with a variety of projects, including a variety of collaborations and, his solo career. Dieter Moebius’ solo career solo career had to fit round his many other musical commitments. This included the albums Dieter Moebius recorded with  his friend Conny Plank.

Moebius and Plank.

Rastakraut Pasta.

In 1980, Dieter and Conny Plank entered Conny’s Studio to record seven tracks. They were joined by another giant of German music, Can bassist Holger Czukay. He played on Feedback 66, Missi Cacadou and Two Oldtimers. When the seven tracks were completed, Rastakraut Pasta was would be released later in 1980.

Critics hailed Moebius and Plank’s debut Rastakraut Pasta a truly groundbreaking album.  It was a fusion of avant-garde Kominische, industrial, electronica, experimental and dub reggae. This disparate and unlikely fusion of genres proved a potent musical pot-pourri, that proved popular with critics and record buyers. So much so, that Conny Plank and Dieter Moebius released a second album together.

Material.

The Moebius and Plank partnership returned in 1981 with their sophomore album, Material. It featured five songs recorded at Conny’s Studio. This time, there was no sign of Holger Czukay. Instead, the two old friends and musical pioneers worked together on another album of truly groundbreaking music that became Material.

Just like Rastakraut Pasta, Material was hailed as another album of groundbreaking, genre-melting music. Elements of avant-garde Kominische, industrial, electronica, experimental and dub reggae. This resulted in music that wasn’t just innovative, but way ahead of its time. Material was also a timeless album, and one that  resulted in what seemed like a queue of musicians wanting to collaborate with Dieter Moebius.

First in the queue was Gerd Beerbohm. They released their first collaboration, Strange Music in 1982. This was the first of two albums that the pair would record tougher. The followup Double Cut was released in 1983. That same year, Dieter Moebius released his debut album Tonspuren.

Tonspuren.

To record his debut solo album, Dieter Moebius headed for the familiar surroundings of Conny’s Studio, in Cologne.  He had made this journey countless times before, and in the second half of 1982, Dieter began recording ten soundscapes. With Conny looking on approvingly, and making a few suggestions, Tonspuren began to take shape. Once the album was recorded, Conny mixed Tonspuren. It was then released in 1983.

Just like his previous collaborations with Conny Plank, Tonspuren was released on Günter Körber’s Sky Records. It was the perfect label for an album of minimalist, experimental and ambient music.

Günter Körbe had setup Sky Records in 1975, and had never been afraid to release music that many labels would’ve shied away from. Many other German labels were only interested in commercial music. However,  Sky Records, just like Brain and Ohr before them, were determined to released groundbreaking music. This was how some critics described Tonspuren. 

Critics had awaited the release of Tonspuren with interest. They wondered what direction Dieter Moebius’ music would head? When they heard Tonspuren, with its minimalist, ambient and sometimes experimental sound, they knew. It was a captivating debut album, and critics awaited  Dieter’s sophomore album with interest. Sadly, they would have a long wait.

Sixteen years to be exact. Dieter Moebius would released several collaborations, and Cluster would’ve reunited before Dieter Moebius released his sophomore album.  By then, Dieter Moebius had reinvented himself, while music, and the way it was made had changed.

Following the release of Tonspuren, Dieter Moebius continued to collaborate with other artists, This included two collaborations with Karl Renziehausen. Dieter Moebius also wrote the soundtrack to Blue Moon in 1986. However, it was Conny Plank that Dieter Moebius collaborated with most often. They recorded three further albums with Conny Plank, This included 1983s Zero Set which featured Guru Guru drummer Mani Neumeier; 1995s En Route; and Ludwig’s Law which featured Mayo Thompson.  However, still, Dieter Moebius found time to reunite with Hans-Joachim Roedelius for the comeback of Cluster.

Apropos Cluster.

Recording of Cluster’s tenth album took place during 1989 and 1990. Dieter Moebius and Hans-Joachim Roedelius recorded five tracks, including the twenty-two minute epic title-track. It was part of an album that was similar to Grosses Wasser.

That is the comparisons critics drew, when Apropos Cluster was released in 1991. The only difference was, that Apropos Cluster wasn’t as rhythmic as Grosses Wasser. Instead, it was understated, ethereal and thoughtful ambient music. The followup to Apropos Cluster was the first of three live albums that Cluster would release.

One Hour.

The first of the trio of live albums Cluster released during the nineties, was One Hour. It came about after Cluster improvised in the studio for four hours. This they edited this down to One Hour, and the result is a truly captivating album that was released in 1995.

One Hour features Cluster at their most imaginative as they take their music in the most unexpected directions. Curveballs are constantly bowled, as what sounds like the soundtrack to a surrealist film unfolds. Elements of ambient, avant-garde and modern classical music combine, resulting in one of the most intriguing albums in Cluster’s discography.

Two years later, in 1997, Cluster released the first of two live albums. The first was Japan 1996 Live. It was followed by First Encounter Tour 1996, which was their thirteen album, was the first double album Cluster had released. It would also be the last album they released for eleven years. During that period, Dieter Moebius released four further solo albums. The first of this quartet of solo albums was Blotch.

Blotch.

After a sixteen year period where he was constantly collaborating with other artists, the release of Blotch in 1999, marked the start of a period where mostly, Dieter Moebius would concentrate on his solo career. While there was the occasional excursion with Cluster, and a collaboration with Asmus Tietchens in 2012,  mostly, the period between 1999 and 2014 are best described as the solo years.

One thing that never changed during the solo the solo years, was Dieter Moebius’ determination to innovate. Helping Dieter Moebius to innovate, was the technology that hadn’t been available when he recorded his debut solo album, Tonspuren in 1983. Dieter Moebius embraced this new technology when he recorded Blotch, which featured  Tim Story. The result was his long-awaited comeback album, Blotch.

Blotch featured a series of playful mesmeric loop based tracks. They’re atmospheric and experimental, with Dieter Moebius adding bursts of speech and samples to the musical canvas. They were ‘painted’ by Dieter Moebius, who makes full use of musical palette, which included the new technology. Dieter Moebius’  willingness to innovate and embrace this new technology resulted in an album that was well worth the sixteen year wait.

When Blotch was released, Dieter Moebius was hailed as the comeback King. He had reinvented himself musically, and recorded a much more experimental, genre-melting album. Dieter Moebius had made good use of new technology, and added snatches of speech to the seven soundscapes. This proved a potent combination on album that fused everything from ambient and avant-garde, through to electronica and experimental to industrial, Krautrock and Musique Concrète. The result was an album of atmospheric, dramatic, futuristic and sometimes, ethereal, understated and beautiful music. These soundscapes were always cinematic and mostly, have a hypnotic quality on Blotch, the album that marked the return of Dieter Moebius.

Nurton.

Seven years after Dieter Moebius’ comeback, he returned in 2006 with the third album of his solo career, Nurton. The album was recorded a year earlier in 2005, with Dieter Moebius making good use of some of the technology that he had used on Blotch. One of Dieter Moebius’ secret weapons was the Korg Prophecy which replicated a variety of analog synths. This Dieter Moebius put to good use on Nurton. 

Dieter Moebius had pushed musical boundaries to their limit on Nurton. Just like he had throughout his career, he had turned his back on musical convention and structure. Instead, he let his imagination run riot, and  studio became a laboratory, where Dieter Moebius experimented.

The result was Nurton, which veers between moody and broody, to dark and dramatic, to ethereal and elegiac to understated and beautiful. Always, though, the best words to describe Nurton were futuristic, cinematic and hypnotic. Dieter Moebius had pulled out the stops on Nurton, which was a captivating album that painted pictures in the mind’s eye. Much of the music on Nurton was akin to a sci-fi soundtrack. Nurton also has a timeless quality, and featured some of the most ambitious, innovative and experimental music of Dieter Moebius’ career. He had set the bar high for the followup album, which was Kram, which was released in 2009.

Kram.

By the time Dieter Moebius came to record Kram, life was good for one of the leading lights of the German music scene. Somewhat belatedly, the music Dieter Moebius recorded with Kluster, Cluster and Harmonia was receiving the recognition it deserved at home and abroad. German music fans realised that  Dieter Moebius was one of their national treasures and had grown to appreciate his music. 

Dieter Moebius was still one of the leading lights of the Berlin music scene in 2008, when his thoughts turned to recording a new studio album. By then, Dieter Moebius and his wife Irene were dividing their time between Berlin and Majorca, where they could enjoy a much more agreeable climate. However, Dieter Moebius spent some of his time in Majorca working on new music.  He had a small mobile recording setup, which replicated the one he kept at him home in Berlin. 

This meant that whenever he felt inspired to make music, Dieter Moebius could enter his studio, and work on music for his latest project. In 2008, the project that Dieter Moebius was working on was his fourth studio album, which would eventually become Kram, which translates as “stuff”. The time he sent in his studios in Berlin and Majorca resulted in ten soundscapes which lasted nearly fifty-two minutes. These soundscapes became Kram, which when it was released, became Dieter Moebius’ first album in three years.

With the release of Kram fast approaching in 2009, it was changed days for Dieter Moebius. In the early days of his career, when albums by Kluster, Cluster and Harmonia failed to attract the attention of critics. Sometimes, they passed almost unnoticed, or received just a few reviews. By 2009, Dieter  Moebius was fifty-five and one of the elder statesmen of German music. He had been one of the pioneers in the late sixties, and forty years later, was still going strong and releasing ambitious and innovative music on Kram.

Critics upon hearing Kram, hailed the album one of Dieter Moebius’ finest hours as a solo artist. The album received praise and plaudits, with one of the founding fathers of modern German music creating a captivating album that was a musical roller coaster.

Kram is  best described as veering between understated, ruminative and elegiac to playful, joyous and tinged with humour, to charming and moderne. Other times, the music is mesmeric and hypnotic, before becoming dark and dramatic. Sometimes, the music becomes experimental and ambitious, while other times, Dieter Moebius unleashes a myriad of futuristic and sci-fi sounds. They join found and throwaway sounds, samples and Dieter Moebius’ trusty synths which he uses to create another genre-melting album which is sometimes cinematic, but captivates from the opening bars of Start to the closing notes of Markt.

During Kram, Dieter Moebius combines elements of ambient, avant-garde, the Berlin School, electronica, experimental music, Krautrock and even briefly rock. The result is an album that features Dieter Moebius at most ambitious and innovative. Proof of this are some of the highlights of Kram.

After three years away, Dieter Moebius returned with one of the finest solo albums of his career. Sadly, it would prove to the penultimate album of his long and illustrious career.

Ding.

Two years after the release of Kram returned with his fifth solo album Ding in 2011. He had recorded Ding a year earlier, in Berlin studio. Now he was ready to release the much-anticipated followup to Kram. By then, the music Dieter Moebius had created with Kluster, Cluster and Harmonia had never been as popular. This resulted in an upsurge of interest in his solo career.

Just like previous solo albums, Dieter Moebius had embraced the latest technology. This included a random loop generator, which he had put to good use during the making of Ding. The loops it generated, were combined with bifurcate rhythms, impalpable and ghostly voices and a myriad of assorted audio matter which became part of the eleven soundscapes on Ding.

When critics heard Ding, they realised that it was quite different from its predecessor. It was another ambitious album, where Dieter Moebius set about reinventing his music once again.  To do this, he combined elements of avant-garde with the Berlin School, electronica, experimental, industrial, Krautrock and Musique Concrète. There was also an array of hypnotic, industrial mechanical and robotic sounds on Ding, which was one of the most ambitious and experimental albums of Dieter Moebius’ solo career.

Just as he had been doing throughout his long and illustrious career, Dieter Moebius had created groundbreaking music and ambitious music on Ding. He embraced new technology, and used an array of samples, found sounds and leftfield sounds to create new and ambitious music. The music on Ding pushed musical boundaries to their limit, which amongst the most ambitious music released during 2011. That was what critics and record buyers had come to expect from sonic pioneer Dieter Moebius.  Sadly, Ding was the last album that Dieter Moebius released.

 

Musik für Metropolis.

The following year, 2012, Dieter Moebius was invited to perform music to accompany a screening of Fritz Lang’s legendary silent film Metropolis. For the screening, Dieter Moebius began work on producing new tracks and samples. These he would play on the night and treated with a myriad of effects during Dieter Moebius’ improvised performance. His performance was planned so that it would  provide the soundtrack to what was happening on the sliver screen. The Metropolis project took a lot of planning, but it was well worthwhile.

When the day of the screening of Metropolis arrived, Dieter Moebius made his way to the venue. With him, he took the equipment which he planned to put to good use that night. That was the case. It was a masterful and triumphant performance from Dieter Moebius, as he provided the perfect soundtrack for Metropolis. It had highlighted the drama and tension of Fritz Lang’s classic film. Buoyed by the success of his performance, Dieter Moebius began contemplating the next part in the Metropolis project.

All along, Dieter Moebius planned to record a full-length album featuring the music from the Metropolis project. Dieter Moebius began work on the Metropolis’ project, and continued to work on other projects. The sixty-eight year old still had an insatiable appetite for music, and immersed himself in the Metropolis’ project, which gradually started to take shape. Then tragedy stuck, when Dieter Moebius was diagnosed with cancer. 

Suddenly, music didn’t matter any more, as Dieter Moebius was fighting for his life. He battled bravely against cancer, fighting for his future and very life. Sadly, Dieter Moebius died on the ‘20th’ of July 2015’ after what had been a brave and lengthy battle against cancer. He left behind a richest musical legacy.

This included the albums he released with Kluster, Cluster and Harmonia, plus his many collaborations. They feature one of the founding fathers of modern German music doing what he did best, creating ambitious and innovative music. So do the five solo albums Dieter Moebius had released during his long and illustrious career. It should’ve six solo albums. Sadly, Dieter Moebius passed away before completing Musik für Metropolis.

Musik für Metropolis.

Two of Dieter Moebius’ friends and longtime musical partners had been discussing trying to complete Musik für Metropolis. To do this, Tim Story and Jon Leidecker would require the permission of Dieter Moebius’ widow, Irene. She granted her permission, and was fully supportive of the project.

Over the next few months, Tim Story, Jon Leidecker and Berlin based musician Jonas Förster worked on the Musik für Metropolis’ project. This was their way of paying homage to a true giant of modern German music, Dieter Moebius.

Less than years after the death of Dieter Moebius, Tim Story, Jon Leidecker and  Jonas Förster completed the Musik für Metropolis’ project. They had worked hard on the project and wanted to make Musik für Metropolis an album that Dieter Moebius would’ve been proud to put his name to. Once Irene Moebius had heard Musik für Metropolis and given her approval, the next step was to find a label who would were willing to release the album.

Fortunately, Hamburg-based label Bureau B had already agreed to reissue the five albums Dieter Moebius release Blotch, Nurton, Kram and Ding. They also agreed to release Musik für Metropolis which was Dieter Moebius’ swan-song.

When critics heard Musik für Metropolis  it was hailed as another ambitious and genre-melting album, where Dieter Moebius, fused  disparate musical genres. Elements of ambient, avant-garde and the Berlin School rub shudders with drone, electronica and experimental music. That is not forgetting industrial, Krautrock and musique concrète. They all become part of a musical tapestry, that is Musik für Metropolis. It was woven by the late, great Dieter Moebius.

He created four soundscapes that are variously atmospheric, dramatic, futuristic, melodic, menacing, mesmeric, poignant and full of tension. Always the cinematic music on Musik für Metropolis captivates and compels as Dieter Moebius paints pictures with music. This he does throughout Musik für Metropolis, which is a cinematic epic from one of the most important, innovative and influential musicians in the history of modern German music, Dieter Moebius.

He had spent six decades of his career creating ambitious and groundbreaking music. That was the case from his earliest days Kluster, Cluster and Harmonia, plus all the various collaborations that Dieter Moebius had been involved in. It was a similar case with Dieter Moebius’ solo career.

From Tonspuren in 1983 right through to  Musik für Metropolis, Dieter Moebius was always a musical pioneer and someone who pushed musical boundaries to their limits and sometimes way beyond. That was the case on the six solo albums that bare Dieter Moebius’ name. They’re a reminder of one the most important, influential and innovative musicians in the history of German music. Dieter Moebius was a  sonic pioneer and musical maverick, who constantly and continually sought to reinvent his music during the  six  albums he released during the solo years.

Dieter Moebius-The Solo Years.

 

BLUESIN’ BY THE BAYOU-AIN’T BROKE, AIN’T HUNGRY.

Bluesin’ By The Bayou-Ain’t Broke, Ain’t Hungry.

Label: Ace Records.

Nowadays, not many compilations series’ are still going strong after eighteen volumes. That is a remarkable achievement. Most compilation series seem to last no more than a few volumes. Part of the problem is constantly finding new material. All too often with compilations focusing on a specific type of music, the well runs dry after a few volumes. However, that hasn’t been the case with Ace Records’ Bayou series, which recently returned with the eighteenth instalment in this popular series, Bluesin’ By The Bayou-Ain’t Broke, Ain’t Hungry. 

For Bluesin’ By The Bayou-Ain’t Broke, Ain’t Hungry compiler Ian Saddler has headed to South Louisiana for another helping of the blues. He’s chosen twenty-eight tracks from familiar faces, old friends and a few new names. This included eight previously unreleased tracks which make a welcome debut on Bluesin’ By The Bayou-Ain’t Broke, Ain’t Hungry.

Among the names that make an appearance on Bluesin’ By The Bayou-Ain’t Broke, Ain’t Hungry are Leroy Washington, Ramblin’ Hi Harris, Slim Harpo, Lightnin’ Slim, Polka Dot Slim, Lazy Lester, Al Smith, Barbara Lynn, Boozoo Chavis, Ramblin Hi Harris, Big Walter and Jake Jackson. They’re just some of the names on Bluesin’ By The Bayou-Ain’t Broke, Ain’t Hungry which is the much-anticipated eighteenth volume in the Bayou series.

Opening Bluesin’ By The Bayou-Ain’t Broke, Ain’t Hungry is Mercy Baby’s Pleadin’ which was released by Ric in June 1958. This is one of four singles Julius W “Jimmy” Mullins from Rawls Springs, Mississippi released as Mercy Baby between 1957 and 1957. He unleashes an emotional, needy vocal that is a mixture of power, passion and pain.

There’s a quartet of tracks from legendary bluesman on Lightnin’ Slim on Bluesin’ By The Bayou-Ain’t Broke, Ain’t Hungry. They’re alternate takes of songs first recorded by Flyright Records. Little Girl Blues is an alternate take of a track that first featured on the compilation Lightnin’ Slim The Early Years in 1976. Five years later, in 1981, Hoodoo Man, which was first recorded for Excello, made its debut on the Lightnin’ Slim compilation The Slide Years. Now thirty-six years later, and an alternate take of Hoodoo Man showcases one of the great blues slide guitarists. Another five years passed and another Lightnin’ Slim compilation We Gotta Rock Tonight was released in 1986 and featured I Hate to Leave You Baby and I Don’t Know. Alternate takes of both tracks are welcome additions to the compilation and are a reminder of one of the greatest blues of his generation. For newcomers to Lightnin’ Slim’s music, this is sure to whet their appetite and set them on a voyage of discovery.

Ramblin’ Hi Harris is something of a mystery man as nobody seems to know anything about him. He recorded I Haven’t Got a Home and Baby, Baby, Baby at the same session for JD Miller. Haven’t Got a Home which features hurt-filled, despairing vocal and some blistering bluesy licks made its debut on the Flyright Records’ compilation I Ain’t Got No Money-1950s South Louisiana Blues in 1992. The other track, Baby, Baby, Baby has lain unreleased in JD Miller’s vaults and makes a welcome debut showcasing the considerable talents of mystery bluesman Ramblin’ Hi Harris.

Slim Harpo is no stranger to the Bayou series, and was one of JD Miller’s most successful artists. Despite that, Cigarettes lay unreleased until 1985 when it featured on the Flyright Records’ compilation Baton Rouge Blues. It’s a real hidden from Slim Harpo and a song that will ring true with any smoker.

The name Leslie Johnston might not mean much to many music fans, but Slim Harpo does. He’s another veteran of the Bayou series and contributes Take 6 of I’m a Lover, Not a Fighter to this volume. The original versions of I’m a Lover, Not a Fighter was released by Excello, but this version has lain unreleased in JD Miller’s vaults. That is a great shame as it features some mean blues harp and lyrics that will ring true with many men. 

Another mystery bluesman is Joe Richards, who released Dreaming, Dreaming in 1962 using the moniker Joe Rich. Dreaming, Dreaming was penned by Joe Richards, and released on the Louisiana based T-Bird label. The single was also released on the Carl label, with the song attributed to Joe Richards. Whoever bluesman Joe Richards was, it’s a pity he didn’t released more sings of the quality of this hopeful sounding bluesy ballad.  

When Cookie and The Cupcakes recorded In the Evening at Eddie Shuler’s studio, just the rhythm section accompanied vocalist Huey Thierry. He had written the song, and it was just The Cupcakes’ rhythm section that accompanied Cookie on this understated, laid-back pure blues. It wasn’t released until 1976 when it featured on a Goldband Records’ compilation The Legendary Cookie and The Cupcakes. Forty-one years later, and In the Evening returns for a welcome encore on Bluesin’ By The Bayou-Ain’t Broke, Ain’t Hungry.

Many record buyers remember Barbara Lynn for her 1962 R&B chart-topping single You’ll Lose A Good Thing. That was just one of a string of hits the singer, songwriter and blues guitarist Barbara Lynn enjoyed. The one that got away was her cover of Lazy Lester’s Sugar Coated Love.

Bluesman Jimmy Anderson was born and raised in Natchez, Mississippi, where he learnt to play the guitar and harmonica. Later, in life, Jimmy Anderson moved to Crowley, Louisiana where he recorded for JD Miller’s Zynn label. By then, some people were comparing Jimmy Anderson to Slim Harpo. While there are similarities between the two, Jimmy Anderson was a talented singer, songwriter and musician who had forged his own style. That is apparent on the Jimmy Anderson composition Angel Please which was recorded at JD Miller’s studio by Jimmy Anderson and The Joy Jumpers. Angel Please was then released as the B-Side of I Wanna Boogie, which was released on the Zynn label in 1962.  It was later picked up Dot later in 1962. However, despite his talent success eluded Jimmy Anderson, whose contributions Angel Please is a memorable slow, moody blues.

Al Smith is another mystery man, and very little is known about the singer, guitarist and harmonica player. It’s thought that Alfonso Smith was from Part Arthur, in Texas. Other people believe  he may be Alvin K. Smith, from Monroe, Los Angeles. Despite the mystery surrounding his true identity, Al Smith certainly didn’t lack track. He contributes a trio of tracks to Bluesin’ By The Bayou-Ain’t Broke, Ain’t Hungry, and they ooze quality. This includes which Still in Love With You, which was previously unreleased. It’s a real find, and it sounds as if Al Smith has lived the lyrics. Al Smith’s two other contributions are I Love Her So and If I Don’t See You which were both penned by Eddie Shuler and Al Smith. I Love Her So was released on Goldband in 1959, with If I Don’t See You on the B-Side. Both sides are quality blues from another of mystery bluesman.

Most blues fans will be familiar with legendary harmonica player Little Walter. Not as many people will be aware of Big Walter, who cut a number of R&B singles during the fifties. He also recorded If the Blues Was Money for Goldband, which sadly, lay unreleased for over fifty years. Sadly, Big Walter passed away in 2012, and never got to see his hidden gem If the Blues Was Money belatedly released. It’s one of the highlights of Bluesin’ By The Bayou-Ain’t Broke, Ain’t Hungry, and is a reminder of a truly talented bluesman whose music deserves a wider audience.  

Closing Bluesin’ By The Bayou-Ain’t Broke, Ain’t Hungry is I’m Gonna Find My Baby, which biggest mystery on the compilation. The identity of the artist in unknown, or even who played on the session. Maybe some musical detectives will able to discover the identity of the artist behind that maudlin blues, which closes the compilation on a high. Sadly, the don’t makes blues like this any more.

Bluesin’ By The Bayou-Ain’t Broke, Ain’t Hungry is the eighteenth instalment in the Bayou series, which is going from strength to strength. That is thanks to compiler Ian Saddler, who continues to unearth quality music during his travels around Southern Louisiana. Time after time, he’s hit the musical jackpot as he unearths songs from familiar faces, old friends and new names. They contribute one quality song after the other, which makes it difficult to choose some of the highlights of Bluesin’ By The Bayou-Ain’t Broke, Ain’t Hungry. That is nothing new.

Back in the fifties and early sixties, there many talented musicians called Louisiana home, and especially Southern Louisiana home. Some of the artists on Bluesin’ By The Bayou-Ain’t Broke, Ain’t Hungry went on to enjoy long and successful careers. Sadly, not every one of these artists enjoyed the success that their talent deserved. Their music slipped under the radar, and it wasn’t until a later date that they began to receive the recognition they deserved. 

By then, some of the artists had called time on their career, and were toiling away on civvy street. For them, music was now just a hobby, and they occasionally played at weekends, bringing back memories of when anything seemed possible.

Other artists disappeared from the public eye, and the few singles they released are a reminder of what might have been. Very little is known about them, apart from the singles they released. A few artists were chastened by their brief musical career, and had turned their back on music. Some might not even be who they claimed to be, and recorded singles using aliases. These mystery men are all part of Louisiana’s musical heritage, which is being lovingly documented for Ace Records by Ian Saddler.

He’s responsible for the continued success of the Bayou series, which goes from strength to strength. That is thanks to compiler Ian Saddler, the man behind the Bayou series, which is one of the longest running and most successful compilation series. The latest instalment in Ace Records’ Bayou series is Bluesin’ By The Bayou-Ain’t Broke, Ain’t Hungry, which features  twenty-eight  blues from South Louisiana.  It oozes quality and is without doubt one of the best volumes in this long-running and critically acclaimed series. Let’s hope that Ian Sadler returns  to South Louisiana for a followup to Bluesin’ By The Bayou-Ain’t Broke, Ain’t Hungry.

Bluesin’ By The Bayou-Ain’t Broke, Ain’t Hungry.

SONIA AIMY-NIGERIAN SPIRIT.

Sonia Aimy-Nigerian Spirit.

Label: Self-Released.

Forty years ago, the only way most artists could release an album was if they were fortunate enough to be signed to a record label.  As a result, a lot of talented artists and bands slipped under the musical radar, and their music never found the audience it deserved. However, for a few lucky artists there was another way to get their music heard.

A few artists managed to raise enough money to release a private pressing. That was the easy part. Now they found themselves with often 1,000 copies of an album to sell. Many, artists had problems distributing the album and were left with boxes of unsold album. Their decision to release a private pressing had been an expensive venture, and one that left them out-of-pocket. 

Nowadays, things are very different for an artist who wants to release their own album. The internet was a game-changer for artists who wanted to release their own music. They could’ve relatively small quantities of their album pressed cheaply on CD, and then promote their album to a worldwide audience via social media. These artists then sell their albums via their own websites. In doing so, they cut out the middleman and keep more of the profit for themselves. This is what newcomers, rising stars and musical veterans have been doing for a number of years. 

The latest artist to self release their own album and sell it via their website is the velvety voiced Nigerian-born singer, songwriter and actress Sonia Aimy who recently released her sophomore album African Spirit. It marks the welcome return of one of the rising stars of African music, who has a fascinating story to tell.

The Sonia Aimy story began in Benin City in southern Nigeria. Benin is 200 miles the Nigerian capital Lagos, and has a population of 1.5 million. Several languages are spoken in Benin City, including Yoruba, Hausa and Edo. Sonia Aimy grew up speaking the Edo language, but is also fluent in Yoruba and Hausa. Both would later influence Sonia Aimy’s music, when she embarked upon a career as a singer. That was a long way away.

For many within Benin City, life was tough and poverty was rife. Despite that, Sonia Aimy has good memories of Benin City and its people. “No matter the situation, we’re all responsive people. The poorest person will still manage to make you laugh. You have to try to tell the story in a positive way. It may be dramatic, but you will still laugh because of the narrative style. That’s the key. That’s the thread that draws it all together.”

There was also a thread that ran through Sonia Aimy’s life from an early age…culture. At home, Sonia Aimy was exposed to music and dance from an early age. Her mother was a performer in an eminent cultural group, and Sonia Aimy would watch her mother rehearse new songs and learn new dances. Soon, Sonia Aimy was following in her mother’s footsteps.

 The young Sonia Aimy became the youngest chorister in the local Catholic church choir, where she was first exposed to notated Western music. This would go on to influence Sonia Aimy when she eventually embarked upon a career as a singer.

 “My music now is a combination of the experience with gospel music, as well as the traditional music of my people and my formal training.” This is apparent when on songs like Ase, Sonia Aimy explains: In Edo music, you have room for improvisation. There are lots of runs, call and response, solos. It’s very powerful.” That is certainly the case, and it’s no surprise that nowadays, Sonia Aimy is one of the rising stars of African music.

Having started singing aged eleven, music soon became Sonia Aimy’s passion. Soon, when Sonia Aimy sang, people started to take notice. It was obvious she had the same talent as her mother, who  educated her in the folklore of her people, the Bini. Before long, Sonia Aimy’s interest in Bini culture included music, storytelling and dance. Sonia Aimy was definitely her mother’s daughter, and it loped as if she would follow in her mother’s footsteps.

Sonia Aimy’s life changed when she immigrated to Torino, in Italy, where she enrolled at music school. That was where one of Sonia Aimy’s tutors introduced her to Mahalia Jackson’s music. For Sonia Aimy this was a turning point. After this, Sonia Aimy immersed herself in jazz music. She remembers: “When I first went to the school and was told my vocal style was more jazzy, that studying that style would help me, I was skeptical.  Then I listened to Mahalia Jackson. Sometimes I’d really feel myself through her. I thought, this could be me. I’d think of the songs I sung back home. I really related to the spirit of her work, though I didn’t know that much about African-American history. This convinced me to study jazz.”

At music school, Sonia Aimy started to study jazz,interpretation and theatre arts at musical. Soon, Sonia Aimy was well on her way to honing her own unique and inimitable sound. Her introduction to Mahalia Jackson’s music had been a turning point. However, Italy had also influenced Sonia Aimy and her music. 

“The Italian feel in my music lies in metaphor. How metaphorically they write about love and life; it’s influenced me a lot.” 

During her time in Italy, much of Sonia Aimy’s time was spent touring with various theatre companies, and putting her own shoes. It was gruelling work, but Sonia Aimy dedicated herself to what she was doing and was determined to make a success of her new life in Italy. 

When she had time to herself, Sonia Aimy was always writing down ideas for songs and parts of melodies. Some of these would later evolve into songs. This included the riff and syllables that later became Chotima. It was a song that took shape in an unexpected way. Sonia Aimy had only written part of the song when an artist friend heard her singing a line from the song. She cried out: “You’re singing in my language! This is my language!”  Soon, the pair were working on the song and Chotima started to take shape. It’s described as a song about a soulmate. Chotima isn’t the only song that has a story behind it. 

Many of the songs have been inspired by what has been happening in Africa. That is despite having moved to Ontario in Canada, where Sonia Aimy has embarked upon a new chapter in her life and indeed, career. Her career as a singer continues to go from strength to strength. Despite this, Sonia Aimy has also launched her own range of jewellery, and a fashion range that has been inspired by her travels the world. However, the thing that is constantly in Sonia Aimy’s mind is Africa, and problems its facing. 

“This album draws on my anger about what’s happened in Africa…It captures my rage about Boko Haram, about the war in places like Somalia. Ever since I started my career, I rarely had a break from the stage, from touring, from networking. When I did, I connected more to people, to the news, to the world and these crises. I started to feel such anger.” Sonia Aimy channels her anger and frustration into the music on Nigerian Spirit.

This includes songs like Lampedusa, which is Sonia Aimy’s tribute to the refugees who drowned trying to reach Italy and what they hoped was a better life in Europe. Another song inspired by events in Africa is A Dream for Somalia, which Sonia Aimy premiered as part of a community event in Toronto. Many in the audience wanted to hear A Dream for Somalia in their own language, and translated the words for Sonia Aimy who went away and learned to sing them. This comes as no surprise as Sonia Aimy is multilingual, and can speak English, Italian, Yoruba, Hausa, Edo, Somali, Obamba, Wolof, Lingala, Kiswahili and Somali. Sonia Aimy is a talented lady whose come a long way since she first started singing aged eleven.

This includes recording her sophomore album African Spirit with a talented band of Canadian musician. They accompany the velvety voice singer Sonia Aimy as she works her way through nine new compositions. These songs find Sonia Aimy seamlessly switching between, and combining elements of Afro-jazz, gospel, highlife, Nu-Soul and call-and-response African griot tradition. Sonia Aimy makes this seem easy, as she flits between genres and between ballads and uptempo songs. That is apparent throughout African Spirit.

Opening African Spirit is Light My Way Mother, where Sonia Aimy is backed by a tight, talented and versatile band and delivers a heartfelt, soulful voice that brings the lyrics on this beautiful, melodic and memorable song to life. In doing so, she sets the bar high for the rest of African Spirit. Chotima is the song that Sonia Aimy cowrote with her artist friend. Sonia Aimy sings call and response with the backing vocalists in the African griot tradition while horns, percussion and a guitar play a leading role in this song about her soulmate that combines elements of soul and gospel. Nigerian Spirit is an impassioned ballad where stabs of horns and backing vocals accompany Sonia Aimy on this powerful song that is full of social comment about the problems facing Africa.

Voices of Orisa was inspired by a recurring dream Sonia Aimy kept having. She remembers being in a family compound and  teaching young people to sing and dance. However, when their movements and sounds reached the right place, and their trance went deep enough, the ground beneath their feet would burst into flame. This recurring dream worried Sonia Aimy until: “I spoke with Nobel Prize-winning playwright Wole Soyinka. He told me not to be afraid of the message. I knew I had to sing it.” That is what she does on Voices of Orisa, a captivating, thought-provoking and beautiful, soulful ballad. Fittingly, it gives way to Dreaming which features another impassioned vocal where Sonia Aimy combines emotion and power as she draws inspiration from soul, jazz and traditional African music. It’s a heady and memorable musical brew.

A Dream for Somaliya is a powerful and poignant ballad about the problems facing Somalia. There’s despair and hurt in Sonia Aimy’s voice. Especially when she sings: “I don’t know why are we living behind the world?” Another powerful song is Ase, where Sonia Aimy combines gospel music with traditional Edo music. Sonia Aimy explains that: “In Edo music, you have room for improvisation. There are lots of runs, call and response, solos. It’s very powerful.” This she proceeds to do during a musical masterclass that epitomises the African Spirit of Sonia Aimy. Lampedusa is heart-wrenching ballad where Sonia Aimy remembers the African refugees who drowned off the shore of Italy, on their search for a new and better life in Europe. This a hugely powerful and poignant song, especially the way Sonia Aimy breathes life and meaning into the lyrics. 

Closing African Spirit is Husband In Canada, a Highlife song where Sonia Aimy celebrates her new life and newfound happiness in Canada. Not for the first time, does she touch on the subject of family which is important to Sonia Aimy, as she delivers the lyrics to this joyous, celebratory song. As an added bonus, Sonia Aimy has added radio edits of Ase and Nigerian Spirit onto the album. They’re a welcome addition to Sonia Aimy’s recently self-released sophomore album Nigerian Spirit.

For those still to discover Sonia Aimy’s music, then African Spirit is the perfect starting place. It’s a truly bewitching and captivating album that is melodic and full of irresistible rhythms. Backed by a tight, talented and versatile band Sonia Aimy whose one of the rising stars of African music showcases her considerable skills on Nigerian Spirit.

Sonia Aimy’s eagerly awaited sophomore Nigerian Spirit features nine new songs. They’re a mixture of ballads and uptempo tracks. They veer between celebratory, joyous and uplifting to poignant and powerful to beautiful, heartfelt and moving as Sonia Aimy switches between and combines disparate musical genres. The result is Nigerian Spirit, a heady and tantalising musical brew from Toronto based Sonia Aimy.

Sonia Aimy-Nigerian Spirit.

PAUL BRADY-UNFINISHED BUSINESS.

Paul Brady-Unfinished Business.

Label: Proper Records.

When singer-songwriter Paul Brady celebrated his seventieth birthday on the ‘19th’ of May 2017, he was officially one of the elder statesmen of Irish music. He had spent fifty-two years as a professional musician, first with The Kull, then The Johnstons and Planxty. Then in 1976, Paul Brady and Andy Irvine formed a duet and released one influential album Andy Irvine/Paul Brady. Two years later, the pair went their separate ways, in 1978, Paul Brady decided to embark upon a solo career.

Later in 1978, Paul Brady released his debut solo album Welcome Here Kind Stranger. It was his final foray into the world of folk music. When Paul Brady returned in 1981 with Hard Station, his music had moved towards a much more mainstream rock sound. That has the case ever since. 

Since the release of Hard Station, Paul Brady has released eight further studio albums, including his tenth album Hooba Dooba in 2010. Now seven years later, and Paul Brady returns with his eleventh album Unfinished Business, which was recently released by Proper Records. It marks the welcome return of one of Ireland’s finest musical exports, whose spent a lifetime making music.

The Paul Brady story began in Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland on the ‘19th’ of May 1947. That was where Paul Joseph Brady was born. However, he grew up in Strabane, County Tyrone, where his father Seán Brady was a music teacher who taught the flute. By the age of six, Paul Brady was following in his father’s footsteps.

Paul Brady who was by then, a pupil at Sion Mills Primary School, started to take piano lessons. This would stand him in good stead for the future. 

By the age of eleven, Paul Brady began to play the guitar and spent every spare minute of the school holidays practising and learning every song that The Shadows and The Ventures had committed to vinyl. This he eventually managed to do. Despite this, one of Paul Brady’s biggest influences was Chuck Berry. Already, music was dominating Paul Brady’s life 

Not longer after starting to play the guitar, Paul Brady enrolled at St Columb’s College in Londonderry. This was where he spent the  five years. However, by the time he was sixteen, Paul Brady had already dipped his toe into the musical waters.

In 1963, Paul Brady managed began playing the piano in a hotel in Bundoran, Donegal. For Paul Brady this was good experience and gave him a taste of life as a professional musician. He would taste that in the not too distant future. Before that, he was heading to University College Dublin.

Despite enrolling at Dublin’s most prestigious university, Paul Brady was soon a familiar face on the city’s music scene. He joined the first of a string of Dublin-based R&B bands

Paul Brady made his debut with The Inmates towards the end of 1964. However,  The Inmates was  a short-lived band and in April 1965, they split-up and became The Kult. They were together late-1965 when Paul Brady joined The Rootzgroup, who lasted until May 1996. While none of the bands enjoyed any sort of longevity, it was good experience for Paul Brady. 

After leaving The Rootzgroup, Paul Brady joined one more band,  Rockhouse. He joined the band in May 1966 and spent the best part of seven months playing with Rockhouse. Paul Brady parted company with Rockhouse in December 1966. This brought to an a two-year spell was invaluable, for Paul Brady. It was the equivalent to a musical apprenticeship, who was about to climb the musical ladder.

While Paul Brady had been at University College Dublin, there had been a resurgence of interest in traditional Irish music. As a result, many bands were formed and were cashing in on the sudden interest in traditional Irish music. One of the most successful of these bands were The Johnstons. 

The Johnstons.

When Michael Johnston left The Johnstons. in May 1967, they approached Paul Brady about replacing him. He agreed and two years later, The Johnstons like many Irish bands made the journey across the water to London in 1969. Then three years later, in 1972, The Johnstons decided to move across the Atlantic and settle in New York where they hoped to expand their audience. While they enjoyed a degree of success, The Johnstons didn’t enjoy the commercial success that they had hoped. By 1974, Paul Brady was back in Ireland and was ready to join a another band.

Planxty.

This was the Irish folk band Planxty, which Paul Brady joined in September 1974. Planxty wasn’t a new band, and had been around since January 1972. Its initial lineup featured Andy Irvine, Christy Moore, Liam O’Flynn and Dónal Lunny. Since then, Planxty had released three albums and seemed to be touring constantly. By the time Paul Brady joined, Planxty were popular in Ireland, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Northern Europe. The only problem was the lineup was somewhat “fluid.”

Dónal Lunny had left Planxty a year earlier, in September 1973. He was tired of the constant touring. Despite this, he returned to play on Planxty’s third album Cold Blow and The Rainy Night in August 1974, which also featured temporary member Johnny Moynihan. By August 1974, the rest of Planxty knew that Christy Moore was leaving the band, to resume his solo career. Paul Brady joined in September 1974, and Christy Moore left a month later in October 1975.

Paul Brady spent much of the next fourteen months touring with Planxty, whose popularity continued to grow. However, in December 1975, Planxty split-up for the first time, and Paul Brady embarked upon a new chapter in his career.

Paul Brady and Andy Irvine.

With Planxty seemingly consigned to Ireland’s musical past, Paul Brady decided to form a folk duo with former bandmate Andy Irvine in 1976. The pair continued to sing the same Irish folk music that had proved so popular when they were members of Planxty. This looked like a winning formula for duo.

By December 1976, Paul Brady and Andy Irvine were ready to release their debut album. Paul Brady/Andy Irvine was released to critical acclaim in December 1976 and saw the duo work their way through ten traditional Irish folk songs. While the album proved popular, it was the only album they released.

Paul Brady and Andy Irvine continued to tour until 1978, when they decided to go their separate ways. They had been together for the best part of three years, and their partnership was popular. Now though, Paul Brady was ready to embark upon a solo career.

The Solo Years.

Welcome Here Kind Stranger.

Later in 1978, Paul Brady returned with his debut solo album Welcome Here Kind Stranger. This was another album of traditional folk music, and featured the ballad The Lakes of Pontchartrain. It was one of Paul Brady’s finest moments on Welcome Here Kind Stranger, which was released to critical acclaim. In late 1978, Melody Maker magazine named Welcome Here Kind Stranger their Folk Album of the Year. This was fitting as Welcome Here Kind Stranger was the final folk album Paul Brady would release.

Hard Station.

Three years later, in 1981, and Paul Brady returned with his sophomore album Hard Station. By then, he was signed to Polygram Records and his music had moved towards mainstream rock. Gone also were cover versions.

By 1981, Paul Brady had also developed into a talented songwriter, and had written the eight songs that became Hard Station. This included future favourites like Crazy Dreams, The Road To The Promised Land, Hard Story and Nothing But The Same Old Story. They were part of a strong, cohesive album where one quality song followed hard on the heels of another on Hard Station, which was co-produced by Paul Brady and Hugh Murphy, 

When critics heard Hard Station, they were won over by what was essentially Paul Brady’s mainstream rock debut, which received praise and plaudits. The future looked bright for Paul Brady.

True For You.

The Irish troubadour returned in 1983 with his third album True For You, which was produced by Paul Brady and Grammy Award winning sound engineer Neil Dorfsman. They produced an album that featured eight songs penned by Paul Brady, including the ballad Helpless Heart and Take Me Away, plus Steel Claw which was later covered by Tina Turner on her 1984 album Private Dancer. That was still to

True For You was well received by critics, but sonically was quite different album. Partly, this was because of the reliance on synths and eighties electronic drums. However, Paul Brady continued to mature as a songwriter on an album that was a mixture of rock and AOR. 

Back To The Centre.

Paul Brady returned in 1985 with his fourth album Back To The Centre. It was produced by Ian Maidman and featured some familiar faces, including Eric Clapton, Loudon Wainwright and Larry Mullen of U2. They accompanied Paul Brady who had written eight new songs and covered The Homes Of Donegal on Back To The Centre.

The Paul Brady compositions saw the Irish troubadour continue his journey towards a more mainstream rock sound. That was apart from The Homes Of Donegal where Paul Brady enjoyed a brief dalliance with folk. The result was another accomplished album which found favour with critics. Especially songs like Walk The White Line, Deep In Your Heart, Soulbeat and The Island which were among the highlights of Back To The Centre. Despite the quality of Back To The Centre and his previous solo albums, Paul Brady was still one of music’s best kept secrets. That was until November 1985, when one of music’s biggest gave Paul Brady a helping hand.

In November 1985, Bob Dylan released his box set Biograph, and in the liner notes mentioned his admiration for Paul Brady’s music. This resulted in some of Bob Dylan’s fans investigating Paul Brady’s back-catalogue and his fan-base increasing.

Full Moon.

The following year, 1986, Paul Brady released his first live album Full Moon. It was recorded live at The Half Moon, Putney, in London, on Friday the ‘6th’ April 1984 and found Paul Brady work his way through some of his best tracks. He opened his set with Hard Station, which had already been acknowledged as one of his finest songs. This he followed with favourites like Not The Only One, Busted Loose, Crazy Dreams and the Steel Claw which closed Full Moon. For those who hadn’t seen Paul Brady live, Full Moon featured eight reasons why they should.

Primitive Dance.

Paul Brady returned with his fifth studio album Primitive Dance, in 1987. Again, it was produced by Ian Maidman and found Paul Brady maturing as a singer and songwriter. 

Primitive Dance featured nine new songs penned by Paul Brady and was, without doubt, one of the strongest albums of Paul Brady’s career. It featured a mixture of soul-baring ballads like Steal Your Heart Away, Paradise Is Here, Just in Case of Accidents and The Game of Love, and uptempo tracks that included The Soul Commotion and It’s Gonna Work Out Fine. With its mixture of AOR, rock and folk, Primitive Dance was an almost flawless album with one quality song gave way to the next. Critics hailed Primitive Dance as one of Paul Brady’s finest albums. 

Trick Or Treat.

Surpassing the quality of Primitive Dance wasn’t going to be easy, but when Paul Brady returned in 1991 with Trick Or Treat, it was another carefully crafted and critically acclaimed album. Paul Brady had continued to mature as songwriter and had penned a collection of ten tracks that oozed quality. 

These he brought to life when he entered the studio with Gary Katz, who had worked with The Mamas and the Papas, Steppenwolf, Three Dog Night, Jim Croce and Steely Dan. With such an impressive CV, Gary Katz was seen as the producer who could help Paul Brady make a commercial breakthrough. Everything was in place. Paul Brady had the talent, and had written ten new songs, that once again, oozed quality. Joining Paul Brady was a tight talented band and Bonnie Raitt who duets on the title-track Trick Or Treat. Surely, this was the album that introduced Paul Brady to a wider audience?

Trick Or Treat was one of the strongest and most accomplished albums of Paul Brady’s career.  From the opening bars of Soul Child, through Blue World, Nobody Knows, You and I, Trick Or Treat to Don’t Keep Pretending, Solid Love and the album closer Dreams Will Come Paul Brady with the help of Gary Katz reached new heights as he combined AOR, folk and rock. 

Some critics called Trick Or Treat a career defining album, while others thought Primitive Dance was still his finest hour. However, Trick Or Treat was released to critical acclaim in 1991, and became Paul Brady’s most successful album. While Trick Or Treat sold well, it wasn’t a huge selling album. However,  it was a case of building on Trick Or Treat.

Spirits Colliding.

Despite having just enjoyed the most successful album of his career, Paul Brady seemed in no hurry to release the followup to Trick Or Treat. Eventually, four years later in 1995 he returned with Spirits Colliding. By then, Paul Brady had left Fontana and was now signed to Nashville based Compass Records. This was the start of a new chapter for him.

Spirits Colliding featured eleven new songs, including I Want You To Want Me, World Is What You Make It, Help Me To Believe, You’re the One and Beautiful World. They were among the highlights of Spirits Colliding which was produced by Paul Brady and Arty McGlynn. When the album was released in 1995, it was well received by critics. However, Paul Brady was no nearer to joining music’s top division. He was still to some extent, one of music’s best kept secrets.

Oh What A World.

It was another five years before Paul Brady returned with his eight album Oh What A World in 2000. It featured eleven songs, including two songs penned by Paul Brady. He wrote the other nine songs with a variety of different songwriting partners. This included Carole King who cowrote Believe In Me. These songs were produced by Paul Brady and Alastair McMillan and became Oh What A World.

When Oh What A World was released in 2000, Paul Brady’s eighth studio album was well received by critics. They were won over by songs of the quality of Sea Of Love, Love Hurts and Believe In Me. Oh What A World was a powerful and poignant album from one of Ireland’s leading troubadours. While his music was popular in Britain, America and Europe, it looked like Paul Brady was never going to reach the height of his fellow countryman Van Morrison. 

Say What You Feel.

In February 2005, Paul Brady returned with his first album in nearly five years. Gone were the days when Paul Brady released an album every other year. Now albums were released every four or five years. 

There was a reason for this. Many artists had discovered that albums were no longer selling in the same quantities that they once had. That had been the case for a number of years, and gone were the days when albums were seen as cash cows. Now artists were looking for alternative revenue streams, and many were selling their albums through their own websites and after gigs. Still, though, Paul Brady continued to record and release albums, including Say What You Feel in 2005.

Say What You Feel featured twelve new songs that showcased Paul Brady’s skills as singer and songwriter. Among the albums highlights were  Try To Please Me, I Only Want You, Say What You Feel and the poignant The Man I Used To Be. It closed Say What You Feel, which was well received by critics. It marked the welcome return of Paul Brady.

Hooba Dooba.

Just over five years later, Paul Brady returned in March 2010 with his long-awaited tenth album, Hooba Dooba. It was the first album that Paul Brady had released since he signed to Proper Records. 

Just like Say What You Feel, Hooba Dooba was another accomplished album, and found Paul Brady switching between and combining rock, folk and country on Hooba Dooba. It featured twelve new tracks, including Cry It Out, Luck Of The Draw, Money To Burn and Over The Border. They were recorded at Kinine, Sandyford, Dublin, and were a reminder of one of Irish music’s best kept secrets.

Paul Brady had matured as a singer and songwriter since he released his debut album Welcome Here Kind Stranger thirty-two years earlier in 1978. Since then, much had changed, including music and the music industry. What hadn’t changed was critics appreciation of Paul Brady’s music as he celebrated the release of his tenth album, Hooba Dooba. It was by some critics hailed as one of Paul Brady’s best albums. However, the question on many lips was when would Paul Brady return with a new album?

Unfinished Business.

Seven-and-a-half years later and Paul Brady, who had recently turned seventy, returned with his eleventh album Unfinished Business. This was a fitting title, as Paul Brady more than most singer-songwriters has Unfinished Business to attend to. 

Ever since he changed direction musically and released Hard Station in 1981, many critics and music fans felt it was only a matter of time before Paul Brady made a breakthrough. Comparisons were drawn to Chris Rea, whose music slipped under the radar until he eventually made a breakthrough. Sadly, Paul Brady never made a breakthrough.  The nearest he came was with Trick Or Treat in 1991. Even then, the album never sold in vast quantities. For Paul Brady, it was a case of what might have been? 

With Unfinished Business on his mind, Paul Brady decided the time was right to return with a new album. He had written nine new songs with a variety of songwriting partners over the last few years. This Paul Brady augmented them covers of two traditional songs The Cocks Are Crowing and Lord Thomas And Fair Ellender.  The majority of these songs were recorded by Paul Brady at Kinine, Sandyford, Dublin.

For the recording of Unfinished Business at Kinine, Sandyford, Dublin, Paul Brady played many of the instruments himself. He played drums, bass, guitars, keyboards, tin whistle and programmed the percussion that features on the album. Occasionally, Paul Brady drafted in musicians when it came to record a song.

Most of the musicians were drafted in when it came time to record Something To Change. It featured a rhythm section of drummer Dave Hingerty and bassist Keith Farrell. They were joined by pianist Michael McLennan who played Hammond organ, Wurlitzer and clavinet;  Michael Buckley who played baritone and tenor saxophone; trumpeter Ronan Dooney and backing vocalists Suzanne Savage and Sinead Farelly. A couple of the musicians, including bassist Keith Farrell and backing vocalist Suzanne Savage would feature on other tracks. They joined backing vocalist Bairbre Anne; accordionist Francesco Turrisi; guitarist Anto Drennan, Richard Nelson on pedal steel and Paul Brady’s old friend Andy Irvine who played harmonica and mandolin. This small, tight and talented band accompanied Paul Brady on his comeback album Unfinished Business.

Opening Unfinished Business is piano led title-track, which is a jazz-tinged ballad and features a worldweary vocal from Paul Brady. It gives way to I Love You But You Love Him, which marks a return to the music Paul Brady released between 1981s Hard Station and 1991s Trick Or Treat. The arrangement is much fuller and has a rockier sound as Paul Brady delivers a hurt-filled vocal. Something To Change hints at the music on what many critics regard as Paul Brady’s finest hour, Trick Or Treat. Suddenly,  Paul Brady is rolling back the years as backing vocalists accompany him, and he sounds thirty years younger and in his musical prime. It’s a similar case on Say You Don’t Mean, which is another ballad, where backing vocalists accompany Paul Brady as he combines power, passion and emotion. 

Oceans Of Time is a reminder of the music on Paul Brady’s early albums and is a beautiful, soulful ballad where backing vocalist Suzanne Savage proves the perfect foil for one of Ireland’s top troubadours. Harvest Time has a much more spartan, almost bluesy arrangement and allows Paul Brady’s heartfelt vocal to take centre-stage as he delivers a hopeful, needy vocal. 

The Cocks Are Crowing is the first of two traditional songs arranged by Paul Brady. His arrangement has an understated but contemporary sound. Later, a harmonica and accordion are added as Paul Brady reinvents this traditional songs and introduces it to a new audience. A weeping guitar introduces Paul Brady’s mid-Atlantic vocal on I Like How You Think, which sounds as if it was recorded in Nashville rather Dublin. The ballad Maybe Tomorrow is a mixture of folk, country and Paul Brady’s ‘classic’ sound which took shape between 1981 and 1991.   Again, Paul Brady is accompanied by Suzanne Savage whose backing vocals are the perfect accompaniment on another carefully crafted ballad. Once In A Life Time is another tender ballad and features one of Paul Brady’s best vocal on a track that fuses pop rock with country. It’s another Unfinished Business’ highlights. Closing the album is Lord Thomas And Fair Ellender, where Paul Brady fuses blues, folk and country during this poignant and moving rendition of this traditional song.

After seven years away, Irish troubadour Paul Brady makes a welcome return with Unfinished Business which was recently released  by Proper Records. It finds Paul Brady combing his classic sound that he honed between 1981 and 1991 with blues, country, folk and pop rock. It’s potent and heady brew and sometimes, is a reminder of the ten-year period between Paul Brady releasing Hard Station in 1981 and Trick Or Treat in 1991. That was when Paul Brady released the best music of a career that has spanned seven decades.

Having said that, Unfinished Business which is Paul Brady’s eleventh album, is just like the albums Paul Brady released during his classic period, in that it’s devoid of filler. Instead, one quality track follows the other on Unfinished Business. That is quite a feat, given there’s eleven songs  on Unfinished Business. However, Paul Brady has spent a lifetime making music, and is regarded by some as one of best British songwriters of his generation.

That is why some of the biggest names have recorded songs penned by Paul Brady. This includes Tina Turner, Bonnie Riatt, Joe Cocker, Eric Clapton, Roger Chapman and Dan Seals. They all recognise Paul Brady’s skills as a songwriter, while luminaries like Bob Dylan hold Paul Brady in the highest esteem. He’s come a long way since he got his first break  playing the piano in a hotel in Bundoran, Donegal. Since then, he’s never looked back and has spent the last fifty-four years touring and recording eleven studio albums.

His most recent album is Unfinished Business which is a reminder of what seventy year old Paul Brady is capable of musically. Unlike some of his contemporaries, whose best days are behind them, Paul Brady is still capable of writing poignant, emotive and beautiful ballads. These he brings to life with a voice that sounds as if it’s lived, loved and survived the lyrics. That is no surprise, as balladry is what Paul Brady has always done best since he reinvented himself on Hard Station in 1981.

Thirty-six years  and nine albums later. and Paul Brady recently returned with  his eleventh album Unfinished Business. It’s the long-awaited and much-anticipated followup to 2010s Hooba Dooba. Unfinished Business marks the welcome return of Paul Brady with another carefully crafted and critically acclaimed album from one of Ireland’s top troubadours, whose still one of music’s best kept secrets beyond the Emerald Isle.

Paul Brady-Unfinished Business.

FREE-VINYL REISSUES 1969-1973.

Free-Vinyl Reissues 1969-1973.

Label: UMC.

It’s not often that someone get the opportunity to witness history being made. Those that happened to be in the Nag’s Head pub, in Battersea, London on 19 April 1968 saw history being made. They watched as four young men took to the stage for the first time. What some members of the audience noticed was how young the band were. 

Two of the band didn’t look old enough to buy a round in the Nag’s Head. Especially the bassist. Andy Fraser was just fifteen. His partner in the rhythm section, drummer Simon Kirke, was eighteen. Lead guitarist Paul Kossoff was just seventeen, while the vocalist Paul Rodgers was just eighteen. Many of the regulars were veterans gig goers, and weren’t expecting much of the young band. They were in for a pleasant surprise as the young blues rock made their debut. However, nobody present that night what would happen over the next five years.

By November 1968, Alexis Korner had christened the nascent band Free. They would sign to Island Records in 1969, and later that year, recorded their debut album Tons Of Sobs. It would be released in 1970, and the first of six studio albums and one live album Free released between 1969 and 1973. During that period, the band broke up, the lineup changed several times and Free sold twenty-million albums. Sadly, Free split-up in 1973, and that was the end of the road for the hard rock pioneers. Their albums were recently reissued on vinyl by UMC, and document the history of Free as the band intended.

Tons Of Sobs.

Having recently signed to Chris Blackwell’s Island Records, London-based blues rockers Free entered the Morgan Studios, in London with producer Guy Stevens. He had been allocated a budget of just £800 to produce what became Tons Of Sobs. This was going to be a challenge.

Free were one of the youngest bands Guy Stevens had worked with. Despite their youth, Free had spent the last few months playing live. This allowed them to hone their sound and set. That set Free would replicate at Morgan Studio.

Free’s set included a number of tracks by lead vocalist Paul Rodgers. He wrote Over the Green Hills (Pt. 1), Worry, Walk in My Shadow, Sweet Toot and Over The Green Hills. Paul Rodgers also cowrote three other tracks. This included Wild Indian Woman and I’m A Mover with Andy Fraser plus Moonshine with Paul Kossoff. The other two tracks were cover versions. They were St. Louis Jimmy Oden’s Goin’ Down Slow and The Hunter which was penned by the Stax Records’ house band by Booker T. and The MGs. This combination of cover versions and new songs would become Free’s debut album Tons Of Sobs.

With such a limited budget, Guy Stevens decided to take a minimalist approach to recording Tons Of Sobs. This he hoped, would allow him to replicate how Free sounded live. Their sets showcased the blues rock sound that was then popular in late-1968. 

When Free arrived in the studio, drummer and percussionist Simon Kirke joined bassist and pianist in the rhythm section. Meanwhile, Paul Kossoff switched between lead and rhythm guitar. Paul Rodgers took charge of the lead vocals. As Free played, they were loud, raw and far from polished. That was no surprise given Free’s youthfulness and inexperience. Given time and a bigger budget, Guy Stevens could’ve overcome this.There was a problem though. 

Island Records expected all producers to complete an album on time and within budget. It didn’t matter who the artists was, whether they were making their debut or were veterans. Guy Stevens succeeded, and Tons Of Sobs was completed in December 1968. However, given more time and money, Guy Stevens could’ve produced a much slicker, polished album. In a way, this was just as well, as Tons Of Sobs was representative of Free in the early part of their career.

Just three months after the completion of Tons Of Sobs, Island Records were preparing for the release of Free’s debut album. It was scheduled for release on 14th March 1969. The reviews had been mixed.

In Britain, Tons Of Sobs had been well received by critics. They were won over by Free’s raw and raucous blues rock sound. However, across the Atlantic, Rolling Stone magazine weren’t impressed by Tons Of Sobs. This was no surprise. The magazine seemed to dislike any British blues rock band. Free were just the latest to incur the wrath of Rolling Stone. This was disappointing, as it was an influential publication in America, and could affect sales of Tons Of Sobs.

Ironically, when Tons Of Sobs was released on 14th March 1969, the album fared better in America than Britain. Tons Of Sobs failed to chart in Britain, but crept into the US Billboard 200 at a lowly 197. For Free and Island Records, the commercial failure of Tons Of Sobs must have been a huge disappointment. Despite this, Free continued to record their eponymous sophomore album.

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Free.

Work began on Fee in January 1969, and the band spent the next six months recording their eponymous sophomore album. This time, Paul Rodgers cowrote most of Free with Andy Fraser.

Their songwriting partnership began on Tons Of Sobs and began to blossom on Free. They penned eight tracks and cowrote Trouble on Double Time with drummer Simon Kirke. These songs were recorded with a new producer.

This time around, Island Records’ owner Chris Blackwell decided to produce Free. He joined Free at Morgan Studio and Trident Studio, London. Drummer and percussionist Simon Kirke was joined in the rhythm section by bassist Andy Fraser who also played piano and rhythm guitar. Paul Kossoff played lead and rhythm guitar, and Paul Rodgers added the lead vocals. When it came to recording Mourning, Sad Mourning, flautist Chris Wood was drafted in. Gradually, the album began to take shape. Eventually, after six months of recording in two studios, Free was complete.

Four months after the completion of Free, the album was released in October 1969. By then, the album had been well received by most critics. They noticed the Free’s music was evolving from their blues rock roots. There’s a move towards classic rock and hard rock. However, on Lying In The Sunshine and Mourning Sad Morning there’s a folk rock influence. Free’s music was changing, and changing fast. Their sophomore album was a much more polished and mature album.

Partly, this was because of the new role that Andy Fraser’s bass played on Free. It was fulfilling the role of a rhythm guitar, helping to drive the arrangements along, before the lead guitar takes over. However, another of Andy Fraser’s actions didn’t go down well with Paul Kossoff. 

He had played all the guitar parts on Tons Of Sobs. On Free, Andy Fraser played some of the rhythm guitar parts. He cowrote each of the nine songs on Free, and decided to teach Paul Kossoff the rhythm guitar parts that he had written for him. This didn’t go down well, and the relationship between the two men. Before they released their sophomore album, all wasn’t well within Free.

When Free was released in October 1969, the album reached twenty-two in the UK. Across the Atlantic, Free failed to trouble the charts. While this was a disappointment, at least Free had made inroads into the British charts. Maybe things would improve when they released their third album Fire and Water?

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Fire and Water.

Having released Free in October 1969, Free spent much of the remainder of the year touring. They were spending more and more of their time on the road. Indeed, when Free weren’t in the studio, they were on the road. However, by January 1970 the time came for Free to record their third album Fire and Water.

Just like on Free, the Paul Rodgers and Andy Fraser songwriting partnership cowrote the majority of the album. They five of the seven tracks, including Fire and Water, Remember, Heavy Load, Don’t Say You Love Me and All Right Now. Mr. Big became the first Free song to be written by the four band members. Oh How I Wept was penned by Paul Rodgers and Pau Kossoff. It became part of Free’s third album, Fire and Water.

For Fire and Water, the changes had been rung. There was no sign of producer Chris Blackwell. Instead, Free co-produced Fire and Water with John Kelly and Roy Thomas Baker. This time around, Free went back to basics. Andy Fraser let Paul Kossoff lay down the rhythm guitar parts. It was back to how it had been on Tons Of Sobs.

Recording took place at Trident Studios and Island Studios. Drummer and percussionist Simon Kirke joined bassist and pianist Andy Fraser in the rhythm section. Meanwhile, Paul Kossoff switched between lead and rhythm guitar. Paul Rodgers took charge of the lead vocals on  Fire and Water. Recording of the album took six months, and  Fire and Water was completed in June 1970. 

Fire and Water was released on 26th June 1970. Critical acclaim accompanied an album that was a mixture of blues rock, classic rock and hard rock. This was Free’s most cohesive album. That was the case from the opening bars of Fire and Water to the closing notes of All Right Now. A number of tracks on Fire and Water stood out. This included the rocky album opener Fire And Water and the ballads Oh I Wept, Heavy Load and Don’t Say You Love Me. However, the song that had hit written large all over it, was the album closer All Right Now. That proved to be the case.

When Fire and Water was released on 26th June 1970, the album reached number two in the UK and seventeen on the US Billboard 200. When All Right Now was released as a single, it reached number two in the UK and four on the US Billboard 100. The promoters of one of the major British music festivals were taking note.

After the success of All Right Now, Free were asked to appear at five-day Isle of Wight Festival between Wednesday the 26th of August to Sunday the 30th of August 1970. Given their recent success, Free played on the Sunday. 

Free opened their set with Ride On A Pony. It gave way to Mr. Big, Woman, The Stealer and Be My Friend. As 600,000 people watched on expectantly, Free played Fire and Water and then  I’m A Mover, a cover of The Hunter and their recent hit single All Right Now. However, closing their set at the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival was a cover of Robert Johnson’s Crossroads. It allowed Free to pay tribute to one of the artists who had inspired them to form a band. This band Free, was on its way to becoming one of the biggest in the world.

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Highway.

After the Isle of Wight Festival, Free began work on their fourth album Highway. Again, Paul Rodgers and Andy Fraser wrote seven of the nine songs on Highway. They penned The Highway Song, On My Way, Be My Friend, Sunny Day, Ride On A Pony, Brodie and Soon I Will Be Gone. Paul Rodgers and Andy Fraser also cowrote The Stealer with Paul Kossoff, while Paul Rodgers and Simon Kirke wrote Love You So. These songs were recorded at Island Studios, in London.

When work began on Highway, there someone missing, a producer. For the first time, Free were producing an album. They had co-produced Fire and Water. This was the next natural step. However, there was a problem. 

All of sudden the spotlight was shawn on Free. They were finding it hard to cope with the newfound success. Especially guitarist Paul Kossoff, whose drug addiction was worsening. He had taken the death of Jimi Hendrix badly. Paul Kossoff idolised Jimi Hendrix, and his death just added to the pressure he was feeling. He wasn’t alone.

Although they were financially secure, the members of Free felt under pressure to produce another hit single that followed in the footsteps of All Right Now. Similarly, it wasn’t going to be easy to replicate the success of Fire and Water. However, Free were determined to try to do so.

Free stuck to the same formula as on Fire and Water. Highway was a mixture of blues rock, classic rock and the hard rock style that Free had been pioneering. To do this, drummer and percussionist Simon Kirke joined bassist and pianist Andy Fraser in the rhythm section. Paul Kossoff played lead and rhythm guitar, while Paul Rodgers took charge of the lead vocals on Highway. The album was recorded during September 1970 at Island Studios. 

Three months later, later and Highway released by December 1970. The reviews of the album had been disappointing. To make matter worse, Island Records’ owner Chris Blackwell wasn’t convinced by Free’s choice for the lead single, The Stealer. He preferred Ride On A Pony and felt it had more chance of giving Free another hit single. However, Chris Blackwell allowed Free to have the last word, and The Stealer would be released as a single.

When The Stealer was released as a single, it failed to chart in the UK, but reached number forty-nine in the UK. For the followup, Ride A Pony was chosen. However, it failed to chart on both sides of the Atlantic. This was a huge disappointment. 

So was the performance of Highway, when it was released in December 1970. It stalled at forty-one in the UK and 190 in the US Billboard 200. Free weren’t so much disappointed, as shocked at how badly Highway had been received by critics and record buyers. Everyone had a theory on the failure of Highway. 

Engineer Andy Johns placed the blame on Highway’s album cover.  It didn’t display Free’s name prominently enough he believed. That’s not so far-fetched. Nowhere on Highway’s album cover is the word Free. This may have cost Free dearly.

Soon, the post-mortem into the failure of Highway began. By then, the relationship between Paul Rodgers and Andy Fraser reached an all-time low. Paul Kossoff’s drug addiction continued to spiral out of control. It was alleged that he had become addicted to Mandrax. Meanwhile, drummer Simon Kirke tried to keep Free from tearing itself apart. This wasn’t easy.

In early 1971, Free returned to the studio, and recorded four more songs. This included My Brother Jake. However, the relationships and problems within the band had worsened. After recording four songs, Free decided to split-up. 

Before that, Free had to fulfil the live dates that had been booked. If they hadn’t, the various promoters would’ve sued Free. So they decided to play the remaining live dates, before calling time on Free in April 1971. 

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Free Live!

By the time Free split-up, My Brother Jake had reached number four in the UK. Record buyers it seemed, hadn’t lost interest in Free. Far from it. Instead, there was a resurgence in interest in Free. Partly, this was because of the success of My Brother Jake and the publicity caused by Free splitting-up. Island Records decided to rush release a live album, Free Live!

Island Records had obviously been planning on releasing a live album. They had sent a mobile recording studio and engineer Andy Johns to two of the towns where Free were especially popular, Sunderland and Croydon. The recordings took place in Sunderland in January 1970 and in Croydon in September 1970. 

Eventually, only two tracks from the concert in Sunderland were used, All Right Now and The Hunter. The other four songs, I’m A Mover, Be My Friend, Fire and Water, Ride On Pony and Mr. Big were recorded in Croydon. Tagged on at the end of Free Live! was an acoustic rendition of Get Where I Belong. This was a Paul Rodgers and Andy Fraser song that had been recorded during the recording sessions before Free split-up. It was added as a bonus track to Free Live!, on its release.

Five months after Free had split-up, Free Live! was scheduled to be released in September 1971. Before that, critics had their say on the album. It was well received by critics, who were won over by what was an unusual setlist.Apart from All Right Now, the rest of the songs were album tracks. Free had eschewed the familiar, and dug deeper into their back-catalogue. Free Live! featured spirited performances by a tight, talented and versatile band. They seemed to put their problems aside when they stepped onto the stage. That had been, and would be the case throughout Free’s career. Free seemed happiest as they constantly toured and played live in front of huge, adoring audiences. 

When Free Live! wash released in September 1971, it reached number four in the UK. Despite splitting up five months earlier, Free were still a hugely popular band. Across the Atlantic, Free Live! reached just eighty-nine in the US Billboard 200. That seemed like a disappointing way for Free to end their career. 

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Free At Last.

Although Free had split-up in April 1971, the band decided to reform in early 1972. Unlike many bands, monetary gain wasn’t the reason behind the reunion. 

Instead, Andy Fraser, Paul Rodgers and Simon Kirke were determined to save their comrade in arms Paul Kossoff from himself. His drug usage was worsening, and spiralling out of control. Mandrax was Paul Kossoff’s drug of choice, and his addiction had worsened since the demise of Free. When the other three members of Free realised that, they decided to reunite in a last gasp attempt to save Paul Kossoff from himself.

Before work began on Free At Last, the members of Free decided that when it came to songwriting credits, every member of the band would be credited. For Paul Rodgers and Andy Fraser, Free’s principal songwriters, this was a generous and potentially, costly gesture. This however, was part of their attempt to help Paul Kossoff turn his life around. 

His drug addiction was proving costly, and he was burning through the money he had made. Paul Kossoff didn’t write many songs, so didn’t have the same income from royalties as Paul Rodgers and Andy Fraser. If the album they were about to record proved successful, this could be lucrative for Paul Kossoff and afford him some financial security.

Recording of Free At Last took place at Island Studios, in London in February 1972. Again, Free decided to produce Free At Last. This was a big risk, as the first album Free produced had been their least successful. However, they were older and more experienced. They had learned from their mistakes as they began work on the nine songs Free had penned.

At Island Studios, drummer and percussionist Simon Kirke joined bassist and pianist in the rhythm section. Meanwhile, Paul Kossoff switched between lead and rhythm guitar. Paul Rodgers took charge of the lead vocals and played piano. The recording sessions went well. Paul Rodgers, Andy Fraser and Simon Kirke were determined that the sessions would run smoothly for the sake of their friend, Paul Kossoff. That proved to be the case, and Free At Last was completed by March 1972.

Once Free At Last was completed, the album was delivered to Chris Blackwell at Island Records. He scheduled the release of Free At Last for June 1972. Before that, critics were sent a copy of Free’s comeback album, Free At Last.

The critics discovered a very different album to Free’s previous albums. The songs were slower, but gradually quickly. Mostly, the songs had a wistful quality. They also had an introspective quality that invited reflection. Given the wistful sound and the lyrics, many critics immediately concluded that that they were about troubled Free guitarist Paul Kossoff? His problems were worsening as the release date approached.

Island Records wanted Free to tour Free At Last. However, Paul Kossoff’s drug addiction continued to worsen. He was struggling to cope and function as a musician. This didn’t auger well for Free At Last tour.

Before that, Free At Last was released in June 1972, and reached number nine in the UK. In America, Free At Last reached sixty-nine. This was Free’s most successful album since Fire and Water. The success continued when Little Bit Of Love was released as a single, and reached number thirteen in the UK. However, the success of Free At Last was overshadowed by the Free At Last tour.

During the Free At Last tour, Paul Kossoff started to miss concerts. Other times, he turned up and was unable to play his guitar. He was struggling to function as a person, never mind a musician. Members of the audience were distraught at the sight of Paul Kossoff. Some openly wept, distressed at what they saw unfolding in front of their eyes. The person who was affected most was Andy Fraser. 

He couldn’t bear to watch the events continue to unfold before his eyes. His friend was slowly destroying himself. Andy Fraser decided to leave Free permanently. He was only twenty. 

Following in the footsteps of Andy Fraser was Paul Kossoff. The press and public were told he was seeking treatment for his drug addition, and would return to the Free fold.

Meanwhile, the departure of Andy Fraser left a huge void within Free. The search began for a replacement. This was found in the band that Paul Kossoff and Simon Kirke had cofounded after Free split-up in April 1971, Kossoff, Kirke, Tetsu and Rabbit.

Bassist Tetsu Yamauchi joined Free. So did keyboardist John “Rabbit” Bundrick. They made their Free debut during the Free At Last tour. After the tour, the pair would join an extended lineup of Free.

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Heartbreaker.

Following the Free At Last tour, the newly expanded lineup of Free began work on their sixth studio album. It was a very different band that headed to Island Studios, in London.

Free had brought bassist Tetsu Yamauchi in to replace Andy Fraser. He was now a full-time member of Free. So was keyboardist John “Rabbit” Burdock. Many fans were puzzled by the decision to bring him onboard. 

John “Rabbit” Burdock had been brought to compensate for, and augment Paul Rodgers. He had played keyboards on Free At Last. Since then, he was becoming unreliable. Fearing a repeat of the situation with Paul Kossoff, a replacement was brought onboard for the recording of Heartbreaker. This wasn’t the only change.

Although it was alleged that Paul Rodgers was becoming unreliable, he still played a huge part in the writing of Heartbreaker. In total, Paul Rodgers wrote four of the eight tracks and cowrote two more songs. It seemed that Paul Rodgers was Free’s songwriter-in-chief. Come Together In The Morning, Heartbreaker, Easy On My Soul and Seven Angels were all penned by Paul Rodgers. He wrote Wishing Well and Travellin’ in Style with Paul Kossoff, Simon Kirke, Tetsu Yamauchi and John “Rabbit” Burdock. The new keyboardist contributed Muddy Waters and Common Mortal Man. These two songs, like the rest of Heartbreaker were recorded in the familiar surroundings of Island Studios.

The sessions for Heartbreaker began in October 1972. Just like their two previous albums, Free produced Heartbreaker with Andy Johns. Free whose lineup now numbered five, were joined by a few friends.

As the session began, drummer and percussionist Simon Kirke played rhythm guitar on Muddy Water. He was joined in the rhythm section by bassist Tetsu Yamauchi and Snuffy Walden, who made a guest appearance on three tracks. Meanwhile, vocalist Paul Rodgers played rhythm guitar on four tracks, played lead guitar on two tracks and played piano on Easy On My Soul. Paul Kossoff played lead guitar on just four tracks. The other guest artist was percussionist Rebop Kwaku Baah. He made a brief appearance on Wishing Well. That was his only contribution to Heartbreaker, which took two months to record. By November 1972, Heartbreaker was complete. 

There was a problem though. Chris Blackwell didn’t like Free’s mix of Heartbreaker. So much so, that he drafted in Andy Johns to remix Heartbreaker. This resulted in him receiving a credit as co-producer. Now somewhat belatedly, Heartbreaker was ready for release.

With Heartbreaker complete, Island Records scheduled the release for January 1972. This left little time to promote Heartbreaker. Copies were sent out to critics, who hailed Free’s sixth studio album, Heartbreaker as one of their finest. The newly expanded lineup was responsible for what was Free’s finest album since Fire and Water. One track stood out, Wishing Well and was released as a single.

Wishing Well was released as the lead single from Heartbreaker, and reached number seven in the UK. Then in January 1973, Heartbreaker was released to widespread critical acclaim. It reached number nine in the UK, and became Free’s third top ten album in their home country. Across the Atlantic, in the lucrative American market, Heartbreaker reached forty-seven in the US Billboard 200. This was an improvement on Free At Last, and became Free’s most successful album since Fire and Water. However, all this meant nothing to one member of Free.

Two words on the album cover of Heartbreaker resulted in Paul Kossoff reaching his lowest ebb. He was listed as an additional musician. After six studio albums and one live albums, one of the founding members of Free was reduced to the status of sideman. Paul Kossoff was distraught. This was the ultimate betrayal. The question that has to be asked, is who was responsible for this betrayal?

Someone within Free’s camp must have known that Paul Kossoff was going to be listed as an additional musician. The band’s management would’ve been aware of who was being credited for what on Heartbreaker? Indeed, bands are usually asked about credits. Whoever was responsible for this ultimate betrayal sent Paul Kossoff’s life on a downward spiral.

Paul Kossoff was so badly affected that he was unable to travel to America for the forthcoming tour. Free found a replacement in Wendell Richardson from Osibisa. He was nowhere as good a guitarist as Paul Kossoff. Paul Rodgers wasn’t sure Free had recruited the right guitarist.

They hadn’t. Wendell Richardson was the wrong choice. He wasn’t suited to the role. Osibisa were an Afro-pop band. Free were a rock band, whose music ranged from blues rock, to classic rock and heavy rock. Free’s newest recruit was in the wrong movie. Once the American tour was over, Free called time on their career.

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This time, it was for good. They had released six studios albums and one live album during the five years they were together. During that period, there had been highs and lows. There had also been bust ups and betrayals, and triumph and tragedy. Free had split-up once before, and the lineup had changed. However, the one constant had been the music.

Free’s music evolved throughout the five years they were together. They began as a blues rock band, before the music began to evolve. Briefly, Free’s music moved towards folk rock. Mostly, though, their albums showcased classic rock, folk rock or hard rock. However, Free never quite turned their back on their early blues rock sound. Sometimes, Free eschewed their hard rocking sound for heartfelt balladry. This showed another side to one of the pioneers of hard rock, Free. Their music found a wide and appreciative audience.

Over the five years Free were together, they hardly stopped touring. That was apart to record six studio albums. Free seemed happiest as they toured the world, playing live. They played 700 arena concerts and festivals. The classic lineup of Free, drummer Simon Kirke, bassist, guitarist Paul Kossoff and vocalist Paul Rodgers were one of the hardest working bands. They’re also one of the most successful.

By the time Free called time on their career, they sold twenty million copies of Tons Of Sobs, Free, Fire and Water, Highway, Free Live!, Free At Last and Heartbreaker. These albums were recently reissued by UMC on vinyl and is the chance to hear Free’s albums as the band intended..on vinyl. UMC have taken care with this pressing which and features one of the greatest British rock groups of the late-sixties and early seventies. 

Sadly, though, sometimes, Free are overlooked in favour of Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath or Deep Purple. However, they enjoyed much longer careers than Free. They seem to have slipped under the radar, and nowadays, most people remember only two of their biggest hits,  All Right Now and Wishing Well. That however, is just a tantalising taste of the music Free released between 1969 and 1973. 

During that four-year period, Free achieved more than most. After all, how many bands sell twenty-million albums during a four-year period? Free managed to do so during  a period where the competition was fierce. They were up against some of the biggest names in rock. Despite this, Free become one of the biggest and most successful British rock bands, and left behind a rich musical legacy that has stood the test of time.  

Free-Vinyl Reissues 1969-1973.

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SKID ROW-THE CLASSIC YEARS.

Skid Row-The Classic Years.

By late 1967, Dublin’s vibrant rock scene was thriving with many newly founded bands playing in universities and clubs around the city. Some were already spreading their wings, and heading further afield taking their music to other parts of the Republic of Ireland. Its music scene had come a long way since the mid-sixties, when it started to take shape. 

Since then, two recent graduates of the Dublin music scene had gone on to greater things, and were well on their way to becoming international stars. This included Ian Whitcomb and Bluesville and Van Morrison, the former lead singer of Them who had just embarked upon a solo career and released his debut album Blowin’ Your Mind! in September 1967. It charted on both sides of the Atlantic and gave  Van Morrison a tantalising taste of the commercial success and critical acclaim that he would enjoy over the next fifty years. Meanwhile, a new group was already making waves on the Dublin music scene, and looked like it would be the next to graduate from the Irish music scene…Skid Row. 

Skid Row had only been formed in August 1967 by formed The Uptown Band]s former bassist Brendan ‘Brush’ Shiels, drummer Noel ‘Nollaig’ Bridgeman, guitarist Ben Cheevers and vocalist Phil Lynott. They were all experienced musicians, and were veterans of numerous groups. Two members of Skid Row had been in a number of bands together, Brendan ‘Brush’ Shiels and Ben Cheevers. Skid Row they hoped was the band that would transform their fortunes.

Given Skid Row comprised experienced musicians, it wasn’t long before the newly founded Skid Row made their debut in September 1967. This took place at basement club in Lower Abbey Street in the centre of Dublin. Little did those that were present that night, realise that they had witnessed history being made and that Skid Row were in the process of writing their way into rock history.

By September 1968, Skid Row’s lineup started to change. First to leave was guitarist Ben Cheevers, who decided to continue working full-time in the electrical industry. There was a problem though. Skid Row didn’t have a suitable guitarist lined up to replace him. However, waiting in the wings was sixteen year old virtuoso guitarist Gary Moore who stylistically, modelled himself on his hero Peter Green. 

Before Ben Cheevers’ departure, Gary Moore joined Skid Row and briefly, they became a five piece band. The two guitarists played together during what was hand over period. When Ben Cheevers left the band in September 1968, Gary Moore stepped out of the shadows and a star was born.

Meanwhile, Robbie Brennan temporarily replaced original drummer Noel ‘Nollaig’ Bridgeman until June 1969. Robbie Brennan featured on Skid Row’s debut single New Places, Old Faces which featured Misdemeanour Dream Felicity on the B-Side. The single was released on Song Records, an Irish label in mid-1968 and featured Gary Moore’s recording debut. Skid Row’s debut single was the only recording to feature vocalist Phil Lynott.

Later in 1968, Phil Lynott was dropped from Skid Row’s lineup after a bout of tonsillitis. During his absence, Brendan ‘Brush’ Shiels took charge of lead vocals. This spelt the end of end of the Phil Lynott. During his absence, Phil Lynott spent his time learning to play the bass. This was just as well, as his days with Skid Row were numbered.

When Phil Lynott returned from his illness, he was told that Skid Row were about to become a power trio. To compensate the disappointed Phil Lynott, Brendan ‘Brush’ Shiels gave him a bass that he had purchased from former musician Robert Ballagh for £49. Brendan ‘Brush’ Shiels also taught Phil Lynott how to play the bass, which he would put to good use when he formed Orphanage and then Thin Lizzy. However, little did Phil Lynott realise that his sacking from Skid Row was the best thing that happened to him.

Not long after this, Skid Row released their sophomore single Saturday Morning Man, which featured Mervyn Aldridge on the B-Side. Saturday Morning Man was released on Song Records. This was the last recording before Skid Row’s classic era began.

There was just one more change to Skid Row’s lineup before their classic era began. This was the return of Noel ‘Nollaig’ Bridgeman in June 1969. With drummer Noel ‘Nollaig’ Bridgeman, bassist Brendan ‘Brush’ Shiels and guitarist Gary Moore, the classic lineup of Skid Row would soon emerge as one Ireland’s leading bands.

During the remaining of the sixties, and into 1970, Skid Row’ emerged as one of Ireland’s best unsigned bands. They opened for the great and good of rock, including Fleetwood Mac. Peter Green was so  impressed by Gary Moore’s guitar playing that he introduced him to  Fleetwood Mac’s manager Clifford Davis and executives at the Columbia/CBS Records.  This was the break that Skid Row had been looking for.

Skid.

Not long after this, Skid Row signed to CBS, and began working on their debut album Skid with producer Mike Smith. Nine songs were recorded during the session, including a new version of New Places, Old Faces. However, the session wasn’t the most fruitful of Skid Row’s career. Only two tracks were released by CBS, when Sandie’s Gone (Part 1)and Sandie’s Gone (Part 2) became Skid Row’s third single in April 1970.

By then, a decision had been made by Clifford Davis that Skid Row should re-record their debut album, and change some of the songs. The other change was the producer. 

While some of the Mike Smith sessions were well recorded, he had failed to capture what was an innovative and vivacious band at the peak of their powers. They had honed their sound during their US tour, and in the process, changed rock critics’ perception of what a power trio was capable of. Skid Row’s music had been inspired and influenced by a fusion of country rock and angular progressive rock that headed in the direction of jazz. These songs featured complex arrangements, but Skid Row were a versatile and talented band who were capable of producing virtuoso performances and making it sound easy.  To capture Skid Row’s sound would take a special producer, and one who understood what the band were about. Clifford Davis’ suggestion was that Peter Green of Fleetwood Mac produced Skid Row.

Skid Row added four new songs to their debut album Skid. By then, Brendan ‘Brush’ Shiels had emerged as the band’s songwriter-in-chief writing Mad Dog Woman, Virgo’s Daughter, Heading Home Again, An Awful Lot Of Woman and After Im Gone. Gary Moore contributed Felicity and the three members of Skid Row penned Unco-Up Showband Blues, For Those Who Do and The Man Who Never Was. These songs were produced by Peter Green.

As the sessions for Skid began, Gary Moore arrived with his favourite guitar, a maple Les Paul Standard which Peter Green had sold him not long after the pair first met. While it had been well used, it quickly became Gary Moore’s favourite guitar. He put it to good use on Skid Row, which was just another recording session for the band. They took recording Skid in their stride. For Skid Row it was another day at the office.

Skid Row had already recorded a number of live sessions for the BBC Radio and a number of studio sessions. This was all good experience for the band. Especially, when Skid Row went into the BBC studios, which was home to some of the best engineers in London. They took pride in getting the best performance out of the bands that they were recording, including Skid Row. 

With Skid recorded, Skid Row prepared for the release of their debut album in October 1970. Skid was hailed as a groundbreaking debut album and was quite unlike the majority of albums produced by power trios. It was a cerebral album, that married disparate and unlikely musical genres, while drawing inspiration from all manner of sources during what was akin to a musical roller coaster. 

Skid Row flit between and combine elements of various musical genres. This includes blues rock and hard rock, which were important components in their sound. That was only part of the story, as Skid Row were very different to the many blues rock and hard rock bands that were around in 1970. Their sound was much more sophisticated and cerebral as Skid Row take occasional diversions via blues, country, fusion, jazz and skiffle on their genre-melting debut album. It finds Skid Row playing with as one, as they combine speed, accuracy and power on what’s a breathtaking debut album. The music is complex and urgent, as musical butterflies Skid Row flit seamlessly between musical genres.

When Skid was released in October 1970, the album reached number thirty in the British charts. Considering this was Skid Row’s debut album, this was a good start to their recording career.

By then, Skid Row had moved to London, where they lived in two houses in Belsize Park. However, much of Skid Row’s time was spent touring, and opening for groups like The Allman Brothers, Santana, Ten Years After, Jethro Tull and Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention. The constant touring helped to spread the word about Skid Row, whose star was definitely in the ascendancy. However, after tours of America, Britain and Germany,  Skid Row returned home to record their sophomore album 34 Hours.

34 Hours.

For 34 Hours, Skid Row penned Night Of The Warm Witch, First Thing In The Morning, Lonesome Still and Love Story, Pt. 1. Songwriter-in-chief Brendan ‘Brush’ Shiels wrote Mar and Go, I’m Never Gonna Let You, Parts 1 to 4. These songs became 34 Hours.

When recording of 34 Hours began, Clifford Davis took charge of production. Watching and learning, was nineteen year old Gary Moore. He and the rest of Skid Row spent just 34 Hours recording the band’s debut album. 

Critics on hearing 34 Hours realised that it was a much tighter album. It received the same plaudits and praise as Skid, and a great future was forecast for Skid Row.

This was proof that the weeks and months spent touring was time well spent. Skid Row had honed their sound through constantly playing live, and on 34 Hours showcased a much heavier, progressive rock sound. It featured two nine minute epics, Night Of The Warm Witch and Go, I’m Never Gonna Let You, Parts 1 to 4. They allowed Skid Row to stretch their legs musically. By then, Skid Row had matured into a much tighter, accomplished and assured band. Still, the music on 34 Hours was groundbreaking, complex and cerebral. There was still a spontaneity to Skid Row’s playing as they continued to combine speed, accuracy, power on 34 Hours 

The result was 34 Hours, an album of music that veered between, caustic, cerebral, challenging and complex to energetic and explosive to forceful, urgent and vigorous. Still, Skid Row combined elements of blues rock, country, fusion and progressive rock on 34 Hours. Apart from the country sound of Lonesome Still, 34 Hours is hard rocking album of progressive album that incorporates elements of fusion. This is a potent and heady brew, and should’ve found favour with record buyers in 1971.

Sadly, when 34 Hours was released by CBS in early 1971 the critically acclaimed album failed to find the audience it deserved. For Skid Row, this was a huge disappointment.

Throughout the rest of 1971, Skid Row continued to tour. However, in December 1971, Gary Moore left Skid Row. Thin Lizzy’s Eric Bell briefly filed the void on a temporary basis. Ironically, Gary Moore would later replace Eric Bell in Thin Lizzy. 

Paul Chapman then became Skid Row’s new full-time guitarist. However, his time with Skid Row proved brief, and the band split-up in August 1972.

While Skid Row reformed in 1973, the original lineup never took to the stage again. Over the next three years, Skid Row’s lineup continued to change, until they split-up for a second time in 2012. 

That was the end of the Skid Row story until 2012, when the band reformed and released their first new album in forty-one years Bon Jovi Never Rang Me. By then, the only original member of Skid Row was Brendan ‘Brush’ Shiels. While many welcomed the Skid Row’s new album, many couldn’t help but compare them to the two cult classics they released between 1970 and 1971. Skid and 34 Hours and feature Skid Row at the peak of their considerable powers. 

On Skid and 34 Hours, Skid Row rewrite the rules for future power trios.  They created music that was cerebral, complex, hard rocking, innovative and progressive. Skid Row also fused and flitted between disparate and unlikely musical genres during Skid and 34 Hours, which are a reminder of one Ireland’s greatest musical exports during their sadly short but memorable musical career.

Skid Row-The Classic Years.

 

STEIN URHEIM-UTOPIAN TALES.

Stein Urheim-Utopian Tales.

Label: Hubro Music.

Stein Urheim was born, and is still based in the beautiful coastal city of Bergen in 1979. That was where he grew up, and first discovered music. Soon, his life seemed to revolve around listening to, and playing music. The first instrument Stein Urheim learn to play, was the guitar. Since then he has expanded his musical horizons.

Nowadays, Stein Urheim is best described as a multi-instrumentalist, who owns and plays a wide variety of stringed instruments. Many of these instruments, Stein Urheim has picked up as he travels the globe. Some of these instruments featured on Stein Urheim’s new solo album Utopian Tales, which was recently released by Hubro Music. However, the instrument that takes centre-stage on Utopian Tales is Stein Urheim’s slide guitar.  It plays a starring role on Stein Urheim’s eagerly awaited fourth album Utopian Tales, which is the latest chapter in a story that began back in 2001.

That was when twenty-two year old Stein Urheim’s recording career began in earnest. He was determined to make a living as a professional musician. One of Stein Urheim’s first appearances was on Unge Frustrerte Menn’s 2001 album Dronningen Av Kalde Føtter. The following year, Stein Urheim went from sideman to centre-stage.

By then, Stein Urheim was the guitarist, keyboardist and vocalist in Steady Steele And The Starseekers. He had written most of the songs on their eponymous mini album. Steady Steele And The Starseekers was released in 2002. When the band returned the following year, they were now called Steady Steele. The newly named band released their sophomore album Steady Steele in 2003, with Steady Steele II following in 2004. When Now’s The Time…Maybe was released in 2006, this proved to be Steady Steele’s swan-song. However, the time spent with Steady Steele was part of Stein Urheim’s musical apprenticeship.

So was the tine Stein Urheim spent working as sideman. He worked on countless project before embarking upon a solo career. This was all good experience, as he was worked with different types of musicians, including with some of the biggest names in Norwegian music. 

Among the projects Stein Urheim featured on, was Barabass and The Happy Few’s 2004 album Rali Rei. Four years later, Stein Urheim accompanied Norwegian singer-songwriter Erik Møl on his 2008 album Good To Go, and HP and The American Dream on the album Uncle Johnny Had A Cool Guitar. The following year, Stein Urheim accompanied Sergeant Petter on his Sgt. Petter album and  HP and The American Dream on the album Uncle Johnny Had A Cool Guitar. By then, Stein Urheim was already planning on embarking upon a solo career.

In 2009, Stein Urheim released Three Sets Of Music, which was an eclectic triple album. It had been recorded between 2006 and 2008, and featured some of the biggest names in Norwegian music. They accompany Stein Urheim as he showcases his versatility and flits between folk, blues, jazz and psychedelia. However, it would be three more years before Stein Urheim’s solo career began in earnest.

As a new decade dawned, word was spreading about Stein Urheim, and his services were constantly in demand. In 2010, he played on Sigrid Moldestad’s album Sandkorn. The following year, Stein Urheim played on accordionist and vocalist Gabriel Fliflet’s album Åresong. By then, Stein Urheim was also member of HP Gundersen’s band The Last Hurrah. However, still Stein Urheim wanted to embark upon a solo career. 

This was what he had been working towards, and his dream came true when he signed to Hubro Music. In April 2012, Stein Urheim released his eagerly awaited debut album Kosmolodi on Hubro Music. It announced the arrival of Stein Urheim, who was immediately regarded as one of the rising stars of the vibrant Norwegian music scene.

Less that a year later, in February 2013, Stein Urheim and Mari Kvien Brunvoll released their first collaboration, Daydream Twin. It was so well received, that it was nominated for a Spellemannprisen, the Norwegian equivalent of a Grammy Award. Buoyed by the success and reception of Daydream Twin, Stein Urheim began work on his eponymous sophomore album. 

Almost a year to the day, and Stein Urheim returned with his eponymous sophomore album. It was released to widespread critical acclaim in February 2014. Suddenly, Stein Urheim’s music was known internationally, and he was being hailed as one of the most innovative Norwegian artists of his generation. However, Stein Urheim wasn’t one to rest on his laurels. 

Instead, Stein Urheim has recorded and released his second collaboration with Mari Kvien Brunvoll, For Individuals Facing The Terror Of Cosmic Loneliness. It was an ambitious and genre-melting album that unsurprisingly, was released to overwhelming critical acclaim in October 2015. However, that wasn’t the only project Stein Urheim had been working on. 

After a two-year absence, the Bergen based, multi-instrumentalist Stein Urheim, returned with another album of ambitious and innovative music, Strandebar. It was released to widespread critical acclaim in August 2016, with critics calling it his finest hour.

Now a year later, and Stein Urheim returns with his eagerly awaited fourth album Utopian Tales, which was released by Hubro Music. Stein Urheim was joined by a handpicked band of top Norwegian musicians on Utopian Tales, whose roots can be traced to 2016. 

That was when Stein Urheim received a commission from Vossajazz to write some new material for the Voss Jazz Festival 2016. This was fitting as Stein Urheim had won the Voss Jazzfestival Award in 2010. Six years later, and Stein Urheim found himself commissioned to write much of the material that later became Utopian Tales. This was just the start for Stein Urheim and the music on Utopian Tales.

When Stein Urheim decided to record the music he had been commissioned to write for the Voss Jazz Festival, he made the decision to adapt and extend the music by rerecording some of the music and adding solo pieces. The result was an ever-changing 

musical tapestry that featured a variety of styles and textures that play their part in what’s essentially an evolving commentary on the concept of microtonality and its various social and intellectual connections.

Ever since the mid-twentieth century, microtonality has influenced  many contemporary musicians, including maverick musician, composer and instrument-maker Harry Partch. He was behind the revival of the ancient idea of ‘just intonation’, through microtonal tuning which he used on his own custom-made instruments. Since then, many musicians have followed in the footsteps of Harry Partch, and microtonality has grown in popularity.

For the non-musicians, microtonality is the small gaps between the notes in music. They’re much smaller than the gaps between the notes in Western music. In Western music, they’re seen as a reflection of the hierarchical structures in society at large and the traditional class structure. By comparison, microtonality uses intervals that are much smaller than a semi-tone, and can be perceived as reflective of a freer and more fluid social order. Stein Urheim examines this overlap between music and society on Utopian Tales. 

It’s an imaginative and innovative album where Stein Urheim draws inspiration a variety of ideas and associations, ranging from architecture, alternative art, countercultural communities, philosophy and even speculative science fiction. The result is an ambitious genre-melting album.

Utopian Tales fuses acoustic Americana which comes courtesy of Stein Urheim’s slide guitar, with ambient electronic soundscapes and diversions into avant-garde, experimental and contemporary jazz sound of The Cosmolodic Orchestra. They were formed especially for the recording of Utopian Tales which is a journey into the imagination of Stein Urheim.

With the help of six top Norwegian musicians, Stein Urheim takes the listener on a journey to the imaginary lands of Mikrotonia, Carnaticala and Just Intonation Island, and what was once regarded a Norwegian nirvana. This was the Selegrend Movement, which was a utopian alternative community of the seventies, which was established not far from Bergen, Norway, which is home to Stein Urheim. It’s also where some of Utopian Tales was recorded.

Utopian Tales was recorded at Gamlekinoen, Voss, in March 2016 and at Laksevåg, Bergen, September 2016. Stein Urheim played slide guitar, guitars, bass, lute, tambura and sampler. The sampler triggered the samples that played their part in the soundscapes. So did the various sound that became part of the collages. Joining Stein Urheim to record this musical adventure, were some of the great and good of Norwegian music.

This included Building Instrument’s Mari Kvien Brunvoll, Moster!’s Kjetil Møster and Ole Morten Vågan of the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra. They were joined by Jøkleba’s Per Jørgensen, Jørgen Træen of Sir Dupermann and Kåre Ophir of the Real Ones. This all-star lineup helped Stein Urheim to record Utopian Tales, which featured some of the most ambitious, cerebral and innovative music of his career.  

Opening Utopian Tales is Ustopia Part One, where an acoustic guitar is picked as Stein Urheim unleashes washes of dreamy, shimmering slide guitar. Suddenly, it becomes choppy and dubby, before becoming ethereal and elegiac as a beautiful, dreamy soundscape unfolds. Before long, it’s all change as the picked guitar and slide guitar combine. Meanwhile, a myriad of sounds emerge and play their part in this captivating multilayered soundscape. As it washes over the listener it reveals it subtleties and surprises,

There’s an otherworldly sound to Mikrotonia, which is one of imaginary places Stein Urheim invented for Utopian Tales. Soon, the otherworldly sound becomes dark, almost ominous and eerie as it meanders along. Effects are deployed, and transform the soundscape. Gone is the darkness as a guitar chirps and the soundscape becomes crystalline, cinematic and futuristic. There’s even an otherworldly sound to what sounds like part of the soundtrack to a sci-fi film, and is guaranteed to set the listener’s imagination racing.

A double bass plays as Just Intonation Island unfolds, and is joined bursts of a swirling bass clarinet and a distant cooing vocal. They’re augmented by a variety of samples and found sounds as Stein Urheim sculpts the soundscape. It bubbles, shimmers and sometimes, becomes otherworldly. Later, an impassioned vocal is added, before a myriad of disparate sounds assail the listener. This ranges from strings and a trumpet to array of samples and found sounds. Then as the soundscape builds, there’s an urgency and drama, before effects are deployed. At one point, it’s as if some of the sounds are being played backwards. Later, the music becomes eerie, futuristic and otherworldly as sounds cascade, bubble, swirl and scurry before and another array of sounds are unleashed as the Cosmolodic Orchestra improvise and Stein Urheim adds bursts of rocky guitar. Together, they create an imaginative and inventive, multilayered genre-melting soundscape full of surprises.

Melancholy and otherworldly describes Letter From Walden Two as Stein Urheim and his all-star band create a spacious, shimmering soundscape. Soon, it takes on a jazz-tinged sound as a trumpet plays, before cymbals crash and bass is scrabbled and is joined by the guitar. By then, the band is jamming playing with a freedom and fluidity as genres melt into one. Still drums provide the heartbeat, as guitar shimmer, horns rasp and a bass helps power the arrangement along. Sometimes, there’s an Eastern sound as Stein Urheim and his band create a soundscape that is variously urgent, understated, lysergic, dreamy, exotic, ethereal and melodic. 

As Trouble In Carnaticala unfolds, a mixture of traditional and exotic instruments play their part in a genre-melting soundscape. Soon, Stein Urheim and his band are seamlessly combine elements of jazz, avant-garde and drone music with funk, fusion and Eastern sounds. For just over three captivating minutes, Stein Urheim’s decision to embrace microtonality proves to be a masterstroke. They put their expanded musical palette to good use, as an array of disparate sounds tantalise the listener on another ambitious and melodic soundscape. 

For the first twenty-seconds of Hear The People Sing, Stein Urheim’s guitars take centre-stage. They’re then joined by dreamy,  thoughtful vocal on this understated soundscape. Soon, the vocal becomes fuzzy and lysergic, before the guitars take centre-stage. They’re then joined by the vocal before this joyous and memorable song reaches a crescendo.

Stein Urheim’s playing on The Clown is slow, careful and deliberate, with the merest hint of reverb added to his guitar. They set the scene for the vocals, which includes Mari Kvien Brunvoll who adds a tender, elegiac Mari Kvien Brunvoll. Meanwhile, the slide guitar weeps and shimmer, while the bass and later soul-baring rasping horns are added. They take centre-stage, as the rest of the band frame the trumpet. It adds the final piece of jigsaw to this heart-achingly beautiful song. It’s without doubt one of the finest moments on Utopian Tales.

Although The Selegrend Movement lasts less than a minute, this is plenty of time for Stein Urheim to showcase his considerable skills. His guitar chirps and shimmers, as a horn brays and combines with futuristic and otherworldly sounds this musical amuse bouche.

A rasping, atmospheric and muted horn plays slowly on Ustopia Part Two, leaving space between the notes. This adds an element of drama to this minimalist soundscape. Soon, the horn is replaced by a chirping, weeping guitar and eerie, otherworldly sounds. They’re joined by a bass clarinet and scatted, ethereal vocal as the soundscape meanders along. Before long, the scatted vocals are replaced by heartfelt vocals. One of the vocalist is Mari Kvien Brunvoll, whose dreamy vocal sweeps in and out, and sits above the chirping, crystalline guitar. It soon reverts to a tender scat, but continues to play its part in the sound and success of this beautiful understated and melodic soundscape.

Pala closes Utopian Tales, and straight away, Stein Urheim’s guitar takes centre-stage. Mostly, his playing is slow, spacious and thoughtful. It speeds up during brief runs, as the guitar chirps, cheeps and weeps. Always, Stein Urheim’s playing is full of emotion as one of Norway’s top guitarists closes his fourth album on high. He’s kept one of the best until last.

After ten soundscapes lasting forty-four minutes, Utopian Tales which id the most ambitious, innovative and thought-provoking album of Stein Urheim’s career is over. It finds Stein Urheim embracing microtonality, and examining its various social and intellectual connections on Utopian Tales. 

With microtonality the gaps between the notes in music are much smaller than the gaps between the notes in Western music. In Western music, they’re seen as a reflection of the hierarchical structures in society at large and the traditional class structure. By comparison, microtonality uses intervals that are much smaller than a semi-tone, and can be perceived as reflective of a freer and more fluid social order. This will be something that music fans won’t have contemplated…until now. Utopian Tales is without doubt an ambitious, cerebral and thought-provoking genre-melting music.

Stein Urheim who has been inspired by everyone from John Fahey to Roger Eno, Dave Gilmour of Pink Floyd and John McLaughlin circa Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew, showcases his considerable skills on Utopian Tales. Along with all-star Norwegian band, they fuse elements of acoustic Americana with ambient, avant-garde, contemporary jazz, electronica and experimental music. There’s also diversions via free jazz, funk, fusion, Musique concrète, rock and what John Cage called small music. The result is a captivating album of soundscapes, Utopian Tales which was recently released by Hubro Music.

Utopian Tales is akin to a rich and vibrant musical tapestry which was woven by Stein Urheim and his all-star band. They create ten sound that veer between atmospheric to beautiful, ethereal, elegiac to cerebral and thought-provoking to melancholy, rueful and ruminative. The multilayered soundscapes are also evocative and emotive, and rich in texture, and often have a cinematic quality as Stein Urheim paints pictures with his music.

To do this, Stein Urheim combines a myriad of traditional and exotic instruments,  and adds to this array of electronic, samples, field recordings and found sounds. They were part of Stein Urheim’s newly expanded musical palette, which he put to good when he sculpted the ten groundbreaking soundscapes that became Utopian Tales. It found  Bergen-based musical pioneer Stein Urheim embracing microtonality on the his genre-melting opus Utopian Tales, which is without doubt, the most ambitious, cerebral and thought-provoking and album of his two decade career. 

 Stein Urheim-Utopian Tales.

OLAFUR ARNALDS-EULOGY FOR EVOLUTION.

Ólafur Arnalds-Eulogy For Evolution.

Label: Erased Tapes Records.

When most people reach the age of thirty, it’s a time when they take stock, and reflect on what they’ve achieved so far. When composer, multi-instrumentalist and BAFTA-award- winning producer Ólafur Arnalds looked back at the first thirty years of his life, there was much to celebrate. He was now a successful soundtrack composer and had already released three critically acclaimed solo albums. 

This included his ambitious and cerebral debut album Eulogy For Evolution, which was released by Erased Tapes Records on the ‘1st’ of October 2007. It was written while Ólafur Arnalds was till a teenager, and documents the journey of life, from birth to death. By the time Eulogy For Evolution was released to plaudits and praise, Ólafur Arnalds was approaching his twenty-first birthday. Critics and cultural commentators were astounded than someone so young could record such a profound album. 

Ten years later, and thirty year old Ólafur Arnalds’ Magnus Opus has been reissued by Erased Tapes Records. This isn’t just a straightforward reissue though. Eulogy For Evolution has been restored with the help of some of Ólafur Arnalds’ friends. Ólafur Arnalds decided to remix Eulogy For Evolution and the album has been remastered by Nils Frahm. Even the album cover has been given a makeover, by Torsten Posselt at FELD. It’s been redesigned and enhanced using the original photographs taken by Stuart Bailes during a trip to Ólafur’s home in Iceland in 2007. Once all this was completed, the newly remastered and remixed version of Eulogy For Evolution was released recently. This is a reminder of Ólafur Arnalds’ finest hour Eulogy For Evolution.

Ólafur Arnalds was born in Mosfellsbær, Iceland on the ‘3rd’ of November 1986. Growing up, Ólafur Arnalds immersed himself in music and was talented multi-instrumentalist. However, when Ólafur Arnalds made his first tentative steps into the world of music he as a drummer. 

By then, the vibrant Icelandic music scene was thriving and Ólafur Arnalds was playing drums in a hardcore band. Just like most young musicians, Ólafur Arnalds was looking for to make a breakthrough. This came sooner than he had expected, and in  a rather unexpected way. 

In 2004, the German metal band Heaven Shall Burn, announced that they were about embark upon an Icelandic tour. They were one of Ólafur Arnalds’ favourite bands and he was one of the lucky one who secured a ticket to the concerts. After that, it was a case of waiting for the day of the concert to arrive. On the day of the concert, Ólafur Arnalds took with him a demo tape he had recorded at home. It featured extremely dramatic progressive rock songs that featured computerised strings and piano. This he gave to one of Heaven Shall Burn after the concert.

A few months after Ólafur Arnalds saw Heaven Shall Burn, the band contacted him, and asked if he could write some intros and outros for their new album Antigone. There was a catch though. The intros and outros could only feature piano and strings. This was a challenge for eighteen year old Ólafur Arnalds, and lead to him writing his first classical compositions.

They featured on Heaven Shall Burn’s album Antigone, which was released in April 2004. Antigone was well received across Europe and led to the break that he had been waiting for. 

Later, in 2004, Ólafur Arnalds received a phone call from Erased Tapes Records asking if he would like to write, record and release an album of compositions like the intros and outros on Antigone? This wasn’t something that Ólafur Arnalds had considered, but he wasn’t going to turn down the opportunity to record what became his debut album Eulogy For Evolution.

The music that Ólafur Arnalds would write, record and produce for Eulogy For Evolution was very different to the music he had been making up until then. He was a drummer in a hardcore band,  when he saw  Heaven Shall Burn. Now the eighteen year old was moving in a very different direction. 

Eulogy For Evolution.

It took Ólafur Arnalds the best part of three years to write, record and produce the eight tracks that became Eulogy For Evolution. He was only seventeen when he began writing the eight tracks that featured on Eulogy For Evolution.

When it came time to record Eulogy For Evolution, multi-instrumentalist Ólafur Arnalds became a one man rhythm section, playing drums, bass and piano. He also played melodica, organ and piano, which would play a leading role on Eulogy For Evolution. So would the string quartet. It featured Guðmundur Kristmundsson on viola and violinists Gréta Salome, Olga Bjork Ólafsdottir and  Roland Hartwell. The combination of the string quartet and piano would prove a potent one when Eulogy For Evolution was released.

Ólafur Arnalds’s debut album Eulogy For Evolution was eventually released to widespread critical acclaim by Erased Tapes Records on October the ‘1st’ 2007. By then, twenty year old Ólafur Arnalds had just written what was essentially an ambitious and thought-provoking concept album.

Eulogy For Evolution was a concept album with a difference though; and documents the journey of life, from birth right through to death.  It was recorded by Ólafur Arnalds in the neoclassical style, which occasional departures towards ambient and avant-garde music on this ambitious and cerebral opus. 

Playing leading roles in the sound and success of Eulogy For Evolution, it’s Ólafur Arnalds’ piano and the swathes of strings which augment it, and sometimes, take centre-stage. They play their part in the spartan, understated arrangements. Mostly, they’re slow and sometimes spacious, which allows time for reflection and rumination on the meaning of the music. Always, there’s a cinematic quality to the music on Eulogy For Evolution, and it’s no surprise that Ólafur Arnalds went on to write soundtracks. Eulogy For Evolution sounds like the soundtrack to a film as it unfolds over forty magical minutes.

Always, the music on Eulogy For Evolution is thought-provoking and cerebral. Partly, this is  due to the uncluttered, understated and minimalist arrangements. Mostly they’re slow, spacious and invite reflection, as the music moves from emotive and thoughtful on Boundaries to hopeful and sometimes stirring on (Eulogy For Evolution). From there, Ólafur Arnalds continues to replicate the cycle of life using his musical palette. The result is music that veers between beautiful, ethereal, elegiac and lush to rueful, wistful and melancholy, right through to hopeful, spirited, stirring and uplifting. Occasionally, the music becomes haunting and tugs at the heartstrings. This includes on 3055, where drums provide the heartbeat as strings sweep and swirl. Then Vemeer which closes Eulogy For Evolution, takes a series of twists and turns. It starts off slow and thoughtful before becoming rocky, spirited, uplifting and urgent. Later, the tempo drops and an organ plays adding a pensive, ruminative sound as Ólafur Arnalds’ timeless and ambitious debut album Eulogy For Evolution draws to a close.

For twenty year old Ólafur Arnalds, the release of Eulogy For Evolution on ‘1st’ of October 2007 was the start of a successful career as a composer, musician and producer. By the time Ólafur Arnalds returned with his sophomore album And They Have Escaped The Weight of Darkness in 2010, he was successfully juggling his solo career with a career writing soundtracks.

Ólafur Arnalds made his soundtrack debut in 2009 when he wrote the score to Dyad 1909. A year later in 2010, he provided the soundtrack to Blinky TM and Jitters. Soon, Ólafur Arnalds was rubbing shoulders with Hollywood greats like Kate Bosworth and Demi Moore when he contributed the soundtrack to Another Happy Day in 2012. However, the film wasn’t a classic and the most memorable thing was Ólafur Arnalds’ soundtrack.

In 2013, Ólafur Arnalds returned with his third album For Now I Am Winter in 2013. It was his first solo album in three years. For Now I Am Winter received the same praise and plaudits as And They Have Escaped the Weight of Darkness three years earlier. Since then, Ólafur Arnalds has concentrated on writing soundtracks.

The next film Ólafur Arnalds was involved with was Gimme Shelter, which was produced and directed by Ronald Krauss. Gimme Shelter made its debut at the Heartland Film Festival on October ’17th’ 2013, and opened in America cinemas on January ’24th’ 2014. By then, word was spreading about the young and up-and-coming Ólafur Arnalds.

By the end of 2014, Ólafur Arnalds was award-winning composer. He was involved with two high-profile soundtracks during 2014. The first was the soundtrack to the Icelandic film Life In A Fishbowl). It was released in May 2014, and later, was nominated for 87th Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film. Later in 2014, Ólafur Arnalds’ soundtrack to the British television series Broadchurch won a BAFTA for the Best Original Music. For Ólafur Arnalds this was the highlight of his career writing soundtracks.

Since then, Ólafur Arnalds has collaborated on a variety of other projects. This includes The Chopin Project with Alice Sara Ott in 2015. Ólafur Arnalds also collaborated on a trio of singles with Berlin based musician, composer and record producer based Nils Frahm between 2015 and 2016. Then in 2016, Ólafur Arnalds collaborated on a single with Icelandic singer and musician Arnór Dan. More recently, Ólafur Arnalds has been working on the reissue Eulogy For Evolution which was recently remastered and reissued by Erased Tapes Records. 

When Ólafur Arnalds released Eulogy For Evolution ten years ago in 2007, it was his debut album. It was an ambitious and cerebral  debut album which documents the journey of life, from birth to death. Eulogy For Evolution was a thought-provoking and cinematic  concept album that ten years later is still regarded as a timeless genre classic and Ólafur Arnalds’ finest hour.

Ólafur Arnalds-Eulogy For Evolution.

THE LIFE AND TIMES OF MUSICAL MAVERICK AND INNOVATOR HOLGER CZUKAY.

The Life and Times Of Musical Maverick and Innovator Holger Czukay.

Although the word innovator is one of the most overused words in the English language nowadays, it perfectly describes  Holger Czukay who cofounded Can in 1968. This was the start of a near fifty year career where Holger Czukay continued to make groundbreaking music, and push musical boundaries to their limits, and sometimes way  beyond. That had was the case throughout his long and illustrious career.

Sadly, on the ‘5th’ of September 2017, one of the cofounders of Can and the founding fathers of Krautrock passed away  at Can Studio aged seventy-nine.  This came just a fortnight after the death of his wife Ursula Schüring aged fifty-five. Holger was devastated and since then,  hadn’t returned to the flat they had shared. Instead, he spent final days at Can Studio in Cologne, which was where he died. This marked the end a six decade career, where one of music’s mavericks produced several classic albums with Can and a string of critically acclaimed solo albums. That was all still to come.

The future Holger Czukay was born in March 1938, as Holger Schüring. Holger’s home was what was then called the Free City of Danzig. Nowadays, it’s known as Gdansk. In January 1945, Holger and his family were forced to flee their home.

“When I was a child I had to leave my hometown Danzig in Poland. My mother had already bought the tickets for the ship, the Wilhelm Gustlof, when my grandmother warned us that the ‘water hasn’t got any planks.’ I never forgot this sentence, because it saved our lives. We didn’t go onboard the ship, but went to the main station on January 13th 1945. It was a freezing night We were extremely lucky that a train with wounded soldiers picked us up, and they gave us a little bit of room on their mattresses to sleep, and we headed to Berlin. When we arrived I looked out of the window and all I could see were stones and a free field and I asked myself if this can be a capital city?” Having arrived in Berlin, Holger and his family became refugees. 

Just like so many children, the war had an impact upon Holger’s education. Like so many displaced children, Holger’s education suffered. Despite this, Holger managed to get a job in a radio repair shop. Not only did he learn how to repair electrical equipment, but became fascinated by radio and the opportunities it offered. This would prove crucial to Holger Czukay’s later career. Before that, Holger served his musical apprenticeship.

For a three-year period between 1963 and 1966, Holger Czukay was privileged to study music under the legendary Karlheinz Stockhausen. He was: “a true pioneer, Karlheinz was way ahead of time.” It was during his time studying with Karlheinz Stockhausen that  Holger met Conny Plank and Irmin Schmidt.

Holger remembers “Conny sitting behind him, writing out a score by hand.” At first “Conny was quiet, be we soon became close friends.”As their nascent friendship blossomed, they continued to  study with Karlheinz Stockhausen and enjoy what was a truly comprehensive musical education.  Karlheinz Stockhausen’s pupils listened as he taught his pupils about aleatoric music, serial composition and musical spatialisation.

Karlheinz Stockhausen wasn’t just a “visionary” in terms of electronic music, but was fascinated by aleatoric music. Essentially, aleatory is controlled chance. With aleatoric music, some element of a piece are left to chance. Granted there will only be a certain number of outcomes, but the musician has to choose the outcome they believe is correct. Serialism was another subject Karlheinz Stockhausen was interested in. With serialism, a series of values are used to manipulate musical elements. This form of composition fascinated Karlheinz Stockhausen. So did musical  spatialisation, which would influence Can. Karlheinz was an evangelist, encouraging his pupils, including Holger Czukay, Irmin Schmidt and Conny Plank to investigate, examine and scrutinise each of these subjects between 1963 and 1966.

For Holger, he could have asked for a better musical education. He admits “Karlheinz taught me so much, including importantly to: ‘find your own sound.'” Holger never forget those words of advice. They became his musical mantra when eventually, he decided to make a career as a musician. However, when Holger finished studying with Karlheinz Stockhausen in 1966,  he became a  musical teacher.

Having graduated, Holger was enjoying life as a music teacher. Holger was enjoying his newfound career as an educator. He wasn’t a fan of pop or rock music. That was about to change in 1967.

That’s when Holger heard The Beatles’ I Am A Walrus in 1967, he was captivated by this psychedelic rock single. Holger describes this “as a life-changing moment…the music of the past and present came together.” At last; “here was music that made the connection between what I’d studied and I was striving towards” With the innovative use of bursts of radio and the experimental sound and structure, “I went in search of similar music.” 

For  Holger this was a case of trial and error. “Frank Zappa I didn’t really get.  Velvet Underground they were different, they really influenced me and my music. They influenced the music I made…I remember the first time I heard Velvet Underground and where I was when I heard it.”

Much of the music that went on to influenced Holger was  heard whilst spending time with his friends. He remembers: “sitting in a friend’s flat looking through piles of albums. We’d study the sleeve-notes and then spread the album covers all over the floor. We scrutinised them, then immersed ourselves in the music. It was a shared experience. We listened and discussed the music. I can remember these times well.” Listening to Holger speak, it’s obvious that he genuinely loves music and is still  a real music fan. His enthusiasm is infectious. So much so, that it’s as if you’re sitting in the flat with Holger and his friends, looking at the album covers, listening to the music and discussing it. 

Holger remembering those times fondly and still loves vinyl, which he calls: “the perfect medium, you hear the music as you’re meant to.” Listening to Holger, he’s almost evangelic about vinyl. Not compact discs though. “Compact discs reduce music to background music. No longer do you have to immerse yourself in the music. Instead, it becomes background noise.” The last thing Holger wants in music to become an accidental soundtrack to daily life. Music is much more important than that. Especially for someone who founded one of the most influential and innovative groups in musical history, Can.

Inspired by the music he had been listening to, Holger decided to form his own band in 1968…Can. However, Can’s he roots can be traced back to the previous year. That was when Holger first encountered future Can drummer Irmin Schmidt. The pair was both studying under Karlheinz Stockhausen. In 1968,  the two former pupils of Karlheinz Stockhausen, Irmin Schmidt and Holger would eventually form Can. Before that they went their separate ways, 

After graduating, Irmin Schmidt headed to New York, where he spent time with avant-garde musicians like Steve Reich, Terry Riley and La Monte Young. Soon, Irmin Schmidt was aware of Andy Warhol and Velvet Underground. This inspired him to form his own band when he returned home to Cologne.

In Cologne, pianist and organist Irmin Schmidt and bassist Holger Czukay formed  Can with the American avant-garde flautist David C. Johnson and bassist Holger Czukay. Up until then, the trio had exclusively played avant-garde classical music. Now their ambitions lay beyond that. Their influences included garage, rock, psychedelia, soul and funk.  So they brought onboard three new members of the group, which started life as Inner Space, and then became The Can. Eventually, they settled on Can, an acronym of communism, anarchy, nihilism

The first two new additions were guitarist Michael Karoli and drummer Jaki Liebezeit. Vocalist and New York-based sculptor Malcolm Mooney joined the band midway through 1968. By then, they were recording material for an album Prepare To Meet Thy Pnoom. Two tracks, Father Cannot Yell and “Outside My Door were already recorded. Unfortunately, record companies weren’t interested in Prepare To Meet Thy Pnoom. As a result, it wasn’t released until 1981, when it was released as Delay 1968. Undeterred, Can continued to record what became their debut album, Monster Movie.

Despite not being able to interest a record company in Prepare To Meet Thy Pnoom, Can were confident in their own ability. So Can continued recording what would become their debut album Monster Movies. That’s despite being what Holger referred to as: “a poor man’s band.” They didn’t have the equipment that other groups did. What Can had was: “an ambition to create innovative music.” However, before long, there was a problem.

David C. Johnson left Can at the end of 1968. He was disappointed at the change in musical direction. Little did he realise that he’d lost the chance to be part of one of the most groundbreaking band’s in musical history, Can.

Monster Movie.

Monster Movie had been recorded in Schloss Nörvenich, a 14th-century castle in North Rhine-Westphalia. Can recorded Monster Movie  between 1968 and 1969. It was the released in August 1969. This marked the debut of Can. Their career started as they meant to go on, creating a groundbreaking, genre-melting fusion of blues, free jazz, psychedelia, rock and world music. Monster Movies has a Velvet Underground influence. It’s as if Can have been inspired by Velvet Underground, but pushed musical boundaries to their limits.

Throughout Monster Movie, Can improvised, innovated and experimented. Multilayering and editing played an important part in Monster Movie’s avant-garde sound. So did spontaneous composition, which Can pioneered. 

Spontaneous composition was hugely important in Can’s success. Holger remembers “that the members of Can were always ready to record. They didn’t take time to think. It was spontaneous. The music flowed through them and out of them.” Holger remembers that he was always “given the job of pressing the record button. This was a big responsibility as the fear was failing to record something we could never recreate.” In some ways, Can were an outlet for this outpouring of creativity, which gave birth to a new musical genre…Krautrock.

This new musical genre was dubbed Krautrock by the British music press. So not only was Monster Movie the album that launched Can’s career, but saw a new musical genre, Krautrock coined. The founding father’s of Krautrock was Can, lead by Holger Czukay.

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Canaxis 5.

1969 saw the release of Holger Czukay’s debut album. Credited to the Technical Space Composer’s Crew, Canaxis 5 was a collaboration between Holger and Ralf Dammers. Canaxis 5 is an often overlooked album, which features two lengthy tracks. It shows two innovative musicians pushing the musical envelope, as Can would continue to do.

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Soundtracks.

Released in 1970, Soundtracks, was Can’s sophomore album. Essentially, Soundtracks is a compilation of tracks Can wrote for the soundtracks to various films. It’s the album that marked the departure of vocalist Malcolm Mooney. Replacing him, was Japanese busker, Kenji Damo Suzuki. He features on five of the tracks, contributing percussion and vocals. The addition of Damo wasn’t the only change Can were making.

Soundtracks was a coming of age for Can. It marked a move away from the psychedelic jams of Monster Movie  and a move towards their classic sound. That saw the music becoming much more experimental and avant-garde. The music took an ambient, meditative, mesmeric and thoughtful sound. This marked the beginning of what became known as Can’s classic years, when albums like Tago Mago, Ege Bamyasi and Future Days were released. 

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Tago Mago.

The first instalment in the golden quartet was Tago Mago. This was the first album where Kenji Damo Suzuki was a permanent member of Can. He and the rest of Can spent a year in the castle in Schloss Nörvenich. It was owned by an art collector named Mr. Vohwinkel. He allowed Can to stay at Schloss Nörvenich rent free. For what Holger described as “a poor man’s band,” this was perfect. 

Holger remembers Can during this year as “just jamming and seeing what took shape. Songs started as lengthy jams and improvised pieces.” This Holger remembers is “how Can always worked” After that, Holger worked his magic. He edited them and these mini masterpieces  featured on Tago Mago, which was four months in the making.

For four months between November 1970 and February 1971, Can recorded what would become one of their most innovative and influential albums, Tago Mago. 

A double album, Tago Mago featured seven groundbreaking tracks. Tago Mago was released in February 1971. Straight away, critics realised the importance of Tago Mago. Here was a game-changer of an album. It has an intensity that other albums released in 1971 lacked. Jazzier with an experimental sound, the music is mysterious, mesmeric and multilayered. It’s innovative, with genres and influences melting into one. Nuances, subtleties and surprises reveal themselves. No wonder. Can deliver an avant-garde masterclass.

This comes courtesy of jazz-tinged drumming, improvised guitar playing and showboating keyboard solos. Then there was Kenji Damo Suzuki’s unique vocal style. All this, resulted in an album that was critically acclaimed, influential and innovative. 

Released to widespread critical acclaim in 1971, Tago Mago was the start of a golden period for Can. Their reputation as one of the most innovative groups of the seventies started to take shape. Can had released one of the most innovative albums, Tago Mago. Holger remembers the reaction to Tago Mago. “I knew Tago Mago was an innovative album, but I never realised just how innovative an album it would become?

On Tago Mago’s release, it was hailed as Can’s best album yet. However, not in Holger’s opinion. “Tago Mago is a classic album, but I much prefer Future Days.” Despite Holger’s preference, several generations of musicians have been inspired by Tago Mago, a true Magnus Opus, that belongs in every record collection. So does the followup Ege Bamyasi.

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Ege Bamyasi.

Can were on a roll. It seemed they could do no wrong. They released Spoon as a single in 1972. It reached number six in Germany, selling over 300,000 copies. That was helped no end, by the single being used as the theme to a German thriller Das Messer. It seemed nothing could go wrong for Can. The money the made from Spoon, allowed Can to hire disused cinema to record what became Ege Bamyasi.

Can advertised for a space to record their next album, Ege Bamyasi. Recording began in a disused cinema, which doubled as a recording studio and living space. The sessions at Inner Space Studio, in Weilerswist, near Cologne didn’t go well. Irmin Schmidt and Kenji Damo Suzuki took to playing marathon chess sessions. As a result, Can hadn’t enough material for an album. This resulted in Can having to work frantically to complete Ege Bamyasi. Despite this, Can were still short of material. So Spoon was added and Ege Bamyasi was completed.

Ege Bamyasi was a fusion of musical genres. Everything from jazz, ambient, world music, psychedelia, rock and electronica melted into one. When it was Ege Bamyasi released in November 1972, it was to the same critical acclaim as previous albums. Critics were won over by Can’s fourth album which was perceived as a more accessible album than its predecessors. Just like Can’s previous albums, the quality of music was consistent.

Critics hailed Can as one of the few bands capable of creating consistent and pioneering albums. They were one of the most exciting bands of the early seventies. Can were continuing to innovate and influence musicians and music lovers alike. Just like its predecessor, Tago Mago, Ege Bamyasi is an essential part of any self-respecting record collection. Having released two consecutive classic albums and their first single, it seemed nothing could go wrong for Can.

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Future Days.

Despite Tago Mago and Ege Bamyasi being referred to as two of the most influential albums ever released, Holger Czukay prefers Future Days. This is the album he calls “my favourite Can album.” It was the third in Can’s golden quartet, and marked a change in direction from Can.

Future Days saw Can’s music head in the direction of ambient music. The music is atmospheric, dreamy, ethereal, melancholy, expansive and full of captivating, mesmeric rhythms. It’s also pioneering and progressive, with elements of avant-garde, experimental, psychedelia and rock melting into one. Rather than songs, soundscapes describes the four tracks. Future Days and Bel Air showcase Can’s new sound. Bel Air was the Future Day’s epic. It lasted just over nineteen minutes, and sees can take you on an enthralling  musical journey. Just like the rest of Future Days, critics hailed the album a classic.

On its release in August 1973, Future Days was hailed a classic by music critics. The move towards ambient music may have surprised some Can fans. However, Brian Eno was just one artist pioneering ambient music. This move towards ambient music must have pleased Holger’s guru Karlheinz Stockhausen. He must have looked on proudly as Can released the third of a quartet of classic albums. The final album in this quartet, Soon Over Babaluma was released in 1974.

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Soon Over Babaluma.

Soon Over Babaluma marked the end of Can’s golden period. It was the end of a period where they were releasing some of their most innovative and groundbreaking music. There was a change of direction on Soon Over Babaluma. Can were without a vocalist. Kenji Damo Suzuki left Can and married his German girlfriend. He then became a Jehovah’s Witness. Despite the lack of a vocalist, Can continued as a quartet. They released Soon Over Babaluma in November 1974.

When Can released Soon Over Babaluma in November 1974, it received praise from critics. With a myriad of beeps, squeaks and sci-fi sounds, Soon Over Babaluma is like  musical journey into another, 21st Century dimension. A musical tapestry where layers of music are intertwined during five tracks on Soon Over Babaluma. It followed in the ambient footsteps of Future Days and brought to a close the most fruitful period of Can’s career. Following the “golden quartet,” Can didn’t go into decline. Instead, Can continued to reinvent themselves and their music. 

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Landed.

Landed was released in September 1975. It had been recorded between February and April 1975 at Inner Space Studios. Just like previous albums, Can produced Landed. Holger and Tony Robinson mixed the first four tracks at Studio Dierks, Stommeln. The other two tracks were mixed by Holger at Inner Space Studios. These six tracks marked a change of direction from Can. 

As well as a change in direction musically, Landed was the first Can album to be released on Virgin Records. Gone is the ambient sound of Soon Over Babaluma. Only Unfinished on Landed has an ambient influence. Instead, Landed has a poppy, sometimes glam influence. With uptempo, shorter songs, Landed was a much more traditional album. How would the critics react?

Critics were divided about Landed. Some critics saw Landed as the next chapter in the Can story, while others praised the album as adventurous, eclectic and innovative. Others thought Can were conforming. Surely not?

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 Flow Motion.

Flow Motion was Can’s eight album. As usual, it was recorded at Inner Space Studios. Produced by Can, Flow Motion was an album that drew inspiration from everything from funk, reggae, rock and jazz. It was an eclectic, genre-melting album. It’s also one of Holger Czukay’s favourite Can albums. 

Holger remembers Flow Motion as an “Innovative and eclectic” album. He calls it “one of Can’s underrated albums.” Flow Motion also marked a another change in Can’s way of working.

Released in October 1976, Flow Motion featured lyrics written by Peter Gilmour. This was a first. Never before, had anyone outside the band had written for Can. It worked. Can enjoyed their first UK single I Want More. It would later be recorded Fini Tribe and then Italo disco group Galaxis. With what was just their second hit single in seven years, maybe Can were about to make a commercial breakthrough?

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Saw Delight.

Sadly, that wasn’t to be. Saw Delight which was released in March 1977, wasn’t the commercial success many people forecast. That’s despite the new lineup of Can embracing world music. 

Joining Can were bassist Rosko Gee and percussionist and vocalist Rebop Kwaku Baah. They’d previously been members of British rock band Traffic. Rosko Gee replaced Holger on bass. Holger decided to add a percussive element, Holger added a myriad of sound-effects. This was Holger at his groundbreaking best. Experimental sounds including a wave receiver was used. The result was one of the most ambitious albums can had released.

Despite the all-star lineup and a bold, progressive and experimental album, Saw Delight wasn’t a commercial success. It was well received by critics. The problem was, Saw Delight was way ahead of its time. If it had been released in the eighties, like albums by Paul Simon or Peter Gabriel, it would’ve been a bigger commercial success. Sadly, by then Can would be no more. That was still to come. However, things weren’t well within the Can camp.

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Out Of Reach.

Nine years after Can had released their debut album Monster Movie, they released their tenth album, Out Of Reach. It was released in July 1978. The title proved to be a prophetic. After all, commercial success always seemed to elude Can. Not only did Out Of Reach fail commercially, but the Out Of Reach proved to be Can’s most controversial album. 

So much so, that they disowned Out Of Reach. On Out Of Reach Holger was left to add  myriad of sound-effects. Bassist Rosko Gee and percussionist Rebop Kwaku Baah of Traffic returned. They were part of the problem. Holger confirms this.

“During the recording of Out Of Reach, I felt an outsider in my own group. I was on the outside looking in. I was on the margins. All I was doing was add sound-effects.”  For Holger, he felt” his group had been hijacked by Rosko Gee and Rebop Kwaku Baah.” Things got so bad, that Holger quit Can. 

Rosko Gee and Rebop Kwaku Baah dominated Out Of Reach. Gone was the loose, free-flowing style of previous albums. Even Jaki Liebezeit’s play second fiddle to Baah’s overpowering percussive sounds. The only positive thing was a guitar masterclass from Michael Karoli. Apart from this, things weren’t looking good for Can. It was about to get worse though.

The critics rounded on Out Of Reach. They found very little merit in Out Of Reach. Rosko Gee and Rebop Kwaku Baah were rightly blamed for the album’s failure. Even Can disliked Out Of Reach. They later disowned Out Of Reach. Despite this, Rosko Gee and Rebop Kwaku Baah remained members of Can.

Unable to play with the necessary freedom Can were famed for, the two ex-members of Traffic stifled Can. Rebop’s percussion overpowers Jaki’s drums, which have always been part of Can’s trademark sound. At least Michael’s virtuoso guitar solos are a reminder of classic Can. A nod towards Carlos Santana, they showed Can were still capable of moments of genius. There wouldn’t be many more of these. Can would breakup after their next album.

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Can.

Following the failure of Out Of Reach, the members of Can began recording what became Can. Remarkably, Rosko Gee and Rebop Kwaku Baah were still part of Can. Sadly, Holger was not longer a member of Can. He’d left during the making of Out Of Reach. His only involvement was editing Can.

Can, which is sometimes referred to as Inner Space, was released in July 1979. Again, critics weren’t impressed by Can. It received mixed reviews. No longer were Can the critic’s darlings. The music on Can was a fusion of avant-garde, electronica, experimental, psychedelia and rock. Add to that, a myriad of effects including distortion and feedback, and here was an album that divided the opinion of critics. The critics agreed, it was better than Out Of Reach. They agreed that Holger was sadly missed. 

Even Holger’s renowned editing skills couldn’t save Can. Try as he may, he could only work with what he was given. He did his best with Can, which the eleventh album from the group he co-founded. By the time Can was released, Holger “had come to a realisation, that it was time to go his own way.” Holger describes this as “necessary.” 

Can decided to split-up after the release of Can. Sadly, Can was their swan-song. However, even before that, Holger “felt marginalised, this had been the case since he Rosko Gee and Rebop Kwaku Baah became part of Can. They’d hijacked Can.” Now, Holger would embark upon his solo career. 

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The Solo Years Part 1.

Movie!

Holger hadn’t really been making music since 1976. The last two Can albums saw Holger editing the music. So, Holger set about finding “his own sound again.” He’d “been through this with Can,” Now he’d have to do so again. It would be worth it though, when he released his first solo album since 1969s Canaxis 5, Movies.

Recording of Movie! took place at Inner Space Studio, Cologne. This was where Can had recorded the best music of their career. It was like a Can reunion. Jaki Liebezeit played drums on Movie! Irmin Schmidt and Michael Karoli played on Oh Lord, Give Us More Money. Even Baah was drafted in to play organ on Cool In The Pool. Holger threw himself into the project. He recorded Movie! and played guitars, bass, keyboards and synths. Then when the four songs that became Movie! were completed, Holger mixed and produced the album. Movie! saw Holger hailed the comeback King.

Released to critical acclaim, Movies! was hailed as one of the best albums of 1979. It was an eclectic album. Described as variously psychedelic, cinematic, melodic, moody, understated and progressive, here was the next chapter in Holger’s musical career. The one track that everyone agreed was a minor masterpiece was Cool In The Pool. It was Movies’ Magnus Opus.  Holger’s decision to embark upon a solo career had been vindicated. He was back doing what he did best, creating ambitious, groundbreaking and pioneering music. That would continue in 1981, when Holger released On The Way To The Peak Of Normal.

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On The Way To The Peak Of Normal.

For Holger, 1981s’ On The Way To The Peak Of Normal was “one of the albums I’m most proud of. It was also Holger’s first collaboration with Conny Plank. 

Working with Conny Plank Holger remembers, was a revelation. Holger felt Conny was a consummate professional. “Here was someone who understood what I was trying to achieve.” He ensured that I never made music people neither understood, nor wanted to buy. The sessions were organised and disciplined, very difference from the indiscipline of late Can albums.” 

Recording took place in the familiar surroundings of Inner Space Studios, Cologne. The only member of Can were present was Jaki Liebezeit. Other members of the band included Conny Plank and Jah Wobble, who Holger and would collaborate with on the 1982 E.P. Full Circle and the 1983 Snake Charmer E.P. They’re two of many collaborations Holger would be involved with. That was still to come.

Before that, Holger released On The Way To The Peak Of Normal in 1981. Just like the early days of Can, Holger was once again, the critic’s darling.

Critics were won over by On The Way To The Peak Of Normal. The album was a fusion of ambient, avant-garde, electronic, experimental, funk, industrial, jazz, psychedelia and rock. Genre-melting describes an album of bold, challenging, innovative, inventive and influential music. It was a case of expect the unexpected on On The Way To The Peak Of Normal, which saw Holger continue to create groundbreaking music. Here, was one of the most inventive albums Holger had recorded.

Although Holger had been making music for three decades, he still had plenty to say musically. That would continue throughout the rest of the eighties, with his various collaborations and his 1984 album Der Osten ist Rot.

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 Der Osten ist Rot.

There was a three-year gap between On The Way To The Peak Of Normal and Der Osten ist Rot. During that period, Holger was busy collaborating with other artists. A new generation of artists discovering his music, and Holger was discovering their music. 

He remembers spending time with Conny Plank in Cologne. Devo and the Eurythmics had been working with Conny. Holger was able to spend time in their company. One night, Holger remembers “Devo jamming, and they asked me to join them. I was impressed by their discipline and stability. It was a pleasure to play with them. Compared to Can in the end, it was totally different and a great experience. Especially with the Eurythmics watching.” Conny Plank, Holger remembers, was a hugely important influence on him and his music.

When recording of Der Osten ist Rot began at  Inner Space Studios, Cologne, there was still a Can influence. Holger had written six songs and cowrote three with Jaki Liebezeit of Can. Jaki also played drums, piano, trumpet and organ. Conny played synths and Michy took charge of vocal duties. Together, they played their part in another groundbreaking album from Holger Czukay.

Released in 1984, critics welcomed another ambitious and groundbreaking album. The combination of Holger, Conny Plank and Jaki Liebezeit had proved a powerful partnership. This is apparent when you listen to Der Osten Ist Rot, which remarkably, was released thirty years ago. Ambitious, progressive and eclectic, Holger and his band weave musical genres. They become something other artists will never have envisaged. These artists however, aren’t a visionary like Holger Czukay. That’s obvious on Der Osten Ist Rot, and its followup.

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Rome Remains Rome.

The followup to Der Osten Ist Rot, Rome Remains Rome it would feature a tantalising taste of a musical pioneer who at that time, was at the peak of his powers. That’s apparent on Rome Remains Rome.

Rome Remains Rome saw Holger joined by some familiar faces. This included two of Holger’s old friends from Can, guitarist Michael Karoli and drummer Jaki Liebezeit. Bassist Jah Wobble completed what was a fearsome rhythm section. They provided the heartbeat to Rome Remains Rome, which was released in 1987.

On its release in 1987, Rome Remains Rome saw the continued reinvention of Holger Czukay.  Rome Remains Rome was a fusion of art rock, avant-garde, electronica, experimental and rock. Determined not to stand still, Holger takes you on a mesmeric, genre-melting musical adventure.

Veering between musical genres, the album is like a musical tapestry. Layers of music go into the making of  Rome Remains Rome. Again, it’s a case of expect the unexpected. No wonder.  Holger as always, was a musical chameleon. That’s why no two Holger Czukay albums are the same. Far from it. Holger’s music continued to evolve. That is what one would expect from Holger Czukay, who was by then, one of the most innovative musicians of his generation, Holger Czukay had been rejuvenated since leaving Can and found a new lease of live musically. Despite that, Can were about to hit the comeback trail.

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After the release of Rome Remains Rome, former Japan frontman David Sylvian joined forces with Holger Czukay. The pair released two albums together, Plight and Premonition in 1988, and then  Flux + Mutability in 1989. Both albums were ambitious albums and saw the two musical pioneers combine abstract, ambient and experimental music. This received praise and plaudits from critics. However, the release of Flux + Mutability was somewhat overshadowed by The Return Of Can in 1989.

The Return Of Can.

Rite Time.

In December 1986, Can were reunited, and began work on their comeback album Rite Time in the South of France. Many within the music industry thought that Can would never record another album. However, time seemed to heal the wounds and the five members of Can decided to record their twelfth album.

For the recording sessions, normal service was restored. Can’s lineup featured Jaki Liebezeit, Holger Czukay, Michael Karoli and Irmin Schmidt, who had written eight new songs. They were joined in the studio by the vocalist Malcolm Mooney. However, Rosko Gee and Rebop Kwaku Baah were nowhere to be seen. They were’t part of the reunion that marked the return of Can.

Once the eight songs that would eventually become Rite Time were recorded, three years passed before the album was released. During this period, Can undertook extensive editing of Rite Time. As a result, when the album was eventually released, it was a different album to the one Can had originally envisaged.

Critics on hearing Rite Time, discovered that Can hadn’t tried to replicate their classic sound. That remained firmly in the past. Instead, Can continued to reinvent their music. Especially on songs like Give The Drummer Some, which  showcased Can’s funky side, while the single Hoolah Hoolah was tinged with humour. Only the album closer In The Distance Lies The Future, hints at Can’s previous abstract, ambient sound. While Rite Time wasn’t the finest album of Can’s career, critics thought it was an improvement on Can and Out Of Reach. 

When Rite Time was eventually released in October 1989, the album sold reasonably well. Despite the resurgence of interest in Can’s music and Krautrock in general, the album wasn’t a huge seller. Nor was the single Hoolah Hoolah, which was the last single that Can would release.

The Solo Years Part 2.

Nearly two-year after Can’s brief comeback, Holger returned with a  new solo album in Radio Wave Surfer in 1991. It was much more experimental electronic album, and received mixed reviews from critics. This was a disappointment for Holger, who was concentrating on his solo career now that Can were consigned to the past.

When Holger returned with Moving Pictures in 1993, it was released to widespread critical acclaim. This marked a return to form from Holger Czukay. So did Holger’s seventh album Good Morning Story which was released in 1999. Critics hailed Good Morning Story as one of Holger’s finest albums of recent years. By then, a new generation of musicians and record buyers had discovered Can’s music and Holger Czukay’s earlier solo albums. For Holger, an exciting period of his career has about to begin.

In 2001, Holger returned with a new album La Luna. It featured one extended work, La Luna, an electronic gamelan piece. This was another stylistic departure for Holger, who continued on his mission to innovate. 

This mission continued in 2001, when Holger and U-She released the first of two albums together. U-She was the alias of Ursula Schüring née Kloss who was by then, Holger’s wife. They released two critically acclaimed albums together, Time and Tide in 2001 and The New Millennium in 2003. The two albums were very different to Holger’s previous albums, and ranged from the ambient, experimental , new age sound and pop on Time and Tide to the dance-floor friendly sound of  The New Millennium. It introduced Holger Czukay and Can’s music to a new and wider audience.

Over the next few years, Holger continued to collaborate with a variety of artists. However, in 2007  Holger and his wife Ursula Schüring released a new album together. This time they were billed as Holger Czukay and Ursa Major when they released 21st Century a marriage of synth pop and experimental music. This was a new departure for Holger who was sixty-nine, and hadn’t lost any of his enthusiasm for music. 

Especially when discussing Can,who nowadays, are  regarded as one of the founding father’s of Krautrock. Holger playing and edited  Can’s golden quartet of Tago Mago, Ege Bamyasi, Future Days and  Soon Over Babaluma. Despite playing such an important part in Can’s golden quartet of classic albums, Holger almost plays down what he has achieved. Later, when Holger  enthuses about his solo career, it’s obvious that he feels his solo albums have been overlooked. That was certainly the case for a while.

Not any more. More recently, Holger’s solo albums have been reevaluated and have started to find a new audience. This is very different to when Holger released his solo album. Back then, Holger had been a member of Can, who were one of the biggest and most innovative bands in musical history. As a result,  Holger solo albums were  always going be compared against Can’s albums, and especially golden quartet. Now though, a new generation of record buyers and bands have discovers  Holger’s solo albums and of course, Can’s music.

Nowadays, Can’s music and Holger’s solo albums still influence and inspired this lasted  generation of band. They’re the latest generation who reference Can as one of their main influences. Holger on hearing this, quietly and modestly said “nice.” “We never expected that. We were just a poor man’s band making music.” He admits that: “when we made albums like Tago Mago and Ege Bamyasi,  we knew these albums were good, special even. However, we never knew the effect they would have. It’s incredible. I’m proud to have been a part of that.” Holger was part of a wider musical movement, and one that even today, continues to influence musicians worldwide…Krautrock.

Can were one of the founding fathers of the nascent Krautrock movement in the late-sixties and were pioneers of the new genre through the seventies. Nowadays, Can are regarded as one of the holy trinity of Krautrock during the seventies. Holger remembers “spending time with the members of Neu! Sadly, we never got the opportunity to play together. That’s a regret. We didn’t even share a bill.” There’s a sense of sadness in Holger’s voice at the thought of two giants of German music sharing the same stage. 

“Now back then, Kraftwerk were a very different band. They were just an ordinary band, not the art band they’ve become. Their music was very different, especially when you listen to their first two albums.” Holger isn’t envious of Kraftwerk’s success. He seems proud to have known them, and seen them play, before they changed direction. Looking back, the Holy Trinity of German music are all success stories. They’ve all played an important part in modern music. Can, Neu and Kraftwerk were all innovators, who influenced several generations of musicians and music lovers. They’ll continue to do so. However, what if Can were a new band nowadays ?

Holger says: “would I like be to starting Can today?. No. I’m happy we founded our poor man’s band when we did. We achieved more than we ever expected.”  I mentioned the technology available to bands nowadays? He seems happy that Can had to “make do, mend and innovate.” Holger is also a huge fan of “analogue equipment and vinyl.” He recommends that “people should listen to Can on vinyl. That’s how the music was meant to be heard back then. We recorded our music with vinyl in mind, not eight-track, cassettes or compact discs.” Holger is disparaging about compact discs and is far from a fan of their sound.  Instead, Holger is an advocate of vinyl’s superior sound.  “You must buy the albums on vinyl. The music comes alive.” 

That was the case in 2016, when Holger Czukay’s 1979 sophomore album Movies was reissued and renamed Movie. It’s without doubt Holger Czukay’s finest solo album, and features musical maverick and innovator Holger Czukay pushing boundaries to their limits as he ensures his music stays relevant. This was what Holger Czukay spent a lifetime doing, and why he enjoyed such a long and successful career.

Many young and up-and-coming musicians and bands could learn a lot from Holger Czukay and Can the band he cofounded in 1968. Holger Czukay’s advice to new bands was: “find your own sound.” That what Karlheinz Stockhausen told Holger to do. “It’s  what Can did,  and I then had do so as a solo artist.” This advice set stood Holger Czukay in good stead during a career that spanned six decades and forty-nine years.

During his long and illustrious career, Holger Czukay created groundbreaking music. That was the case with Can, and then when Holger Czukay embarked upon a career solo artist and collaborated with a new generation of artists. This resulted in Holger Czukay’s music finding a new and wider audience. So much so, that by 2017, Holger Czukay’s music was more popular than ever. Sadly, on the ‘5th’ of September 2017, Holger Czukay one of the cofounders of Can and the founding fathers of Krautrock passed away  at Can Studio aged seventy-nine. That day music lost one of its true pioneers.

The late, great Holger Czukay will be much missed by everyone who ever came into contact with him. This includes his fans, fellow musicians and everyone who was fortunate enough to meet and interview this charming and engaging man. Unlike many musicians Holger Czukay was also a humble man who played down his achievements, rather than talking them. Holger Czukay had achieved more than most, and leaves behind a rich musical legacy.

That musical legacy includes Can’s sophomore album Soundtracks and their golden quartet of of Tago Mago, Ege Bamyasi, Future Days and  Soon Over Babaluma, plus solo albums like Movies, On The Way To The Peak Of Normal and Rome Remains Rome. They’re a reminder of an innovative and pioneering musician Holger Czukay, at the  peak of his musical powers. Whether it was with Can, or as a solo artist, Holger Czukay wasn’t afraid to push musical boundaries to their limits, and sometimes, way beyond. That is what one expects from a maverick musician like Holger Czukay. 

Throughout his long and successful career, he released some of the most ambitious, innovative, inspiring and influential music of the past fifty years. Right up until his death, Holger Czukay was a true musical visionary who was way ahead of his time. That is why in the future, the music of Holger Czukay and Can will continue to stand the test of time and influence a new generation of musicians. They’ll continue to be inspired and influenced by a true mmusical maverick and innovator Holger Czukay, who was one of the founding fathers of Krautrock and released several classic albums with Can and a string of critically acclaimed solo albums. 

The Life and Times Of Musical Maverick and Innovator Holger Czukay.

THE MONKEES’ PSYCHEDELIC YEARS AND BEYOND.

The Monkees Psychedelic Years and Beyond.

On September the ‘8th’ 1965, the Daily Variety contained an advert that said: “Folk & Roll Musicians-Singers for acting roles in new TV series.” This was a new sitcom that had been written by Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider about a struggling rock band from Los Angeles. The new sitcom would follow the adventures of Micky, Davy, Michael, and Peter as they searched for their big break. 437 musicians looking for their big break responded to the advert.

Eventually, Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider whittled their way through the hopeful applicants, and settled on three Americans Micky Dolenz, Michael Nesmith, Peter Tork and British actor and singer Davy Jones. They became The Monkees, which Mickey Dolenz later described as: “a TV show about an imaginary band … that wanted to be The Beatles, [but] that was never successful.” 

While The Monkees never replicated the success of The Beatles,  Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider’s television show proved popular in America and further afield. It ran for three series’ between 1966 and 1968, with Americans tuning in to fifty-eight episodes that followed the adventures of Micky, Davy, Michael, and Peter. During this period, The Monkees were one of the biggest selling bands in America. 

The Monkees recording career began in October 1966 with their eponymous debut album, and lasted four years. Less than four years later, The Monkees released their swan-song Changes, in June 1970. Within a year, The Monkees has split-up after releasing nine album in less than four years. 

These albums divided the opinion of critics, cultural commentators and record buyers, and continue to do so, forty-six years after The Monkees originally split-up. Some critics and record buyers regard The Monkees’ music as perfect pop, while others claim it as nothing more than bubblegum pop or manufactured pop. Both sides are firmly entrenched in their views about the merits or otherwise of The Monkees’ music. However, an oft-overlooked side of The Monkees’ career is their psychedelic era between 1966 and 1968. This was when The Monkees released some of the most memorable  music of their career. Before that, The Monkees released their debut single.

When The Monkees released Last Train To Clarksville as their debut single on ‘18th’ August, the single started climb the charts, and reached number one in Canada and on the US Billboard 100. This was enough to give The Monkees their first gold disc in America. However, tucked away on the B-Side of the single was a taste of the psychedelic side of The Monkees, Take A Giant Step. It would feature on The Monkees’ eponymous debut album.

The Monkees.

Just a month after The Monkees released their debut single, they released their debut album The Monkees in September 1966. Reviews of the album were mixed, with some critics still not convinced that The Monkees were a serious band. However, the positive reviews outnumbered the negative reviews of The Monkees. It started climbing the charts, and reached number one in Britain, Canada and on the US Billboard 200. The Monkees sold five million copies in America alone, and was certified platinum five times. Micky, Davy, Michael, and Peter’s debut album had proven popular and appealed to a wide range of record buyers.

It wasn’t just fans of pop and rock that were won over by The Monkees. So were fans of psychedelic music. The Monkees’ psychedelic side first emerged on their eponymous debut album. Goffin and King’s Take A Giant Step and David Gates’ Saturday’s Child showcased the psychedelic sound of The Monkees, which was very different to other songs on the album. Maybe The Monkees had designs on becoming a serious band?

More Of The Monkees.

Just four months after the release of The Monkees, America’s version of the Fab Four returned with their sophomore album More Of The Monkees in January 1967. By then, what had been dubbed Monkeemania was in full swing. As a result, More Of The Monkees was rushed out to capitalise on the band’s popularity. This showed, and More Of The Monkees proved not to be the band’s finest hour.

Critics weren’t won over by More Of The Monkees, and their reviews reflected this. They weren’t alone. The Monkees weren’t happy with their contribution to More Of The Monkees. It consisted of adding the vocals, and very occasionally playing the instruments that they were meant to be playing. Mostly, though, the interments were played by members of the Wrecking Crew who stood in for The Monkees. They weren’t happy about this and wanted full artistic control.

Three weeks after the release of More Of The Monkees, Michael Nesmith began lobbying the creators of The Monkees to play their instruments on future records. Don Kirshner who had been brought onboard to secure music for The Monkees was against the idea of The Monkees playing their instruments on future records.Things came to a head a heated meeting between The Monkees, Don Kirshner and Colgems lawyer Herb Moelis. At one point, Michael Nesmith threatened to leave The Monkees. Given the album sales, there was only going to be one winner.

From their third album, The Monkees, not members of the Wrecking Crew would play their instruments. Executives at the Colgems label were scared of upsetting the cash cow that was The Monkees. While More Of The Monkees wasn’t the band’s finest hour, it reached number one in Britain, Norway, Canada and America. More Of The Monkees sold five million copies and was certified platinum five times over. This was pretty good for an album that many considered to be rushed out to cash in on the popularity of Monkeemania.

One of the finest songs on More Of The Monkees is She, which was penned by Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart. Micky Dolenz adds a vocal on She, which featured The Monkees at their most lysergic. The psychedelic sound of The Monkees would return on their third album, Headquarters.

Headquarters.

Four months after the release of More Of The Monkees, came the release of The Monkees’ third album Headquarters in May 1967. Headquarters which was produced by Chip Douglas, was the first album where The Monkees enjoyed full artistic control over their music. This came at a price.

After the dismissal of Don Kirshner, the songs that he had supervised were discarded. They wouldn’t feature on the album. Instead, it would only feature tracks where The Monkees enjoyed full artistic control. Still, though, session musicians were occasionally used, but they seemed to be a thing of the past.

Another difference was that much of the albums was written by members of The Monkees. This included the Micky Dolenz penned Randy Scouse Git and For Pete’s Sake which was written by Peter Tork and Joey Richards. Both songs were sung by Micky Dolenz and featured the psychedelic side of The Monkees. The strongest of the two tracks was For Pete’s Sake, which marked the start of a  new era for The Monkees.

While most of the reviews of Headquarters were positive, some critics weren’t impressed by the first album where The Monkees enjoyed full artistic control. They felt some of the songs penned by members of The Monkees shouldn’t have made the cut. They wouldn’t if Don Kirshner had been around,and already it was apparent that his loss cost The Monkees dearly.

When Headquarters was released in May 1967 the album reached number two in Britain and Norway. In North America, Headquarters reached number one in Canada and in the US Billboard 100. However, the album sales were way down, with Headquarters selling ‘just’ two million copies. While this resulted in Headquarters being certified double platinum, the album had sold three million copies less than More Of The Monkees. To make matters worse, when Randy Scouse Git was released as a single, it never came close to troubling the charts. The Monkees had learnt an expensive lesson from Headquarters, that full artistic control came at a cost.

Two months after the release of Headquarters, The Monkees released a cover of Goffin and King’s Pleasant Valley Sunday as a single in July 1967. This example of perfect pop was one of the finest songs of The Monkees’ psychedelic era. It reached number three and was the fourth Monkees single to be certified gold. Maybe The Monkees’ luck was starting to change?

Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn and Jones Ltd.

There was no let up for The Monkees, who returned with another album in November 1967, Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn and Jones Ltd. It was a quite different album from Headquarters.

Unlike Headquarters, where seven out of the twelve songs were written by members of The Monkees, only three of thirteen songs were written by the band. The remainder was cover versions, including songs written by successful songwriters and songwriting partnerships. This included Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart’s Words, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil’s Love Is Only Sleeping and Goffin and King’s Star Collector. They were joined by Goffin and King’s Pleasant Valley Sunday. These songs would showcase the psychedelic side of The Monkees.

When they came to record Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn and Jones Ltd, session musicians were drafted in. They had featured to some extent on Headquarters, but played a bigger part in the recording of Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn and Jones Ltd. This made sense, as they weren’t accomplished enough musicians to record an entire album. The Monkees played their instruments on some of the songs, but elsewhere on the album, session musicians took their place. However, as the years went by, The Monkees improved as musicians.

The Chip Douglas produced Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn and Jones Ltd was released in November 1967, and was well received by most of the critics. However, The Monkees had their critics, who saw the them as nothing more than a made for television band. That was unfair, as The Monkees had just released one of the best albums, and an album that pioneered the use of the Moog synth. 

While Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn and Jones Ltd was released, it reached number five in Britain, four in Norway and three in Canada. In America, it became The Monkees’ fourth album to reach number one. However, Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn and Jones Ltd ‘only’ sold two million copies in America, and was certified double platinum. Maybe The Monkees’ popularity had peaked? 

The Birds, The Bees and The Monkees.

Five months after the release of Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn and Jones Ltd, The Monkees returned with their fifth album The Birds, The Bees and The Monkees. It marked the start of a new era for The Monkees, who had rung the changes in their pursuit of full artistic control. The Monkees had dispensed with the services of producer Chip Douglas, who had produced  The Monkees first four albums. This was a huge risk.

By the time The Birds, The Bees and The Monkees was released, The Monkees television show had been cancelled. As a result, The Monkees were concentrating all their efforts on their music. Deep down, they wanted to be seen as a serious band. However, still, many critics and record buyers saw The Monkees as a manufactured, made for television band. They hoped that The Birds, The Bees and The Monkees would convince their critics that there was much more to them than that.

For their fifth album, members of The Monkees wrote six of the twelve tracks. This included Tapioca Tundra which was penned by Michael Nesmith. When it was recorded, The Monkees fused psychedelia and country. During the sessions, The Monkees continued to employ session musicians, who added backing vocals on some tracks. This was playing into the hands of The Monkees’ critics, who continued to accuse them of not being a ‘proper’ band. Their fans pointed The Monkees were a successful band, whose first four albums had sold in excess of fourteen million albums.

Before the release of The Birds, The Bees and The Monkees, critics had their say. The reviews were mixed, and again, there was no consensus amongst the critics. Some of the reviews were positive, while other were critical of The Monkees’ fifth album and the first they had produced themselves. With no consensus amongst the critics,record buyers had the casting vote.

The perfect pop of Daydream Believer was chosen as the lead single, and released in October 1967, It reached number one on the US Billboard 100 and was certified gold. Alas, Daydream Believer was the last of The Monkees’ nineteen singles to top the charts. However, the success of Daydream Believer augured well for the release of When The Birds, The Bees and The Monkees.

When The Birds, The Bees and The Monkees was released in April 1968, it failed to replicate the success of previous albums. The album failed to trouble the charts in Britain, where The Monkees had always been popular. It was a similar case in Canada, where The Birds, The Bees and The Monkees stalled at number six. In America, The Monkees was hoping that The Birds, The Bees and The Monkees would give them their fifth consecutive number one album. It was a case of close but no cigar, when The Birds, The Bees and The Monkees reached number three in the US Billboard 200.  For The Monkees this was another disappointment. Especially when they heard that the album had sold just over a million copies. While this was enough for a platinum disc, it was a far cry from when both The Monkees and More Of The Monkees sold five million copies. Monkeemania it seemed, was now a thing of the past.

Maybe not? In February 1968, The Monkees released Valleri as the second single from The Birds, The Bees and The Monkees. The followup to Daydream Believer reached number three in the US Billboard 100 and was certified gold. Little did The Monkees realise that Valleri was their last single to be certified gold.

The followup to Valleri was D. W. Washburn, which was released   in June 1968. However, it stalled at number nineteen in the US Billboard 100. This was a sign of what was to come

Head.

Four months later, and The Monkees returned with a new single in October 1968. The song that had been chosen was Goffin and King’s Porpoise Song, which featured on the soundtrack to Head. The Monkees had been asked to provide the soundtrack, and with a few friends created a soundtrack that mixed satire and darkness. Porpoise Song was a taste of what The Monkees had in store for their fans. However, the single stalled at a lowly sixty-two in the US Billboard 100, and became the second least successful single when it stalled at a lowly sixty-two in the US Billboard 100. This was worrying as Head was due to be released in late 1968.

Just like their previous albums, reviews of Head were mixed and there was no consensus among critics. While some critics loved  the albums, others loathed it. This was nothing new. However, Head was the first soundtrack album The Monkees had recorded, and it featured six songs, including the lysergic Porpoise Song. It’s one of the best songs on Head. These six songs were joined by Ken Thorne’s incidental music, dialogue fragments, and sound effects from the film. As a result, it was very different to previous albums and it was unfair to compare Head to The Monkees’ studio albums. That was what the critics had done.

On the release of Head in December 1968, the album stalled a lowly forty-five in the US Billboard and twenty-four in Canada. This was the lowest chart placing in either country. Across the Atlantic in Britain, Head was the second album that failed to trouble the charts. This was a worrying time for The Monkees.

Not long after the release of Head, Peter Tork left The Monkees, citing exhaustion. The Monkees had recorded six albums in less than three years. They also filmed three series of the television series The Monkees and toured extensively. It was no wonder Peter Tork was exhausted. However, leaving The Monkees proved costly, as he had four years remaining on his contract. After paying a large, six figure sum of money, Peter Tork was no longer a monkey. However, he would feature on The Monkees’ swan-song Good Times!

Instant Replay.

Just four months after the release of Head in 1968, The Monkees returned with their seventh studio album Instant Replay in February 1969. Instant Replay was the first album The Monkees released after the departure of Peter Tork, and was the only one of the nine original studio albums that hadn’t featured in the original TV series.

By the tine work began on Instant Replay, Brendan Cahill had been appointed The Monkees’ new musical supervisor.  He was tasked with transforming the group’s fortunes. Brendan Cahill decided to look into The Monkees’ vaults for  songs that had been recorded when they were in the musical prime. This Brendan Cahill hoped would restore the group to the top of the US Billboard 200.

Eventually, Brendan Cahill settled on twelve songs that would become Instant Replay. These songs included Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart’s Through the Looking Glass, Don’t Listen To Linda, Me Without You and Tear Drop City. Two Goffin and King songs  Won’t Be the Same Without Her and A Man Without a Dream joined Carol Bayer Sager and Neil Sedaka’s The Girl I Left Behind Me.  The three remaining original members of the Monkees penned the rest of the album, Micky Dolenz wrote Just a Game and Shorty Blackwell, while  Michael Nesmith contributed Don’t Wait For Me and While I Cry. Davy Jones wrote You and I with Bill Chadwick. This mixture of cover songs and original material had been recorded over a period of thirty-one months.

Brendan Cahill chose some songs recorded in the summer of 1966 by the original lineup of The Monkees. They joined new songs recorded in 1968 and 1969, including A Man Without a Dream and Someday Man were produced by Bones Howe and recorded at Wally Heider’s studio. Bones Howe brought onboard some of the Wrecking Crew to accompany The Monkees. Eventually, Instant Replay was completed, it featured of twelve songs recorded between July 1960 and January 1969.

When Instant Replay was released in February 1969, reviews of the album were mixed. Its mixture of pop, psychedelia and rock didn’t receive the same reception as previous albums. This was a disappointment for The Monkees. 

When it came to releasing a lead single from Instant Replay, Brendan Cahill chose Tear Drop City, which was one of the songs from The Monkees’ vaults. Brendan Cahill decided to increase the tempo nine percent changing the song’s key from G to A-flat. Alas, that didn’t  help Tear Drop City which stalled at fifty-six in the US Billboard 1o0 and forty-seven in the UK. For The Monkees this was another disappointment. Things didn’t get much better when Instant Replay was released, and reached just thirty-two in the US Billboard 200, forty-five in Canada and twenty-six in Japan. This was another disappointment for The Monkees, who were no longer as popular as they had once been. Proof of this was the followup single to Tear Drop City was Someday Man, which reached eighty-one in the US Billboard 1o0 and forty-four in the UK. It was beginning to look as if The Monkees’ career was at a crossroads.

The Monkees Present.

By the time The Monkees began work on their eighth album The Monkees Present, which is sometimes known as The Monkees Present Micky, David, Michael, their popularity had peaked. As a result, Screen Gems were no longer as interested in The Monkees, who were no longer the cash cow they had once been. This resulted in The Monkees being left to their own devices when it came to producing the The Monkees Present.

Originally, The Monkees Present was meant to be a double album, which devoted one side to the album to each member of  The Monkees. That was until Peter Tork left The Monkees. To make matters worse, by the time it came to record the album, Michael Nesmith, Micky Dolenz and Davy Jones had all embarked upon solo careers. As a result, a decision was made that The Monkees Present would be a single album.

For The Monkees Present,  Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart only contributed Looking For The Good Time and Ladies Aid Society. They joined Michael Martin Murphey’s Oklahoma Backroom Dancer and Janelle Scott and Matt Willis’ Pillow Time. The rest of the album was penned by The Monkees, with Michael Nesmith contributing Good Clean Fun, Never Tell A Woman Yes and Listen To The Band. Micky Dolenz wrote Mommy and Daddy and cowrote Bye Bye Baby Bye Bye with Ric Klein. Davy Jones wrote If I Knew with  Bill Chadwick who penned French Song. These songs became The Monkees Present.

Just like Instant Replay, some of the songs had been recorded between August and  October 1966, when The Monkees were in their prime. The rest of the album was recorded between June 1968 and August 1969. The result was an album that combined it was hoped combined classic Monkees with their new music. Surely this would be a winning formula?

Sadly, that wasn’t the case when The Monkees Present was released in October 1969.  Critics weren’t impressed by what was one of The Monkees’ weakest album. They had eschewed their psychedelic sound and switched between  country rock, folk rock, pop and rock. The Monkees Present  wasn’t the most cohesive album The Monkees  had released, and was slightly disjointed. This didn’t bode well for the release of The Monkees Present.

Things didn’t get any better when the lead single Listen To The Band stalled at sixty-three in the US Billboard 100. Then when The Monkees Present was released in early October 1969 it stalled at a lowly 100 in the US Billboard 200, and became The Monkees’ least successful album. Adding to The Monkees’ woes was the single Good Clean Fun  struggling to eighty-three in the US Billboard 100. For The Monkees this was a worrying time.

Just when The Monkees thought things couldn’t get any worse, Michael Nesmith left the band. This left just Davy Jones and Micky Dolenz to fulfil The Monkees’ recording contract. 

Changes.

With just Davy Jones and Micky Dolenz remaining, recording The Monkees ninth studio album wasn’t going to be easy. However, the two remaining Monkees were reunited with producer Jeff Barry who cowrote much of the material on Changes.

Of the twelve songs on Changes, Jeff Barry wrote or cowrote six of them. He penned 99 Pounds and Tell Me Love and cowrote On My My, Do You Feel It Too and I Love You Better with Canadian singer-songwriter wrote Andy Kim. Jeff Barry and  Bobby Bloom wrote Ticket on a Ferry Ride and You’re So Good to Me. The Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart songwriting partnership contributed I Never Thought It Peculiar while Ned Albright and Steven Soles wrote Acapulco Sun and All Alone In The Dark. They joined Neil Goldberg’s It’s Got To Be Love and Micky Dolenz’s Midnight Sun on Changes.

Just like The Monkees two previous albums, Changes was a mixture of old and new songs. Some songs were recorded during sessions that place in October 1966 with others recorded in January and February 1967. The Monkees had recorded other songs between  July  and September 1969 and then  returned to the studio between February and April 1970. This allowed Colgems Records, a division of Columbia Records to put out an album as cheaply as possible. The only problem was the risk that it wouldn’t sound like a cohesive album when it was released in June 1970.

When critics heard Changes, they weren’t overly impressed with what was an essentially an album of bubblegum pop. Just like The Monkees two previous albums, Changes wash’t a cohesive album, and sounded like an assortment of tracks from the past four years. Even two remaining Monkees weren’t fans of Changes. Davy Jones called it his: “least favourite Monkees album” and  said he had: “terrible memories of making Changes.” By then, The Monkees was over as a group, and Davy Jones and Micky Dolenz were merely fulfilling contractual obligations,

The Monkees went out with a whimper when Oh My My struggled into the lower reaches of the US Billboard 100 at ninety-eight. Then when Changes was released in June 1970, it stalled at 152 in the US Billboard 200. This was a new low for The Monkees.

On September ‘22nd’ 1970, Davy Jones and Micky Dolenz recorded what was their swan-song as The Monkees. That day, they recorded Do It In The Name of Love and Lady Jane. However, Do It in the Name Of Love wasn’t mixed until February ‘ 9th’ 1971, and was released as a single later in 1971. However, Do It in the Name Of Love failed to chart and this was an inauspicious ending to The Monkees’ story.

The Monkees split-up in late 1971, and everyone thought that this was the end of a group who for five years, had divided the opinion of critics, cultural commentators and even music fans. However, in 1976, Davy Jones and Micky Dolenz reformed the band and brought onboard  Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart to makeup America’s once fab four.  This was the first of several Monkees reunions and revivals that have taken place over the past forty years. 

During their comebacks, The Monkees have recorded three new albums, including 1987s Pool It! ,1996s Justus and Good Times! in 2016. It was the album that saw The Monkees revisit their psychedelic sound,

 

Good Times!

After the commercial failure of Head, The Monkees didn’t  revisit their psychedelic side until 2016, when they were celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of their eponymous debut album. To celebrate the anniversary, a new album was commissioned, which became Good Times!

This was the twelfth album of The Monkees career, and the first album since the death of Peter Tork. He appears posthumously on Little Girl, alongside the remaining Monkees Micky Dolenz, Michael Nesmith and Peter on Good Times! It’s one of thirteen songs on Good Times!, which reached number twelve in the US Billboard 200. 

The songs on Good Times! are a mixture of old new and old. Some of the songs are penned by giants of music including the late, great Harry Nilsson and Neil Diamond. Others were written by successful songwriting partnerships like Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart and the legendary Goffin and King. One of the new songs, Birth Of An Accidental Hipster,  was written by Noel Gallagher and Paul Weller and finds The Monkees revisiting their psychedelic side one last time.

The Monkees psychedelic years began in 1966 and lasted until 1969. However, it was between 1966 and 1968 that The Monkees released the best psychedelic music of their career. That coincides with what was the most successful period of The Monkees career. 

Some of the psychedelic music The Monkees made between 1966 and 1968 wasn’t overtly psychedelic. Instead, they find The Monkees moving in the direction of psychedelia. Maybe this was The Monkees seeking credibility in the eyes of critics and record buyers? 

Despite their dalliances with psychedelia, The Monkees never fully embraced the genre like other sixties bands. Maybe it was a relationship that lacked commitment? The Monkees certainly never released a psychedelic masterpiece. However, during their occasional dalliances with psychedelia, The Monkees created several memorable moments, including Pleasant Valley Sunday, and underrated songs like Take A Giant Step, She, Love Is Only, Star Collector and Tapioca Tundra. These songs are a reminder of some of the finest moments of The Monkees’ dalliance with psychedelia.

While The Monkees may have never fully embraced psychedelia like many other sixties bands, ironically, this worked in their favour. The music on their first five albums, including the psychedelic side of The Monkees was accessible and was hugely popular, selling fifteen million copies in America alone. However, by December 1968, The Monkees had already enjoyed the most successful years of their career. 

In America six of The Monkees singles had been certified gold, while one album of their albums had been certified platinum, two double platinum and The Monkees and More Of The Monkees had been certified platinum five times over. Never again would The Monkees reach these heights again. 

The Monkees split-up in 1971, and later, made several comebacks. They even recorded three albums, including their swan-song Good Times! in 2016. By then, The Monkees had released nineteen singles, twelve studio albums and six live albums between 1966 and 2016. However, still, the most successful period of The Monkees  career was between 1966 and 1968.

For just over two years, The Monkees were one of the biggest bands in America. They had found a winning formula, with albums that featured pop, rock and sometimes psychedelia. The psychedelic side of The Monkees is oft-overlooked and makes a welcome appearance on Summer Of Love which documents what were the Good Times! for America’s very own Fab Four.

The Monkees Psychedelic Years and Beyond.

 

 

 

 

 

AVANT GARDE IS HAPPENING.

Avant Garde Is Happening,

Label: Dirter Promotions.

For many people who are passionate about avant-garde music, The Avant Garde Festival in Schiphorst, Germany, was “three days of utopia.” It was a chance to discover new and innovative music and meet with likeminded people. They enjoyed the opportunity to see some of the leading lights of the avant-garde scene, including Faust, Nurse With Wound, Peter Blegvad, Dagmar Krause, Ampersand, Bo Ningen, Damo Suzuki and Elena Wolay between 2009 and 2014. Sadly, by 2014 The Avant Garde Festival was struggling financially.

The organisers had to face the harsh reality that The Avant Garde Festival couldn’t sustain itself financially. The losses were too high for The Avant Garde Festival to continue. An announcement was made that there would be no Avant Garde Festival on 2015.

That looked like the end of the line for Europe’s premier avant-garde festival. Especially when The Avant Garde Festival didn’t return in 2016. After a two-year absence, it was unlikely that The Avant Garde Festival would return. This was hugely disappointing for artists and those that had regularly attended the previous The Avant Garde Festivals.

Just when it looked like The Avant Garde Festival was gone for good, an announcement was made about its future. This was a call to arms, and asked artists, attendees and organisers to become for the future of The Avant Garde Festival. This was just like the happenings in the sixties, with everyone working together for the future of The Avant Garde Festival. 

Part of the call to arms was the launch of a crowdfunding campaign, which hoped to raise €35,000. The organisers made it clear that the more money that was raised, the more that could happen at the weekend of the summer solstice in 2017. There was two caveats though, with the crowdfunding campaign having to raise 30% of the €35,000 target to cover what was described as basic needs. After the 30% was raised, the organisers would improvise, and book more artists for The Avant Garde Festival in June 2017. However, the organisers warned that if only 80% of €35,000 was raised, the price of food and drinks would’ve to be raised. It seemed that organisers were determined to live within their means and would only put on The Avant Garde Festival they could afford.

The crowdfunding proved successful and the press were told that Avant Garde was happening. This was a relief for everyone who had worked towards The Avant Garde Festival taking place during the solstice weekend at Schiphorst, Germany. Between the ‘23rd’ and ‘25th’ June 2017 The Avant Garde Festival would make a welcome  comeback.

Curating The Avant Garde Festival in 2017 was Jeanne-Marie Varain who curated The Avant Garde Festival in 2014 and has returned to curate the event’s welcome comeback. They’ve had put together an impressive line up that included Asmus Tietchens, Friederike Jäger, Faust, Pas Musique, Elena Wolay and Basswald. This was one of the strongest lineup The Avant Garde Festival had ever had. Those who attended The Avant Garde Festival were in for a weekend to cherish.

When festival goers arrived at the site of The Avant Garde Festival in Schiphorst, Germany, they discovered that a new CD Avant Garde Is Happening, had just been released by Dirter Promotions to celebrate and coincide the re-emergence of the festival that promised “three days of utopia.” Avant Garde Is Happening whose full title is Avant Garde Is Happening Because Collaborations Are Happening As Long As The Desire To Interact Fuels Our Hearts We Will Find Swarms That Build Moments And Space To Shelter The Worlds That We Are is a limited edition CD. Only 500 CDs were pressed, and those that didn’t sell at The Avant Garde Festival over the solstice weekend have just gone on sale. It’s a case of get them while you can, and discover some of the leading lights of the avant-garde scene on Avant Garde Is Happening.

There’s a total of sixteen tracks on  Avant Garde Is Happening, including contributions from Qluster, Asmus Tietchens, V!V!V!, Giardini, Ronny Wærnes, Nurse With Wound, Octopus Ride, Dieter Bornzero Bornschlegel, Faust and Friederike Jäger. This is an impressive array of talent is the perfect primer to the avant-garde scene.

Opening Avant Garde Is Happening is track from Qluster who were founded by Krautrock pioneer Hans-Joachim Roedelius and follow in the footsteps of his Kluster and Cluster. Both groups were pioneer and released ambitious and groundbreaking music. Qluster is no different, and have already released six albums between 2011 and 2016. However, Jaki3 doesn’t feature on any of Qluster’s previous albums. It has a dark, dramatic and ominous cinematic sound and is a tantalising taste of the type of music Qluster have been making since 2011. 

Soltau Mitte is Asmus Tietchens’ contribution to Avant Garde Is Happening. Just like Hans-Joachim Roedelius,  Asmus Tietchens is another of German music’s pioneers, and throughout his long and illustrious career he has pursued what he describes as “absolute music.” To create this “absolute music,” has adopted an almost mathematical process of rigid formal exercises. Asmus Tietchens like the late Holger Czukay and Irmin Schmidt of Can was influenced by Karlheinz Stockhausen’s early electronic music and Romanian philosopher Emil Cioran. Soltau Mitte features Asmus Tietchens at his most inventive as he crafts a minimalist and spacious soundscape that combines elements of abstract, avant-garde and Musique Concrète. V!

Very different from the two previous tracks is K from V!V!V!. It’s a mesmeric fusion of Krautrock, electronica and rock. Drums provide the Krautrock influence while guitars help power the urgent arrangement along. V!V!V! sound as if they’re a special band and will be worth catching live. 

Whereas the previous track featured a tight band, Haricot Massacre play with a looseness and defiance as they improvise on Section Sign. There’s even an homage to the spirit of ’76 courtesy of the vocal on a track that shows another side to the type of music one could expect to hear at The Avant Garde Festival.

In June 2017, Giardini self-released their eponymous debut album. It was a limited edition of 100 and featured Der Pfad. It’s a moody, cinematic soundscape that seamlessly fuses electronic and experimental music. The result is a track that sounds as if it belongs on the soundtrack to a short film. 

Ronny Waernes is a noise avant-garde musician from Bodø, Norway. He’s also one of the founders of the Nødutgang avant-garde festival and runs Go To Gate Records. They released Ronny Waernes’ most recent album Exit Stage in June 2017. It features Ronny Waernes’ inimitable and inventive trademark noise avant-garde sound.  

Nurse With Wound were founded in 1978 as NWW, a British experimental music project by Steven Stapleton. Since then, Nurse With Wound have been a prolific and groundbreaking project. They released The Bacteria Magnet EP in 2008, which featured The Bottom Feeder. It was later remixed and The Joe Meek Memorial Barbeque Mix of The Bottom Feeder features on Avant Garde Is Happening. It’s best described as otherworldly, futuristic and strangely melodic genre-melting remix whose charms are hard to resist. 

Four years ago, in 2013, Octopus Ride released their eponymous debut album Things Will Never Be The Same on Rev/Vega Records. It was well received by critics and their sophomore album was eagerly awaited. Things Will Never Be The Same is a reminder of what Octopus Ride is capable of. It’s a fist-pumping fusion of psychedelic  rock, space rock and experimental music from the Swedish rockers. 

It’s all change on Exo/Endo’s The Working Hour, which is a much more understated, but atmospheric and lysergic soundscape. Again it has a cinematic sound, and showcases two talented and imaginative musicians.

German guitarist and singer Dieter Bornzero Bornschlegel has been around since the seventies, and has been a member of various bands including Atlantis, Dein Schatten, The Electric Family, Tja and on two occasions, one of Germany’s leading bands Guru Guru. However, since 1996, Dieter Bornzero Bornschlegel has concentrated on his solo career using a variety of aliases. A reminder of Dieter Bornzero Bornschlegel’s inventive approach to music is Back 2 Paradise, where cascading trance-inspired synths accompany his worldweary and dramatic vocal which later becomes a soliloquy on this powerful and poignant track.  

Raid fire drums open Psykisk Tortur’s Malstroem and assail the listener. Soon, a myriad of beeps, squeal, samples and found sounds are unleashed and play their part in an urgent, inventive and imaginative soundscape. 

Blood Oath’s Darkness Devours The Night is another ambitious genre-melting track. It finds Blood Oath fusing elements of free jazz, avant-garde and industrial as they play with speed, power, urgency and enthusiasm. Occasionally the track becomes stop-start as if Blood Oath are throw curveballs in an attempt to surprise the unsuspecting listener as they continue to innovate. 

For over forty years, Faust have been one of the leading lights of German music. In 2009, Faust self released Rehearsals Cloudshill Studios as a limited edition CDr. It featured Ich Bin Dein Hund (I Am Your Dog) where the veteran musical pioneers combined avant-garde and experimental with a vocal that sounds as if it was inspired by German cabaret singers of yesteryear. Faust combine these unlikely musical genres and influences to create an intriguing track.

Friederike Jager’s Crush features a myriad of beeps, squeaks and buzzes which are combined with an ad-libbed vocal. Together, they create an inventive and melodic song that will fill the dance-floor at indie discos.

Closing Avant Garde Is Happening is Ernsthafte Angelegenheiten’s which Der Beste Song Der Welt draws inspiration from the post punk and experimental music. It’s a catchy and memorable combination that ensures the compilation ends on a high.

For anyone interested in avant-garde or experimental music, then Avant Garde Is Happening is well worth seeking out. However, they’ll need to be quick as copies of Avant Garde Is Happening which was released by Dirter Promotions are limited. 

Those that are able to find a copy of Avant Garde Is Happening will discover a compilation that combines familiar faces like Qluster, Asmus Tietchens, Faust and Nurse With Wound with new names Octopus Ride and rising stars including Ronny Waernes. Together, they play their part in what’s the perfect primer to modern European avant-garde music. Avant Garde Is Happening os the perfect way for newcomers to the genre to dip their toe into the genre and set them on a fascinating voyage of discovery.

Avant Garde Is Happening,

 

 

 

MERIDIAN BROTHERS-DONDE ESTAS MARIA?

Meridian Brothers-Donde Estás Maria?

Label: Soundway Records.

Nearly two years after the release of their sixth album Los Suicidas in November 2015, musical shape-shifters the Meridian Brothers return with their much-anticipated seventh album Donde Estás Maria? on the ‘8th’ of September 2017. It’s the fourth album that the Bogota-based Meridian Brothers have released since signing to Soundway Records in 2012, and although it’s another stylistic departure from the chameleon-like band is the most accessible album of their career.

Since the Meridian Brothers released their debut album El Advenimiento Del Castillo Mujer on the La Distritofonica label in 2005, Eblis Alvarez has been determined never to make the he same the same album twice. Instead, the man behind the Meridian Brothers’ throne has continued to reinvent their music over the last twelve years.

That was the case when the Meridian Brothers returned with their sophomore album Meridian Brothers VI in 2009. It showcased a much more experimental and playful sound. Eblis Alvarez continued his mission to reinvent the Meridian Brothers’ music when the band released their third album Meridian Brothers VII, in 2011. Meridian Brothers VII found the band fusing Latin, rock and psychedelia. Meridian Brothers VII, and caught the imagination of critics, record buyers and Soundway Records.

By then, Eblis Alvarez was one of the leading lights of the Bogota’s thriving music scene. Eblis Alvarez was best known for the three albums he recorded using his Meridian Brothers’ moniker. He was the band’s songwriter-in-chief, played all the instruments, added the vocals and produced the Meridian Brothers’ first three albums. It would be the same when he came to record the fourth album. The only time the Meridian Brothers’ lineup expanded was when they took to the stage. Their genre-melting music was winning over audiences far and wide.

Given the quality of the first three albums the Meridian Brothers had released on La Distritofonica, and their growing popularity, it was  no surprise when a bigger label came calling. The label that secured the signature of Eblis Alvarez’s Meridian Brothers was Miles Cleret’s Soundway Records. This was something of a coup for Soundway Records, as a number of labels were interested in securing Eblis Alvarez’s signature.

With the deal signed, the Meridian Brothers returned with their first new album for Soundway Records in September 2012. This was Desesperanza, which had been inspired by a fusion of disparate and unlikely genres. Somehow, Eblis Alvarez managed to combine electronic and Latin rhythms with  psychedelic grooves in such a way that it made perfect sense on Desesperanza. It introduced the Meridian Brothers’ madcap, leftfield sound to a wider audience. This was the perfect way to start what was a new chapter in the Meridian Brothers’ career. 

This new and exciting chapter in the Meridian Brothers continued as they divided their time between touring and recording their fifth studio album Salvadora Robot. It was released on Soundway Records in July 2014 and again, Eblis Alvarez had reinvented the Meridian Brothers’ music. To do this, he dug deeper into the tropical rhythms of Latin America and the Caribbean on Salvadora Robot. Each song focuses on a different style, and features the Meridian Brothers’ trademark playfulness which is part of the surreal musical landscape. This was a potent and heady brew that found favour with critics and record buyers.

As 2014 drew to close, the Meridian Brothers’ music was reaching a much wider audience and they were festival favourites with their unique and inimitable music. Word was spreading about the Meridian Brothers’ music which continued to find favour with music fans. Buoyed by the critical acclaim and commercial success that Salvadora Robot had enjoyed Eblis Alvarez thought’s turned to the next Meridian Brothers’ album.

This would be Los Suicadas which marked another stylistic departure from Bogota-based musical shape shifter Eblis Alvarez. Los Suicadas was the first of a trilogy, inspired by legendary Colombian Hammond organist Jaime Llano Gonzalez, a Hammond. He was famous for playing traditional Colombian music including Pasillos, Bambucos, Cumbias, which  he combined with foxtrots or waltzes. Eblis Alvarez remembers: “the album was written as an ambient record but at the same time searching for an image of an impossible virtuoso organist.” Joining him on the album were an acoustic rhythm section, electronic drums and samplers that feature on songs inspired by Pasillos, Bambucos, Cumbias and romantic bolero. Just like previous albums Los Suicadas was a suitably eclectic album, ambitious and genre-melting album. It was released in November 2015 to widespread critical acclaim. However, the question was what next for the Meridian Brothers?

When the time came for the Meridian Brothers to record their seventh album, musical chameleon Eblis Alvarez had decided to change direction once again on Donde Estás Maria? It would be one of the most eclectic albums of Meridian Brothers’ recording career, and found them drawing inspiration from a variety of musical genres and influences. 

Before recording began, Eblis Alvarez had written ten new tracks that eventually became Donde Estás Maria? These songs were inspired by a myriad of disparate musical influences from across the globe. This included US-inspired seventies Latin rock, traditional Cumbia music, the Latin American folk music of Argentina and Uruguay, Puerto Rican reggaeton and the electronic sound that has long been a feature of the Meridian Brothers’ music. To this, Eblis Alvarez added the fuzz-filtered guitars of Colombian Latin rock bands like Banda Nueva, and the string arrangements of Brazilian tropicalia acts including Gal Costa and Novos Baianos. Eblis Alvarez also combined Andean rhythms with the lushest of tropicalia influenced strings, and drew inspiration from huayno a traditional music with strong like to the indigenous culture of the Quechua people in Peru and Bolivia. That was combined with the strummed sound of traditional Colombian guitar. Gradually, this delicious musical dish started to take shape as unleashes his trademark fuzzy guitar sound and combines with synths and his newest musical weapon.

This was the cello that Eblis Alvarez had started to learn twenty years ago. This was the start of a complicated, almost love-hate relationship with the cello. Eblis Alvarez determined to master the instrument, and over the next few years became a talented player. Despite this, he had never played the cello on a Meridian Brothers’ album. There was a reason for this. 

Deep down, Eblis Alvarez wasn’t even sure if he like the sound of the instrument? When he plays the Bach suites and baroque music he spends his time searching for, Eblis Alvarez is unsure about his feelings towards the cello? Often he finds the music tired, predictable and easily recognisable. This resulted in what was almost a love-hate relationship with an instrument he had spent twenty years trying to master. Eblis Alvarez was determined to resolve his issues with the cello.

He came up with a way to do that prior to recording Donde Estás Maria? Eblis Alvarez decided that he would write and play the cello arrangements on Donde Estás Maria? This was a chance for Eblis Alvarez to resolve his love-hate relationship with the cello. Eblis Alvarez explains: “I have this strange concept that I want to live with things I hate…And usually, that gets you to another level or another result that you never expect.” This appears to be the case with Eblis Alvarez’s cello which plays an important part on Donde Estás Maria?

With the Meridian Brothers seventh studio album Donde Estás Maria?completed, Eblis Alvarez describes what’s obviously a very personal album. “This album is kind of journey from Argentina through to Mexico. During Eblis Alvarez’s journey, it’s not so much: “taking a part of each country, because I don’t divide by country, but of each different area.”  

Throughout his musical journey, Eblis Alvarez embraces the various different genres of music that he encounters, including some genres that are part of different country’s musical heritage. This includes huayno, a type of traditional music that is part of the indigenous culture of the Quechua people in Peru and Bolivia. Other times, Eblis Alvarez embraces the contradictions and blurred lines that are part of the continent where he calls home. This ranges from the colonial traditions to music imported to South America. All this has influenced and inspired Eblis Alvarez when he dawned his Meridian Brothers’ moniker to record his genre-melting seventh album Donde Estás Maria?

The title-track opens Dónde Estás María, and was chosen as the lead single from the album. That comes as no surprises. It’s an impassioned and dreamy folk-psych paean, where Eblis Alvarez tenderly sings of his love for an enigmatic and spiritual poetess against a backdrop of subtle cello riffs. This sets the bar high for the rest of Dónde Estás María. 

Quite different is Canto Me Levantó a carefully crafted ballad which fuses synths, drum machine and cello to create a quite beautiful ballad that references seventies Krafwerk and eighties electronica. Yo Soy Tu Padre, Yo Te Fabriqué is a boogaloo-styled track that tells the strange, surreal and disturbing tale of a record label executive and the Colombian singer he’s helping propel to stardom. The balladry continues on Entra El Ritmo Antillano where Eblis Alvarez’s fuses his trademark fuzzy guitar with rueful and later, urgent strings, cascading synths and a galloping rhythm. They’re part of a dreamy, hypnotic and lysergic backdrop to Eblis Alvarez’s earnest vocal. After this, it’s all change.

As Háblame Amigo, Citadino unfolds, it’s soon apparent that this song is something special. Partly, this is down to the irresistible, triumphant reggaeton beat which is joined by a blistering fuzzy guitar and dazzling tropicalia influenced strings. The final piece of the jigsaw is the vocal, where Eblis Alvarez sings call and response vocal on this anthem-in-waiting. Cumbia, Eres La Cumbia is a carefully crafted, genre-melting song that marries a mesmeric cumbia rhythm with a myriad of beeps and squeaks from a bass synth and swathes of sweeping strings. They became one and accompany Eblis Alvarez’s impassioned vocal.  Just like on other tracks, Como Estoy En Los Sesenta fuses electronics with traditional Southern American music as Eblis Alvarez delivers another equally impassioned vocal. It’s a potent, powerful and poignant combination. Soon, it’s time for the Meridian Brothers’ to ring the changes.

Estaré Alegre, No Estaré Triste is an upbeat track that marries a myriad of electronic and traditional instruments, including Eblis Alvarez’s cello. They combine to create a robotic, hypnotic sound before Eblis Alvarez deploys effects as the arrangement takes on a dubby and then industrial sound. In doing so, this shows another side to the Meridian Brothers’ music on this irresistible and memorable sounding song. Then on Él No Está Muerto the Meridian Brothers combine the unmistakable rhythm of huayno, a traditional music with strong ties to the Quechua people in Peru and Bolivia. It’s fused with the sound of a traditional Colombian guitar and synths. Although this an unlikely mix of the old and new, it works, and works well and creates Latin music for the ‘22nd’ Century. Very different is No Me Traiciones, which has a much more understated and less complex sound than previous songs. It’s a quite beautiful song, with Eblis Alvarez vocal and cello playing their part in the sound and success of the song that closes Donde Estás Maria?

It’s nearly two years since the Meridian Brothers released their critically acclaimed sixth album Los Suicidas. It was hailed as the Bogota-based band’s finest hour. That was until the Meridian Brothers released Donde Estás Maria? on Soundway Records on the ‘8th’ of September 2017. 

Donde Estás Maria? surpasses everything that the musical shape shifters the Meridian Brothers have released so far. Eblis Alvarez takes the listener on a musical journey through the continent he calls home. From Argentina to Mexico, and everywhere in-between Eblis Alvarez draws inspiration not just from each country’s music, but each region’s musical heritage. Like a musical magpie, Eblis Alvarez picks and chooses laments of different genres that became part of the vibrant musical tapestry that is Donde Estás Maria? Other times, Eblis Alvarez draws inspiration from the music of Caribbean, North America and even Europe. All these influences play their part in  Donde Estás Maria?

It’s an album that marries everything from traditional instruments and the lushest of strings to fuzzy guitars, synths and drum machines. They play their part in album that veers between a complex and experimental sound to an endearing and enchanting simplicity. There’s always been a complexity to the Meridian Brothers’ music from their first few albums. This has been the case since Eblis Alvarez started to embrace evermore complex polyrhythms, time signatures and tempos in much more ambitious ways. While this was something progressive rock musicians have been doing for many years, it was relatively new in Columbia and South American music. Eblis Alvarez was pioneer, which was nothing new.

Ever since the early days of the Meridian Brothers, he’s drawn inspiration from a myriad of influences as he released album after album of genre-melting music. This includes Donde Estás Maria?, which is full of inventive and imaginative compositions, where beautiful heartfelt ballads rub shoulders with irresistible and anthemic uptempo tracks on what’s without doubt he Meridian Brothers’ finest hour.

Meridian Brothers-Donde Estás Maria?