I can’t believe how the time has flown by since I last posted. First, an update on my guitar album Atlantic Canticles. I’ve almost completed the recording. I’m going to have 21 tracks to choose from because another idea turned up a couple of days ago and that turned into a piece which is titled ‘Upon the Printless Sands’. I’m aiming to finish and make available the album by the end of the month. Whether I can do it we shall see …
News in the past few days of the death of Reg Presley of The Troggs. Their hit ‘Wild Thing’ 1966 gained additional fame when it was taken over by Jimi Hendrix (it was the last song he played in his set at Monterey in 1967). It’s quite possible that the song is now more associated with Hendrix than The Troggs. Hendrix’s version may have been more amped-up, but in the context of the chart pop in Britain in 1966 The Troggs’ version did startle by seeming so primitive. Its charming slightly-out-of-tune recorder solo was an early hint of the fey bucolics of the approaching Summer of Love (the recorder in popular music signalling the pastoral).
Another big Troggs hit was ‘Love Is All Around’. I’ve always been immune to this song, regardless of who does it. If you want to hear an infinitely more expressive use of a I-II-IV-V chord progression try R.E.M.’s ‘Fall On Me’.
On the subject of Hendrix it has been frustrating to read news reports of the imminent release of his ‘new’ studio album in March. In fact, almost all these songs have been issued before, if perhaps not in these exact mixes or takes. The 12 songs belong to the album Hendrix was working on at the time of his death which has been released before under the title First Rays of the New Rising Sun. Approach with caution …
King Richard III has been in the news too, since it was confirmed on Monday that DNA testing had demonstrated that the bones found under a Leicester car park were his. A cue for Supergrass’ Britpop hit ‘Richard III’, which has some unusual chord changes.
On the classical front I’ve been enjoying exploring previously unfamiliar music by the Finnish composer Aare Merikanto. I started last year with an Alba SACD of Symphony 1 and 3 (3 is superb and very accessible). I then got hold of two Merikanto discs on Ondine – Piano Concertos 1 & 2, and Works for Orchestra. The slow movements of the piano concertos are very lyrical. The latter disc has the attractive 4 minute ‘Andante Religoso’ which might make a great download if it’s available as such.
It seems that Chandos may have abandoned their cycle of Weinberg symphonies, which is a pity. Some of the missing ones (he wrote at least 22) are appearing on Naxos but not as SACDs. Another label Neos is six CDs into a Weinberg edition but some of those are live recordings and therefore vulnerable to hall noises, coughs, etc. Weinberg is not the most approachable of symphonists, and given the awful life experiences he endured in the USSR, it is not surprising that his music is often bleak. But it has a certain strength and endurance and a feeling that it is made to last, and I’ve enjoyed persevering with it even if the rewards are not immediate. He has been described as one of the three most important Russian-associated composers along with Shostakovich and Prokoviev. If you’ve not heard him the third symphony is a good place to start, along with the cello concerto, both on Chandos.
A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of interviewing American guitarist John Doan. John is one of the world’s leading exponents of the harp guitar. He’s been studying and playing it since the mid-1980s. We first met in the late 1990s when he was touring in the UK. The main focus of our talk was the signature harp guitar which John is involved with that will be available (for about $1500) in 2013. This is the first such affordable instrument – previously you would have to have one hand-made. Simply put, the harp guitar is a six-string guitar with an additional set of sub-bass strings and ‘super-trebles’ which extend the range of the guitar in both directions. If you search youtube for ‘john doan harp guitar’ you’ll be able to watch him play. It’s an impressive sound. It’s always great to talk to John because his thinking about the guitar is always subservient to his musical commitment (not always the case with guitarists). The short version of the interview will be available on guitarcoach, the download for the iPad. I hope to publish a longer version elsewhere.
I had a couple of concert experiences last weekend. I saw John Williams and John Etheridge play in the Sheldonian Theatre. A day or so later I saw the Led Zeppelin Celebration Day film on the big screen. Whatever one thinks of the band’s performance, this has to be one of the best ever shot rock concerts. If you like Zeppelin you have to see this.
I’ve recently been reading Pink Moon, a book of miscellaneous writings about Nick Drake which is enjoyable. If you don’t know Nick Drake’s music go and order Five Leaves Left or Bryter Later from somewhere. I’ve also read Leslie Ann-Jones’ new biography of Marc Bolan which, despite having some new information (especially through some new interviews) is poorly written and unsophisticated. It is also amazingly uninterested and uninformed about the actualities of Bolan’s music. I can’t see the point of writing biographies talking about musicians if you’re not going to talk about the music. There are more lines in the book about the 1966 World Cup Final or the JFK assassination or personal stuff than Beard of Stars! The book doesn’t even tell you what songs are on each release.
On the personal front, I think I have a green light now for the next songwriting book, although it seems it won’t appear until 2014. I’ve also written a number of acoustic guitar instrumentals which will go toward an album of such.
I’ve acquired a few more symphonies and enjoyed them very much. In addition to still investigating different recordings of Nielsen, I’ve been delighted to hear the Finnish composer Merikanto 3, along with George Lloyd 8, Riisager 1, Atterberg 6 in another recording, and Tubin 2 – one of those symphonies which is brash and noisy with a sublime pay-off at the end which makes it all worth it. There’s also a very pleasing disc of minor Vaughan Williams on Dutton Epoch called Early and Late Works.