Thursday, 27 October 2011

Folk Dances, Footplate Rides, French Films and Flute Fusions

Some interesting records have made their way into the Oxfam music shop in Exeter of late, prime amongst them being the old 1975 LP of BBC Children's Themes. Full of timeless music from 70s children's TV, this features Lionel Morton and the witchy Toni Arthur singing Superstition (not a Stevie Wonder cover, alas) in Play Away, the beautiful pastoral guitar themes which Freddie Phillips provided for Camberwick Green, its more urban cousin Chigley and the courtly Rubovia, the immortal Derek Griffiths doing his thing in Ring a Ding, Roy Castle telling you what to do if you want to be a Record Breaker, and Maggie Henderson and Fred Harris bringing on the good times in Ragtime. There's also the snappy end theme to Vision On and the whirling fairground organ tune inviting us into the world of The Magic Roundabout. But perhaps most excitingly, there are several Radiophonic Workshop pieces, with Delia Derbyshire's famous Dr Who theme followed by some of Dudley Simpson's incidental music (realised by 'Derek Mill', presumably Dick Mills). Mills also 'realises' Simson's music for Moonbase 3. Another Workshop composer, Paddy Kingsland, provides the theme for Fourth Dimension, and there are almost five minutes of his magnificent music from The Changes, the adaptation of Peter Dickinson’s three novels depicting a world which turns suddenly and violently against all modern technology (when will the BBC get around to releasing this memorably imaginative series). All this, and the Girl Guides singing Kum Ba Yah on Blue Peter too. More 70s children’s TV magic is available on Hey You!, an album of songs from Play Away, with a nautical Brian Cant in rainbow shirt on the cover shouting out the rather rude greeting, thereby losing control of his oars. Brian is joined by pianist and musical arranger Jonathan Cohen, Toni Arthur and Lionel Morton (former chart topper with the Four Pennies) again, and future Evita Julie Covington. Brian sings Hey You! with Toni, and that exclamation mark led me to imagine them doing it in a Fall style – needless to say, it’s not like that at all. Toni's pagan roots show through on the Full Circle Medley, featuring Roll, Turn, Spin, Twelve-Month Turnaround and The Green Man, and on Spells, taken from a poem by James Reeves.

Old fashioned folkie delights are on offer in a couple of 1970 EPs emerging out of Cecil Sharp House under the aegis of the English Folk Dance and Song Society. This venerable institution was founded in 1932, although it was actually formed from a merger between the Folk Song Society, founded in 1898, and the English Folk Dance Society, set up by Cecil Sharp in 1911. Sharp, a key figure in the preservation and recording of English folk songs and traditions, died in 1924, and the new headquarters which was built for the EFDSS in 1930 was named in his honour. In the post war world, the institution gained a rather reputation for being rather old fashioned and fusty, ignoring the more radical and politically engaged interpretations of the tradition presented by Ewan MacColl and AL Lloyd. Rob Young, in his book Electric Eden, which traces English folk traditions and their mutations from the twentieth century and into the present, quotes Lloyd’s amusing dismissal of the EFDSS’ favouring of ‘clodhopping bumpkin folderol’ – which actually sounds like a lot of fun. There was something of a split between the outlook of Sharp and his followers, who saw folk as the music of England, of some collective culture, and the MacColl and Lloyd axis, who saw it as being the music of the people, used to express the reality of their lives. This split persists to this day, with extreme right wing groups occasionally attempting to appropriate it for its own nationalist purposes, only to be repudiated by the musicians themselves. These two EPs feature a number of dances played by The Greensleeves Country Dance Band, led by the wonderfully named Dennis Darke (a Christopher Lee figure, I like to think), which has apparently ‘been playing for dancing in this lively and rhythmical way for some twenty years and is well known in the West Country’. There’s a rather forbiddingly pedagogical air about the sleeve notes, with the tune Princess Royal described as ‘an easy three part dance for initiating beginners into the contra dance progression’. It suggests that this is all meant to be taken with deadly seriousness and places the records outside of the more progressive syntheses of the traditional and the modern (ie rock) presented by the likes of Ashley Hutchings in his Morris On LPs. The EP covers have lovely monochrome graphic designs by Pat Clarke, though, which have been expertly and artfully photographed by my fellow worker (and Doctor Who fan) Kevin.

More Englishness is to be found on the 1965 LP Treasures of English Poetry, which finds theatrical worthies such as Michael Redgrave and Flora Robson lending their authoritative tones to masterpieces spanning four centuries (we don’t quite make it into the twentieth century here). Of particular interest to me is Marius Goring, who played major roles in two Powell and Pressburger classics, as the dandyish conductor of souls between earth and heaven in A Matter of Life and Death, and as the romantic composer Julian Craster in The Red Shoes, who vies with the svengali Lermontov for the affections of the young ballerina Vicky. I also recently heard him reading Mervyn Peake’s The Rhyme of the Flying Bomb in a recording included in the recent Peake exhibition at the British Library. Here, he reads Elizabethan poet Thomas Wyatt, 17th century verse by Robert Herrick, and Blake’s Tiger, Tiger. More poetry of a distinctively Welsh flavour is also to be found on the World of Dylan Thomas LP, which includes extracts from the first BBC broadcast of Under Milk Wood as well as readings from the 1954 memorial concert recorded at the Globe Theatre in London. These include several by Richard Burton, second to none in giving Thomas’ poetry life, who delivers And Death Shall Have No Dominion with mesmeric force, sufficient to make Death itself shrink: ‘When their bones are picked clean and the clean bones gone/They shall have stars at elbow and foot’. A real oddity comes in the form of a 10” LP from the French publisher Gallimard called Albert Camus Vous Parle. Even my paltry French can figure out this means Albert Camus Talks To You, which sounds surprisingly intimate given the unforgiving existentialism of much of his work. Camus’ vocal contribution comes in the form of a reading from that old Cure favourite L’Etranger. There is also a reading of the early essay Les Amandiers by Serge Reggiani, and a scene from the play Le Malentendu (The Misunderstanding) with Alain Cuny and Maria Casares, who played the Princess Death in Jean Cocteau's films Orphee and Le Testament D’Orphee.

More French film magic can be found in the LP soundtrack of Les Parapluies de Cherbourg, Jacques Demy’s affecting musical starring a young Catherine Deneuve and Nino Castelnuovo. This is a lovely artefact with luxury gatefold sleeve, in blue and pink cardboard, with three full colour plates attached, as well as an attached pink booklet with all the lyrics in French with a parallel English translation, which is handy. The whole thing has the feel of a souvenir from a gala premiere. There’s about 50 minutes of unbroken speech and music taken from Michel Legrand’s score, which syncopates everyday dialogue to a jazzy rhythm, occasionally bursting into joyous or sorrowful melody. Film music of an entirely different sort can be heard in Kenji Kawaii’s amazing score to Mamoru Oshii’s sequel to Ghost in the Shell, Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence. The opening has a booming bass drum and low thrumming drone overlaid with chanting close-harmony voices which resemble the Bulgarian singers of Trio Bulgarka or the Mystere des Voix Bulgares. There is a dipping waver of wow and flutter in the midst of tones held by the singers, suggestive of a glitch. This cleverly incorporates the theme of the definitions of human and machine becoming blurred into the form of the music itself. It’s as if the voices are revealing their mechanical or recorded nature. Elsewhere, the haunted music box tunes (music boxes being a recurring image in Oshii’s films) again introduce this mechanical element. Ringing gong and Tibetan bowl sounds underlie much of the music giving it a ceremonial aspect. This becomes a literal soundtrack to the extraordinary scene in which we see a slow and dreamlike carnival procession in the vast information city in which the protagonists have just arrived, with the high wavering vocals providing indecipherable accompanying mantras. The whole thing ends with a song (in English) called Follow Me, which follows the melody of the adagio section of Rodrigo’s famous guitar Concierto de Aranjuez. This is either schmaltzy or affecting, according to taste. I quite like it. We’ve two John Barry LPs: The Great Movie Sounds of John Barry from 1966, which a side of his arrangements of James Bond music (no vocals here), and another featuring his playfully cool scores for The Ipcress File and The Knack (all moody cimbaloms, airy flutes and funky organs), alongside his more traditionally romantic orchestral themes for the likes of Born Free. The Concert John Barry from 1972 sees him take control of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra to play his arrangements of some of his classic and lesser known film scores, with another Bond suite as well as his music for the star-stuffed 1972 Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, the 1971 costume drama and luvvie face-off Mary Queen of Scots (with Glenda Jackson as Elizabeth and Vanessa Redgrave as Mary) and the 70s TV spy series The Adventurer.

An interesting obscurity from the 60s British jazz scene comes in the form of the rather clunkily titled Curried Jazz, which shows that John Mayer wasn't the only one producing Indo-jazz fusions at the time. A cue seems to have been taken from Mayer, with the band calling themselves the Indo-British Ensemble. The first side features the great trumpeter Kenny Wheeler (actually on flugelhorn here), with Leon Calvert taking over the horn on the B Side. Johnny Dankworth sideman Ray Swinfield plays flute, with Dev Kumar on sitar, Chris Karan swapping his drum kit for tablas, Jeff Clyne on bass and Bill Eyden and Art Morgan sharing drum duties. Track titles like Meeting of the Twain and Looking Eastward to the Blues give a pretty good idea as to what’s going on here. Finally, there’s a couple of railway recordings, with the neatly titled Gresley Beat offering not a hitherto undiscovered skiffle band but the equally exciting sounds of Nigel Gresley’s engines, including the speed record-setting Mallard and the Sir Nigel Gresley itself. The World of Steam, meanwhile, offers you the chance to eavesdrop on express trains on the Paddington-Birmingham line at Templecombe Station, a goods train on the Waverley route, climbing towards Whitrope Summit, and rather more exotically DB locomotives in Southern Germany, at Muhlen bei Horb, in the Black Forest and TCDD locomotives on the Bagdhad-Istanbul line, in the Taurus Mountains and at Yenice in Southern Turkey. It’s like you were on the footplate itself, breathing in the heady aroma of steam and being temporarily blinded by a stray smut.

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