December 2020 Update

A strange year, wasn’t it? Much of it has felt like ‘ticking over’, waiting for a vaccine or something approaching normal – and being exasperated with the poor decision-making of various authorities, often crushing butterflies on wheels. Belfast City Council taking away all 12 of their picnic tables in CS Lewis Square because they happened to be relatively near a café (either closed or operating as takeaway-only for most of the year) – and woe betide anyone sits down outside drinking coffee – was especially petty and ridiculous. Rant over… on with the fun…

While my academic proofreading has been the main thing in recent months, and largely unaffected by the pandemic and its consequences, I’ve been delighted to have had the chance to work on a few interesting creative projects – and to initiate a couple.

Back in May, I mentioned a Colosseum project – Transmissions: Live at the BBC – a 6CD set for Repertoire. I effectively ‘curated’ this in the sense of locating off-air recordings and combining these with master copies of other material, mostly retained by Colosseum leader Jon Hiseman, in a sequence that made sense across six discs. Liaising with the sensational, wildly enthusiastic German mastering engineer Eroc and with Repertoire’s delightful and forensic administrative wizard Sam Szczepanski, was a joy. Legendary pop journalist Chris Welch contributed an excellent booklet essay featuring new interviews with Colosseum alumni. Creating the set proved logistically challenging – and included a stop-the-presses moment when the manufacturing was literally halted to accommodate one session being replaced by higher-quality audio that had belatedly come to my attention – but we got there in the end. And hats off to Repertoire MD Thomas Neelsen for making the call on adding that late content.

I tandem with the Colosseum set, I was able to assist in a modest but useful way with what became a mammoth 14CD Barbara Thompson at the BBC set – British jazz icon Barbara being the late Jon Hiseman’s wife. Both sets are released this month, December 2020.

I’m currently engrossed in archaeology for an expanded version of Repertoire’s 2015 Pretty Things’ Live at the BBC 4CD set. Amazingly, it looks like that set will be expanded by around 60 tracks – lost gems from the 60s and 70s plus a couple of sessions from the 2000s. They’ll just about squeeze on to six discs. I’ve every confidence that Eroc’s mastering on this set – the previous edition having been mastered by Jon Astley – will be as fantastic as ever, and another reason for fans to get their wallets out.

Finally, my long-gestating project with Earth Records around a late folk legend is just about ‘there’ in terms of assembly, mastering and (extensive) booklet writing. I can’t say much about it just yet, but I’m very excited about it and I’ve every confidence that fans will be blown away when it appears, hopefully around the middle of 2021, all being well.

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So, what of those two creative initiations I mentioned? Well, I became aware a few months back of four songs on audience recordings of US concerts in 2010–11 by the late Bert Jansch that he had never commercially released. Others – Jon Riley and Alf Cole, for example – have made their own renditions of three of these available on YouTube, plus tablature in at least one case. That left one…

I asked my friend Sarah McQuaid, a Cornwall troubadour sensation whose touring diary was (like those of virtually all pro musicians) wiped out overnight by Covid, to studio-record a version of the last of the four, a Christmas song, ‘Shine Your Light’, known from only one bootleg recording (in April 2011, which is curious in itself). Sarah leaped at my (financially very modest) commission, along with two willing music/events colleagues, and recorded a fabulous arrangement of the song. I couldn’t be happier about it! Mark Stratford, another music pro and pal, in Oxfordshire, very generously used his skills to assemble a video for the song, including wintry scenes and phone footage of Sarah recording. An amazing job all round! It was wonderful to be involved in something creative and positive like this during a time of such misery for all in the arts/events world. Tiny projects like this can be no substitute for music people being able to get out and make a living (usually, an already fairly fragile living), but the positive energy around it was terrific – and we created something lasting. It’s there on YouTube, and it will be there next Christmas as well…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_48v2BGxsAA

Two years after ‘Smash the System’, isn’t it time we expressed our views again about the especially appalling politicians of Northern Ireland? I certainly thought so. That’s the second of my late-2020 creative endeavours. £4.5 million in unsolicited public cash to Covid-assist people who neither needed it nor asked for it, and most of whom haven’t returned it – our politicians are simply no good, yet, given the peculiar and tribal circumstances of NI and the walk-on-eggshells oversight they get from national government, they appear to have jobs for life – and no competency to do those jobs. It’s a weird situation – the great majority of people in NI know these people are crap and yet the status quo seems impossible to change. A bit like the musical direction of Status Quo.

Thus it was that Bourgeois Fury reassembled, this month, to record ‘Northern Ireland Politicians’ at Brian Houston’s sensational new Stoney Road Studio outside Dundonald. Shock Treatment/Hat Band stalwart Dave McLarnon is on vocals this time, with pub-rock veteran Ali MacKenzie on burbling bass, punk legend Petesy Burns on blistering drums, Stonefish sensation Norman Boyd on lead guitar, myself and Lonesome Chris Todd on additional guitars, Wookalily lady Adele Ingram on backing vocals, Anna Grindle, ‘Mistress of Mellow’, on backing vocal and piano and possibly soul sister Ellen Weir on additional BVs. The award-winning Mark Case will be putting a video together and hopefully the thing will be online before Christmas. We need futile gestures…

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And finally… I have a Bandcamp page. With Market Square mogul Peter Muir bowing out of the physical music game, I’ve made my albums Titanium Flag and Sunset Cavaliers available (physically and digitally) via Bandcamp, along with (digitally only) the EP Don’t Go to Nashville and the single ‘Make Your own World’. My books The Wheels of the World: 300 Years of Irish Uillean Pipers (2015) and the limited-edition Echoes From Then: Glimpses of John McLaughlin 1959–75 (2018) are also available there, under the ‘Merch’ heading. Here’s the link:

https://colinharper.bandcamp.com/

Merry Christmas one and all! And fingers crossed for a safer and more prosperous 2021.