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Arthuan Rebis – La Primavera del Piccolo Popolo (2020) Review



When it comes to selecting the albums that we want to review Ilona and I work very closely together. Sometimes I find a band and enthusiastically share it with Ilona to get it played on Celtcast, so I am allowed to write a review on it. And sometimes Ilona drops me a line when she finds something really special in her mailbox. And that is just what happened with La Primavera del Piccolo Popolo. It started with one small line:
-‘Cliff, at the moment I’m chatting with Arthuan Rebis.
That was it. But five days later I got another message from Ilona:
-‘Cliff, I’m going to send a very special album to you. It is from the Italian artist Arthuan. He made this record as a Corona lock-down project, and I love it!!
Well, messages like that made me discover beautiful music of bands like Cara, Vilsevind and Rachel Croft, so my expectations were high! And, as always, I was not disappointed. La Primavera del Piccolo Popolo is an intriguing musical fairytale, calming, peaceful, and meditative. Arthuan Rebis recorded it all by himself, only assisted by narrator Paolo Tofani.
So come, let us travel to Italy together. Let’s travel to a spring that belonged only to the fairy people. Let’s go and listen to a story that started not that long ago. A story that started on March the 21st of this year.
Arthuan Rebis is the artist’s name of Italian composer, multi-instrumentalist, and free-spirited mind Alessandro Arturo Cucurnia. Arthuan, as we will continue to call him, has built up a quite interesting back catalog. Since 2011 he is a member of the Italian medieval/dance/performance act In Vino Veritas. We did a review on their latest album Grimorium Magi not that long ago [link]. He is also the founding member of The Magic Door, a band he started with film director, actress, and songwriter Giada Colagrande. We will dive into this intriguing band in a later review, but, having said that, those interested in world folk and art-pop should check this band out straight away.
Over the years Arthuan has studied traditional music from across the world. Finding an equal love for Nordic folk, Celtic music, and Eastern (read Mongolian, Tibetan, Chinese, and Indian) traditional music. His interest is also not limited by a time period, he is just as happy to play Medieval traditionals with In Vino Veritas as he is playing modern art-folk with The Magic Door.

All of those influences have found their way on La Primavera del Piccolo Popolo. A musical fairytale the artist started writing at the start of the Corona outbreak and subsequent lockdown, and that he finished around a month later. Aurore Invisibili, the first song on La Primavera del Piccolo Popolo, is a blueprint for the whole album. If you love this song you’ll love the whole album. No question about it! When I first heard it I described it as a mix of Emian and Vael. Calm meditative music almost leaning towards the new age sound, but never as sugar-coated.
In this song, no on this whole album, Arthuan brings two worlds together. On one hand you have the European folk side with instruments like the nyckelharpa, classical guitar, and harp. On the other you have the eastern influences of the Hulusi – a Chinese reed instrument – with its slightly haunted tone and the Indian Esraj – a string instrument played with a bow.
The combination of the two worlds gives you beautiful instrumental ballads, with a slightly sad and melancholic feel to them that just captures you deep within. Vael introduced the word Pan folk – world folk – to describe their music, and this is world folk at its very very best!



…A voice warm enough to melt chocolate icecream…

The title song La Primavera del Piccolo Popolo starts with Narrator Paolo Tofani reciting the first part of the fairy tale Arthuan has created. And what a voice Paolo has. A voice warm enough to melt chocolate icecream in a fridge. Rarely have I met somebody with soo much love in his voice. I now fully understand why women looooove Italians. Hearing Paolo talk even I go weak in the knees!
The story itself is about the fairy Alidoro. Here is what Arthuan tells us about it on his bandcamp page :
‘This album is a sort of “Musical Fairytale”, a guided journey, a night flight on the wings of the fairy Alidoro, in search of a disappeared humanity and the Great Heart. I started composing the music on March 21, 2020 and I finished the arrangements and mixing exactly one month later. This was my way of channeling and transforming the “lockdown” energies: trying to evoke the inspiration of Love of an Invisible Elsewhere that I have always perceived as present.

Well, I can tell you Arthuan succeeded. He is a wonderful composer! Honnestly. The way he combines the European folk sound with Eastern folk music. The way he manages to calm you down with every note he plays. Deliberately choosing the notes that will gently ease your mind in a gentle flow of relaxation. I have loved playing this record after a stressful workday, just to relax. The Third song Venti di Impermanenza is a perfect example of what I just described. It is such a beautiful song, that I have no words for it. Actually it is better that I have none, words would only disturb the moment.
Danze di Alidoro e Specchi di Rugiada is another one of those wonderful compositions. And Arthuan takes his time in this one. For 11:08 minutes he captives you in this 4 part world folk suite. In English the title of the song translates to: The dance of Alidoro in between mirrors of dew and it is done so exquisitely, so tastefully. Please listen to that beautiful rhythmical harp melody, repetative but never getting boring. Listen to those beautiful notes of the esraj and guitar, those touches of synthesizer, always coming and going, the music ever so gently increasing in strength, representing the waking day. It all sounds so simple and in that lies its beauty. Less is more. Let me rephrase that! less is pure beauty!

…This record is as pure as you can get…

Vael, Emian, new age music and every now and again touches of Mike Oldfield. That were the references that came to my mind while listening to la Primavera de Piccolo Popolo. Not totally true actually, I had one more reference I wrote down, but at first I discarded it as too obvious. I have a T’ai Chi CD at home – music purely made for meditation – and La Primavera del Piccolo Popolo has that same calming effect on me. ‘This would be such wonderful music to meditate to‘ I wrote. But as I said, I found it too obvious. I feared that, together with my reference to new age music, it would push this album in one certain corner. A corner that, considering all its quality, wouldn’t do justice to this wonderful album. So I decided to leave it out. That was until I read Arthuan’s biography and the part about his holistic activities:
‘ Since he was a child he has cultivated vocation, study, and research about spirituality and esotericism. He currently conducts seminars of the magical science of sound, meditation with the elements and connection and interaction with the invisible worlds.’

Well, you hear all that in la Primavera de Piccolo Popolo. This record is as pure as you can get. This album IS Alessandro Arturo Cucurnia in his musical form. This is everything he stands for.
The fact that it was created in just a month’s time is its biggest asset. It means the music isn’t polished out. It has kept its freshness, its innocence, its purity. This is the essence of Arthuan Rebis. This is the essence of what he wanted to say. And he said it beautifully!!! Thank you Arthuan!! Thank you Alidoro, for flying out that night in March, so we all could hear your wonderful story!

– Cliff

– editor: Anna Schürmann
– pictures: Arthuan Rebis

Hamish Napier – The Railway (2018) review



Little did I know what a treasure chest of music I would discover when Mark van der Stelt suggested I should write an introduction to Back of the Moon‘s album Luminosity. Not only was the music by the band itself mesmerizing, but so were the projects that the band were involved with afterward. There is the singer/songwriter extraordinaire Findlay Napier, (go check out his three solo albums and discover the magic of ‘just’ a voice and a guitar), there is the lovely Celtic folk on Pendulum, Gillian Frame‘s 2016 solo album I reviewed a couple of months ago (link), and I haven’t even started exploring the trazillion records Ali Hutton has been involved with. But today I want to focus on the lovely concept folk albums of composer and multi-instrumentalist Hamish Napier, something I have wanted to do from the moment I first listened to them on bandcamp. Earlier I combined his two nature-inspired albums: The River (2016) and The Woods (2020) in one review [here], now I will focus on the third solo album Hamish has recorded up till now: The Railway.
portrait Hamish Napier Hamish Napier, to quote the bio on his webpage:
-“ is originally from Strathspey in the Scottish Highlands. For over a decade he has been an integral part of Glasgow’s vibrant folk music scene, whilst also touring in Europe and North America with Scottish folk quartet Back of the Moon (‘Folk Band of the Year 2005’ MG Alba Scots Trad Music Awards). Gaining degrees in Astronomy and Music when he first moved from his native Highlands to the city of Glasgow, Hamish was then awarded a year’s scholarship to study jazz piano and composition at the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston, USA. Hamish now teaches composition and music theory at Glasgow’s Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and at music schools and festivals worldwide. He has recently returned to his native Strathspey, composing three solo albums The River (2016), The Railway (2018), and The Woods (2020) in celebration of his homeland.
When Hamish performed The River live in Grantown in summer ’16, Karen Blessington approached him enthusiastically after the show, inviting him to compose a soundtrack to her exciting new venture, the Grantown East: Highland Heritage & Cultural Centre. And the rest, as they say, is history. During the making of this album, Hamish talked a lot with former railwaymen Jimmy Gray (then 93), Jacky Hay (then 94), and James Telfer (then 94). The Railway is as much their story as it is Hamish’s.

The record kicks off with The Speyside Line. As on the whole record, Hamish combines his love for piano and whistles with his talent to compose really catchy instrumental Celtic folk songs that are rich in tradition but with a modern, slightly jazzy sound. Those jazzy laid back drums and double bass lines are what make his folk music so accessible. The song is about the Spey line itself, its route never far from the river, sometimes almost hanging over it, and – listening to the music – traveling it must have been beautiful. Hamish – the composer – has this special ability to take a picture in notes, to create a drawing in his melody lines, and on The Speyside Line he makes us re-live every bend of this historic line.

‘A pair of tunes for a pair of steam locomotives’ That’s how Hamish introduces Double Header, the second song on The Railway. And yes Hamish did indeed write a song to immortalize two famous old steam locomotives. Even more actually. For the steam geeks here is the rest of Hamish’s introduction:
‘The first tune is for ‘The Hikers’ of the Highland Railway, the popular ‘Black 5’ (LMS Class 5) which driver Jocky Hay praised as a “damn good engine!” The second is for The Sojer, the Gordon Highlander, the Speyside Line’s most beloved LNER D40. The Strathspey Railway’s beautifully restored Ivatt Class 2 locomotive also gets a wee mention, its British Rail train number ‘46512’ is also the chord sequence in the bridge between the two tunes!’
I love reading those introductions. It really brings the music and story together in a funny and witty way. The song itself starts with some lovely upbeat variations on flute and violin representing ‘the Hikers’ of the Highland railway before the highland pipes slowly ‘merge’ in to represent ‘the Sojer’ of the Speyside line.

Next up is Jocky the Mole and it brings back the glory days of Back of the Moon, with the brothers Napier joining forces one more time. Findlay takes the vocals twice on The Railway: in this song, and in The World Came In By Rail. Both are, as we Dutch say, pearls of Celtic singer-songwriter folk music that would not have sounded out of place on that classic album Luminosity. My first highlight of the CD.
It is followed straight by my second highlight: The Firebox. Don’t ask me HOW Hamish did it, but I can just see the flames licking through the coals as the fire is lit in the firebox. You can feel the engine heating up, you can feel the immense power, that was able to pull all those carriages up the Hills awakening. The steal muscles of the mighty machine gearing up for action. The deep double bass rhythm in the song represents that mighty power, the flute and fiddle variations represent the fire jumping and licking over the coals as the fireman shoved shovel after shovel of fuel into the firebox.



The Old Ways is:
[quote] ‘a slow 6/8 march written in honour of the traditional skills, trades, and ways of life lovingly preserved by historians and enthousiasts[…][..]celebrating what is unique and special about our culture.’
Up The Hill starts as a lovely song with a mesmerizing flute solo that gently eases your mind into a state of calm. If you would tell me that it is about hanging in a grass field with a strand of grass in my mouth, chilling while I am looking at the clouds passing by overhead I would have believed you. But… …the second part of the song O’er Drumochter would not fit at all, so it can’t be. And indeed it isn’t. It is about the climb to Drumochter summit, the highest part of the Scottish railway, and the struggle the old steam engines had getting up there. The story is captured wonderfully in the booklet, told by the old railwayman Jimmy Gray. As I said, this is as much the old railwaymen’s story as anything else. And Hamish is a master in capturing that.
This is proven best in Helen’s Song. A heartfelt ballad that Hamish composed in memory of Jimmy Gray’s wife Helen, who was with him for 63 years. Starting as a beautiful piano piece, it is Patsy Reid and her string skills that make Helen’s Song an exquisite homage to a lifetime of love.

But this album is not only the story of the railwaymen, in Dr. McGugan’s and Cheery Groove the story gets a true personal touch. The first song is an air written as a gift to a close friend, the second song a slip jig composed for his parents, in memory of all the great house ceilidhs -social gatherings- with friends and family over the years. In an interview, Hamish said that he finds it extremely important not to separate the ‘folk’ from the music and that is the power of this beautiful CD. The magic of it lies in the combination of music and the story told in the booklet, which was sometimes witty as the old railwaymen told their anecdotes, sometimes interesting as Hamish went into the history of the line itself, sometimes touching and beautiful as proven in Helen’s Song. I loved reading it.



This is one of those albums that got me writing as soon as I heard the first notes. Not to outdo The River,which I love, and The Woods, also a strong and unique Celtic folk album, I arguably consider The Railway to be Hamish’s best record yet. (This is a purely personal opinion though, so feel free to disagree.) Gems like Diesel, Jocky The Mole, and Helen’s Song have helped this album find its way into my CD player time and time again.
Together the trilogy of The River, The Railway, and The Woods is a true homage to the Cairngorms, the place where Hamish Napier grew up, the place he now calls home again. On the postcard that goes with the CDs it says:’ Hamish Napier; Scottish Highlander – Folk Musician – Composer – Tutor. To put it in THAT order is a clear statement! Through ALL of Hamish’s his solo work you can hear the love and pride he has for his home country, for the people that live in it, for the history of the land, for his beloved Highlands! And the best thing about it? He is not done yet! The fourth album is already on its way. I can’t wait to hear it!

– Cliff

-editor: Iris de Wolf
-pictures: Hamish Napier

If you would like to support Hamish Napier you can find him on:
Bandcamp
Facebook or
Patreon

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