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Beachcomber

PostPosted: Mon Jun 24, 2013 4:07 pm
by Gordon Neill
I can’t hope to compete with the likes of Jamie Renton. While he’s in London, meeting the stars, popping champagne corks and tripping over fantastic lights, I’m plodding along the shores of the Firth of Forth, with my ipod tuned to ‘cheap back catalogue’. But, amongst the odd used condom or washed up pop singer, there’s always the chance of finding something interesting. Things that made a bit of splash a few years ago can still make waves up here. So, with apologies to the hipsters who’ve already turned over these rocks, let’s wade in…..

Fire in My Bones, various ****
Garage gospel refuels my interest


It’s been a long time since my interest in exploring gospel music ran out of steam. I still regularly go back to old favourites such as the Dixie Hummingbirds but, as a genre, I felt I’d heard all the interesting stuff. But, inspired by some intelligent Amazon.com customer reviews (not normally words that you’d expect to see in the same phrase), I threw some money at this three-CD collection and waited to see what came back.

It turned out to be the best gospel collection I’ve heard in decades. Ok, as so often with these trawls of back catalogues, there’s just too much stuff for me to take in properly. As ever, I’d rather have had the whisky version, distilled onto a single CD. But it would be hard to decide what would get omitted. The range is terrific, lurching from familiar and worthy holy stuff and field recordings to blues, proto rock’n’roll, and soul. There are also some mild shocks, with a reminder that ‘When the Saints Go Marching In’ and ‘Swing Low Sweet Chariot’ did actually start out as God-bothering tunes before they were adopted by drunks. The sound quality can be rough, as most of these tracks were recorded for very local markets. ‘Garage gospel’ is, I think, just about the best way to describe most of it. But we are talking post-war garages with electricity, so it’s never less than fi and often verges on the hi. But its this rawness that simply adds to the attraction, with the lack of studio gloss letting you get within touching distance of this lost world when gospel was a genuine folk music in the southern states of the USA.

Here’s one of my favourites, ‘Holy Rock’ by the Reverend Billy H Grady: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UFfRklrIwT8 Then there’s the familiar ‘Down By the Riverside’ given a fresh lick of paint by Snooks Eaglin, with a wonderful 12-stringed guitar backing in the Leadbelly style http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KUrTjrptccg And then there’s the original version of ‘You Got to Move’, (pre-Stones, pre-Fred McDowell) by the Two Gospel Keys, which has a jaunty rhythm which could almost have been played on the spoons http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DMhzLuVtWWk Oh, and how about the manic energy of ‘He’s Coming Back’ by Elder & Sister Brinson & The Brinson Brothers? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n1ErzqFn2-8

Three CDs might be too much, but it won’t stop me moving on to the second volume in this series, This May Be My Last Time Singing: Raw African-American On 45rpm 1957-1982.

Arabology, Yas ****
Ex-singer from Soapkills scrubs up well.


Typically, with Yasmine Hamdan recently bringing out her first solo album, ‘Ya Nass’, instead I had to go and pick up a copy of her earlier effort from 2010. I can’t even claim that it was cheap. Unavailable from my local Amazon, I had to type all the way to Amazon.fr to get a copy. She was the singer with Soapkills, a cult Lebanese group that seems to have gone down the plug-hole sometime after 2005, when their third album was released. Here’s their song Tango to give you an idea of how good they could be http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9W4zAajdHF0 .

Yas seems to have been a one-off collaboration with a Paris-based producer, Mirwais Ahmadzai. It’s clearly a blend of Western electronic pop music with an Arab feeling, rather than an attempt to do ‘world music’. But, taken on its own terms, I think it is rather excellent. On the first few listens, it can sound all too samey, with Yasmine Hamdan’s cool throat-clearing hovering over electronic riffs. But I’ve increasingly warmed to it. ‘Yaspop’ is the one that sounds to me like a hit single: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=exsjXRn7Zz4 but there are several other tracks made from the same catchy mould. I’m hoping to go see her gig in London’s Bush Hall on October 17th. By then, who knows, I may have become wildly up-to-date and listened to what I think is the more restrained and wordly ‘Ya Nass’.

Luz Y Norte, the Harp Consort. *****
Plucky harpists pull some strings.


More old stuff from abroad. Very old stuff. This time its music composed or possibly collected by Lucas Ruiz de Ribayaz, a 17th Century Spaniard who travelled to Italy, South America, Africa, possibly even Fife. Over the last few months, it’s never been far from my CD player and is now on my very short list of classical music settee-fillers. Essentially, it’s a series of instrumental pieces played on harp, with the occasional, subtle contribution from organ or percussion. A quick skim would tell you that this is never less than pleasant. But I would urge you to give this a proper listen and appreciate this truly wonderful music. Here’s a link to one piece, ‘Xacaras’, but there are many other equally great tracks on this CD http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s-wIJkAbkzU

If you like this, I can guarantee that you will also like the Harp Consort’s ‘Spanish Dances’ CD. This is because it’s exactly the same album, but with different packaging.

Com Fusoes 1, various *****
Mixed-up confusion from Angola.


Prompted by a poke from Amazon (‘people with taste as shit as yours also bought….’), this turned out to be an unexpected gem. It came out in 2010 but, as far as I can tell, didn’t get much attention in these parts (possibly due to the horrible CD cover. Apparently the title is a Portuguese pun on a mix and confusion, signalling that this is a collection of Brazilian DJs remixing Angola songs. It’s heavy on the bass, but its also heavy on some great songs sampled from an Angolan ‘golden age’ of 60s and 70s pop songs.

It’s not perfect. Occasionally some remix monkey can’t stop his paws dipping into the sound-effects jar. This is particularly…er…. jarring on ‘Kapakiao’, a fantastically thumping track which someone felt the need to add the alarming sound of…… an alarm. Even after weeks of listening to the CD, this still pulls me out of my reverie as I wonder if my music system is about to explode. There really needs to be a law that every remix DJ must be accompanied by their mum at all times (‘Fernando….Stop being silly! And stop twiddling with your knob!).

But, for all these niggles, I can forgive all. It’s a CD I’ve played a lot in recent weeks. I still couldn’t say what is my favourite track as my appreciation constantly shifts. But here’s the track that first lodged in my ears: ‘Mama Divua Diame’ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pbLkoXDnETQ

As a bonus, this CD has also prompted me to go back to ‘The Soul of Angola’, a compilation I bought years ago, and appreciate a couple of the original tracks which are sampled here.
I’m still hopeful that a second volume might appear. But, with the first apparently getting so little attention, maybe not….

Seili, Jenni Vartianen *****
I’ve started so I’ll Finnish.


Wow! This 2010 CD has become one of my favourite listens of the past few months. People that enjoy filing things would probably enjoy putting this in the ‘europop’ box, slamming the lid down firmly, fastening it with heavy chains and a waterproof padlock, and then dropping it into the deepest part of the North Sea. But, as far as I’m concerned, ‘world music’ is teeming with all sorts of musical species and I’m just grateful that this one has drifted in my direction. Don’t be put off by Jenni Vartianen being a graduate of Finland’s answer to the X-Factor. Yes, she does look as though she’s never far from a mirror. But she also has an attractively deep, husky voice, the production is slick but restrained and, most importantly, there are some great songs here. How about ‘Missä Muruseni On’? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EO0p_U1w89A Or the pop single ‘En Haluu Kuolla Tänä Yönä’? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f5WrHOy1J84

Shockingly, this isn’t available on Amazon. But it’s easy enough to buy a copy from Record Shop X, a Finnish website which I’ve found to be reliable and prompt: http://www.recordshopx.com/

Re: Beachcomber

PostPosted: Mon Jun 24, 2013 6:46 pm
by will vine
Great stuff Gordon. Plenty to get to grips with there, and funny too. I enjoyed reading it all, now I suppose I'll have to go and listen. Cheers!

Re: Beachcomber

PostPosted: Mon Jun 24, 2013 7:18 pm
by Jamie Renton
Gordon Neill wrote:I can’t hope to compete with the likes of Jamie Renton. While he’s in London, meeting the stars, popping champagne corks and tripping over fantastic lights


Failing to meet deadlines, popping asprin and tripping over my own shoelaces more like

Very nice reviews as ever Mr Neil. You have been missed round these parts of late.

Re: Beachcomber

PostPosted: Mon Jun 24, 2013 7:36 pm
by gary booth
Hello Gordon,
You may have noticed Norman drawing your attention to the podcast 'No Reason' -highlighting the fact that this month's show (Wed 26th) features an extended interview with the boys behind Stand Up People: Gypsy Pop Songs From Tito's Yugoslavia 1964 - 1980 - an album you were dying to get your hands on.
Well, the same podcast www.noreason.podomatic.com played:
'How Much I Owe' The Radio Four from 'Fire In My Bones' back on show No 9 (Dec 2011) and also 'He Will Fix It' Sam Williams from This May Be My Last Singing on show No 13 (Apr 2012) and it seems that the Tompkins Square label is one of their favourites. So, it might be that you would find this podcast agreeable? I can't stand it myself.

Re: Beachcomber

PostPosted: Mon Jun 24, 2013 11:03 pm
by Rob Hall
Thanks for these reviews Gordon, good to have you back posting again. Harp Consort album downloaded and gently caressing my ears as I type.

Re: Beachcomber

PostPosted: Tue Jun 25, 2013 9:19 pm
by Gordon Neill
Many thanks for the positive responses to my ramblings. I may do it again! In the meantime, it would be great to get other comments or hear about any back catalogue recommendations from others.

I'm now feeling anxious that Rob has invested money on one of my 'sure fire winners'. It's all very well me spouting off, but what if it falls at the first fence? Will I be put down?

But it's good to know that at least one of the CDs, 'Fire In My Bones', has already been recommended by fellow SOTWers. Picking your way through the maze of CD reissues can be a bit of a minefield. I'm always happy to let someone else go first.....

As for 'Stand Up People', I now have my copy of the CD. I had been saving it for a long journey to and from Leeds. But, based on a quick skim, it's the last track 'Djelem, Djelem' that got my attention first (so good, they called it 'Djelem' twice). But I shall come to a more considered view later. I may even listen to that podcast thing. Is it on short, medium or long wave?

Re: Beachcomber

PostPosted: Tue Jun 25, 2013 9:29 pm
by gary booth
If you do listen to that podcast thing, which is on long wave, then you will not only hear Djelem Djelem again but the who, why and where about it. Money back if you're not happy.

Re: Beachcomber

PostPosted: Wed Jun 26, 2013 9:11 pm
by Rob Hall
Gordon Neill wrote:Luz Y Norte, the Harp Consort. *****
Plucky harpists pull some strings.


More old stuff from abroad. Very old stuff. This time its music composed or possibly collected by Lucas Ruiz de Ribayaz, a 17th Century Spaniard who travelled to Italy, South America, Africa, possibly even Fife. Over the last few months, it’s never been far from my CD player and is now on my very short list of classical music settee-fillers. Essentially, it’s a series of instrumental pieces played on harp, with the occasional, subtle contribution from organ or percussion. A quick skim would tell you that this is never less than pleasant. But I would urge you to give this a proper listen and appreciate this truly wonderful music. Here’s a link to one piece, ‘Xacaras’, but there are many other equally great tracks on this CD http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s-wIJkAbkzU

If you like this, I can guarantee that you will also like the Harp Consort’s ‘Spanish Dances’ CD. This is because it’s exactly the same album, but with different packaging.


Gordon: go back and listen to the first track, 'Pasacalles', and then watch this clip - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JQRRnAhmB58

(Unfortunately, for those of you that don't own the album, I can't find a clip of 'Pasacalles', but rest assured, there's a connection. Also unfortunately, I cannot claim credit for spotting the connection, as it was my wife who pointed it out.)

Re: Beachcomber

PostPosted: Mon Jul 01, 2013 1:58 pm
by Gordon Neill
Thanks Mr and Mrs Rob! I would never have spotted the connection by myself. Despite being a music obsessive, I have something of a deaf spot when it comes to hearing similarities or borrowings. Shove on a beat, change an instrument, slightly speed up (or slow down) and I'm always taken in by the bag of tricks. My lack of musical sophistication is possibly why I'm still like a child at the funfair, dazzled and enjoying myself. I learned years ago to try and avoid letting musician friends take apart favourite songs and explain how they were based on earlier songs. After the autopsy was over, I was less ignorant, but the song was dead for me.

Fortunately, I think Pasacalles will live on for me. The instrumentation and the arrangements are so different. But, yes, there is clearly some connection. Indirect, I suspect, with 'Pasacalles' kicking off some musical version of Chinese whispers. Lovely video clip, by the way. It would have been even more incongruous if they'd used the Harp Consort as the backing!