Wildlife Charity Albums
In a nutshell: two various-artists albums organised by me with the hope of raising some money and general awareness for the Ulster Wildlife Trust and the WWF, via its Northern Ireland office. The Wildlife Album was released in December 2004 and Live In Hope: The Wildlife Album 2 was released in November 2005. Detailed info on the content of each album and how to obtain copies, securely by cheque or credit card, can be found on the project website: www.thewildlifealbum.com – created for free by the excellent Rick Monro, and benefiting greatly by the loan of secure credit card ordering facilities from contributing artist Martyn Joseph. Here, though, are a couple of published pieces, one on each album: the first a piece that I was asked to write for the quarterly magazine of IMRO (the Irish Musicians’ Right Organisation, membership of which I recommend to anyone involved in making music in Ireland); the second an interview for the Irish News by my friend, and co-author of Irish, Folk Trad & Blues: A Secret History, Trevor Hodgett, whose features on jazz, blues and whimsical charity projects appear more or less weekly in the paper.
Hear some tracks from the two Wildlife Albums at: www.MySpace.com/thewildlifealbum
The Wildlife Album
The Wildlife Album 2
The Wildlife Album
By Colin Harper, for the IMRO membership magazine MQ, Winter 2004
When I first stumbled into the notion of producing a wildlife charity album of some sort, I had no idea that it would, apparently, be the first since the Beatles gave ‘Across The Universe’ to Spike Milligan’s WWF-benefitting No One’s Gonna Change Our World LP in 1969.
Towards the end of 2003 I was reading the salutory works of extinction author/artist Errol Fuller, most movingly The Great Auk – the tragic history of a Penguin-like creature hunted to oblivion in 1844 – while also revisiting my own work as a pro music journalist in the ’90s for an anthology, subsequently published as Irish Folk, Trad & Blues: A Secret History. That process made me unearth, dispassionately, some recordings I’d made in the mid ‘90s, for no commercial purpose, with an array of great musicians – from the then-unknown Iain Archer to trad icon Martin Hayes and American guitar ace Brooks Williams.
There were four tracks, I felt, which might conceivably backbone a project to benefit, in some small way, the dwindling wild of our world. It was a start. Currently a librarian at a Belfast music college, I was now fortunate in knowing some really wonderful musicians from the classical world: one, Anita Mawhinney (wife of rising Irish composer Simon Mawhinney), generously helped me transcribe, for string quartet, a requiem dedicated to the Great Auk and the Dodo while other colleagues, the Dennison Quartet, dutifully recorded it. The game was afoot.
Cara Dillon, an old friend, immediately agreed to record an exclusive track; Andy Irvine, with whom I’d been working on a biographical project, was up for a duet. More remarkably still, Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson, whom I’d often interviewed, agreed to help – and asked specifically to play on whatever Andy did. After months of seeking diary convergence (and almost managing it), Cara and Andy ultimately recorded separate songs, at Enda Walsh’s studio in Cullybackey, with Anderson overdubbing flute on Andy’s track and Cara’s husband Sam mixing it in Somerset – though trying to get a copy in time to Andy, by then in Australia, to sign-off on was an eleventh hour nail-biter far too complex to relate here…
By that stage it was September 2004. In between the Auk-strings and Andy’s approval, and hence manufacturing, a lot had happened. Errol Fuller, eventually tracked down, gladly gave an Auk painting for the cover, while tracks had flowed in from Gordon Giltrap, Roy Harper, Fairport Convention, Martyn Joseph (who also, incredibly, donated the use of his secure credit card web facility) and others. I’d organised sessions, at Novatech Studios, Belfast, for a couple of my ‘local heroes’: astonishing young opera diva Catherine Harper (no relation) with jazz maestro Linley Hamilton; and former Tamalin vocalist Tina McSherry with a Belfast ‘supergroup’ including Brian Connor, Colin Reid and Leya’s Paul Hamilton. I was also thrilled to have recorded instrumental pieces with British guitar legend Bert Jansch (at my request) and Dutch fusion god Jan Akkerman (bizarrely, at his request – and this from a man who once splendidly turned down a tour with Sting ‘because I didn’t like his music’).
A member of the Ulster Wildlife Trust, I’d offered them the project from day one, with initial stand-offishness becoming qualified enthusiasm then wholehearted support – largely in the course of one phone call. But I also wanted a global co-beneficiary. The IFAW assumed I was a nutter and ended the call; the WWF (London) responded similarly. But the WWF (Northern Ireland), incredibly, turned it around. Thus, a year on: two logos, two endorsements, 21 tracks, and just enough cash-flow from feverish spare-time writing commissions to have made it happen.
Launched on December 9 2004 – 35 years to the week after its sole predecessor – web links to www.thewildlifealbum.com are already delivering worldwide custom to this 100% charitable release. From February 2005 it becomes available nationally via a generous distribution/PR arrangement with Peter Muir and Pat Tynan at Market Square Records – more good friends from what I once foolishly thought was my past life. Thanks to them, and to the many others involved – musicians, studio guys, graphic designers and media friends – the stoat, the red squirrel and the Irish hare (along with the penguin, the polar bear and the tiger) might have that little bit more of a chance in life. I very much hope so. And if a few under-appreciated Irish musicians get heard all around the world in the process, then so much the better.
Colin Harper Interview
by Trevor Hodgett, from the Irish News, February 2006
Talk about the gift of the gab. If you or I were to approach megastars like Roxy Music, Jethro Tull and the Mahavishnu Orchestra and ask them to donate tracks to a charity album on behalf of the Ulster Wildlife Trust and the WWF we would, I fear, find ourselves out on the street pretty pronto with our ears ringing.
But Colin Harper – Belfast music critic, songwriter, promoter and allround silver- tongued devil – is obviously made of sterner stuff for he has miraculously managed to recruit all of the above and sixteen others including Richard Thompson, Jan Akkerman and Steve Hackett for the recently released Live In Hope, a follow-up to a similar venture last year, The Wildlife Album.
So how does he do it? Let Harper himself explain: “With the first album I called in favours with musician friends like Roy Harper and Andy Irvine.
“For this album I did get in touch directly with [Jethro Tull leader] Ian Anderson because we know each other, but because the first album was a success I had more confidence this time and I could actually go to record companies and say, ‘Can I have this track by this artist?’
“And this time I had a criterion of making every track relevant to a nature theme, whether Bruce Cockburn’s ‘If A Tree Falls‘, which is directly concerned with environmental matters, or Bert Jansch’s ‘Black Birds of Brittany’ which is about an oil slick situation.”
Even Harper’s persuasive powers sometimes proved insufficient however.
“I was rejected by the Who,” he admits. “But they weren’t being obnoxious: I’m sure they get asked to do charity albums a lot and have to pick and choose otherwise they devalue their brand.
“And I tried Paul McCartney but the answer was that he never licenses his tracks to any ‘various artists’ compilations. So he wasn’t just picking on me!”
One refusal was more quirky, as Harper explains: “A well-known British blues artist who shall remain anonymous decided not to contribute when he heard there was a Roxy Music track, given that Bryan Ferry’s son is a prominent pro-fox-hunting campaigner!”
The title Live In Hope suggests an optimism about the planet’s future that Harper admits he doesn’t feel. “It strikes me as sad that the world will be a less interesting place because all our diversity of life is fast disappearing,” he sighs. “I am pessimistic.
“However, you have to try even though you can never do enough. It’s taken a lot of effort to make this CD happen but I like to think it might be the spark to something else, that it might lead somebody else to do something really inconceivable that will make millions. You never know: the next Bill Gates may be some guy who’s bought a copy of this and when he’s made his billions he can donate his money to save whatever wildlife is left at that point.”
Live In Hope is now available. More information from www.thewildlifealbum.com