ZiRP – Circle Divine (2020) review



8 years after their debut album Drehvolution, ZiRP has brought out their second record Circle Divine. It would be really easy to call ZiRP the hobby band of their most famous member Stephan Groth, but that would be wrong for two reasons. One: it would take away from the other members, all true musicians in their own right; and secondly: ZiRP already existed BEFORE Stephan joined Faun. It was actually ZiRP’s music that caught the eye of one Oliver S. Tyr, and made Stephan a Faun member.
ZiRP itself started when Stephan Groth was looking for musicians to start a folk band. Rhythm guitarist Olaf Peters was the first one and he turned out to be the perfect musical partner, with great picking techniques. Soon the duo were writing tunes together. During the writing process drummer Florian Fügemann, at that point best known for his work with classical pop band Stilbruch, joined ZiRP; and as a trio, they recorded ZiRP’s first album Drehvolution, an album that came out in 2012. Two tracks of Drehvolution feature guest bassist Florian Kolditz, something that, as Stephan explains: ‘Felt so good that he became a permanent member in 2012 and our line-up has remained unchanged since then.
After the release of Drehvolution and the subsequent tour that lasted till 2015, it went rather quiet around ZiRP, most likely caused by the huge success Faun was having with their music. A silence I thought was a shame, actually, because Drehvolution was filled with lovely experimental balfolk tunes, showcasing all the possibilities of the hurdy-gurdy as a lead instrument. The song La Toupie was one of my favourite balfolk songs for a long time. I just loved that experimental fusion Drehleier (hurdy-gurdy) sound.
In March of 2018, the silence was broken again by the first concert in 3 years, and in September of that year the band made the announcement we had been waiting for: ‘We finally started with some pre-productions for a brand new ZiRP album and there is some serious progressive hurdy-gurdy fusion folk going on.’
Well, the brand new album is now out and as they promised us: there is some SERIOUS progressive hurdy-gurdy fusion folk going on!

From the first notes of 5-4-0 I am blown away by the awesome sound of -wait for it- the rhythm section! Yes, I know, not the obvious thing to start a review with, but e-v-e-r-y good band needs a good rhythm section. The bass and drums are the backbones of any band; the solid platform on which the soloists get to shine. Quite often these musicians play in the background, quite happily doing their thing as the lead vocalists, guitarists or flutists take center stage. Not with ZiRP. Both Florians are soloists on their own account and they both get plenty of opportunities to shine. The result is an amazing groove throughout every single song. Did fusion funk folk exist as a genre? It does now!

Let’s put the spotlight on ZiRP’s members one by one. Florian Manuel Fügemann, as I said, is a folk/rock/jazz drummer who has studied drums since the age of 8. He studied with Nils J. Fahlke at the Robert Schumann Conservatory in Zwickau for three years. After that, he studied pop/rock and jazz drums at the Hochschule für Musik Carl Maria von Weber in Dresden, gaining knowledge in styles as diverse as pop, rock, Latin, fusion, funk, and jazz. To finish his impressive resume he also studied to become a teacher for music and English in German highschools. (What a cool teacher to have!) From his jazz music experiences, Florian developed this slick sound, this ease of playing that reminds me sooo much of former Omnia drummer Rob van Barschot. Just like Rob, Florian’s drumming just sounds effortless. You can just hear him throwing out drum fill after drum fill without shedding one drop of sweat. Listening to him play, I can just envision him sitting there behind his kit, just like Rob; looking like he was eating his midday sandwich while playing one amazing break after another… and well, look at the video below. Look at him play! Do I need to say more?
And there are plenty of moments for him to shine. Listen to the wonderful groove he is laying down halfway through Zirpelloise; the effortless fills in Bourrée Inkarnation; the flowing fusion rock groove together with Florian K in Odd Bourrée; Circle Divine or Uhrovec (hello Mother’s Finest); the double bass drum in 5-4-0… I could go on and on. But I won’t. What I will say is that Florian Fügemann not only studied drums, percussion, and vocals, but before that also piano. And on Low Lights he returns to his first love again in a beautiful tribute from the whole band to his father Jürgen Fügemann. The whole story behind this song can be found here.



I already mentioned the other half of this amazing rhythm section: Florian Kolditz. Readers who are well connected with the Berlin music scene will know his name from the projects and bands he is involved with, as a bandmember, guest musician or session bass player. One of the most interesting bands he is involved in at the moment is the band Makroskop. It is kind of a jazz Fusion band with a flamenco touch. But, as he says himself: ‘ZiRP is unique and I wouldn’t miss it in my life anymore.‘ Well, none of us would want to miss this modest but gifted bass player in ZiRP anymore. Together with Florian F, he brings the funk, the groove, and even the ’70’s disco sound to ZiRP. 5-4-0, Bourrée Inkarnation, Circle Divine, all those songs have such a wonderful flow because of his bass playing. Such an effortless groove. He marries his bass sound so wonderfully with Florian’s drums. Must be the name they share. On rhythm..our musical groove machine… F und F! But all joking aside we are not done yet. Like a true jazz bass player Florian Kolditz can play solo as well! Just listen to Mosaic, that cool bass guitar solo with the cello and horns under it. A stunning moment in this wonderful song. Or the beautiful duet he plays with Olaf and Stephan on Moon Mazurka And then there is that magnificent slapping bass guitar in Odd Bourrée and Uhrovec. Mark King, eat your heart out.

Do I need to put a spotlight on Stephan Groth? I think we all knows how well he finds his way around a hurdy-gurdy -the first CD Drehvolution and Stephan’s work with Faun are proof of that. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that on Circle Divine, this Drehleier giant is again weaving one beautiful balfolk tune after another in ZiRP’s music. Still, there are plenty of moments on this album where I’m just astonished at how beautiful it all sounds. The awesome solo at the end of Circle Divine for instance; with an effect on the hurdy-gurdy that makes it sound sooo similar to my favourite Roxy Music song ‘If There Is Something‘. Or that cool acid rock effect on 5-4-0. Balfolk meets Tangerine Dream. Or the stunning prog-rock solos scattered over Odd Bourrée. Just have a look at the video below and watch the speed of his fingers, amazing! And that are only the highlights.
But Stephan has another talent that may be less known to the public: he also knows his way around the low whistle. Listen to Kaleidoskop and you might be surprised to hear that THAT is Stephan as well. It could just have well been a track on one of Hamish Napier‘s latest albums.



With all these soloists around him, rhythm guitarist Olaf Peters’role in ZiRP is more ‘hidden’ in the background. His rhythm guitar is the glue that holds the whole band together. He is the salt and pepper of the band, the one that makes everything else taste wonderful. And in that way he is just as important to ZiRP’s sound as any of the other three bandmembers. You hear it so clearly on Circle Divine. His fine guitar chords almost disappear in the background when the music swells, but are very much in the foreground when the music calms down. For that reason alone, the title song is one of my favourite tracks on this CD. Another beautiful moment is Moon Mazurka, an instrumental ballad that gives Olaf the time and space to not only shine himself but also to play two beautiful folk duets, one with Florian Koblitz and the other with Stephan. But he is doing it all over Circle Divine, making him such an important part of the ZiRP balfolk meets fusion funk style.


I already mentioned Circle Divine as one of my favourite songs on the album, but I have a lot more. Zirpelloise with its cheerful Spyro Gyra meets balfolk sound is one. Or Mosaic, a song combining the oh-so German sound of a horn section with progressive balfolk fusion folk. Another clear favourite is the song Odd Bourrée, a song I could listen to all day. Clearly, another prog-folk classic to be. Not to mention Uhrovec, a song that just combines everything that is beautiful about this album in one song. Or the beautiful instrumental ballad Low Lights.
What impresses me most about this album is how effortless it all sounds. I constantly have the feeling that the band is just flowing along. As if they are four Tour de France winners just cruising up Alpe d’Huez on a Sunday afternoon, chattering about while we mere mortals are gasping for air trying to keep up with them.
You can just sense that, if they wanted to, they could blow us away with mesmerizing breaks, mind-blowingly fast solos, and amazingly complicated compositions that would make every wannabe folk artist stop before even trying. But why should they? This album is made for the fun of making music, not as a vehicle to show off your skills. It is all about the pleasure of playing. The joy of listening to each other’s skills and then adding your own groove to that; emphasizing each other’s talents. So they are just cruising as if it is Sunday afternoon. Make it sound like all of it is really easy. And in that lies their true talent. Because trust me, this is NOT easy at all. This is progressive fusion balfolk funk at its very very best!

– Cliff

Editor: Iris
Cover art: ZiRP
Photography: Florian Manuel Fügemann

The Moon and the Nightspirit – Aether (2020) Review



For almost two decades, Ágnes Tóth and Mihály Szabó, also known as The Moon and the Nightspirit have been blessing us with their unique blend of world music and medieval soundscapes. Music both timeless and ancient; sounds both dreamy and spooky; melodies both tender and dark; vocals both soothing and eerie; that is the musical world The Moon and the Nightspirit has created. A world that can be found in the twilight zone of Eastern European folk. Six albums long The Moon and the Nightspirit have enchanted us with their unique, acoustic take on pagan folk music, and I have loved every single record.
In the summer of this year, the duo released their seventh album Aether, and during the release, Ágnes and Mihály already told the world this album would be different. ‘It was time for us to re-adjust our approach. You could call the new album Aether a milestone in the history of the band, with a surprising stylistic recalibration during songwriting – for whereas so far, singer Ágnes’ voice has been front and center, the new songs now perfectly balance the female and male sides of the Moon and the Nightspirits musical entity.’
And with that new approach, Ágnes and Mihály wrote a musical masterpiece as far as I am concerned. There is so much to tell about Aether that I’m afraid I might turn this review into a novel.
The title song Aether still sounds like The Moon and the Nightspirit as we know it from their previous records. The lovely soundscape to start it off; the subtle guitar notes; the rich and ancient sound of the dulcimer; the typical vocals of Ágnes (combining the innocence of a child with the ancient wisdom of a forest elf in her voice), the haunted violin chords, it is all so typical, all so beautiful, all so unmistakably The Moon and the Nightspirit. Within minutes I’m drawn into the song, drawn into the CD actually. The captivating power of The Moon and the Nightspirits’music is all because of the writing skills of Ágnes and Mihály, the ingenious way these talented musicians build-up their songs. It is never rushed, never forced. It feels like the music is growing organically; like it is born from within itself, these notes were always there in the mists of time, waiting to be found by those who dared to listen; and now it is found. Now it is recorded, and all I want to do is close my eyes, listen, feel, absorb it all and let go, let myself get swept away by it all. Gliding in the essence of Aether. This is just the first song and I already know this is one of the best albums I’ve heard this year!

It is on the second song Kaputlan Kapukon Át, that we hear The Moon and the Nightspirits’ male side for the first time. And well, I LOVE it. Truly love it. Ágnes and Mihály have added an electronic feel to their music that is very similar to the sound Guido Bergman added to Shireen. Placing the music of The Moon and the Nightspirit slap-bang in the middle of three of my all-time favourite bands: Shireen, The Moon and the Nightspirit themselves, and the gothic/dream-pop duo Cranes. It is all so beautiful I find it hard to describe. Where do I start? It is that power of the low keyboard sound – sounding like an electrified version of a mouth harp/slidgeridoo combination – driving and driving the song; it’s those fragile, eerie vocals of Ágnes, tender, breakable and oooooh so enticing; it is the flow of the music, coming and going, like waves of gothic power building up and crashing into the acoustic medieval coral-like intermezzos in between. For those who love gothic medieval rock, this is a masterpiece. A true masterpiece. The only downside is that the song slowly fades out waaaay before I want it to end. Even tho it clocks in at 6:37 it feels like an instant. This is a song I want to last forever and ever, even longer if in any way possible.



Luckily it is not the end of the album….Nooo we still have 5 more gems to come. Égi Messzeségek is next. Again there is that electric drone, that sampled mouth harp drawing me deep, deep into the mystical world of The Moon and the Nightspirit. Take the sound of Shireen; the sound of Dead Can Dance on Aion; the feel of the Cranes dark masterpieces Adoration or Thursday of their debut album Wings of Joy; add Faber Horbach’s (Sowulo) spoken scream vocals on Mann; add a Sophie ‘Shireen’ Zaaijer-like violin solo and you have the new sound of The Moon and the Nightspirit on Égi Messzeségek. Now honestly, what is not to love about that?
Do I need to go on? Do I need to mention A Szárny; the pure gothic rock drum sound in it; the layer upon layer of dark musical silk making this music so strong, sooo powerful, sooooo beautiful. The clever thing is that: with every next song on Aether, the band adds a new element to it. You are guided into their new sound. Guided from the old feminine, medieval folk music of earlier records into these new masculine soundscapes. Clever; so clever.

Logos starts gently again; reminiscent of Priscilla Hernandez‘s Ancient Shadows album. It gives us a moment to breathe after the intense journey we just had. It is also proof that The Moon and The Nightspirit didn’t lose their soft side. No, they just added to it. Boy did they add to it! Don’t sit and wonder too long cause A Mindenség Hívása is coming, and the drum fills are ready to grab you, take you down in a bliss of musical adoration again.

My conclusion can be short but sweet. This is the best album I heard in 2020. And yes I am biased, as I have been a fan of gothic music ever since its origins at the end of the ’70s. Hearing Aether for the first time truly had the same effect on me as hearing the Sisters of Mercy for the very first time. Or a musically better comparison Siouxsie and the Banshees. Two bands I adore. Just as their music 40 odd years ago, Aether just blew me away from the very first note! The cool thing is The Moon and the Nightspirit added their own uniqueness to the gothic style. Yes, it has this dark power of the early goth bands, but just as Shireen, they added sooo many more layers to it. This music oozes richness, it oozes velvety dark chocolate out of every note played; velvety-dark and bittersweet; beautifully soft; intensely strong. Aether opens the door to the dark elf lands existing in the twilight of our imagination. This is NOT a normal album; produced, composed, written, and arranged, no no no no! This is a living, breathing musical entity, lying dormant in the Aether of time, sleeping amongst the night spirits, waiting to finally appear…. and I truly, truly love it!

– Cliff

Editor: Sara
Cover art: Ágnes Tóth
pictures: Spiegelwelten photography

Finvarra – Lutesongs For Christmas (2020)



In May of this year I reviewed Lanterne, the last album Finvarra would make as a band, or that was what the band told us anyway. Here’s a small quote out of the intro: ‘So Lanterne is not only Finvarra latest CD, no it is also the last album the band will make together. And yes just as you, I secretly – as secret as you can be writing it out right here- hope there will be a reunion somewhere in the future. Listening to the quality of music on the record, I am left craving for more. A lot more!
Well, that wish came out sooner than I thought, Way sooner! ‘Cause here it is, the Finvarra reunion album and even better, it’s a Christmas record! And a surprising one at that as well, perfect for the Christmassy historical folk fan, but first things first. Let’s ask the band about those retirement plans: What happened?
Patrick Broekema picked up on that question:’ Hahaha, good question. At the beginning of this year, we announced that Finvarra would not do anything as a band in the foreseeable future. Originally, that was indeed the idea, but then this crazy year happened, and it inspired us to record Lutesongs for Christmas. We thought, in this year where we are not allowed to hug each other, let’s embrace our fans with some comforting Christmas music. About our future plans? Well, although we stopped planning new activities, we never officially split up as a band, so who knows what the future will bring. For now, we are keeping all options open.’
So here it is Lutesongs for Christmas. For me, Christmas stands for nostalgia, tradition, and warmth; some may even call me old fashioned but I’m fine with that. Every year I get out the stuffed Christmas animals; the straw angels; the old Christmas tree decorations and the German Christmas pyramid (left) Anna’s parents always set when she was young. I don’t even buy new Christmas decorations, I rather go into a second-hand store and search there, being totally happy to find a lovely glass-blown squirrel to hang in the tree. Add an old Christmas record to that and I am totally happy.
Luckily I am not the only one who thinks like that. Finvarra do as well. Just have a look at the instruments used on Lutesongs for Christmas: harpsichord; pump organ; recorder; violin; a music box; Baroque guitar, and of course -hence the title- a lot of instruments of the lute family: the theorbo; bouzouki; mandolin; the Arab ud and the lute itself, the list just oozes traditional music. and that is exactly what you are going to get. Traditional music…, with a twist.

Bells of the East starts simple enough, a nice windchill sound effect, sleighbells coming nearer from the distance, the gentle sound of glass beads hitting each other, and the calming sound of an oriental melody. Yes, I did say oriental! The mystical sound of the Arab ud and the theorbo take me deep into India. The oriental percussion by guest musician Sattar Al Saadi only enhances that feeling. The sleighbells returning at the very end of Bells of the East give me a slight sense of traveling through time and space. How wonderful. How unexpected. My imagination is running wild already.
The next song, I Saw Three Ships only increases that feeling of traveling. Originally a Christmas carol from the 17th century, especially popular in Cornwall, Finvarra recorded a highly danceable, light, almost fairy-like, instrumental version of it, made even lighter by adding a little ol’ jig Humours of Glendart in there.



Now I didn’t know about the origins of I Saw Three Ships, or Bells of the East the first times I listened to them, so the songs left me puzzled, intrigued, and wondering about the sense of it all. Why an oriental song on a Christmas album? The perfect moment for the third song to come: Wexford Carol.
This is the first ‘real’ Christmas song on this album. Traditionally it is an Irish Christmas Carol beautifully sung by Gwendolyn Snowdon (She easily is one of my favorite folk interpreters). There was one sentence in the lyrics that particularly struck me. It went: ‘In Bethlehem upon that morn‘. When I heard THAT sentence it suddenly occurred to me that, Christmas actually originated in the Middle East. In Israel. And if there were indeed three wise men from the east following a star, they must have come from Persia, India, or even a place beyond. All of a sudden those Oriental sounds made so much sense. It was at that point that I and this record clicked. This isn’t a ‘Rudolf-the-red-nosed-winterwonderland-have-a-lot-of-presents-in-the snow’ kind of CD. Finvarra set out to do something totally different.
The band always called themselves a Celtic & Oriental folk band, so it was only logical to have that Oriental touch returning on Lutesongs for Christmas. In the last two years Dieke Elfring and Patrick Broekema have studied Renaissance music and this felt like the perfect moment to use those beautiful instruments and play those old carols, rich in history and tradition.

For me, listening to Lutesongs for Christmas feels like traveling. Traveling back through time, traveling through cultures, traveling to lands far and wide. Just listen to IJswals, a lovely trip to medieval times, I can feel the lords and ladies slowly sliding through the great hall in a dance d’elegance’, celebrating the merry days of yule. Doesn’t it feel romantic?
Talking about those medieval times, Anna and me happened to watch a documentary on how Christmas was celebrated in Tudor times, The famous 12 days of Christmas. In that documentary, a choir performed the Coventry Carol. This carol is part of a mystery play traditionally performed in the 16th century in, indeed, Coventry. The carol itself refers to the Massacre of the Innocents, in which Herod ordered all male infants under the age of two in Bethlehem to be killed, and takes the form of a lullaby sung by mothers of the doomed children. Finvarra’s version is beautiful. Dieke Elfring’s voice is perfect for carrying such a heavy-themed lullaby. One of the best songs on the album
Entre le boeuf et l’âne gris (between the ox and the grey donkey) is another old traditional, again taking us back to medieval times. In this case, it is a French Christmas Carol and talks about little baby Jesus being born between an ox and a donkey.



As Patrick explained at the start of this review, Finvarra wanted to give us a gift with this album, they wanted to embrace us with warm and romantic Christmas music. Did they do that? Totally! The beauty of Lutesongs for Christmas is that Finvarra took those old Christmas carols and made them contemporary, while in keeping with the tradition of them all. They all ooze out warmth, tenderness, and that romantic peacefulness I so love about Christmas. The oriental side of Finvara just blends in perfectly, Songs like Bells of the West or Bells of the East I feel connect those traditional Renaissance songs with us, the ‘Castlefest generation’. Bells of the West has a beautiful pagan folk feel to it, as if Daphyd Sens and Faber Horbach (Sowulo) joined in for this celebration of Yule.
As I said, for me Lutesongs for Christmas sounds like I’m traveling through time, through music, and through history. As if Finvarra went through the mists of time and found us those special songs of solace played way back when, using it to give us a hug of warmth, and a blanket of tenderness in a time when we truly need that. And I love them for that.

– Cliff

editor: Anna Schürmann
cover art: Patrick Broekema
Picture: Cliff de Booy (1)

Imbue – Wassail, Wassail! 2020



CeltCast headquarters, about two weeks ago. The new Imbue album Wassail, Wassail! arrived, a special Christmas album even. Within minutes our office was filled with lovely folky music. A cheerful recorder melody accompanied by bouzouki, Violin, and tambourine flowed out of the speakers; beautiful female vocals soon followed suit, and the chairs were put aside for a spontaneous balfolk dance.
We Three Kings, the second song, followed, and again we heard a cheerful folky up-tempo song with beautiful harmonies. While the other members of the CeltCast team started another spinning dance I headed over to the computer to have a look what we are actually playing here. This can’t be Imbue, can it? This is miles, no centuries away from the medieval/Renaissance music they normally play. What happened? Did Imbue change their style all of a sudden? It was high time to give Meidi Goh, one of Imbue’s members a call and ask her all about Wassail, Wassail!
Yes Cliff, it’s correct that this album sounds very different from our other work. This is because this is actually a side project that falls outside of our core repertoire of medieval, Renaissance and early Baroque music. So no, this will definitely NOT herald a shift to a new sound, although of course we learn from each new project and take that on to the next.
In this project, we explored different recording techniques and created a slightly different kind of sound. We also sang together more and Remy had the chance to use his new cornetto skills a few times. We had a really good time implementing one of the key elements of what Imbue is about in this album: finding the bridge between historical music and folk, and use that element to create a form that speaks to modern audiences, but translates the beauty of how it must have been experienced by historical audiences.

This project had a rather different birth than our previous projects. Last year we were asked to perform for several weeks at a Dickens Christmas fair, so we chose a selection of Christmas Carols that we thought would best represent the spirit of the Victorian age (This is why there are no songs about father Christmas in there, as that is post-Victorian age.) The songs of course are a lot more “modern” (and Christian) than our usual choice of songs, but we did add a few older songs, like Coventry Carol and The Boars’ Head for instance, which were both first printed in the 16th century.
The interesting part in the selection of these songs is that, after choosing and arranging them, we immediately started performing them to live audiences several times a day, so we could literally directly see the reactions of people to the songs and our set. This intense period of performing helped us hone the songs and our live performance as a band a lot!
As always, we looked for ways to add personal interpretations to the songs. Unlike some truly classical groups, our aim is not to copy-paste the music as historically correct as possible, but to offer a unique version of a song that adds to the rich tradition of retelling. We did this by writing our own musical bridges for some, like in Good King Wenceslas, and for a few, we combined elements from other songs. For example, in The Boar’s Head we added the tune The King of the Fairies to the original song, which we play in a minor key, instead of the original major key, giving this famous traditional a slightly more pagan and rollicking feeling.


And with that, Meidi made this review redundant, because she already told you all the things you need to know about Wassail, Wassail!. But, I’ll have a go myself regardless!
The first thing I noticed was the timeless feel of the songs. They don’t feel old, although they are at least 100 years old, they definitely are also not modern pop interpretations of them. Imbue really are masters in finding that perfect balance between the two, giving the music a really contemporary feel. The second thing I noticed straight away is the lack of ‘sleigh bells’. By now sleek commercial songwriting has created an instant Pavlov reaction when you hear a sleigh bell: It’s Christmas!. Staying true to the Victorian inspiration Imbue deliberately neglected to add those. And I like that actually, it puts the focus towards the songs themselves, especially the vocals. And boy are we in for a treat there.

In The Boar’s Head we are welcomed by the full, rich voice of Robin Lammertink; always a fan of her voice I somehow feel this is her strongest performance yet. There is this warmth in it that I really love. But of course, she is not the only star singer in Imbue, and soon Remy Schreuder’s high countertenor joins in. It still amazes me what he can do with his voice, taking nothing away from Robin, Tim Elfring, or Meidi Goh, but what Remy can do with his voice is truly amazing.
His countertenor gets another chance to shine in Good King Wenceslas, a song that brings all the high voices together, and if you don’t pay real attention you will even miss the fact that there is a male voice mingled in there.
In We Three Kings we are greeted by all 4 singers in lovely harmony, urging you to join in yourself, all of them taking a solo verse themselves, meeting each other again in the chorus. Truly luscious. But the real treat for me is the a capella sung Coventry Carol. It takes me back to my youth, hearing my mom sing with the church choir at the midnight mass, the evening before Christmas. I am an atheist, but the joy of hearing that choir sing on those special nights for so many people, is a cherished memory, and Imbue brings it right back in a beautiful way. Well recorded too, It really sounds as if it is recorded in a large hall or even church, and boy do those voices marry together perfectly.

Another thing I noticed is the relatively sober instrumental accompaniment to the songs. The first 2 minutes of The Three kings for example are just bouzouki and percussion, only adding a recorder and violin during the solos, giving the voices all the room they deserve; a trick Imbue use more often.
The solos themselves are also less frivolous as I’ve come to expect from Imbue: again it is all in support of the vocals. And honestly, I think it is a good choice they did so. For me, it all comes together perfectly in Gabriel’s Message. It is a spiritual ballad, featuring Robin’s stunning voice; expressing every ounce of emotion she could find in and between the notes. Laurens Krah’s bouzouki, Remy’s recorder, Meidi’s violin, Tim’s percussion, even some warm brass sounds sneaking in there, (which is actually a cornett or cornetto, an early wind instrument that dates from the Medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque periods, popular from 1500 to 1650), all these instruments are all there to support Robin’s truly beautiful interpretation of this song. If you love classical style singing, this is a treat. If you are not familiar with it, this is the song to listen to.

Imbue didn’t take the easy route giving us a Christmas feel, leaving out the indivertible sleigh bells, but also waiting to the very end with the obvious Christmas classics: Deck The Hall and Angels, from The Realms Of Glory, and I commend them for it. This is an album that takes me back to my young days, before Sky radio, Band-Aid, Mariah Carey, and Wham’s Last Christmas. Back to the time where my mom would play choral Christmas elpees, Mario Lanza and Bing Cosby’s White Christmas album, and to her singing at home practicing for the big night. Rather special memories, especially in this odd year. Imbue do it in their very own way, somewhere between classical music and folk, building a bridge between Victorian times and the music of these modern days; taking you back to those huge Victorian houses where families would gather around and sing together. Will you join in?

– Cliff

Editor: Sara
Cover art: Robin Lammertink
Pictures: Hermann Kurz

The Castlefest Collective – Hope is the thing with feathers (2020)



If I have to pick one word to describe this album it would be grand. It is Grand in the number of artists involved, (42 artists representing more than 20 bands are involved in this record); it is a grand gift from those artists to Castlefest; and grand is the word I want to use to describe the sound of the eight songs on this album. Rich and grand!

Grand was also my surprise when I heard the album for the first time. For me Castlefest is synonymous with cheerful danceable balfolk tunes and upbeat, organic pagan folk. It is a 4-day dance party that starts at 11:00 in the morning with the first balfolk workshops, and ends deep at night with the not-so-silent-disco. A four-day summer celebration.
This album feels totally different. As I said, it is majestic, impressive, orchestral, and totally not what I was expecting. A clear case of preconception. Something I always try to avoid as a reviewer, but this time I found it almost impossible not to do.
Luckily, I soon realized Hope Is The Thing With Feathers wasn’t meant as a ‘the best of Castlefest’ CD. We already have those. It wasn’t meant as a replacement Castlefest party. No, it was born out of the need to do something; to give some hope in a time when everything seems pushed out of place; to share love in a time when compassion is best given by keeping your distance. It’s born from the urge to make sense of it all, in the only way artists can, by putting it to music. That is what The Castlefest Collective is, a supergroup of artists coming together in a time we seem to be forced apart. Expressing what they felt when it happened and as it happened, giving it to us as a gift of hope.
Sharing that message of hope starts straight away with the title track Hope Is The Thing With Feathers. That intro so small; so touching. As always Laurens Krah (Pyrolysis) manages to pull so much emotion out of his accordion. It sounds soft, sensitive, melancholic, and oh so touching. A sentiment easily fed by the vocals of Oliver Satyr and Adaya (Faun, Adaya). I’m taken right back to the days of Folk Noir. This is pagan singer/songwriter folk at its very, very best.
It is the piano of Alex Nicola that gives this delicate ballad some instant richness. A richness that is carried through into the second verse in the most beautiful of ways, adding sounds and accents as the song continues. A hurdy-Gurdy riff here, a mandolin accent there, and as a binding factor those oozing voices of Oliver and Adaya.
The best part is still to come, the build-up to the grand finale. First, the viola solo by Marijn Lammertink, (Scarred Grace, and yes the sister of…) which leads you into the recorder solo of Paya Lehane (PerKelt), followed by verse three, before the Castlefest choir joins in for the first time. This goes way beyond anything I ever heard in pagan folk. This is Castlefest meeting Night Of The Proms! A true pagan folk rhapsody! Stunning! My first goosebumps moment!

But it is not the only song on Hope Is The Thing With Feathers with a big, almost poplike sound. Dark Lullaby is an impressive shanty-like song, the starting melody written by Corné van Woerdekom (Finvarra, Scrum) and the lyrics written by the ‘new kid on the block of the pagan folk scene’ Quentin Maltrud (Le Garçon de l’Automne). This song will surely appeal to those who love the music of Plunder, Varend volk and Faun.
Solstice Prayer has Paya and Rick Lehane written all over it. A song that could easily have been on Paya’s 2018 solo CD Oppidamus. The beautiful doubled vocals of Paya and Sara (SeeD, Anúna, Systir), combined with the haunting voice and throat singing of Michael Zann (Nemuer) and the double hurdy-gurdy of Quentin and Yhandros Huergo (Cuélebre) make this into a truly magical song. Adiemus meets pagan folk.

I already mentioned new talent Quentin in the two previous songs, but there is another new talent (for me at least) that I want to introduce. Esme Knight shines in two songs. First, there is Fool Me, a pagan folk-rock song that reminds me a lot of the British band Texas, especially because of that typical slide guitar sound and Esme’s warm, ever so slight hoarse vocals. It is a cool grooving folk-rock song. (And whoever decided to hide Herr Mannelig in there had a stroke of genius. I get a huge smile on my face every time I hear it.)
The second song Esme features in, is one of my highlights on this CD: Now I Am The Sea. The first lines of the song are sung a capella and she nails it. Štěpán Honc (PerKelt), who produced and arranged this album, told me this is exactly how this song was born. Only a few instruments were added, most prominently a shamanistic drum, giving this song a real spiritual feel.

Now that I already dropped his name, this the moment I want to mention one of the artistic forces behind Hope Is The Thing With Feathers, Štěpán Honc. He was the man behind the mixing desk, building up song after song, making sure every artist had their place, their special spot in all the songs, without overcrowding them. Not an easy feat, especially not when so many people are involved. The title song, for example, contains the sound of twelve(!) instruments, two lead singers, four supporting vocalists, and a choir of fourteen (14!) voices. All recorded separately, all of it build together like a giant Tetris puzzle of music. An amazing achievement, especially considering this is only the second album Štěpán produced. I first assumed Fieke van der Hurk was the lady in charge, that is how good this CD sounds. I can’t think of a bigger compliment than that.

Štěpán also co-wrote the second song that gives me goosebumps: Where You’ve Never Been. Štěpán wrote the original guitar part, Taloch Jameson (The Dolmen) wrote the lyrics, and last but not least Marijn Lammertink added a full orchestra score and choir to it. The resulting song has the quality of The Moody Blues (Nights In White Satin) written all over it. The contrast between Taloch’s intense bluesy vocals and the grand orchestra and choir behind it is truly, truly stunning. Well done all involved!

Mr. Happy is a goosebump moment of a totally different kind. To hear Daphyd Sens (Thundercrow) and Joe Hennon (Shantalla, SeeD) team up once more just feels really special. Really special is also the way, in which Gwendolyn Snowdon’s voice (Finvarra, Gwendolyn Snowdon), seems to perfectly merge with the deep sound of the slidgeridoo in this cheerful Americana-meets-folk tune.
Here’s To You is another American style folk song, written by Maarten van Vliet (The Royal Spuds) ending this really special album.

As I said, this project was made possible because 42 artists came together on one album, all adding their talent to the music. If I added all of their names and contributions into this review it would become unreadable, so I opted not to. But every single person on this album played her or his part. Together they made something unique. A pop-folk pagan album that – at times – equals the heydays of ’60’s progressive rock. Think of bands like The Moody Blues, Wallace Collection (Daydream), or John Miles (Music). It is the beauty of pagan folk combined with the beauty of orchestral music, arranged in a true majestic style and served with a grand amount of Americana. Which brings us back to the very beginning of this review. This album can only be described with one word: Grand!

Epilogue:
The famous last words go to Stepan this time. After reading the finished review he got back to me with these words: – “Thank you for the great work, But since this ain’t a normal CD, can I allow myself one request? Could you please highlight the work of Rob van Barschot on drums and Sjoerd van Ravenzwaaij (Harmony Glen) on banjo through the whole album? They both went the extra 100 miles to make this album sound like a “band” and especially having a world-class drummer on a project like this is literally priceless… They don’t show off to steal the attention but make everyone else sounding like rock stars.
And THAT is the true spirit behind this project. It is also the true spirit behind the whole Castlefest scene. It is a scene of love, of caring for each other, of giving instead of taking. I talked to both Rob and Stepan in preparation for this review, and they had many words of praise for ALL the people involved in this album, not only the artists but also the people involved with the nitty-gritty bureaucratic side. And they were BOTH trying to downsize the role they themselves played in it. Luckily I talked to them both so I know both played a big role in it all.

Giving and caring is a virtue that sometimes seems lost in our modern money-driven society. I am so grateful I am part of a scene where it is still the norm. So thank you Castlefest Collective for giving us this music, thank you Vana for giving us a home, but especially thank you Castlefest visitors for giving this message of love and care again and again to the world!
Every time I come to Castlefest I feel like coming home. And ALL OF YOU, who make up this beautiful scene are the reason I feel that way! All of you; the dancers; the larpers; the pyrates; the furry’s, the pagans; and the ‘normal’ dressers. ALL of you make this scene a wonderful thing, and I thank you ALL for it, from the bottom of my heart! Thank You! See you all Next year!!!!!!!




– Cliff

Pictures: Cliff de Booy
Editor: Anna







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