What became of her?

Somewhere in his sprawling masterpiece, Moby Dick, one of Herman Melville’s characters muses that “It’s a mutual, joint-stock world, in all meridians”. We are all interlinked and intertwined and astonishing coincidence happens so often that we should cease to be astonished.

Even so.

I was listening to an old LP, a compilation called Hootenanny Vol. 2. It is a bit of silly name, but Hootenanny was a TV program back in the early 1960s which showcased the emerging American folk scene, the Greenwich Village coffee-house crowd. It is a great LP, with a wide range of styles – gospel, blues, flamenco, bluegrass – consistently excellent performances. But one track stood out, sent shivers down my spine. It’s a nonsense song, “Hooka Tooka”, and it doesn’t mean anything, but somehow the singer’s voice makes it rich and poignant and sad and joyful, all at once.Henske crppped

So, I looked at the sleeve. Judy Henske? Never heard of her, but an amazing talent. What, I wondered, became of her?

Half an hour later, I picked up a music magazine I had bought earlier the same day, and flipped it open at random, and this is what I saw.

henske magHenske, I learned, had married Jerry Yester, and together they made an album, Farewell Aldebaran, which flopped at the time but is now regarded as a classic and has been re-released. Might track it down.

Meantime, have a listen to “Hooka Tooka”. Nonsense about chewing tobacco, but maybe also saying that it’s a mutual, joint-stock world, in all meridians.

  • Artist: Judy Henske
  • LP Title: The Original Hootenanny Volume 2 (Various Artists)
  • Track: Side 1 Track 6 “Hooka Tooka”
  • Format: 12”, 33⅓ rpm
  • Label: Crestview
  • Catalogue number: CRV-807
  • Manufactured in: United States
  • Year: 1963

Many of the records featured on Planet Vinyl are for sale on Discogs.

 

 

Hear the real Maria

Sound of Music tragics, of whom there are many, will tell you that there is a scene early on in the film in which Maria, played by Julie Andrews, passes through an archway, and you see an old lady in the background. That, so I have heard, is the real Maria von Trapp. A fellow blogger has gone to the trouble of capturing the frame – thank you!

real maria

In a strange way, The Sound of Music is a bit like Macbeth. A piece of theatre is based on real people. The show is a huge success, such that the real people fade, are forever seen through the lens of the fiction. You can forget there really was a king of Scotland called Macbeth, and he never said “Is this a dagger I see before me?”. You can forget that there really was a Trapp family, and that they became refugees who managed to make a living from their music.

The Trapp Family Choir sang and played complex interwoven harmonies, mostly arrangements of traditional German songs. Like in the musical? Not really. There is a hint of similarity, here and there. Rogers and Hammerstein clearly took some songs as starting ideas. “Wohlauf ihr lieben Gaste (Now Then, Dear Guests)”, is a party wind-up song, and identifiable as the distant ancestor of “So Long, Farewell”.

This track was one of a dozen the Trapp family recorded in December 1938, not long after they had left Austria. It is a traditional Christmas song, “Maria Durch Ein Dornwald Ging”, which means roughly “Mary Walked through a Thorny Wood”. The family must have felt they were in a thorny wood of their own. A rousing show tune it ain’t, but the singing is quite lovely. Forget what you know, and listen to the real Maria.

  • Artist: The Trapp Family Choir
  • LP Title: The Sound of Folk Music of Many Lands
  • Track: A2 “Maria Durch Ein Dornwald Ging”
  • Label: RCA Camden
  • Catalogue: CAS-904
  • Manufactured in: Australia
  • Year: 1965 (song recorded 22 Dec 1938).

 

Dorky uncles get down

The cliché about books and covers applies double to recorded music. Some LP sleeves, especially those produced by little independent folk labels, take gauche, add extra gauche, then multiply by the number you first thought of. The music may be brilliant; it’s just that the graphic design was entrusted to the bass player’s second cousin, who is doing Year 8 photography.

Exhibit A

championstringband

The pic is like a snap of the dorky uncles gathered at Christmas lunch.  Anything would have been better. A blueprint pinched from an old guide to making banjos, or just the band’s name in nice clean letters.

Ah, but the whole point of Planet Vinyl is to ignore the visual.

I had never heard of the Champion String Band, though I love folk. Their one self-titled LP was released on an obscure provincial English label from Newcastle, 35 years ago. The cover is a shocker. But who cares about that? The only thing which matters: can the dorky uncles actually play? Oh yes they can. Listen to this set of three tunes, and the combination of fiddle and rhythm guitar.

Close your eyes, open your ears.

  • Artist: The Champion String Band
  • LP Title: Champion String Band
  • Track: Side 1, Track 1 “Lady Rothes / General Garibaldi / The Champion Hornpipe”
  • Format: 12”, 33⅓ rpm
  • Label: Black Crow Records, CRO 201
  • Manufactured in: United Kingdom
  • Year: 1981

 

 

 

Big in Norway

Jon English, an Australian singer and actor, died earlier this year. I had one of his records for sale online, the soundtrack to a 1978 historical drama, all about Australia in convict times, Against the Wind.  Soon after Jon died, someone ordered it. Not too surprising – except that the order came from, of all places, Norway.

atw

One of the great things about selling old records is chatting to the people who buy them. There is so often a fascinating story. So I asked:

One thing I am curious about – Jon English was big here in Australia, but I am a little surprised that anyone in Norway has heard of him. I take it you are a fan? Sad about his passing.

The buyer, Leif, replied:

Jon English is well known in Scandinavia (Norway, Sweden and Denmark). Against the Wind was broadcast on Norwegian television in the 80s, and in Sweden and Denmark at about the same time. The soundtrack album came with its own translation. In Norway, we bought the Swedish version. The Danish title was “Mod vinden”, meaning “Against the Wind”, the Swedish title was “Mot alla vindar”, meaning “Against All Winds”

A Danish artist, Lene Siel, did a duo with Jon English with the song “Six Ribbons”.

Norwegian band Green Carnation did a cover version of the same track.

Jon English played at the Sweden Rock Festival 2013.

So, you see, he’s well known here. And yes, I’m a fan myself. Very sad he died so early and so unexpected!

Lief also tells me that complete series of Against the Wind is now available on DVD in “Australia, Norway, Sweden and the Netherlands … So, as you see, Sweden and Norway, again and again…”

Usually on Planet Vinyl, we don’t play the hits, but here I will make an exception. I learned this song back in primary school, and love it still. Have a listen, and you’ll see why it was big in Norway.

  • Artist: Jon English and Mario Millo
  • LP Title: Against The Wind
  • Track: Side 2, Track 2 “Six Ribbons”
  • Format: 12”, 33⅓ rpm
  • Label: Polydor, 2907 048
  • Manufactured in: Australia
  • Year: 1978

Many of the records featured on this blog, and hundreds of others, are for sale via Discogs. Mention this code “MSD519” to receive a free 7-inch disc of your choice (up to the value of $5.00) with any purchase.

 

 

The unpasteurised milk paradigm

Humour is a funny thing. Beautiful music can transcend time and place and culture; humour, not so much. What is comedic genius to one audience can fall flat to another, be offensive to a third, mystify a fourth.

2059 label

I write parody lyrics to popular songs, and some get performed on a radio show, The Coodabeen Champions. The show is popular, and from time to time I have the joy of meeting someone who says “are you the Richard Evans who writes all those songs …” But it is a limited public. The theme is usually Australian Rules football, and unless you understand the culture, history, tropes and mythology of that sport, then the humour will almost certainly be lost on you.

Like unpasteurised fresh milk, humour is a wonderful thing, but it can’t travel all that far and has a short shelf life.

All of which is by way of introducing a mostly-comedy album, a live recording of various funny songs and banter, which came out in 1974. It is the work of Bob Hudson, an Australian folk singer who strayed into absurdist comedic songs, often half-sung, half-spoken. If you are familiar with Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant”, that is the style.

Bob Hudson is better known now as a radio presenter than a musician. A bit of a renaissance man, Bob: he also did a PhD in archeology. Not making that up. But as a performer he had his moment in the sun. This album’s title track, “Newcastle Song”, was a number one hit in Australia in 1975. For a local musician to have a successful album, and even a hit single, drawn from original Australian material … this was not the first time it had happened, but it was pretty unusual.2059 sleeve front

However, forty-odd years on Hudson’s sardonic, slightly crass humour doesn’t stand up too well. In a smoky pub on a Sunday arvo in 1974, his set would have been side-clutching funny. Hudson’s skill is obvious – the audience is in the palm of his hand, his rapid-fire repartee is skillful, deft. The musicianship, both from Hudson and the supporting band, is strong. But funny now … nah.

Fortunately, as is often the case with mostly-comedy albums, there are some straight  songs included for light and shade. One of these, “Girls in Our Town”, became a minor hit for another Australian artist, Margaret Roadknight, and it still features in the folk repertoire.

But the track I like most is a quiet, spare song, “Who’s Your Friend”. It is about the experience of jealousy, when you are young and mixed up, and about the caution and the fear and confusion which stalk a party full of young people.

I did not laugh once, listening to this album, but with this sad, subtle song Bob Hudson wins me over.

  • Artist: Bob Hudson
  • LP Title: Newcastle Song
  • Track: Side 2 Track 1 “Who’s Your Friend? ”
  • Format: 12”, 33⅓ rpm
  • Label: M7 MLF.083
  • Manufactured in: Australia
  • Year: 1974

This record, and hundreds of others, is for sale on Discogs.

The wheel turns

“Majella has a very bright future” declares the sleeve note on this LP. There are lots of quotes from the papers, too. “Majella will be a recording star of international fame,” says one. “Majella Brady is currently tipped to be Ireland’s top pop export for many years,” opines another. On it goes: “A new star will shine in the North- Greatest hope of a top line singer since Ruby Murray.” So, no pressure.

Majella front cover

Majella Brady is a native of Country Derry, in Northern Ireland. And for a time she was the Next Big Thing in Irish music, the Republic as well as Ulster. She had a few top ten singles in the mid-1960s, when still a teenager. But here’s the thing. Ireland is a pretty small place. Its population in 1969, when this album was released, was just over three million people. This is about the same as Mongolia now, and fewer than Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Majella back detailNot a big market, which is why all the talk about being an “export”. Majella got exported and had some success, especially in the country and western scene, but never quite broke through into the mainstream. Just guessing, but inflated expectations from a parochial homeland may not have helped.

She lives in Scotland now, and is still about, and still performs and releases music. She returned to Derry in 2014 for her first performance there in nearly 40 years, and she told the local paper: “I feel I am the forgotten singer of Derry”. But there is no bitterness: she comes across as a cheerful, kind, vivacious woman. She makes a good living playing music she loves, and who could ask for more?

In “The Spinning Wheel”, the title track of this album, is in this spirit. A young woman grabs the chance to sneak out to meet her lover in the moonlight. The wheel turns, but live life to the full.

  • Artist: Majella, with Don Lowes and his Orchestra,
  • LP Title: The Spinning Wheel & Other Irish Favourites
  • Side 1, Track 2: “Piano Trio In B Flat, Op. 99, D.898, Second Movement, Andante Un Poco Mosso”
  • Format: 12” 33⅓ rpm
  • Label: Hallmark SHM 699
  • Manufactured in: England
  • Year: 1969

Many of the records featured on this blog, and hundreds of others, are for sale via Discogs

 

Going to movies alone

I saw the film An Angel at My Table at a difficult time in my life.

I was very young, and working as a journalist on a daily paper. It was a stressful and high pressure job with a boozy workplace culture. The killer was the shiftwork. You could be rostered to start work at any time from 5am to 6pm, and the two days off you got each week were usually not consecutive, and which days you got varied all the time. You couldn’t really do anything which required a regular commitment. Playing a sport, doing yoga, taking music lessons, even just seeing a group of friends regularly – all the things that bring stability and joy into life, they become almost impossible.

angel 2

An Angel at My Table, dir. Jane Campion, 1990

There are people who can cope with this; I am not one of them. I quickly got into a downward spiral: exhaustion, anxiety, depression. A bad time, but one of the better things I did trying to make this strange existence work was to go to the cinema during the day. It is a little strange going to a movie alone, but I came to enjoy it. I could go to anything, and if it turned out to be a turkey I didn’t feel responsible to another person.

Jane Campion is a New Zealander, now famous as a film director, especially for The Piano. But in 1990, she was only small-big, known among arty types for darkly humorous films with a touch of magic realism. An Angel at My Table was completely different, a long film about the life of New Zealand author Janet Frame. I have mentioned in another post how film soundtracks can open our minds to diverse music, and that was the case here. There is a lovely original score, but it is interspersed with other music, from Schubert lieder to early rock’n’roll, to this song.7020 sleeve

“Po Ata Rau (Now Is The Hour)” is a farewell, in the Maori language, first sung in 1915 to farewell troops sailing off to the First World War. This version is not the one used in the film, but it is so similar that I had to check. It is the work of the choir of a Catholic school, St Joseph’s Maori Girls College, and comes from an EP they recorded in 1962.

It is only short, but it is a beautiful piece of harmony singing, and it lifted my heart on a grim day in 1990 and it still does now.

  • Artist: St Joseph’s Maori Girls College
  • EP Title: Maori Love Songs
  • Side 2, Track 3: “Po Ata Rau (Now Is The Hour)”
  • Format: 7” EP 45 rpm
  • Label: Viking VT62
  • Manufactured in: New Zealand
  • Year: 1962

Many of the records featured on this blog, and hundreds of others, are for sale via Discogs