Solitary bird in flight

There are times, here on Planet Vinyl, when inclusiveness is a challenge. Manuel’s syrupy strings. The testosterone-soaked roar of heavy metal. Not my thing, really – but all music is good music if it brings people joy, whether to millions of people or even only to the musician creating it. But yes, it is nice when the randomiser turns up something I love, and think the world should know about. I can just be the fanboy for a bit.

fiddleLong term readers already know that folk music, especially Irish and Scots folk, was my first love. Although I have broadened my horizons, Celtic folk still has a special place in my heart. One of the artists I most admired in my teens was Scottish fiddler and singer-songwriter Dougie MacLean. It was his songs which first drew me in, but this LP, Fiddle, is almost entirely instrumental. It uses the fiddle to explore an extraordinary range of tempos and emotions. All the compositions are original, though many sit squarely in the folk tradition.

There is one track, The Ferry, on which MacLean sings. It is only for a few lines, towards the end of the piece, which itself is well into the second side.

The boatman is waiting to take me away
And these aching hands have worked me through another day

These quiet lyrics almost shock the listener, coming as they do without warning. It is masterful touch, and such subtlety and restraint are key to MacLean’s art.

But it another track that I want to share, The Osprey. It is the album’s opening track, and it is as beautiful an evocation of a solitary bird in flight as I know.

sat-nav-ospreys-tracked-scotland-destination-africa_318

The osprey became extinct in Britain in 1916, but has since been reintroduced. The bird’s main stronghold is the Scottish highlands. Image: Earth Times

Dougie is still with us, so if you like what you hear I urge you to visit his website, where this and a dozen other records can be purchased. But first, just listen!

  • Artist: Dougie MacLean
  • Album: Fiddle
  • Track: A1 The Osprey
  • Format: 12”, 33⅓ rpm, vinyl, stereo
  • Label: Dunkeld
  • Made in: Scotland
  • Catalogue: DUN004
  • Year: 1984

Bong-smoking skeleton rides motorbike

The magic and mystery of heavy metal is somewhat of a closed book to me. That the musicians are skilled is not in question, and their fans are models of admirable loyalty. But the merch? Not for me, that whole “black tee-shirt with a picture of a bong-smoking skeleton riding a motorbike across a desert which is also the body of a tanned Amazon warrior in a metal bikini” look.

Mens-Funny-T-Shirt-Darth-Vader-Heavy-Metal-Designer-T-Shirts-Short-Sleeve-Cotton-Tee-Shirts.jpg_640x640And a lot of metal lacks, to my ears, light and shade. Often enough it is just pitch-black, from screaming beginning to screaming end.

But I have met and chatted to pleasant and cultured people wearing the black tees, and they are not the perpetual adolescents the art-work might suggest. Their passion for and appreciation of the music is real. What is more, metal fans put their money where their pierced tongues are.

This record is a seriously obscure early release by a Melbourne, Australia, band Virgin Soldiers. It was put out by a label called Metal for Melbourne (their fourth, and last, release). It is also seriously metal: the two sides are labelled Metal A and Metal B. There are people who love it – enough that a Netherlands outfit put out a bootleg CD in 2008.

Someone in Japan bought it from me for A$50, plus postage. Looking at what the record is selling for now (A$130+) I let it go pretty cheaply, but that is fine. I am glad the record has gone to a home where it will be played and loved.

This is “Metal A”, track 1, a song which the same name as the band, “Virgin Soldiers”. (Which came first?) More than many metal tracks, there is light and shade. The band is tight, the production excellent. I won’t be buying the black tee with the skeleton anytime soon, but I can agree that for what it is, it is genuinely good.

Just listen.

  • Artist: Virgin Soldiers
  • Album: Watching The World
  • Track: Metal A, Track 1 “Virgin Soldiers”
  • Format: 12”, 33⅓ rpm, vinyl, stereo
  • Label: Metal for Melbourne
  • Made in: Australia
  • Catalogue: M4MLP0004
  • Year: 1990

Life intervenes

Catching the shuttle to Planet Vinyl can be hard. There is work, there is family, there are bills and tax returns. There is illness and stress. Life intervenes. But though I have been too busy to write about music, I have been listening, with open ears, and discovered some strange and wonderful things. Here is one.

Christopher Wood is a guitarist, from my home state of Victoria, Australia. In 1988 he put out an LP. It is solo guitar, a set of original instrumental compositions, independently recorded and released. Out there in the distant reaches of obscurity, it is in my honest opinion a masterpiece. Lovely, delicate compositions drawing from a wide range of influences, played with absolute assurance.

woodI had never heard of Wood, and could find out nothing about him from the usual sources, but kept hunting. I was delighted to find that he is still around, still playing, and has a website: www.christopherwood.com.au. There is an email address, and I sent him a message. After a little while, a reply came:

Hello Richard
Thank you for your kind words.
They are much appreciated.
After years of composing and playing in a reclusive environment I am currently preparing to do more recording and performing.
Regards
Chris

This is wonderful news. I still don’t know much about Christopher Wood. He is a private person, obviously, and I respect that. You get the feeling that, in the past thirty-odd years, life intervened. But he is a wonderful talent. I have put my money where my mouth is and bought his most recent release. If you like what you hear, be sure to check out his website and consider doing the same.

  • Artist: Christopher Wood
  • Album title:Guitarist
  • Track: B1 “Song of Hope”
  • Format: 12”, 33⅓ rpm, vinyl, stereo
  • Label: Red Hill Music
  • Made in: Australia
  • Catalogue: RHM. CWG. 001
  • Year: 1988

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

 

 

Small nations

Many otherwise intelligent and discerning people delight in the Eurovision Song Contest, and can name the winners stretching back decades. Personally, the magic and mystery of Eurovision rather misses me, but one thing I have noticed and respected: the contest really matters to small nations. For Bosnia-Herzegovina, for Ireland, for Belgium, for Finland – there is genuine joy at success, and even at just being on equal standing with the big guys on this stage, if no other. ESC_1974_logoOne of Europe’s small nations is Malta, an island in the Mediterranean which has had the historical misfortune of being strategically valuable. At different times the island was conquered by the Romans, the Carthaginians, the Vandals, the Moors, the Sicilians, the Spanish, the French, and lastly the British. Mussolini tried to capture Malta during the Second World War. He failed, but his air force dropped a few thousand tonnes of bombs in the attempt.

Malta’s turbulent history is reflected in its language. Maltese is described by linguistic authorities thus: “a Semitic language written in the Latin alphabet, descended from Siculo-Arabic, but altered in the course of Malta’s history by adopting vocabulary from Sicilian, Italian, English, and to a smaller degree, French”.

This is the language which you will hear in the following track, which was intended to be Malta’s entry in the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest.  For some reason – bickering in the Arts Ministry? funding problems? – Malta withdrew.

gusman

Enzo Gusman

This was the year the contest was won by a Swedish group, by the name of Abba, with “Waterloo”. It is fair to say that even had Malta’s Enzo Gusman got to perform “Paci Fid-Dinja” on stage in Brighton (where the contest was held that year), it unlikely he would have taken the chocolates.

It is, well, undistinguished. Mainstream, lightweight pop, with a bit of Moog synthesizer in the background. But, hey! It was good that the Maltese were having a go. More than that: a sentimental song calling for “Peace on Earth” (that’s what the title means) sounds a whole lot better than many the slogans of our own time: Stop the Boats. Build the Wall. Ban the Burka.

Maybe the Maltese know the value of peace more than most. They were, after all, conquered by Napoleon, before he faced his Waterloo.

  • Artist: Enzo Gusman
  • Single title: Paci Fid-Dinja
  • Format: 7”, 45 rpm
  • Label: Elyphon
  • Catalogue: 101
  • Manufactured in: Italy
  • Year: 1974

 

Groovin’ Around, Baby

In 1973, a group of Australian musicians got together and cut a single. They called themselves Wild Honey, and they could play. The arrangements are complex: shifts in tempo, complex harmonies. For 1973, this is high level production.0220 Label A

Who were they? That is a mystery. There have been lots of bands called Wild Honey, but this does not turn up in an ay of the usual source. The label, Cohns or maybe “Call for Cohns” is otherwise unknown. The catalogue number suggests vanishing smallness: “CAWH”. Almost certainly this stands for “Cohns, Armstrong (the studio where it was recorded), Wild Honey”. They don’t even bother with a “001”, as most tiny labels do, with the proud / defiant hint that is more is to come.

0220 Label BOne clue. Both tracks were produced by one Bruce Rowland, who also has a composing credit for the A side. It is not impossible that this is Bruce Rowland, the Australian musician who is best known as a successful composer of film scores. But that is just a guess. Another credit is Steve Groves: a guitarist of that name later played with the Australian folk-rock band The Bushwackers. Could be him.

If anyone out there knows more, please get in touch.

Meantime, I am posting both sides of the single, because they are so rare, and because I like them both. The record is pretty battered, but the music comes through.

Side A is “Groovin’ Around”, slightly spacy-folk-rock with a hint of Crosby Still and Nash about it. Over reaches just a tad, but a fine effort. Side B is less ambitious but more successful, a humorous rock song about an International Man of Mystery. In fact, Austin Powers would have loved this record.

A Side: Groovin’ Around

B Side: Talkin’ Turkey

  • Artist: Wild Honey
  • Title: Groovin’ Around / Talkin’ Turkey
  • Format: 7” 45 rpm
  • Label: Cohns CAWH
  • Manufactured in: Australia
  • Year: 1973