March 2010 News

Those people who say, ‘That Colin Harper fellow – he certainly keeps webmeister Uncle Spike’s nose to the grindstone with his unrelenting barrage of news updates…’ – they’d be wrong. Still, five months of a gap is better than the wait before the last missive and a number of things are happening…

There are several CH-associated CD releases on Hux just out or out soon. Firstly, a set of previously unreleased Davy Graham material – a 1963 acetate of demos plus a 1973 live set from the Geoff Harden archive – titled From Monkhouse To Medway: 1963-73. Cormac O’Kane has done his usual splendid mastering job, as has the legendary Phil Smee on design, with sleevenote from myself.

Following on from last year’s deluxe packages of vintage Quintessence concerts, the next in the series is After Quintessence: The Complete Kala Recordings 1973. This is the rare self-titled 1973 LP from ex-Quintessence vocalist Phil ‘Shiva’ Jones’ short-lived band Kala, which also featured ex-Quintessence colleague Dave ‘Maha Dev’ Codling on guitar and erstwhile Quintessence producer John Barham cameoing on string and brass arrangements. The reissue – with notes from myself and Phil – adds two live tracks from a 1973 sampler album plus two previously unreleased live tracks and two LP tracks with added vocals from Phil, recorded last month and sounding terrific! Ron Geesin has done a great job on the mastering, while Phil Smee is once again on the case on the design front. In further Quintessence news, I’ve been involved in helping a one-off version of Quintessence towards appearing at the Glastonbury festival in June – Phil Jones flying in from the US to front Dave’s splendid band ‘Maha Dev’s Quintessence’ – 40 years after they performed at the very first. Hopefully some of the show will appear on BBC4’s coverage, and certainly a recording for future CD release is envisaged. The great John Barham has recently made contact with Phil and Dave after a few decades and here’s hoping they can craft some brand new creative endeavours!

A further gem from the Geoff Harden archive – Martin Carthy live at Belfast’s Sunflower folk Club in 1978, with fabulous sound and a typically fabulous performance – has been mastered recently by Cormac O’Kane for release on Hux. Graeme Thompson will be providing the sleevenotes.

After putting the word out in December, a fair amount of material from the Harden archive is now being funnelled back to the artists or the estates of whose music was recorded. Among those receiving either professionally digitised copies of the material, via Tony Furnell, or simple mini-disc copies, via me, are Harvey Andrews, Dave Burland, Bob Pegg, Nic Jones, Ian A Anderson, Gordon Giltrap and the estates of Ewan MacColl and Cyril Tawney.

Happily – for me – my own muse has returned in force since Christmas. I’m currently mid way through recording an album’s worth of songs and instrumental pieces with my good friend and Wizard of Sound (TM), Cormac O’Kane. It doesn’t help that he’s on the 11th floor and the lift’s broken, but such is the price one pays for being able to work with such a genius! Joking aside, Cormac has brought out some performances that have surprised – and delighted – me. A new ‘Millenium Oak’ guitar from Avalon really helps, too. Aside from Cormac on keyboards, bass and production, a small number of friends will be helping out on the project – the great Andy Roberts on lead guitar, Carol-Anne Lennie and Phil ‘Shiva’ Jones on a guest vocal each, ‘Ulster Scots’ Jim Cuthbertson on drums, regular cohort Ali MacKenzie on bass and jazz personality Linley Hamilton on trumpet/flugelhorn. Some strings will be involved too. Although, to my mind, it’s very much a collaboration with Cormac, without whose production skills and encouragement it wouldn’t be happening, it will seem to the casual listener (should such a creature exist!) much more of a ‘solo’ album than any previous CH projects/collaborations, with a cohesion of sound throughout. I’m particularly excited about a c.30 minute instrumental suite based on Joanna Kavenna’s Arctic history/travelogue The Ice Museum, which is roughly two-thirds recorded at the time of writing.

Finally, despite years of telling people I’ve retired from writing about music in newspapers and magazines, I was arm-twisted into writing a review of Jude Shiels’ trio gig at Whelan’s in Dublin last night (Tuesday 23rd March) for a local music magazine. I should mention here that Jude had previously arm-twisted me into writing a sleevenote for his recently released, and splendid, debut album Without Silence. Check him out on MySpace – and check out the various Hux releases at I might as well print the review here while I’m at it:

Jude Shiels Trio Whelan’s, Dublin

‘If anyone’s awake during this there’ll be trouble,’ says Brush Shiels, introducing a lullaby – and a grin – midway through son Jude’s good-natured, gently shambolic but nothing less than exhilarating album launch, of sorts. One says ‘of sorts’ for although this was a chance for the masses to hear the songs from Jude’s exquisite recent debut album Without Silence, with Brush as MD they have already been radically reworked. Keys, tempos and instrumentation have all changed. From an album coccooned in the New York cool-jazz sound of Chet Baker we now find a sonic butterfly cascading around a hitherto unknown territory between King Crimson, flamenco, Hank Williams and gypsy jazz. It’s a whole new genre that we might call progressive-rock skiffle. And, like any unknown pleasure, the discovery is a joy. With Grant Nicholas on snare drum and cymbal (a combination on which something akin to Ginger Baker’s ‘Toad’ was nevertheless still possible) and Brush, seated throughout, on rhythm guitar, Jude fronted the band with an amplified nine-Euro nylon string guitar – on which he soared, like Django Reinhardt careering on the cliff of Coltrane-esque atonality without ever falling off it. The sound was visceral, left-field and utterly joyous – and for two thirds of the gig, before resolving the high-wire musical tension into a run of brilliantly-timed, incorrigible comic interjections and a few wacky encores, Brush gave his most disciplined performance for years. His was the bedrock on which Jude built his fantastical tower of song.

Colin Harper

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