There is no denying it,
Rob van Barschot
is, as the Dutch would say, a musical centipede. He studied music at the
Fontys Art School,
graduating in improvisation, jazz, latin and afro.
He played drums and percussion in a jazz choir; a Foo Fighters tribute band and, of course, his former band
He was musical leader in jazz jam sessions and worked together with Fieke van der Hurk on the 2018
leading the percussion section. He gives well-received drum/percussion workshops. He makes dance music with his friend and partner in crime Daphyd Sens under the name
And now his first solo album Home is out through
Bandcamp featuring the GUDA drum. Rob wrote most of the music himself or co-wrote it, adding the words ‘solo-artist’ and ‘composer’ to his already impressive CV.
Rob explained to me that the idea for this solo album started during the recording of the first ThunderCrow CD Drop It.
– ‘2 years ago, with ThunderCrow, we decided we would like to add a ‘handpan’ sound to the recordings of Drop It. I found a second hand GUDA drum on the internet with Omnia logos on it.
I thought that was funny, so I bought that one. When the developers of the GUDA drum found out I bought a drum with my own logos on it, they also thought it was funny, and gave me a second drum for free! That’s how my collaboration with GUDA DRUM by ZEN PERCUSSION started. 2 years later I have several GUDAs at home for teaching private and group lessons, all in their own size and scale.’
So, what is a GUDA drum? It is a hybrid between a tongue drum and a handpan. A tongue drum would be a drum originally made from propan tanks with tongues cut out that give the drum its tone. Handpans are drums where two metal shells are glued together and fields -I would call them dents- are worked into the instrument which produce several harmonious tones when hit.
A GUDA drum is also made of two half shells glued together, but has tongues cut out instead of the ‘dents’ that you can see on a handpan. It is usually played with the fingers by tapping the tongues and creating a melody like that. Despite being a ‘steel’ drum I find the sound of the GUDA drum warm, mellow and comforting where a handpan and several other tongue drums I heard are bit more metallic sounding.
The music on Home reflects that sound. It’s relaxing, soothing, yet rhythmical music. The album is firmly rooted in the new age tradition with touches of ambient beats cheering you up. But there is a big difference. Where most new age music has this carpet of violin or keyboard smoothing out the rhythms, giving it a bit of a nostalgic of melancholic feel, the melodylines played on the GUDA drum are part of the rhythm, giving the songs on Home a special groove, and a real positive vibe. It sounds a lot more grounded, and less dreamy than most other new age albums.
Rob:‘The album is called Home, because I recorded everything in the relaxing environment of my own house (except Nomad, which is a live recording from a theatre). The reason why it sounds so great is because Fieke van den Hurk
mixed and mastered my home recordings in her studio. If you listen carefully you can hear breathing, walking and nature sounds on the album because we chose not to hide any ‘extra sounds’ we made during the recording process. The girls from
(picture above) recorded their parts in their own homes and of course Tineke Ogink (second from right) wrote the lyrics for Fox and Bird.
Besides Fieke and Guinevere I had help from Wouter de Belder aka “Het Belders Strijkorkest” -violin, alto-violin, double bass- and from percussionist Gijs Anders van Straalen -garrapata, udu, pandeiro, caixixi, quinto, conguita-‘
Rob himself plays three GUDA drums on Home; the GUDA F Custom, – G Enigma and – Freezbee A African, as well as cajons, shakers, bells, marimba, bongos, cymbals, tammorra, darbuka, floor tom, tambourine and the Logic drum machine.
The first song on Home, La Vita, starts with Rob playing a melody on a single GUDA drum and the beauty of the instrument becomes clear straight away. Wouter de Belder’s low bass sound really complements the bell like sound of the GUDA drum. And with the addition of the percussion, the alto violin and the repetition of the main melody, a real gentle, almost hypnotising song emerges. Rob really proves himself to be a strong songwriter.
Now when you happen to know (like I do) that Rob’s girlfriend is called Vita, you probably, just like me, expect La Vita to sound like a love song, but it doesn’t. It feels comforting, safe and reassuring like a warm bath in winter, a glass of wine in a late summer breeze, or a long hug from a best friend. That sort of safe. 100% spot on says Rob.
– ‘I have written this song for my girlfriend Vita. She needs me to play some GUDA tunes in the evening so she can relax before she goes to bed. I’ve added the word “La” so the title has a more general feel (and of course Vita IS a big part of my life.)‘
What I particularly like about La Vita is all the extra bits added to the song. Little bits of percussion, the strings supporting the GUDA drum melody or the electronic beats in the end giving this new age song that bit of ambient sparkle, that touch of jazzy groove. A wonderful start to this album, I have to say.
The second song Nomad has a more African feel to it. The GUDA drum here reminds me of the sound of a kalimba. A small African ‘thumb piano’ made from wood with metal keys. Together with the added percussion instruments it takes my imagination right into the savannas of southern Africa.
Rob:‘ Nomad is a solo piece I wrote while I was touring in Bratislava, Zlin and Prague. This live version comes from my last theatre tour with OMNIA. A nice memory from 7 years of touring the world.’
The third song, Neal Creek Resort, again has my imagination sparkling. The title suggests a remote place in the desert and the music took me on a fun journey figuring out where that place was. In the end I settled for a Creek somewhere in the Australian outback, but I was wrong this time.
Rob: ‘Neal Creek Resort is a song I wrote while I was in the USA, in the most beautiful resort I have ever seen. We were able to see the sun set together with the lovely people that own the resort. The repetitive melody will get you into a nice relaxing mood. Later in the song you will hear a lot of different melodies crossing each other which represent the drops of water in the creek.’
Those melodies come in after a minute or two and they are beautiful. As one melody climbs over the other in a repetetive way, one variation flowing into the next I’m strongly reminded of
Mike Oldfield’sTubular Bells, or even more of the album Incantations by the same artist.
Talking about Mike Oldfield, the next song Bali Suite is a three part song that could easily be on one of his albums. It starts with the sound of waves. Through the waves you can hear the monks tap their Buddhist gongs. Yet another way to use the GUDA drum. As the song progresses you hear the jazz influence creeping in again. The GUDA drum and the percussion play with each other, react to each other in a way you would expect jazz instruments to interact, bringing a new dimension to the already varied sound on this album. And yet the mellow new age atmosphere remains no matter what. Even in the third part of this suite Bali Volcano, where the jazz rhythms become a bit too improvised for me to understand them, leaving me a wee bit lost. But not for long, after a minute or two the lead rhythm -or should I say melody- of the GUDA drum picks me up again and brings me back to the mellow chilled out state of enjoyment I have all the way through this album.
Rob :‘ Bali Suite is a three part song. I wanted to record a song with Gijs, and we had so much fun that it turned into a complete suite.The first part is called Bali Ocean.You will arrive at the beach, and travel into the jungle of Bali.
Bali Jungle is the 2nd part of the Bali Suite. In this part we go further in to the mainland where we start to hear more sounds from the jungle. The garrapata, GUDA and dun dun solos were all done in one take!
Bali Volcano is the 3rd and final part of the Bali Suite. You will hear yourself walking closer and closer to the volcano until it erupts !!!! The enormous drum in the end is called Blanka, and she represents the volcano.
Fox And Bird is the odd one out on Home, it’s a vocal pop song that Rob wrote together with Tineke Ogink, one of the members of the female vocal group Guinevere. The four members of Guinevere also studied at the Fontys Art School, hence the connection as Rob explains.
Rob:’ A song that we wrote with Guinevere, a mystic pop vocal group. I’ve met these girls when I was studying in Tilburg. We didn’t see each other for 8 years or so, and suddenly we bumped into each other again. For the inspiration of this song I have to send you to Tineke Ogink, who wrote the lyrics after I sent her the melody.’
Tineke Ogink:‘Fox And Bird is about two lovers who, despite their desire to be together, just can’t be. It actually started out as an idea to just put the four voices of Guinevere underneath the beautiful, serene sound of the GUDA drum, kind of like a bed. Because the drums all come in different keys and Rob wanted to use two of them, we had these two chords to start out with. Once I started getting ideas for a melody, the words started to flow. The sound of the Guda Drum brings clear visions of nature to me and I’ve always been a fool for a love story, even when it doesn’t end well like this one.
It would be against the nature of a fox and a bird to be together, they just don’t belong, they are too different. But still the fox and bird in this story try. And, sadly, they fail. It’s a story that happens in real life all the time. Two people loving each other and willing to do anything to stay together, even when they just don’t belong. Beautiful, but sad..’
The song itself is beautiful. Guinevere in its essence is a a capella group, blending their wonderful vocals together as I remember of the R&B group Shai and their big hit If I Ever Fall In Love Again. The ladies have that same soul in their voices. Together with the harmonies of the GUDA drums and the bass under it Fox and Bird is a wonderful ballad to end the album.
Overall I love Home. It has a real laid back feeling, the ideal music to put on if you want to relax and unwind. It has this mellow summer night feel all over it, yet, Rob experimented a lot with this intresting instrument which was totally new to him. Going from new age to ambient, from African Kalimba to Buddhist gongs, with that ever so slight jazzy approach to it all.
Rob:‘Yes, I’ve written a lot of different songs to find out what’s possible on the GUDA drum. 2 songs that didn’t make the album (maybe the next one) are a drum ’n’ bass and a jazz song. Because it’s so easy to amplify GUDA drums, I’ve had several effect pedals attached to them to see what the limits are and I hope the GUDA drum will be seen as a diverse instrument that has unique acoustic – and digital options.
Working together with other artists was a blast, you won’t believe how fast Tineke finished Fox and Bird after I sent her the melody. Gijs van Straalen has the quality to add something nice to everything I write. And Fieke, well of course it was nice with Fieke. We have worked on a lot of music together -ThunderCrow,
OMNIA, etc- and I hope we will work on a lot more!’
Editor: Diane Deroubaix
PerKelt – Air And Fire (2019) review
Just a few days ago I wrote a review about the new
CD and I concluded that the album was the biggest surprise of the year. A remark I thought would stand for a few months. Not so! We are one week further and
gives me the next ‘biggest’ surprise! Who would have thought that I would listen to the first track of a PerKelt album and that my notes would say: -ballad!-, -spoken word-, -male lead vocals!!!- and -reminds me of the 60’s folk singer-songwriter Donovan!!?-. The second song I hear,Morana, is PerKelt the way I know it, fast and furious pagan speed folk, so my surprised feeling starts to fade slightly. But then Štěpán starts reciting a poem and again the comparison with
is there, specifically with the song
one of Donovan’s classic hits. What about track 4, Air And Fire then? Surely Perkelt will now go into a speed folk frenzy? No! Another gentle acoustic guitar motif, almost Spanish sounding, flowing into a midtempo flute solo with gentle guitar and violin chords… and still no lead vocals from Paya in sight!
At this point I seriously grabbed the previous album Dancer In The Wind, and listened to it, just to check if my memory could be that wrong. PerKelt were that ultra fast pagan folk band just one album ago, weren’t they!? Yep, they were. Even more intrigued I returned to Air And Fire. Track 5, Waterflies left me even more bewildered, hearing a
type chant ! Who,…why….what happened???! Don’t get me wrong, I love what I’m hearing ’till now, but it is so different. Where did this surprising music come from????
I just had to know, so I did something I had never done before. I spontaneously called Štěpán, to ask him all those questions I had running through my head, totally forgetting that my normal 9 to 5 timetable and that of a musician performing at night totally do not match. And even more so forgetting that there is a one hour time difference between Holland and Great Britain, whoops! So Monday morning 08:15 sharp, Štěpán Honc, guitar player and (at least for this album) lead vocalist of Perkelt, had an overexcited reviewer from the Netherlands on the phone, asking him too many questions in too short a space of time to properly answer. (Deeply sorry about that Štěpán.) luckily Štěpán didn’t mind and patiently answered them all.
Štěpán:“Did we plan this style change? Not really, we always write songs as they come and once we have enough of them for an album we go to the studio. It’s hard to call it a conceptual work then” He laughs. “But indeed, some of these songs were written slightly differently than before. Writing poetry became my big passion as a child and I have been writing poems and little stories pretty much constantly ever since. When our fiddler Duncan joined the band a couple of years ago, we naturally started writing songs together. He was bringing his melodic ideas, often with unusual rhythm changes like you can find in the new songs I’ll Be Right Back or Betrayal, and I opened my notebook with lyrics… and it just worked together really nicely. Paya then came in and, as always, she brought some crystal-clear Celtic melodies on top of that. Together, including David we would then arrange and polish all the ideas until everything felt just right.
In some other songs, however, I desired to try the proper singer-songwriting. Write songs that can be easily played just with one voice and a guitar. In the band we al love good singer-songwriting, when poetry meets music in the most easiest-flowing- and the most sensitive of ways. Each of us listens to many songwriters, there are some brilliant Czech songwriters that nobody in the UK could hear of, for the reason of the language barrier. Inspired by this kind of music came songs like Robin And Parakeet, When The Water Is Pure or The Little Prayer. All of them, but especially the last one, The Little Prayer, also follow my obsession with spoken word.
At the conservatory where I studied classical guitar, there was a period where I was struggling to find my own way of performing the melodic lines. I wasn’t very happy with the way the guitar is normally being used in this matter, so instead of listening to classical guitar music over and over again like some of my schoolmates did, I was listening to spoken word. Audio books for children were my big passion in my twenties, and the natural phrasing of the spoken word was quite an important influence on my performance and later even on my style of composing and songwriting. Admittedly I also won’t forget the first time I heard Steve from
performing The Raven by
Edgar Allen Poe!
That is a proper masterpiece! I really wanted to write something in that way -but of course with the usual PerKelt twists haha- and here I finally had a great opportunity.
With all of these songs I thought that Paya would obviously sing the lead vocal, as always, she is so good, But since I was writing the lyrics, I was the first who sang all of them to the other band members, and the guys were kinda insisting that I should keep singing them. They were so persistent that eventually I had to surrender and shake off my shyness. However, I wouldn’t call it “singing” myself, necessarily.” Štěpán adds with a laugh: “I have the vocal range of a slightly overdeveloped brick!!! So instead I focused on telling the story, emphasizing on what is important, to make my thick -although reportedly sexy- accent a bit more comprehensible. So I see it more like talking, like storytelling, really.
Is the next album gonna be in the same line as this one? I have no idea what kind of music we will be writing after this album. It will mostly depend on what will inspire us in the next couple of years, It will be a spontaneous thing, not something we plan. But I can promise you one thing, we will make sure that it is as good as possible!”
As this was a totally spontaneous early morning interview, with Štěpán indeed getting a thick Czech accent as he got into it, and me trying to follow it all while cycling to work on my bike, Štěpán kindly wrote me an email answering all my questions one more time. He did even more, he kindly wrote a personal introduction to every song on Air And Fire. And those were at times so touching I just had to add them to this review. So here is Air And Fire in Štěpán’s words and in mine. Totally spontaneous, but that is how it works in PerKelt’s world.
track 1 ROBIN AND PARAKEETŠtěpán:I have a particular feeling about keeping birds in cages. In Czechia parakeets are very popular as pets and when I see these amazing creatures trapped in a box, 50cm by 50cm their whole life, it’s quite disturbing to say the least.
I also have a feeling about some people, who are very unhappy about not having enough freedom, who keep complaining about the job they don’t like, their mortgage, yet they refuse to give up on the material comforts their lifestyle brings. A new phone every year, a big house, big TV, massages, getting drunk every night…Hence the “golden cage” and “golden key” imagery. I find it confusing. Maybe they really can’t change it. I don’t know. Or I don’t know how to do it myself. I can see that what I say is making them suffer. Their self-defence would be to convince me that I am wrong and at one point, when everything has been said, me talking or even staying would cause only pain, possibly to both of us.Cliff: This song captured me from the start and after a week of continuous listening has become my firm favourite. Štěpán has a beautiful warm and tender voice, one that, as I already said in the intro, reminds me instantly of the 60’s singer-songwriter Donovan. At first I fell in love with the melody of the song, the melody of Štěpán’s voice, but it was when I got the lyrics and saw the story behind the song that I got the full impact of it. As I was reading along while Štěpán was singing I had tears pouring over my cheeks. That’s how much its message touched me. Štěpán can say he has the vocal range of a brick. But it’s not the range that is important. It is what you do with a voice, and Štěpán is constantly reaching out to me. Reaching me way deeper than most music does. Past the point in my brain that analyses music and defines it as beautiful, interesting or just nice. He reaches deep inside my heart and cry warm tears as he does.
As a song it’s a mid tempo singer-songwriter style song with Duncan Menzies (violin) and Paya Lehane (recorder) adding some touching colour to the vocals. in the second half, the song builds up momentum. It grows from an intimate singer-songwriter ballad into a grand pagan folk classic-to-be. It’s Štěpán’s intimate, loving vocals, the lyrics full of compassion contrasting against the musical exuberance, the sense of freedom running through Duncan and Paya’s solos that make this song so special. It is pagan folk at its very, very best.
track 2 MORANAŠtěpán:Morana is a Slavic goddess of winter and death. I don’t see her as a harmful force even if she is the goddess of death, someone has to do that job 🙂 And when it’s not our time yet, she brings us together in mutual helpfulness, rebirth and humility.Cliff: This is PerKelt as we now them from previous albums. Fast and energetic pagan folk. Due to the songs theme, honouring the goddess Morana, it has a simular feel as the second and third part of Omnia’s The Morrigan. Although Morana is the goddess of winter and death, the song itself is not sad. On the contrary. It Is a celebration of life. The energy really sparked from the CD. Paya and Duncan turn Morana into a swirling magical dance between flute and violin. Driven on by the fast rhythm of Štěpán’s guitar and David’s drums. This is the ultimate form of a pagan folk extravaganza!
track 3 LITTLE PRAYERŠtěpán:This song is very personal to me. I wrote this poem at a time I was getting back on my feet, after a bit of a relationship earthquake. Illegal psytrance parties, my favourite Wicca tribe rituals and some particularly close friends helped me so much. So I just started writing and eventually managed to put everything that is important for me into this little prayer. We plan to make a video of this one, so I can share all the particular images that are behind the words properly.Cliff: The contrast between Morana and the start of Little Prayer could not have been bigger. From the ultimate celebration of pagan folk live into the sole voice of Štěpán reciting one of his poems. Štěpán already mentioned that his admiration of Omnia’s The Raven was the inspiration to write this piece of poetic music. And it has become a lovely piece of music with his own unique feel. Again this music touches me way beyond the point where it normally does. Just as Robin And Parakeet this grabs me on a much more personal level. I just want to sit, hands around my knees and listen. Absorb everything Štěpán is saying. PerKelt composed the perfect music around it, building the song up in an impressive way, really complementing every word Štěpán has written. I so hope Perkelt are invited back to this years winter
so that they can perform these songs in the intimacy of the Great Hall stage. I believe it would be a wonderful performance, one I would remember for a long time. For now I have to settle for a virtual hug of friendship after hearing Little Prayer.
track 4 AIR AND FIREŠtěpán:This is an instrumental song. One particular genre of classical guitar music I love a lot is minimalism. Take a single little musical idea, start repeating it, enhance and build upon it, until it grows into a massive structure. And, if you are PerKelt, throw a little bit of psytrance feeling in the drums and add some super virtuoso recorder parts. I love this song! we have two little motifs, the gentle air at the beginning and the aggressive fire that comes later. They grow together, just as the wind makes a little bonfire grow.Cliff: Štěpán isn’t the only one loving this song, I do to. What he didn’t say in his intro is that the two motifs he is talking about are instant earworms, happy pagan earworms, dancing in and out of your ears, tickling your brain and enticing your feet to dance, to swirl, to kick the dust up from the earth. I really don’t know who I should compliment the most in this song: Duncan who, with his lovely violin melodies is enriching the PerKelt sound, Štěpán and David driving the band on with their fast rhythms, or Paya who steals the show for me with her virtuoso recorder playing. Again the energy sparks off from my speakers. One of the very best pagan folk dance songs I’ve heard in a long time, if not ever.
track 5 WATERFLIESŠtěpán:I wrote a few environmentalist poems. This poem isn’t a very happy one but the others are even much less so. I love people so much, but it’s hard to unsee that the Earth would do really great without us.Cliff:Waterflies is a chant that has the same feel as Brisinga’s Sinä Ja Minä. It’s the first song where Paya takes the lead vocals in a strong neo pagan prayer. Together with the poem recited by Štěpán, it’s a strong voice against all that we humans do wrong on this still blue planet. Will we ever change? Perhaps the more voices sing along in protest, the more people share songs like this, the more likely it is that the human race will finally listen…Really listen! Really act! Not just agree, nod and carry on regardless.
track 6 DANCE OF GHOSTSŠtěpán: This is actually our arrangement and free translation of the song “Tanec duchů” (literally Dance of Ghosts). The song is written by my guitar teacher and very good friend back in the 90’s. He has a band called Wild West and was taking me on their tours every now and then when I was a little kiddo. I always loved this song and originally translated it just to share it with my music friends in London on our cosmic jam gatherings… but again, he guys in PerKelt liked it and agreed to arrange it for the album. Duncan brought an amazing fiddle riff that fits perfectly.It is a very powerful song about fighting against the chains of society and politics, inspired by the Native American tribes and their history.Cliff: This is the biggest contrast on the album. While the power and message of Waterflies is still resonating within me, Duncan throws out a gypsy violin intro. Dance Of Ghosts is another protest song but of a different kind than Waterflies. It is a statement on moral injustice, dressed as a pagan folk meets gypsy music meets Native American music song. Maybe a bit less exuberant than some of the other songs on Air And Fire, but with the same powerful vibe.
track 7 I’LL BE RIGHT BACK!Štěpán:This is mostly an instrumental song, the original theme written by Duncan in a crazy 13/8 time signature. For contrast we came up with a simple and straightforward 6/8 rhythm. So simple it made us laugh… I thought hey, let’s push this even further and asked the band to give me 4 minutes. And I came up with this little waltz like singing part, about the light-headed feeling when playing at festivals. I’m very happy that this song is there, it brightens the album up a lot!Cliff: Duncan has brought new idea’s into the band. And that inspired PerKelt to make their most varied album yet. The old PerKelt trademarks are still there, the speed, the virtuoso recorder, the driving acoustic guitar, the psytrance drums, but they are now mixed with much slower, much more delicate music. As a result PerKelts music is much more dynamic now, which makes the fast sections even more powerful and the gentle passages more subtle as well. And I love every second of it. I also love the musical connection that Duncan and Paya have found. Just listen how the violin and recorder dance around each other in this ‘battle’ of talents. Simply awesome!
track 8 WHEN THE WATER IS PUREŠtěpán:Not surprisingly, I wrote this song for my girlfriend. It’s about love and about freedom, about staying up all night to keep talking, about patience and honesty. During concerts I sing this song a capella , so I decided to keep it this way on the album as well.Cliff: Well, if you ever wanted to know how an overdeveloped brick sounds, then just listen to this a capella ode to love. Everything Štěpán said about his singing style is true. But in the limitations he mentioned also lays it’s power. Štěpán happens to have a really pleasant, easy to listen to type of voice. And yes, he has a thick accent, but that actually adds more melody. Just as a Scottish accent would. And the cool thing is Paya’s voice complement his extremely well.
TRACK 9 BETRAYAL
Štěpán: I read a beautiful book by
Oriah Mountain Dreamer
called Invitation. She first wrote a poem of the same title and it became so popular that in her first book she was just explaining the verses, one by one, an amazing masterpiece! The verse that stuck to me the most goes like this:
-It doesn’t interest me if the story you are telling me is true. I want to know if you can disappoint another to be true to yourself. If you can bear the accusation of betrayal and not betray your own soul. If you can be faithless and therefore trustworthy.
Sometimes we give a promise to another, only to find later that to try and keep trying that promise you will now cause only harm. It is a very difficult situation, easy to judge harshly for those who never experienced it. Our own journey, that I believe we are destined for, does not always align with these promises. I’ll be with you forever is kind of a typical example.
In the story of this song the Moon promises a desperate girl to never leave and be there every night. And all goes good until we realise that however powerful, even the Moon is following laws much bigger than any promise, and when the eclipse unavoidably comes, the Moon disappears from the night sky and this girl feels deeply betrayed. And in her pain she does something very stupid.
In the intro the Moon introduces herself as the proud saviour. In the outro, after this experience, she cries and realises how important the role of the Sun is, who maybe doesn’t save people in the darkness, but who keeps the people away from the darkness once they get out.Cliff: A Gregorian sounding choir starts Betrayal. As you can see from Štěpán’s description above it is a tragic story wrapped in a song, much like Omnia’s Harp Of Death.
Betrayal is a strong end to this beautiful CD. It brings together all the elements that make Air And Fire such a pleasure to listen to. Štěpán’s vocals, some lovely duels between Paya and Duncan, lot’s of dynamic in the song, and David’s percussion giving it loads of energy!
I wouldn’t be surprised if in a few years time Air And Fire will be a pagan folk classic just as Omnia’s Alive! has become, because this is pagan folk at its very, very best!!!
Editor: Diane Deroubaix
Pictures taken at Castlefest 2018 by Cliff de Booy
Pyrolysis – Daylight Is Fading (2019) Review
One of the coolest things for us at CeltCast is that we have seen several new bands grow from small beginnings to big shows at
A good example is the band
who we saw opening as a singer-songwriter act for
and is now a 5-piece band opening this year’s Castlefest with only
above them on the bill. Another one is
an Italian band we had not previously heard of and whose CD Alex Sealgaire obtained and passed on to Castlefest. They became one of the most poular acts in no time.
The last example has to be
whom I saw playing long ago at a
gothic and fantasy fair.
They went on to debut at Castlefest together with
and have become a crowd favourite among the Castlefest audience in the last few years.
We at CeltCast think we found another band that could make that journey. A band that has been growing steadily since their debut album in 2012. A band that makes good energetic Celtic folk, has heaps of talent, know exactly where they wanna go and are charming nice people to top it all off. That promising band is
and they just released their newest album Daylight Is Fading.
UNIQUE SELLING POINTS
Every good band needs a unique selling point. Something that makes them stand out from the crowd.
Ye Banished Privateers
have that ‘it’ with their stageshow and their theatre style, Sunfire have ‘it’ with their western folk sound, The Sidh have their unique mix between dance and folk,
have ‘it’ with their unique verson of acoustic metal. And now Pyrolysis has ‘IT’ too. They found an unique sound and style that makes the difference between a nice album and a -what-the-f[censored]-just-happened!- CD. Well done you lot, well done!!!! For me the surprise of the year.
Pyrolysis started out in 2012 as a folk metal band, but several years, a different line-up and three albums later the sound had developed into acoustic Celtic folk. In 2017 it earned them a nomination for the title best album at the
Dutch Bastaard Awards
for their third release called Edges Of The Day.
But Stan Eimers (vocals, bodhrán, mandolin), Tim Elfring (vocals, bouzouki), Laurens Krah, (accordion), Rikke Linssen (vocals, violin, tin whistle) and new band member Joshua Kuijpers (bass guitar) were not satisfied yet, as Rikke told me. So they took their instruments, their songs, loaded it all up and sailed west to the
for some Fieke fairy dust.
-‘ We wanted a more powerful sound.’ Rikke explains. -‘So we ended up asking Fieke van den Hurk. After listening to several of the albums she had recorded we felt she was the right person to give us the sound we were looking for.’-‘ It’s really something to see her work.’ Laurens adds. -‘ Fieke really builds up a sound, layer upon layer. I have never experienced anything like that.’
The result of this collaboration has been turning its rounds in my CD player ever since it arrived, and will probably do so for many more weeks to come. But before I go into Daylight Is Fading, let’s go back to that nominated album Edges Of The Day.
BACK TO 2017: EDGES OF THE DAY
Released in 2017 Edges Of The Day is a solid Celtic folk CD. One we never reviewed at
CeltCast, but as we think it’s a album well worth listening to we make up for it now.
In general Pyrolysis makes lovely uptempo folk on Edges Of The Day, let’s say a cool mix between the bands musical influences
(a band I had personnally never heard of until Laurens pointed them out, but a cool band) with good lyrics that have meaning, good vocals and a big role for Laurens on accordion and Rikke on violin. Throwing out melody after melody to warm your hearts and move your feet.
One of the really strong points of the band is their vocals. It’s not often that a band has the luxury of three talented singers. Stan is the rock voice of the band. He has the strong lungs and that nice bit of sandpaper that you need for uptempo folk songs like Drenchman and Ladies Of The Lochs, but he also has the sensitivity to shine in a ballad like Thank The Devil.Tim’s voice is a bit higher and slightly sharper, a voice that shines as a sensitive singer-songwriter, loaded with emotion. Listen to Funniest Story and you’ll hear exactly what I mean. But he can also uses that strenght in more powerful songs like Novio Magus or the theatrical Captain Cray.
Rikke is the third lead vocalist in the band. Just as Tim she has a more fragile voice that works wonders for putting emotions across, on I Am Crow she sounds a wee bit like
and when she goes into the high notes with her soprano, it really gets an unearthly quality. I’ve really fallen in love with that song during the writing of this review. This song suits her vocal capability so well and it gives the band some extra musical possibilities.
So the variety in vocals is one strong point of the band. The other is their musicality. They are all talented musicians. The band knows how to write a good song and they have two gifted soloists which I feature and praise a lot during this review. But, as with everything, you need a good foundation before the soloists can shine. Well Stan and Tim (who played bass on the Edges Of The Day) lay a more than solid foundation. The cool thing is that, unlike most folk rock or folk punk bands, who come from a rock background and then add some folk elements to their sound, Pyrolysis take traditional folk, play it with traditional folk instruments and than add punk rock power to it. Giving them a unique rhythm and a totally different ‘drum’ sound. As I said earlier, a unique selling point!
In retrospect – after listening to Daylight Is Fading two weeks in a row- it is clear that some songs could have benefitted from a bit more power in the sound, a bit more ‘oomph’ so to say.. ….Enter Fieke van den Hurk (and enter Sander van der Heide who mastered the new CD.)
THE NEW ALBUM
So this is the point where I normally go deep into the music of the new CD with comparisons, examples etc. etc. etc., but not his time, at the band’s request. Rikke explains: -‘ We would love it if the listeners were able to form their own opinion free from the influences of a review.’
Of course I will honour that request. And in a way it’s even cooler. You listeners will all get the same surprise I had when I listened to Daylight Is Fading the first time. So instead of an in-depth review here are some of my highlights of Daylight Is Fading, in no particular order.
First off is The Pilgrim, a lovely ballad, full of emotion, something that, as I said earlier, plays to Stan’s strengths. He has that ‘sandpaper ‘voice that works so well when he wants to bring strong emotions across and there are some pretty strong emotions packed in those few lines of lyrics.I should also mention Rikke’s violin playing here, Not only does she complement Stan’s voice and Laurens’ accordion, but she also plays a lovely duet with a famous guest musician, [spoiler alert] of the well known band [spoiler alert]. A very special guest musician indeed. That collaboration promises something for future Castlefest performances.
Captain Cray is my next favourite, if only for the intro. If the end of that intro doesn’t wake you, I don’t know what will. But there is more to Captain Cray, much more. Tim, shines here as lead vocalist. He has to use all his theatrical singing skills to pull this one of. True Pyrolysis fans will of course recognise this song as a re-recording from the Edges Of The Day album. The basic arrangements of the song stayed the same, it’s just differently recorded this time, adding all the theatrics it deserved from the moment the band wrote it. Captain Cray, in this version, is definitely a favourite among my favourites.
Donald McCillavry, a cover from Silly Wizard, is a folk song with a good splash of dark whiskey over it. It’s built around an accordion riff that is catchy as hell. If this isn’t an instant crowd-pleaser I’ll eat up my kilt. Good vocals too, both the lead melody and the choir doing the chorus. This could be a potential single. Maybe it will be, who knows, but not the first one, that I know for sure.
Why? Well the band has told me what the first single will be and I’m sooo happy they chose this particular one. I do not want to spoil it, but trust me, it’s a good choice. Strong lyrics, really poetic but packed in a catchy melody line, good vocals from Tim again, strong choir in the end, but it’s the Irish reel they worked into it that makes the song for me. During the whole album Laurens throws out one highly addictive accordion melody after another, but this is the coolest of them all! It’s my old time favourite reel and Pyrolysis have it in their first single. I’m soooo glad my Discman has a repeat function.
There is yet another potential single on this album, The Pace! It is another powerful, up tempo, catchy folk song with good vocals from Stan and Laurens excelling on accordion again (yes I know it almost gets boring, but he just rocks that accordion as if he was Fieke’s kid brother). But also listen to that rhythm session in the beginning! I promise you another huge party when Pyrolysis play this intro live, the roof will come off, I’m sure of it. That intro, the violin solos, the vocals, the lyrics, the break in between, really everything fits within this song. Just take a minute to really listen to the lyrics and you’ll hear a deeper layer woven into this catchy song. I just love this. My absolute favourite amongst the favourites. Best song on the CD I think.
And there is still more to come. There is Cooley’s Reel. Again a catchy powerful folk song. Instrumental this time with Laurens playing his accordion as if it was on fire. Who needs an electric guitar solo if you have Laurens on accordion. But the best bit is the quirky a cappella choir the band throws out at 2/3th of the sing. Brilliant stuff. Well done!
Witch Hunt has a cool dynamic intro sliding effortlessly into this, mostly, instrumental song. The combination of the bands writing skills and Fieke’s sound engineering skills works wonders here. There isn’t much singing in Witch Hunt but when they do Pyrolysis feature their vocalists once more. A strong choir! And I also love those harmonies and the Celtic percussion under it.
The last song I want to pick up on is Rainy Road. Still without giving anything away, Rainy Road really brings out the best in Rikke’s vocals. The combination of her voice and Tim’s bouzouki alone is enough to get goose bumps, but when the song builds up strong towards the end, it is really a stunner of a ballad. A worthy end to this very good album.
Pyrolysis can be really proud of Daylight is Fading. If you hear the huge steps the band is taking, from In Mountains High I Stand to Edges Of The Day, and again from that album to the present one, Daylight Is Fading, it is really impressive. If they keep growing like this I’m sure that, in a few years time Pyrolysis will be at the top of the Dutch folk scene.
In the meantime,
Ye Banished Privateers, I give you your supporting act for this coming season. And you better bring your A game, ’cause if this CD is anything to go by, Pyrolysis are gonna tear the stage down!!
– Editor: Diane Deroubaix
– Sleeve art picture:Kev L. Smith
– Sleeve art design: Rikke Linssen
– Pictures: Marielle Groot Obbink
The year is 1973, Woodstock, the festival that gave a voice and its name to a whole generation, is already 4 years gone. Three of its most famous children,
Jim Morrison,Janis Joplin and
already passed away, the darker side of a free lifestyle.
The biggest story in the news is that a peace treaty finally ends the Vietnam war, giving the 60’s peace protesters their big victory. In the wake of the 60’s protests, a local protest against underground atom bomb trails in Amchitka, Alaska is turning into a nature protection group called
In the Middle East the conflict between Egypt, Syria and Israel escalates into the Yom Kippur war. The Egyptian-Syrian coalition is supported by some North African countries, Israel by the West. As a result the main oil-producing countries call out an oil embargo against the US, The Netherlands, Canada, the UK and Japan. Which means oil shortages. In Holland cars are not allowed to drive on Sundays. Can you imagine? 1973, just another year in a crazy world that is changing fast.
In the folk world things are also changing. In America the revival of folk music, that started as acoustic protest songs from artists like
Woody Gutrie,Simon and Garfunkel,
Joan Baez and her protégé
is starting to grow into folk rock, with
The Grateful Dead,
and of course
being a few of the great names in that scene.
In England bands like
are doing the same thing and are laying the foundations for what will become the Celtic rock.
is modernising and popularising traditional folk music from Brittany, an influence that can still be felt to this day. (Think of
big 90’s hit La Tribu de dana of the 90’s or more recently the lovely pop folk CD Bretagne by famous French singer
Right amongst all these changes, two things happen that will be significant for the future. One a bit more significant than the other. First of all a little babyboy called Alexander Sealgaire is born May 1973. A small footnote for mankind, a huge step for CeltCast, because he is one of the two founding fathers of this station. Secondly a young Irish band releases their first album, challenging the general opinion that music should be in English, rather than a local language, and that folk music should be traditional. That band of course is
and their music will, in the 80’s, spark a whole new genre, Celtic new age music. A legacy that still lives on to this day.
– One small thing I want to add before I write on. Although Clannad is an Irish band, quite often their names have been translated into English for ease of reading and pronunciation. I considered doing that too. But I decided against it. In the early years Clannad clearly made the choice to sing in Irish, even against the wishes of a record label. That is what set them apart from other bands at the time. So I wanted to honour that spirit. A second reason is that on all the albums I’ve listened to the names of the band members are written in Irish. So again, although I know it’s a bit harder to read, I found I should honour the choices the band made at the time and use the Irish names.- HOW IT ALL BEGAN
So how did it all start? In 1970 three siblings – Máire Ni Bhraonáin, (Moya Brennan – vocals, harp), Ciarán Ó Braonáin (Ciarán Brennan – double bass, guitar, mandolin, piano, bodhrán, glockenspiel, vocals) and Pól Ó Braonáin ( Pol Brennan – Flute, whistle, bongos, guitar vocals) together with their twin uncles Noel Ó Dúgáin (Noel Duggan – guitar, vocals) and Pádraig Ó Dúgáin (Padraig Duggan – mandolin, mandola, guitar, vocals) started playing music together. Music ran through the family, as father Leo Ó Braonáin was a member of the Slieve Foy band, – an Irish show band -, and mother Máire Ni Bhroanáin (born Ni Dúgáin) was a music teacher.
It will come as no surprise that all the kids were brought up with music, encouraged by their parents to play instruments and sing. Máire as well as her younger sister Eithne, better known as
– were both classically trained singers.
In 1968 father Leo bought a local pub in the village of Meenaleck in the county of Donegal in Ireland. As Leo saw, during the tours with the Slieve Foy band, how the dance halls around the country were closing at the time, he decided his tavern should be a podium for bands. A business plan that would never work according to the local businessmen, bankers, solicitors and others who thought they knew better.
wouldn’t last more than 6 months!. Well it still exists and is run by the second generation of Ó Braonáin!
It was in that tavern that the family band came together. As Clann as Dobhair (family from Dore, a name that was shortened to Clannad in 1973.) they played their first gigs, mostly covering songs like those of
Joni Mitchell and
the Beach Boys.
When they entered a local music competition in 1970, the Letterkenny Folk Festival, they played a selection of traditional Gaelic songs, arranged by them for a full band.
They won the contest and got their prize, a record deal with Philips. And so it was that in 1973 the first Clannad album, simply called Clannad was released by Philips Ireland. An LP filled with 8 traditionals re-arranged by the band, 4 covers and Lisa the only song on the album that the band wrote themselves.
Clannad wasn’t an instant success. The label had doubts that a band singing in Irish would sell, so they didn’t renew the contract. Even in Ireland itself there were sceptics who laughed at the idea that a Gaelic speaking band would be succesful. But, as their father/uncle Leo before them, Clannad believed in what they did and stuck to their guns, so the next two albums, Clannad 2 and Dúlamán
were again in Gealic. This time released by the small Irish
Gael linn label. A label connected to the
Gael Linn organisation, non-profit organisation, founded in 1953 to foster the Irish language and promote artistic events.
Intensive touring over Europe in 1976 and later America in 1979 meant that they slowly gained popularity, but it wasn’t until 1982 when they signed with big label RCA and accepted the invitation to write a song for Harry’s Game, a television drama, that they got their big breakthrough, while still making the music they believed in.
THE DEBUT ALBUM: CLANNAD (1973)
Back to 1973 and the debut album Clannad. There is so much to say about this debut. As with most young bands Clannad didn’t have a fully developed sound yet. Instead the album is filled with songs reflecting the influences and ideas, that would melt together into the band’s signature sound on their second album, Clannad 2. The first album is still a collection of styles, Irish folk, pop folk, a touch of medieval music, a sniff of the Beach Boys and even jazz folk! Jazz folk you say? Yep! It’s a new one for me too, but I really love it.
The opening track on Clannad, Níl Sé Ina Lá, is such a jazz folk song, and straight away my absolute favourite. The very first thing you will notice are the vocals. Máire has a warm, crystal clear voice that immediately stands out. You can clearly hear the years of classical training (Máire was destined to be a musical teacher, just as her mom). But she is not the only gifted singer in this band. The whole family is, so after Máire’s first opening lines, the whole band joins in for a short a cappella intro before the percussion picks up the rhythm and we are drawn into a lovely Joan-Baez-meets-Irish-folk-type of mid tempo song. Or so you think. As I’ve written earlier, Clannad does Irish folk their own way. To be honest, Níl Se Ina Lá is not a folk song at all. It’s a jazzy late 60’s pop song with an Irish folk feel to it. First there is the choir in the chorus that reminds me of the Belgian band
the Wallace Collection
and their big hit: Daydream. Then there are the solos, those are also not the typical cheerful folk melody lines running up and down the musical ladder. No, they are laid back, almost improvised jazz solos of flute, guitar and even double bass. The moment the band drops down to only a double bass and percussion is pure jazz. The whole song can be described as, ahm, lets say
(a late 60/early seventies psychedelic jazz rock band.) meets Joan Baez meets the Wallace Collection to do some groovy folk tunes.
Luckily there are more of these jazz folk songs on this album, cause I really like them. Siúbhán Ní Dhuibhir. is one. A jazzy melody line played by Máire on harp. Again we hear a lovely laid back flute solo, in this case reminding me of
the Moody Blues.
The jazzy harp sound returns on An tOileán Úr. This song really takes me to that late 60’s psychedelic jazz sound, especially with that Wallace Collection type choir running all along the song.
Besides these jazzy psychedelics there are many more surprises on Clannad. There is Brian Boru’s March for instance. Brian Boru was a High King of Ireland, who on the 23th of april 1014 defeated the Viking king Sigtrygg, who ruled over Dublin at the time. Brian won the battle, although he himself got killed. The battle made the Vikings relinquish their claims on Ireland, and had turn their focus more on Scotland and England. Legend has it that this tune was first played as Brian’s men carried his body to its final resting place.
The song starts with some rather dark percussion and double bass sounds. A sound similar to Hinter Der Brombeerhecke from
Even after the intro this dark slightly jazzy traditional keeps showing similarities with Waldkauz. Come to think of it, this song would nowadays surely be called instrumental pagan folk. A tantalising mix between (psychedelic) jazz folk, a waltz, medieval influences and, because of the way the mandolin is played, Greek folk music.
There is one more song on Clannad with this medieval/baroque chamber music feel to it, the instrumental Mrs. McDermott, people who like
music might want to check this song out.
Clannad-the album- is not only filled with late 60’s folk crossover experiments, it also contains some beautiful contemporary ballads, honouring the bands Irish roots, and featuring the beautiful voice of Máire. An Mhaighdean Mhara for example is a lovely ballad sung by Máire, only accompanied by acoustic guitar.
The Pretty Maid is the first English spoken song on Clannad, and is a duet between Máire and one of the lads with some gentle guitars as accompaniment. A lovely song. Actually all the ballads are tastefully done. Máire has, as I said, this beautifully trained, crystal clear voice. She constantly reminds me of the equally brilliant Joan Baez. Fun fact, just as with an old 60’s album I have of Joan Baez, you can hear that the microphones at the time were not capable of handling those powerful high notes that both of them could sing, making them sound even stronger.
My favourite ballad comes at the end of the LP and is called Morning Dew. It’s a lovely pop folk ballad, originally written by
But the Clannad version is equally beautiful. Early Clannad at their best.
Clannad performing An tOileán Úr, at the Embankment Tallaght, Dublin in 1978GENTLE POP FOLK BEAUTY: CLANNAD 2 (1974)
So,the initial idea was to make Clannad -the album- our first CeltCast Classic. But after listening to it a few times I just knew there was way more to come. Don’t get me wrong, Clannad is a charming album with some brilliant moments on it. But it is also clearly the album of a young band. In the end I just had to discover how this went on, so within a week I had bought Clannad 2 and Dúlamán, the third album Clannad brought out, both by Gael Linn records. Conveniently Gael Linn re-released both albums as a double pack CD in 2010 and this is what I chose as our first CeltCast Classic.
Both recordings are must have albums if you like 70’s Irish folk music. Both albums I would describe as pop folk. The songs follow the normal ‘rules’ of pop music arrangements, guitar, bass, drums, vocals (most of the times) and a nice solo at two third of the song. The folk part is in the instruments they play. Bodhrán instead of drums, flute solos instead of electric guitar and double bass instead of electric bass. It’s also in the song choice, many Irish traditionals and of course in the Gaelic language that is used. Clannad 2 has more ballads on it and therefore has a more relaxed, evening feel. Dúlamán is in general a bit more up tempo. But let’s dive into them in more detail, starting with Clannad 2.
The opening song on Clannad 2, An Gabhar Bán is a feet stomping, hand clapping sing-along kind of balfolk favourite that will get you going every time you hear it. Especially Pól Ó Braonián’s flute melodies and solos will put an instant smile on your face. There is nothing like an Irish flute player to make you happy. It will work nowadays just as much as it did back in the day. It is instantly clear that this sound is much closer to traditional folk than the jazz folk that opened the first record. Not that it matters, An Gabhar Bán is just as strong an opener as Níl Se Ina Lá was on the first record! I have to say, Clannad are good at that, picking the right song to start with.
With second and third songs Eleanor Plunkett and Coinleach Ghlas An Fhómhair we get into the ballad part of this CD. Especially Coinleach Ghlass An Fhómhair is a lovely, lovely song. Folk pop at his best. (So good Clannad decided to record it one more time on their breakthrough album Magical Ring) Máire excels in this wonderful love ballad, but I also love the arrangements, the subtle guitars, giving this ballad a singer-songwriter quality. And then there is that wonderful 70’s stereo effect, the guitars come at you from both the left and the right, really drawing you into the song. I just love that old stereo sound, makes me wonder why it nowadays it is done so rarely. Such a shame. But I digress. I was sifting through my favourite songs on this CD and this is clearly one of them.
My next favourite is another ballad called, By Chance It Was. Everything I said about Coinleach Ghlass An Fhómhair is true of this song too. Máire is a pleasure to listen to, the flute solo is lovely and delicate. Fans of
flute player Remy Schreuder, or of
Koen van Egmond or, of course, the vocals of
need to listen to this song, you won’t regret it.
The sixth track, Rince Briotánach starts with a gentle slow guitar riff so I settle in for another lovely ballad. Not so! Just as I concluded for myself that Clannad chose to discard the jazz influences that were so predominant on the first album, the guitar picks up speed fast and the song turns into a cool, full speed, instrumental, jazz folk gavotte. Clannad learned this song from the Breton group
who most likely played it a lot more traditional. But this version is fine by me, I just love this unique jazz folk sound, for me personally the highlight of Clannad 2. Period!
Or is it ? Dhéanainn Súgradh makes me doubt that statement straight away. I actually can’t decide. Originally Dhéanainn Súgradh was a choral work song from Scotland sung by women when refining coarse cloth. Ironically the lead vocals of Clannads jazz folk version of this traditional are sung by a man! The harp intro is lovely, the chorus a definite earworm, but what makes the song for me is the last part. A sophisticated slightly distorted electric guitar crawls in followed by Pól on flute. Together they go into a cool, jazzy, late 60’s improvised solo, mixing the best of Jethro Tull and the Moody Blues in their own sound. Cool, just cool.
And these highlights just keep coming. If Dhéanainn Súgrad is an instant earworm, then Teidhir Abhaile Riú is even worse, this must have been a crowd favourite during concerts in those days. It makes me wish I could speak Gaelic, so I could truly sing along, not mumble half-heartedly as I do now because I know I will sound silly. Not only that, I would love to really understand the lyrics because it is a song where the parents of a young girl are pleading with her to come home again and marry an eligible piper. Now that is a conversation I’d like to hear.
A last ballad, Chuaigh Mé ‘Na Rosann closes this album in style. As I said, overall Clannad 2 is a relaxed CD full of wonderful ballads, with some nice uptempo moments in between from a band that luckily hadn’t compromised their musical ideas for quick succes. An album that will appeal both to fans of Irish folk and, at times, to those that like melodious pagan folk, played by bands like
THE SIGNATURE SOUND IS FORMING: DÚLAMÁN (1976)
Speaking of pagan folk, the title song of the third Clannad album Dúlamán was of course made famous in the pagan folk scene by
on their Live Religion EP.
Clannad’s version, the first track of their third album, features the band’s strong points right away, the ones I already mentioned several times before: the strong classically trained vocals, the lovely harmonies, the tender guitar chords and the mysterious flute solos. Add that up and you get a really lovely rendition of this classic Gaelic song. The a cappella start is particularly impressive. Where I can normally compliment Máire on her vocals, it’s this time a male voice that shines. All in all a lovely strong traditional start to this third LP.
Where Clannad’s second album is more ballad orientated, on this third album they pick up the pace much more. Sometimes unexpectedly even, with Two Sisters for instance. It’s a song I know well from Emian’s Le Due Sorelle. So when I saw the lyrics I was automatically expecting a ballad, just like Emian did on Khymeia. But no. Clannad wrap this song of greed and jealousy in the most cheerful, upbeat of folk tunes, in the way only the Irish can.
And then there it is! Finally! On track 4 of their 3rd abum, Éirigh Suas a stóirin. What you ask? The famous Clannad choir of course! I was waiting for it. For me as a music enthusiast and reviewer it’s really interesting to hear how a band grows and evolves. How a typical sound is developed by a band and how it fits in with the scene they are in. Well the big feature of Clannad’s big hits, Theme to Harry’s Game and Robin are the layered vocals with the big effects on them. Using the choir as a single instrument. It is so typical of the later Clannad sound that I was hoping to find traces of it in their earlier work. And there it is, in Éirgh Suas, A Stóirin, used as an intro into the song. A small hint of their future sound. My inner geek is satisfied!
Come to think of it, thát is the real power of Clannad’s music. Their ability to take the folk music they grew up with and add new elements to it, be it the psychedelic jazz sound of the 60”s, the harmonies as you hear them here, or the new keyboard and studio technology later on with their brakthrough albums Magical Ring or Legend. In that sense you could call Clannad a progressive folk band.
The song itself is a lovely pop folk ballad. Máires lovely voice, the gentle guitars, that mesmerising Clannad choir starting and ending it, what is there not to love about this song.
As I feel I’m starting to repeat myself, I’ll just pick up a few more highlights. The Galtee Hunt is a nice little balfolk tune featuring Pól Ó Braonáin on flute. He continues with another lovely flute melody in Éirigh Is Cuir Ort Do Chuid Éadaigh. In this song Clannad combine the old and the new. A lovely jazzy double bass solo we’ve come to know now, that famous layered Clannad new age choir that is new to their sound and Máire’s harp hopping cheerfully through it all.
Next up is my favourite Clannad song of all. Siúil A Rúin. A wonderful ballad that brings everything I have come to love about Clannad to the table. Máire’s beautiful voice, the gentle guitar notes of the lads, uptempo bits, the lovely tender breakdown to the chorus. This is pure folk heaven! So beautiful.
And then we get a lovely ‘Castlefest’ folk treat. Mo Mháire. It starts with Ciarán playing a cheerful little riff on his double bass, then Pól joins in with a slightly quirky but oh-so cheerful flute tune that I know so well from SeeD. You just have to smile when you hear it. And the happy jazzy groove just makes it even better. The a capella dTigeas A Damhsa and the cheerful Irish jig Cucanandy/The Jug Of Brown Ale end the original recording of Dúlamán.
On this re-release Gael linn have added a bonus track that comes from a split single the label released in 1975 in conjunction with the 1975 pan Celtic contest in Killarney. The B-side features the song
by the influential Irish folk singer
as an early warning on environmental issues, while the A-side features the winning entry by Clannad, An Bealach Seo ‘Ta Romham. It’s a nice uptempo song with that ever so slight medieval feel due to the mandolin in it. This bonus track not only finishes this lovely CD, it also finishes this introduction.
FAMOUS LAST WORDS BY JOE HENNON
After the release of Dúlamán in 1976 Clannad went on tour over Europe, part of which found their way on the 1979 album In Concert. In 1980 another family member, Eithne Pádraigin Ni Bhraonáin joined Clannad for a brief time, a family member we now know as
who left the band again just before they recorded their break-through album Magical Ring. But that is a story for another time.
Now for those famous last words that conclude any review or introduction. In this case they are not by me, but by a famous guest from the (pagan) folk scene. He is an acoustic guitar player that played with
Omnia and lately SeeD. He is, of course, Joe Hennon. Being Irish himself. I asked Joe if he was willing to write a few words on the influence Clannads early albums had on him and the folkscene in those days. Joe was quite willing to respond:
-‘When I was getting into music in the 1970s I was mostly listening to rock and metal, but then three Irish folk bands appeared which just blew me away and got me into folk music for the rest of my life. They were
The Bothy Band,
and Clannad. I loved the sense of history and heritage in their songs and their music was of a standard that was something completely new.
While Planxty and The Bothy Band mostly played songs in English as well as powerful instrumental sets, Clannad were different. Hearing songs in Irish (Gaelic) sung by native speakers was a revelation and so was their music. Clannad incorporated elements of jazz and progressive rock into traditional songs and their first two albums – I would say especially Clannad 2 which is regarded as their classic- made a huge impact on me and the folk scene in general. Their use of harp, flute, bass and harmony singing set them on the path to fame and inspired a whole new generation of Irish musicians, me included.
And Clannad’s legacy lives on. Joe Hennon took the inspiration he found in Clannad’s music with him into the music of Omnia, a band that in its turn inspired a new generation of pagan folk bands like Waldkauz, SeeD and Emian. And so the early music of that young Irish band, going against the stream, still rings on in the music we all love so much, making Clannad 2 and Dúlamán just as relevant now as they were when they were first released 45 years ago.
Editor: Diane Deroubaix
Shantalla – From The East Unto The West (2019) review
This winter my girlfriend knitted me a new sweater. Beforehand I feared it would be itchy and scratchy, but no, the minute I put it on it just felt comfy and warm, nothing pulled or tugged, it was as if I’d had this sweater for years and years. It just felt snug and safe. It instantly became my favourite comfy sweater.
Well that’s exactly how the new
album made me feel. Within the first 3 songs the music felt like that new sweater that Anna gave me. Nice, comfy and warm. And around The Cameronian Set, track 8 on the album, I wrote another small line in my notebook: ‘this music feels like coming home’.
It really does. It is this happy feeling that always goes with Irish folk, the variety of song choice, the quality of the music, the lovely ironic humour in the liner notes, everything fits on this album. So much so that after two listens I already wanted to start writing this introduction. So here it is.
Shantalla’s ‘From The East Unto The West’. But first, let’s do a proper introduction of the band.
Do I really need to introduce Shantalla? Ever since their first gig in 1997 and the release of their debut album Shantalla, way back in 1998, the Irishmen Kieran Fahy (fiddle, viola), Joe Hennon (guitar, vocals), Michael Horgan (uilleann pipes, flute, whistles) and Gerry Murray (accordion, whistles, bouzouki, piano) and Scottish Helen Flaherty (vocals, bodhrán, shakers) steadily made a name for themselves, growing out to be a force to be reckoned with, not only in the Irish folk scene, but also in the balfolk and the fantasy festival world. Their second album Seven Evenings, Seven Mornings followed in 2001, and again got a good reception in the folk world.
In 2005, the band took a temporary break, focussing on other projects. Among them
The Helen Flaherty Band,
In 2009 the band reformed, adding bouzouki and guitar player Simon Donnelly -yes also Irish- to the line-up. In this formation work began on their 3rd album Turas, which was released in 2011. Again the reactions were really positive.
After a period of touring it became somewhat quiet around Shantalla, until the good news came out earlier this year that the band was back in the studio. The fruits of their labour, the 4th CD From the East Unto The West is going to be released in the coming weeks. The presale is running as I write these words. From The East Unto The west is recorded by
over at Folk Studios and
at Elle Studios.
-Comment from Shantalla: “Now that you mentioned Pascale, she has been our live sound engineer for over 21 years, it would be nice to thank her for that!-
To finish of the credits, From The East Unto The West was mixed by Philip Masure and the artwork was done by
Now the big question is: “Was From The East Unto The West worth the wait?” The answer: a resounding “yes!”
THE ALBUM: FROM THE EAST UNTO THE WEST
The first song, Captain Ward, sets the mood. Within seconds you know what to expect from this album. Good quality, Irish folk, traditional, but with a Shantalla twist, and cheerful, oh-so-cheerful. It’s the accordion flute and rhythm guitar that get the folk party going.
After this typical folk intro Captain Ward eases into a mid-tempo ballad from the 17th century about a pirate captain capturing a ship sent by the king of England to catch him. Of course Captain Ward has to brag about it and he wrote a letter to the king of England stating that His Majesty might be the king on land, but he, Captain Ward, is the king at sea.
This traditional ballad flows easily into the second part of the song called Paddy Goes East written by Gerry Murray. And yes the sound of the lead melody, together with the slightly different rhythm, does make the second part of Captain Ward sound as if good old Paddy had taken his accordion and fiddle on a wee tour of Eastern Europe.
The mood then switches for the first time, in the intro of the second song. An accordion solo reminding me a bit of
Wouter en de Draak
and their more French approach to folk music. The tone even gets a bit dark, when the rhythm guitar and violin creep in, made even stronger by the sound of crows in the background. The stage is set for a dark slow song, so it should not have surprised me that Helen Flaherty starts to sing Twa Corbies, but I really didn’t recognise it from the intro.
The track notes accompanying this song are also really cool:
-“The Twa Corbies is a cynical Scottish parody of a 17th century English song
The Three Ravens.
In this dark version, the corbies (crows) say that the dead knight’s hawk and hound have forsaken him and are off chasing game, while his lover has already moved on to another knight. Since no-one knows or cares where his body lies, the corbies talk in detail about the meal they will make of him, plucking out his eyes and using his hair for their nest. That’s recycling folks!” What was that about the Scots being cynical!?
The third album track, Ynis Avalach will take some doing from the balfolk dancers, I’m sure of it! It starts with a tricot, named as such in Brittany because it knits an andro and a hanterdro together. Then the music turns into a slip jig called Dever The Dancer, before it ends in two classic reels called Toss The Feathers #1 and Toss The Feathers # 2. Good luck dancing to that guys!
The good news is that Ynis Avalach is a really nice medley of songs. The first part Ynis Avalach, is a song Shantalla know from
You can see them perform it on
together with Fiona in the video below.
the album version again has that slight French Wouter en de Draak feel to it before the flute adds a lovely Irish flavour. That French feel is mostly there because of Joe Hennon’s subtle guitar work. I’ve been a fan of the way he plays for years. Actually from the moment I heard the live version of the Sidhenearlahi Set on Omnia’s Pagan Folk album. Yes he is mostly a rhythm guitarist, but he puts all kinds of nice twists and turns in his playing. Squeezing in all kinds of variations on the theme he plays and I just love that.
But he’s not the only one shining in this song, so do all the instrumentalists. In the
Shantalla uploaded on their website to introduce From the East Unto The West, Joe mentions it himself, that thát is one of the strengths of the band, the many lead instruments they can use. And he has a point. let’s take this song for instance. So in keeping with folk tradition it starts with a nice guitar rhythm and then the violin slides in. I just love how Kieran Fahy constantly does that. So subtle. But anyway, with the flute joining in, you think that this is it. A flute/violin duet. But no. It’s flute with another flute doing the second ‘voice’ while the violin keeps sliding in and out for added flavour. Michael’s uilleann pipes follow in the flow with Simon’s guitar now picking up the melody as well, then the accordion joins in, making the sound even fuller and richer.
In the second part Dever The Dancer, the violin takes centre stage, joined by the flute for a lovely cheerful slip jig, but again a low whistle, guitar and accordion step in and create a strong rich sound. The uilleann pipes lead us into the last part of Ynis Avalach, followed by some lovely bodhrán /guitar rhythms, before the whole band joins in to finish it all. I love instrumental folk if it is done like this. Such a rich and strong sound, so much variety. This just has to put a smile on everyone’s face.
here is Shantalla performing Ynis Avalanch together with Fiona at Castlefest 2014
On to the next song! Lead vocalist Helen Flaherty’s voice fits perfectly in Shantalla’s sound. She has a warm, strong voice full with emotion that she uses to her full advantage in the first ballad of the album, A Band Of Gold. A lovey story about a romance that was not to be….
I have to say, Helen shines on this. She is such a beautiful singer. Powerful, in full control of her voice, she sings this ballad with so much emotion, you can feel every ounce of despair, regret and loneliness in it. Pure beauty.
Shantalla are masters in contrast. After the intense loneliness of A Band Of Gold they could not have produced a greater contrast than by putting Magic Happens after it. The tin whistle intro cuts right through the intensity left by A Band Of Gold. Lovely, just lovely. The first part is a jig, again written by Gerry Murray. This jig is in the good old folk tradition, using just guitar and tin whistle, (ok, doubled tin whistle to make the sound richer.) The fiddle and accordion then take over and play us a composition of
The Three Wishes. As the set finishes with
Charlie Lennon’sMorning Sunday, with the uilleann pipes and accordion taking the lead, my notebook says; ‘an upbeat version of
. And I’m almost surprised the band kept the instrumentation so ‘simple’, but that is one of the strengths of this band, knowing what to add or not add, and when to do that.
ADDING ANOTHER MUSICAL STYLE
From this instrumental balfolk song we move on to The War Of The Crofters and a totally different musical genre. This song is originally written by the Scottish singer-songwriter
It is because of that diversity in not only songs, but also genres that I really enjoy From The East Unto The West. The album combines old traditionals, instrumental balfolk tunes and some singer-songwriter pieces. All three types of songs have their own style and feel. And it is the combination of those styles, tied together by Shantalla’s craftmanship that make From The East Unto The West such a joy to listen to.
I also have to mention Helen again. On this song you clearly hear her Scottish tongue. Now if a Scottish person talks, I always feel they are already singing. It is in the way they pronounce the words. There is just so much melody in the Scottish accent. To hear that melody back while singing, it is just a joy for the ears.
next up is Farewell To Charlemagne, the second song that has you stop in your tracks. It is a touching low whistle solo composed and played by Michael Horgan.. A touching, personal song about…. no, I shall not tell thee, in this case you have to look yourself into the track notes so the band themselves can tell you what it is about.
Track eight, The Cameronian Highlander is a well-known barn dance as specified in the track notes and it is indeed a mid-tempo dance tune played on accordion and flute. With a wee bit of imagination you can hear the clogs stamp on the wooden barn floor. But then the tempo speeds up considerably and the barn dance whirls into three reels, The Killavil Reel, The Bag of Spuds and The Carracastle Lass. All lovely uptempo folk tunes to cheer your heart and lift your feet. Irish folk music isn’t the most complicated style in the world, but played by gifted musicians, the instruments themselves start dancing, as if the notes themselves swirled around each other in variation after variation. Luckily Shantalla has such gifted musicians. So The Cameronian Highlander, again, is a joy to listen too.
THANK HEAVENS THEY INVENTED THE REPEAT BUTTONJamie Raeburn then shows the other side of folk music. Quite often they tell touching stories full of longing for a love once lost, grieving about a home now lost or telling about the hardship of life. Jamie Raeburn and the next song, Midlothian Mining Song, are no exception. And, as I already said Helen has the perfect voice to tell you those stories. You feel them when she sings. The delicate touch of Simon’s guitar compliments her voice perfectly. Just listen to this beautiful combination in Jamie Raeburn. The icing on the cake then comes from the touches of fiddle and viola and the subtle low whistle solo in Jamie Raeburn, or the lovely accordion, viola and flute melodies on Midlothian Mining Song.
Talking about lovely rhythm guitar, the first part of the last song on this album, Breaking Wind, has plenty of those. But it’s the touches of fiddle that make this song into something truly stunning. Almost classical in style, the fiddle sound gently slides into the music. It’s our last goosebump moment before Shantalla goes full out in this balfolk grand finale. A worthy end to this must have album, that finishes way too fast. Thank heavens they invented the repeat button. You’ll need it, you’ll need it a lot!
Editor: The ever so lovely Diane Deroubaix
Sleeve design: Robin Dekker
Studio Pictures: Shantalla
Live pictures: Kees Stravers