Just a few days ago I wrote a review about the new Pyrolysis 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 PerKelt 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 Donovan is there, specifically with the song Atlantis, 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 Brisinga 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 Omnia 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 PARAKEET Štěpán: 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 MORANA Štěpán: 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 PRAYER Štěpán: 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 Castlefest, 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 FIRE Štěpán: 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 WATERFLIES Štěpán: 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 GHOSTS Štěpán: 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 PURE Štěpán: 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!!! Cliff Editor: Diane Deroubaix Pictures taken at Castlefest 2018 by Cliff de Booy