Sarah McQuaid – Digging the new CD

A forthcoming album by Sarah McQuaid that I’m looking forward to reviewing.

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This article isn’t about Michael Chapman, but bear with me… Towards the end of the 1960s I acquired his album Rainmaker, and found him to be an innovative guitarist and very distinctive singer/songwriter/. (I remember confusing one of my friends by saying that a song of his reminded me pleasantly of Michael Chapman, until I realized that he thought I meant that Chinnichap chap! ) I played Rainmaker a lot in my teens, and it certainly influenced my early guitar playing. Ironically, I finally parted with the album, along with nearly all my other vinyl, when moving to Cornwall.

Ironically? Well, mildly, in that it’s since that move to Cornwall that his name has recently crossed my radar again. Specifically, as producer of the forthcoming 5th album by the very talented Sarah McQuaid, a well-known name not only here in Cornwall, but far beyond.

Interestingly, Sarah not only shares but exceeds my own passion for the DAGDAD guitar tuning, having written a book and developed two workshops on using it. But her singing and songwriting has earned her many fans who may not know much about modal tunings, but appreciate a fine performance.

I’m looking forward to reviewing her new album If We Dig Any Deeper It Could Get Dangerous nearer to the release date (due out 2nd February 2018). In the meantime, you might like to check out the track The Tug Of The Moon, which is on the album but was released as a single in November 2017: see Mawgan Lewis’s intriguing video here.

David Harley

Make Mine A Snowball [revisited]

For years this was just a single verse stranded in the first draft of a novel I’ll probably never finish now, and then a few years ago it demanded to be finished. Apologies to both Howard Blake and Raymond Briggs, who might not approve. 

Its first public appearance was after the funeral of my friend Graham Bell. That might seem less strange if I tell you that the service finished with the Ying Tong Song. Graham was always urging me to play more jazz, but I think he would have approved of this even without the vaguely jazzy snatch of White Christmas that precedes it.  I don’t know how Irving Berlin would have felt about it, but at least I haven’t had any ghostly visitors on the nights leading up to Christmas. So far. Bah Humbug!  It certainly proves conclusively that I was not born to compete with Wes Montgomery or Barney Kessel, but it’s nice to give the Strat an airing occasionally. 

The first part was recorded on primitive handheld equipment: today I re-did the acoustic section on the Boss 8-track I use for demo stuff. I still plan one day to take a more careful run at it  in my recently updated home studio and do a little OTT overdubbing. I’m thinking celeste, harpsichord and orchestra. (I have a Yamaha keyboard and I’m not afraid to use it.) 

Not that this is ever going to be translated to a commercial recording. 🙂 

I’m snoring in my chair
I’ve really had too much to eat
And even if I tried
I couldn’t leave my seat.

I’m getting very tight:
I didn’t need those lasht two beersh
And now that last mince pie
Has dribbled down my brand new tie.

Somebody offered me another cup of tea
Turkey sandwich, more plum pudding, woe is me…

I’m sprawling on the stairs
I haven’t got the strength to rise
And dear old Auntie Jill
Is in the bathroom still.

I’ve turned off the TV
The Queen’s speech was keeping one awake
And one more Singing Nun
Is more than I can take

Uncle Dick is feeling sick, he’s running for the loo
Heaving like a mighty monster from the zoo

I’m surfing in my lair
Googling for some online deals
To spend next Christmas Day
On a cruise ship far away…

David Harley 

Castles and Kings [demo] (again)

[I keep putting versions of this up, but the vocal is a bit better on this version… The final version will probably also include a version of Vestapol, as did earlier versions. But I’ll come back to that.]

When I was a kid in a country town
and I’d nothing better to do:
I’d detour round by the railway bridge
on my way home from school.

Leaning over the bridge with my chin in my hands,
too young to be wondering why,
I’d wait what seemed hours for the signal to change:
wait for a train to go by

The lure of the footplate, the churn of the rods
straining to places unknown;
fog in November, smoke in the cold air
the faraway steam-whistle moan;

bathing my eyes in the warmth of the lights
as up the track she would fly.
I’d get home late: they’d ask ‘Where have you been?’
I’d say ‘watching the trains go by’…

Saturday lunchtime some days in the spring
with the sky an implacable blue,
collecting the numbers of Castles and Kings:
it’s all we’d want to do.

Perspective of steel cut through frostbitten green,
just went on to a faraway end,
and I always felt sad at the Cambrian’s tail-light
as she’d disappear round the bend.

Now trains mean timetables, luggage and waiting rooms,
leaving the people I love;
the pounding of diesels, the A to B run
– perspective has subtly moved.

Tonight I am free and the rails are still endless
(if I had the fare to ride)
but I stand on a footbridge in the heart of the city
watching the Tube trains go by.

David Harley

 

DARIA KULESH – Long Lost Home (own label)

A review of the outstanding CD ‘Long Lost Home’ by Daria Kulesh.

[Review also published on the Sabrinaflu blog.]

In a recent review for Folking.com of the excellent CD ‘Shakespeare Songs‘ by the Company of Players, I described the stunning performance by Daria Kulesh of her own song ‘Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk’ as ‘almost operatic in its intensity’. If you’re not a fan of opera don’t stop reading! While I’ve no doubt that Daria has the range and technical ability to sing anything she wants to, her own CD Long Lost Home (released early in 2017, but I’ve only recently caught up with it) isn’t one of those albums where a classically trained singer dabbles in a more popular idiom. Rather, this is a collection of (mostly her own) songs, deeply rooted in her own family history, sung with a grace, skill, and emotional intensity few singers can match. To quote a review of the same CD by Dai Jeffries:

…the word “operatic” keeps coming to mind but that isn’t right at all. It’s about power and heart and love and melancholy and about telling important stories in a very human way.

I’m pretty sure he’s a fan too…

That family history has roots in Ingushetia, in the Caucasus Mountains, and most of the songs here relate directly to the region. The arrangements here, while never so obtrusive or flashy as to distract the listener from the singer or the songs, are perfectly executed. It is, perhaps, a measure of how successful they are that the instrumentation – including such relatively unusual instruments as dahchan pandar, doul, nyckelharpa, hammered dulcimer and Scottish smallpipes, as well as a wide variety of more familiar instruments – always seem just perfectly appropriate rather than intrusively exotic.

Here’s the customary track-by-track listing.

  1. The lyrics for ‘Tamara’ come from Mikhail Lermontov (translated, abridged and adapted by Daria), and the music is Daria’s. The supernatural tale of a very dangerous lady “who by a demon was kissed“.
  2. ‘The Moon And The Pilot’ tells the story of Daria’s great grandmother, whose husband died while trying to deliver supplies to Leningrad in 1942. He was named a Hero of the Soviet Union, but his wife and children were caught up in Stalin’s deportation of the population of the Chechen-Ingush Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic in 1944, for alleged collaboration with the Nazis. A terrible injustice, but not without hope: “This is the story of one extraordinary woman’s strength and survival, and it is also the story of her people.” For a taste of Daria’s music, I heartily recommend the ‘official video’ linked at the end of this review.
  3. ‘Safely Wed’ is a little more upbeat, with bouzouki and accordion lending it a decidedly Mediterranean feel, though the story is drawn from Daria’s family history. And has a happy ending. J
  4. ‘Amanat’ is the story of Daria’s grandmother’s grandfather, the first Ingush ethnographer and collector of folklore. A sad story, but a beautiful tune.
  5. ‘The Hazel Tree’ is another story from the deportation, of Aishi Bazorkina and her longing to be buried in her homeland.
  6. The traditional lament ‘Distant Love/Gyanar Bezam’ is sung part in Ingush, part in English (translated from Ingush by Daria).
  7. ‘The Panther’ is the story of Laisat Baisarova, “an Ingush NKVD officer who refused to take part in the deportation and genocide of her people.” Despite a startling echo of the ancient ballad ‘The Two Magicians‘ – “Bide, lady, bide/No place you can hide” – this “skilled sniper” was never captured or subjugated.
  8. ‘Like A God’ tells the story of Alaudin Poshev, “a doctor and a gent/In times when gangsters ruled the roost“.
  9. ‘Heart’s Delight’ is a song of Daria’s inspired by the traditional ‘Song Of Mochkho’ and, in particular, the lovely thought “May your heart’s delight/Become your fate“.
  10. ‘Gone’ poses a question that seems all too apposite at a time when English isolationism and xenophobia so often dominates the news. “Will you be hostile or will you be kind” to the displaced and disposed of the world?
  11. ‘Only Begun’ is a bitter-sweet “song of saying goodbye.” And yet it illustrates how even those of us whose lives are less dramatic than the protagonists of Daria’s stories live on in the memories – and, sometimes, the songs – of those who come after.
  12. ‘Untangle My Bones’ echoes an Inuit legend, but is framed in an arrangement as fresh as next week’s papers. A great finish to a wonderful album.

This is a lovely and compelling album, and I hope to be listening to it for years to come.

David Harley

Artist’s website: www.daria-kulesh.co.uk

Video of ‘The Moon And The Pilot’.

Butterfly (Over The Hill)

Most Saturdays – at any rate when I’m at home – I spend the hours between 12 and 2pm listening to Ian Semple’s radio show on Coast FM (Facebook page here). While Ian plays a great deal of local music, his tastes are wide-ranging: today, for instance, his playlist included Pink Floyd, Richard Thompson, Seasick Steve, Wilde Roses, and Ry Cooder, as well as more local names like Baldrick’s Plan and Julie Carter. And this was a track of mine that he played today. 🙂

My friend Vic Cracknell, who among other musical activities runs open mike nights around Surrey, where I lived for several years, often used to introduce me as ‘someone who plays authentic blues.’ As a result of which, I got used to introducing this along the lines of: “This is a traditional blues. However, it differs from most traditional blues in that it was written on the platform at Chalk Farm Tube station after an evening at the Enterprise folk club in 1983.” 

In recent years, I’ve usually played this on electric guitar. This version, though, was recorded on domestic equipment (or maybe a Fostex X-15) in the 1980s, with quite a different arrangement (and on acoustic guitar). I think I might try for a better recording using the same(-ish) arrangement in the near future. But in the meantime, this isn’t too bad considering it was taken from a cassette.

David Harley