Thursday, 20 December 2012

Making It Happen - Eric Jupp And His Music (1969?)

Although they show up with some regularity, I’ve stopped buying Eric Jupp albums when I find them in op-shops these days. I’ve listened to a few, and Jupp’s LPs are typically schmaltzy lounge-room jazz firmly ensconced in an old-school, conservative musical mindset. It's pleasant enough stuff and features some great players, but not really my thing. I bought Making It Happen from the Salvos because it features an original composition by John Sangster, and due to the presence of some of my favourite sixties/seventies Oz jazz players (John Sangster, Don Burrows, George Golla, Derek Fairbrass, Warren Daly). 

This feels like an album where the young turks have dragged old fart Jupp into a more hip, modern set of songs. It’s not that hip though; there are still a number of soundtrack numbers and standards that are ever-present on these sorts of LPs - Theme From Exodus, Tara’s Theme from Gone With The Wind, Live For Life theme, Nino Rota’s A Time For Us from Romeo & Juliet and Hava Nagila. Most of these are pretty nice, if forgettable. 

The bulk of the set however is made up of instrumental arrangements of contemporary pop songs such as Puppet On A String (Sandie Shaw, 1967), Sounds of Silence (Simon & Garfunkel, 1966), The Other Man’s Grass Is Always Greener (Petula Clark, 1967), When I’m 64 (The Beatles, 1967), Help Yourself (Tom Jones, 1968) and Spinning Wheel (Blood, Sweat and Tears, 1969). A lot of these tracks are pretty great and the playing is always top-notch - for example, check out Burrow's echoey clarinet solo in the impossibly jaunty rendition of When I’m 64

The highlight is unquestionably Kaffir Song written by John Sangster. Most people would be familiar with this song from The Jazz Sound of The Don Burrows Quartet. In my opinion, the version on Making It Happen is superior. It’s a more fast-paced, less conspicuously ‘jazzy’ version and the interplay between the percussion and the bass is far more complex and interesting. (As amazing as the bass work is, the bassist is not credited in the liner notes - I’m guessing it’s Ed Gaston, but who knows?) It’s a looping, hypnotic trip into faux-exotica highlighted by Burrows high-pitched Bb school flute.

The other track which I really like is the Live For Life theme. From what I can tell, the original recording of this theme was a slow waltz - here Jupp reimagines the piece as a frantic whirlwind of exotic strings and horns, with the same picked bass tone as featured on Kaffir Song. It sounds like the kind of song that would played in a sixties movie over a montage of people doing important things very quickly. 

Label: Columbia
Released: 1969? (There is no date listed, but the latest of the cover songs was released in 1969). 
Players: Eric Jupp - piano, arrangements and musical direction.
Don Burrows - flutes, clarinet
Billy Burton - trumpet
George Golla - guitar
John Sangster - percussion, vibraphone
Derek Fairbrass - drums
Warren Daly - drums

Monday, 3 December 2012

Hymn For Holy Year - Kim and Leanne (1974)

This is a lovely religious/psychedelic pop tune attributed to two singers known only as “Kim and Leanne”. Did they go on to achieve musical success? Did they go on to achieve ecclesiastical success? This, like the holy trinity, is a mystery that will probably never really be known by mankind. The label says that the track was written by Julie Atton and produced by Peter Martin - an online record shop I found says that this is “jazz heavyweight” Peter Martin (and such a man does exist) but I’m unsure as to how they would have distinguished between that Peter Martin and some random Peter Martin from the congregation of Kim and Leanne’s church. 

The single was released by Sydney’s 2SM radio station which was enormously popular in the seventies and eighties and pretty much molded the Top 40 radio format as we know it in Australia. However, despite their populist appeal, until 1992 2SM was in fact owned by the Catholic Broadcasting Company which in turn was controlled by the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney. (The ‘SM’ apparently refers to Sydney’s St. Mark’s Church) I won’t go into it in depth here, but yes, running a popular radio station that was controlled by the Catholic Church did have it’s challenges; various songs couldn’t be played, such as obvious examples like Skyhooks’ sleazy seventies stuff but also songs like The Ballad Of John and Yoko due to its conspicuous use of the word ‘Christ’. (All information on 2SM stolen from the excellent Australian vintage pop site, Milesago.)

Anyway, the song itself is great, Kim and Leanne are sweet, unpretentious singers, the phrasing of the melody kind of reminds me of Radiohead’s Optimistic and you literally won’t believe their use of primitive synths. The lyrics are rubbish and are in reference to the Catholic holy or jubilee year of 1974 - now this weird: the B-side features Father John Murphy talking about the Holy Year of 1974, but all the media I can find on the web says that the year in question was in fact 1975. Another Biblical mystery, on par with the resurrection, no doubt. So, enjoy this unique gem and give thanks to reader Rex who sent me this single. Amen.

Label: 2SM
Released: 1974
Players: Kim and Leanne - vocals
Peter Martin - production
No other musicians credited.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

The Unique Sound of Andy Sundstrom - Andy Sundstrom/Sven Libaek (1963)

Earlier this year I wrote a post about a single by Andy Sundstrom from 1963 playing a couple of songs composed and produced by Sven Libaek. I have now come across the EP from which this single was taken thanks to Urban Bowerbird reader Rex. The Unique Sound of Andy Sundstrom features the two songs from the single - Northern Territory and Theme From Black Orpheus - and two more Libaek-penned tunes; Free Fall and Theme From An Unwritten Movie. Although I didn’t realise this after hearing the single, Sundstrom plays these songs not on a guitar, but on a balalaika. This has added a whole new layer to the music for me and makes Andy a bit of a pop oddity. Whoever thought that balalaika surf-pop from the early sixties Australian music scene even existed? Two of the tracks, Northern Territory and Theme From An Unwritten Movie would be recorded by Sven with his usual jazz ensemble of the time and included on The Music Of Sven Libaek released four years later. The third track, Free Fall, was written by Libaek and performed by Australian surf group The Atlantics on their Bombora LP from 1963. (I’m not sure who played it first - both recordings came out in 1963).

Back cover liner notes: Three years ago ANDY SUNDSTROM came to Australia as a crew member on the 38 foot ketch “Sarong”. He had a guitar under one arm and a balalaika under the other. He wasn’t planning to stay too long, as all his family live in Denmark, his country of birth. However, he fell in love, with Australia, as do so many other visitors and migrants - and he’s still here! He hasn’t wasted his three years here either, on the contrary, he has established himself as one of Australia’s leading entertainers. 

ANDY’S speciality is the balalaika and in playing it he has been referred to as the “fastest man on strings”. However, his first CBS disc was far from a fast one. It was a haunting melody simply entitled “THEME FROM AN UNWRITTEN MOVIE” and although it was not a hit for ANDY it certainly made a stir among the public as well as disc jockeys and show business personalities. It was NORTHERN TERRITORY that really established Andy as a top pop artist with his balalaika. His beautiful rendition of THEME FROM BLACK ORPHEUS also became extremely popular with the public. All these tracks you will find on this E.P. and in addition, his latest entitled FREE FALL, a virtuoso surfin’ number.

This collection could easily have been entitled - “The Best of Andy Sundstrom”, but THE UNIQUE SOUND OF ANDY SUNDSTROM seemed more appropriate. It is indeed a unique sound - this strange haunting and brilliant way of playing that rather unusual instrument the balalaika, with a pop flavor. ANDY has created a new branch of Australian entertainment business. A branch that is growing in popularity every day.

Label: CBS, produced and composed by Sven Libaek
Released: 1963
Players: Andy Sundstrom - balalaika, guitar (no other musicians credited)

EDIT: Urban Bowerbird reader "randbasic" emailed me a reconstructed version of the artwork for this record. It looks great.

EDIT 25/09/2016: Here's a short article talking about Andy's work on this EP from Australian Womens Weekly in 1962. 

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Hayman Island Promo Single - Jimmy Parkinson (1957)

Sandy Scott was glad he lost his heart in Sydney - and Jimmy Parkinson lost his heart on Hayman Island. Presumably in the fifties and sixties you couldn’t walk around a popular Australian tourist spot without tripping over some pop-star's lost, dismembered heart. This recording is a nice little Oz exotica single from the late fifties featuring crooner Jimmy Parkinson singing a couple of tunes about Hayman Island.

From Wikipedia: Hayman Island is the most northerly of the Whitsunday Islands, part of the Cumberland Islands, which are located off the coast of Central Queensland, Australia at 20°03′S 148°53′E. Hayman is a private island open to the public, most famous for its luxury resort which was built in the 1950s by millionaire Reg Ansett, who also founded Ansett Australia. The island is a significant drawing point for tourism in Queensland.

Jimmy Parkinson was an Australian born singer who had a significant hit in the UK with ‘The Great Pretender’, released a few singles and one LP. This single features two tunes about the tropical wonders of Hayman Island with backing by Bob Gibson, His Orchestra and Chorus. It was a promotional single produced by the Royal Hayman Hotel. The two tracks are (Pack Up A Dream) And Head For Hayman Island and I Lost My Heart On Hayman Island - both done in a late fifties exotica style; Queensland via Honolulu.

My copy has no picture sleeve, but apparently one exists (picture above borrowed from who borrowed it from eBay).

Label: EMI Custom
Released: 1957
Players: Jimmy Parkinson - vocals
Bob Gibson - Orchestra

Thursday, 18 October 2012

I'm Glad I Lost My Heart In Sydney - Sandy Scott with Edwin Harrison and His Orchestra (1969)

To follow on from my last post on the brilliant A Place To Stand, a song extolling the virtues of Ontario, here’s a track a little closer to home. I’m Glad I Lost My Heart In Sydney is a charmer of a song with a musical theatre swing and a few local references to keep the New South Welshmen happy. The vocals are by Aussie crooner Sandy Scott, who was huge in the sixties and seventies. The b-side is an instrumental version, showcasing the talents of Edwin Harrison and his Orchestra. I can find very little information about this single and the people involved, but it’s a nicely done piece of late-sixties Australiana. 

Lest you think I’m not bringing you the quality music you’ve come to expect, fear not: this song is award winning! According to the information on the disc, this song, written by one Freddie Morgan, was the winner of Sydney radio station 2GB’s International Song Competition. If any one has any information on this tune, let me know in the comments.

Label: ATA Records (Distributed by Festival)
Released: 1969
Players: Sandy Scott - vocals
Edwin Harrison and His Orchestra - music

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

A Place To Stand (Ontar-i-ar-i-ar-i-o) - Dolores Claman (1967)

Despite its unsurprising popularity in Canada, I suspect that few non-hosers are familiar with this charming geographical pop oddity from 1967. This EP is the soundtrack to an Oscar winning short film intended to promote the Canadian province of Ontario, first shown at Expo 67. "So popular has this music become that a demand arose for an original sound track recording, in stereo", the liner notes inform us. 

It begins with a concise vocal version of the song - a jaunty, catchy melody sung with hearty enthusiasm by a chorus of female and male singers. I have unashamedly loved this song from the moment I heard it. It has all the elements of a great pop song and I wholeheartedly suggest incorporating this track into mixes for a bit of unexpected flavour, like adding a dash of fine maple syrup to a meal. The remainder of the EP is taken up by the actual soundtrack to the film, in two parts. These two tracks contain some great material occasionally evoking jazz, Gershwin, SMiLE-era Brian Wilson and general late-sixties soundtrackery.

The song and the soundtrack were written by Dolores Claman who is the subject of some veneration in her home country due to having penned, not only this unofficial anthem, but also the theme to Hockey Night In Canada. In partnership with her husband and lyricist Richard Morris, she composed over 3000 commercial jingles over a 30 year period.

Label: RCA Victor
Released: 1967
Players: Dolores Claman - composer
Richard Morris - lyrics
Jerry Toth - arranger
Rudy Toth - conducter
Larry Trudel - French lyrics

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Seasons Of Love - Gerard Kennedy/Sven Libaek (1972)

I first saw this album on the old Votary Records trades page, listed as ‘for Libaek completists only’. It’s a fair assessment of this LP - Libaek merely provides accompaniment for Australian seventies television star Gerard Kennedy as he recites Rod McKuen-style poetry over a smooth jazz backing. It may be instructive to focus on the music and the poetry separately:

THE MUSIC, BY SVEN LIBAEK. Sven’s compositions on the LP are quite good, if a little innocuous (it is intended as background music after all). There are some great moments though, which is not surprising as this was recorded right in the middle of Libaek’s golden era - he would go on to record the soundtrack for Inner Space a year after this release. None of the musicians are credited, but I am pretty confident that the usual suspects are playing on this record: George Golla on guitar, Don Burrows on flutes, John Sangster on vibes and percussion and so on. Many tracks also feature the addition of string sections which tends to bring out great stuff from Sven. The frustrating thing is that there are very few moments on the LP where the music is brought to the forefront and given a chance to be heard. Autumn is one such track, where we get a chance to hear haunting flute lines cycle over orchestral strings with a cool jazz underpinning from the rhythm players. The twin, harmonising sax lines bookending Spring are another lovely touch. A few themes are repeated and developed over a couple of tracks which adds some depth, and was not something that Sven usually did. But unfortunately, any moments of Libaek goodness invariably get interrupted by Gerard Kennedy’s awkward, artless spoken word.

THE POETRY, BY GERARD KENNEDY. Let me be blunt; the poetry on this record is bad. Really bad. Really, really bad. I think I could state without risk of hyperbole that this is the worst poetry I have ever heard. Gerard affects a bad boy outsider persona for the poetry, but also injects a strange sort of cutesiness that, while not necessarily at odds with the material, fills me with an intense sort of simultaneous rage and embarrassment. Embarragement?

Throughout Seasons Of Love, Kennedy’s turn of phrase is embarrassingly unselfconscious and pretentious - I could pick almost any line from the album to illustrate this, here’s a random sample: ‘[Let’s] put up a maze of love with walls a thousand thoughts thick’ from I Think I’ll Build A Wall or “You moved [...] proud and graceful like a young gazelle picking her way through the forest.” from The Quiet Time Of Reason. There are really only two themes that are touched upon in the poems (if I was being kind, I’d call it consistency): Gerard describing how he is an outsider (Travel Broadens The Mind, I Am An Island) or musings on wanting to find love, but being too much of a free-thinking bohemian to be able to love just one woman (all the other tracks). Gerard is always alone, even in a crowd. The rain is his brother, and the wind is his friend.

Of course, Kennedy can’t be blamed for the abysmal standard of the poetry because despite the strongly personal nature of the verse, he didn’t actually write it. The poetry itself is credited to one Warwick Randall. One website I read even suggested that ‘Warwick Randall’ was a pseudonym for Kennedy, but from what I can ascertain, Randall is a real person. He has a couple of books of poetry to his name, is credited as working with Kennedy on a number of television shows and wrote for Melbourne broadsheet The Age in the early eighties. 

The fact that Kennedy didn’t even write the words that he delivers with such hammy enthusiasm only adds to the weirdness of this record. Did Kennedy recognise his limitations as a poet and outsource the job? Did he think that his friend was a criminally under appreciated poet and wanted to bring his work to a wider audience? Perhaps Gerard just wanted to portray himself as a tough yet arty nonconformist but didn’t actually have the poetic skills required for an LP of this nature and so turned to a lesser known, but confident poet whom he happened to know through work? I have so many questions about the execution and production of this LP, but I suspect that everyone involved with Seasons Of Love instantly forgot about it soon after it was released.

...And yet, I keep listening to this LP. I tend to eschew the ‘so bad it’s good’ school of music appreciation (I prefer music that’s ‘so good it’s good’) but there’s something about Seasons Of Love that keeps me coming back. There’s something mesmerising about this seventies wannabe alternative pin-up boy effusing cringe-inducing poetry (that he didn’t even write) over a backdrop of sweet, smooth jazz from a composer who was at the top of his game and probably wrote this material in his sleep. If nothing else, it’s a fascinating cultural artifact - when, where, could this have ever been considered cool?

Label: Festival
Released: 1972
Players: Gerard Kennedy - spoken word
Sven Libaek - composer, arranger
Musicians uncredited.

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Wives & Lovers - George Golla (1968/70)

George Golla has played on countless records accompanying Don Burrows, Sven Libaek, John Sangster et al, but he very infrequently released LPs under his own name and own direction. This is one of those records, and it’s a nice one. Wives & Lovers is a crowd-pleasing set of standards, Beatles covers and Brazillian bossa. I recall seeing a live LP of Golla and his band which was recorded at a popular pancake eatery in Sydney - I imagine this is exactly the kind of set they would playing, one that would ensure that the punters were hearing something they were familiar with or at least something that was engaging on first listen. Only one piece, Waltz To Adelaide, is a Golla original and it’s a damn shame that there aren’t more on this record because it’s the album's standout for me - a Libaek-esque waltz with nice dynamic changes and great work from the horn section. In fact, it’s as good as Libaek’s best, and the way that it is arranged and executed as a complete, concise song actually exceeds most of Sven’s work in this regard. 

Of the two Beatles covers, Day Tripper probably wouldn’t sound out of place on an album of novelty easy-listening covers, but it’s pleasant enough. Fool On The Hill is quite an interesting interpretation of this song and reimagines it as an odd shuffle with a sort of weird sense of unease in the chorus. The standards are pretty standard, although Wives and Lovers is great, and the Brazilian stuff on side two is good, but still feeling a bit safe and diluted for a popular audience. Overall, a lovely late-sixties Oz jazz album with some unevenness in the quality, but worth it for Golla’s Waltz To Adelaide and a few others.

Label: Festival
Released: Sleeve says 1970, disc says 1968.
Players: George Golla - guitar
Don Burrows - flute, alto flute, alto sax
Errol Buddle - bassoon, tenor sax
Pete Haslum - trombone
John Sangster - vibes, percussion
Derek Fairbrass - drums
Ed Gaston - bass (credited on the back as ‘Ed Faston’ - no respect at all.)
George Thompson - bass

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Peaceful - John Sangster (1980)

This is the sort of music that ideally should be listened to while sitting on a pristine Australian beach with a beer, maybe enjoying a cheeky Winnie blue (or some of Australia's other well-loved herbal produce) while listening to the native birds calling in the coastal scrub. I'm a little surprised, in fact, that Sangster didn't incorporate field recordings of birdsong or other native bioacoustics into this LP as he has with so many of his others. (Especially with titles like 'Reed-warbler Song').

This set is quite consistent in its instrumentation, comprising acoustic guitar, vibes and other melodic percussion instruments, smooth sax and flute. Overall the LP is reminiscent of the quieter sections of Sangster's fantastic Australia And All That Jazz records. The relatively straightforward arrangements and breezy exotica feel also evoke the vibe of John Zorn pieces like The Gift.

This record is an artefact of late 20th century Oz exotica which evolved from an appreciation of Australia as something of a tropical paradise. (See Sangster's own aptly titled Paradise for an excellent example of this cultural phenomenon). And unlike the unobtainable island fantasies of the original American exotica wave of the late fifties, this was a paradise that was easily accessible to any Australian with a bit of time, a serviceable caravan and a desire to seek out their own Antipodean Eden. Sangster clearly loved to view Australia in this way. In a country that is often ashamed of celebrating it's own 'Australianess', Sangster's music stands out as an unabashed statement of what makes it worth celebrating.

Label: Rain-Forest
Released: 1980
Players: Errol Buddle - tenor saxophone
Mal Cunningham - flutes
Terry Walker - acoustic guitar
Tony Ansell - electric piano
John Sangster - vibraphone, marimba and percussion
Ian Bloxsom - percussion

Monday, 4 June 2012

Expanse - Andrew Richardson (1984)

Let me be succinct - this album is awesome. Picture this: a synth-heavy, flute-heavy, proggy concept album "inspired by the vast Australian Outback and Aboriginal Dreamtime stories that originated there". The musician responsible for this 'ballet' as it is described on the back cover is flautist Andrew Richardson, who seems to have been active in Melbourne in the eighties, but on whom I can find little information or context. I found a single of his called Sally/Dive a while ago at the same op-shop as I found this LP, but it didn't even hint at the greatness of which this man was capable.

Although the album only features two musicians, Richardson on flutes and Ian Eccles-Smith on keyboards, this is a full-sounding album with plenty of variation and dynamic range. Falling stylistically somewhere between Vangelis's eighties albums and a documentary soundtrack of a similar age, there are lots of ephemeral flutes, noisy synths and the occasional field recording of indigenous singing and percussion. Although it could be a little ambient (or god forbid "new age-y") for some listeners, there are some very strong, melodically driven tracks which are the definite highlights for me. The first such track is Tiddalik - The Frog which opens with the synth laying down a whimsical motif in 4/4 and then segues into a gorgeous, baroque waltz section lead by Richardson's flute - all the while augmented by deep, synth "croaks" representing the titular amphibian. The album closes with Brolga which is another lush waltz allowing Richardson to harmonise multiple haunting flute lines over some very effective synth bass.

This may just be due to my idiosyncratic musical tastes, but this LP represents a real lost gem to me and I urge you to have a listen if this sounds like your kind of thing.

EDIT: You may notice that keyboardist Ian Eccles-Smith says hello in the comments of this post and recommends his album Apsilene. I have just written a post on this piece and also conducted an email interview with Ian which you can read here

Label: A.R.M.
Released: 1984
Players: Andrew Richardson - flutes
Ian Eccles-Smith - keyboards
(Richardson and Smith also arranged, produced and engineered the album.)


Monday, 28 May 2012

The Australian Ark - Derek Strahan (1970)

If I had to name an all-time favourite genre it would be nature documentary soundtracks - particularly if they're Australian and from the sixties or seventies. Admittedly, it's a fairly limited genre, so at this point, finding a new one (new to me, anyway) is pretty exciting. While doing a little wandering on the internet, I found the soundtrack to Shell's Australia; a thirteen part series by Robert Raymond documenting the natural history of Australia which originally aired in the early seventies. The soundtrack, titled The Australian Ark, was composed by Derek Strahan during 1969-70 and features the talents of a number of Oz jazz players including John Sangster and Derek Fairbrass. I've only been listening to it since I obtained it this morning, but from my initial impressions, it sounds really, really good. The inclusion of Sangster on percussion lends the soundtrack a very similar feel to Sangster's own soundtrack works and also the celebrated soundtracks of Sven Libaek. I don't have a rip of this album - it was never released on vinyl, although a cassette tape was released by Strahan in 1980 - but the whole thing can be purchased on CD or mp3 from CD Baby. Strahan seems to release all his music independently, so purchasing this album will directly support this Australian composer and his fine work.

If you want to hear some of the music in context, there are a couple of videos of the original documentary available at the National Film and Sound Archive's australianscreen site.

Snips N' Snails Sugar & Spice - Peter McLean (1973)

Snips N' Snails Sugar & Spice is another Australian children's folk record from the seventies. This one is by folk singer Peter McLean on whom I can find little to no information. All I can really deduce about the guy is that he either had a lot of money to spend on this record, or he was friends with some very good musicians; amongst the many players on the album are names such as Errol Buddle and Warren Daly. He also had the budget to put a lovely colour booklet as part of the cover featuring the lyrics and pictures of adorable children wearing very seventies clothing.

Although I was a little put off by the lyrical content at first - outside of it's original context, this whimsical seventies artefact can seem a little creepy - the quality of production, arrangement and the songs themselves are really very good. Like Shirley Jacobs, McLean inserts a little of that famous seventies social consciousness into some of the songs (although nowhere near to the degree of Jacobs). One of my favourite tracks 'If I Were A Child' contains the amusing refrain 'I'd wonder why they make me fight their dirty, stinkin' wars' delivered with utmost sincerity. The album also seems to have some connection with autistic children as there is a brief piece of text on the last page of the LP's booklet that mentions the Autistic Children's Association - although that's all it is, a mention, there's no further information or context, so who knows what McLean was trying to convey.

Occasionally embarrassing lyrical moments aside, this is a great children's folk record with strong melodies accompanied by a lot of instrumental layers; string sections, recorders, flutes, and choir vocals make this a very enjoyable listen.

Label: Cherry Pie
Released: 1973. I was able to work this out as one of the tracks 'Tom' was released as a single and is recorded as entering the charts at 48 in this year.
Players: Peter McLean - vocals
Peter Martin - electric guitar, acoustic guitars
Dave Ellis - bass
Jim Kelly - guitar
Warren Daly - drums
Dick Holland - electric piano
Lindsey Doyle - drums
John Harding, Cliff Hanney, Shirley Beauman, Nancy Clements, Janet Harvey, Francis Swales and John Lyle - violins
Nathan Waks, V. Vidler, Hans Gyors, Lal Kuring - cellos
Errol Buddle - concert flute, recorder
Col Loughnan - concert flute
Doug Foskett - alto flute
Dave Rutledge - alto flute
Warren Judd - baritone vocals
Ian Caldwell - tenor vocals
Lyndria Maywald - 2nd alto vocals
Lynne Martin - 1st alto vocals
Jan Judd - 1st soprano vocals
Jenny Parr - 2nd sopranos
Angela Cowl - 2nd sopranos


Australia's Shirley Jacobs - Shirley Jacobs (197?)

Shirley Jacobs was a folk singer and anti war activist who was active in Melbourne during the seventies and eighties. She regularly performed for the inmates of Pentridge Prison and eventually fell in love with a prisoner who had been incarcerated for blowing the whistle on police corruption in Victoria. On this record Jacobs sings songs aimed at children, but her social consciousness comes through very clearly on most tracks. On 'Sad Eyed Teddy Bear' she sings about a young boy who grows up to fight in a war and dies. On 'Tribal Girl' she sings about an indigenous girl, a 'dreamtime girl' and 'the songs your people know'.

The social commentary mostly works okay in the children's song format, however there are some missteps such as 'Friendly, Green, Luminous Bear', a ham-fisted equating of the mistreatment of the titular bear with racism. (Also on this track, the bass player seems to be completely unfamiliar with the progression - it's amazing that they kept this take.) My favourite is 'I Know A Girl Who Looks Through Windows' - a lovely folk melody with a great interplay between major and minor sections. This is an interesting folk album although the lack of variety in melodies and arrangement can get a bit samey after a while.

Label: RCA Camden
Released: Unsure, probably early seventies.
Players: Shirley Jacobs - 12-string guitar
Ade Monsbourgh - recorder, melodica, trumpet
Doug Wallace - guitar
Peter Hayes - 5-string banjo
Jim Beal - drums, maraccas, glockenspiel, bells, triangle, tambourine
Frank Taylor - piano
Allan Pope - electric bass
Children of Essex Heights State School, Victoria join Shirley on the choruses of 'Sad Eyed Teddy Bear', 'Topsy On The Truck', 'Friendly, Green, Luminous Bear'.

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Don Burrows And The Brazilian Connection - Don Burrows Quintet, Sydney String Quartet, Octavio Burnier & Claudio Cartier (1979)

My view of 1970s Australia is derived entirely from pop-cultural artefacts. Through my incomplete, stochastic lens, the Australia of the seventies was a land far more isolated than today, infused with a unique kind of funky antipodean jazz. A land where flute was king, and Don Burrows reigned supreme as it’s finest exponent. It’s hard to imagine a time when a jazz flautist was the most successful and prolific of instrumentalists, but in the magic heyday of Australia in the seventies, anything was possible.
Like any prolific musician, Burrows has his hits and misses. The first record of his I ever bought - Don Burrows Presents The Brazilian Connection, is one of the hits. This is a double live LP recorded in 1978 at the Sydney Opera House and Canberra Theatre featuring the Don Burrows Quintet, the Sydney String Quartet and two Brazilian singer-songwriters; Octavio Burnier and Cluadio Cartier. Each track features a performance played by different permutations of these musicians. For example, some tracks feature just the Brazilians with the string quartet, some feature all the ensembles playing together, a couple feature the classic duo lineup of Burrows and guitarist George Golla and so on.

Although this is Don’s record, the Brazilians - Burnier and Cartier - steal the show. Tracks like 'Don João (King John)', 'Sitio Azul (A happy, country weekender)', 'Adventura Espacial (Adventure in space)' and 'Recreio (Playtime)' have a beautiful sound, particularly when the guitarists are accompanied by the string quartet. Although the overtly jazz flute feel of much of the LP has dated somewhat, the songs by Burnier and Cartier still sound very fresh and quite contemporary.

That being said, the tracks featuring all the players are amongst the best material on the LP. My favourite track on the LP is probably 'Lembrando Ed Kleiger (Remember Ed Kleiger)'. Opening with the Brazilians singing a gorgeous melody over a funky backing from the Don Burrows Quintet, highlighted with flourishes from the Sydney String Quartet which then segues into seven odd minutes of extended solos from our esteemed players. 'Lenda das Amazonas (Legend of the Amazons)' is another track where the players go all in, follows much the same format as the latter tune and is equally as good.

Don Burrow’s albums seem to be less sought out and celebrated than those by other Oz jazz players of the seventies - possibly due to their sheer abundance. This LP however, is well worth a listen and easily holds its own in comparison with other lauded Australian jazz LPs from this era.

Label: Cherry Pie
Released: 1978 (Recorded live at Sydney Opera House and Canberra Theatre)
Players: Don Burrows - flutes, clarinet, percussion
George Golla - guitar, percussion
Tony Ansel - electric piano, synth, percussion
Paul Baker - bass, percussion
Paul Jansen - percussion

Octavio Burnier & Claudio Cartier - 6 and 12 string guitar, vocals, percussion

Harry Curby - 1st violin, percussion

Derel Tincu - 2nd violin, percussion
Alex Todicescu - viola, percussion
Nathan Waks - cello, percussion


Sunday, 29 April 2012

Bush Theme/Lonely Australian Landscape - Sven Libaek (1966)

Here's another gem from Urban Bowerbird favourite Sven Libaek. These two tunes are taken from the nature documentary soundtrack Nature Walkabout, however these are quite different versions to the tracks that appear on the LP. These versions are shorter and have faster tempos than the album versions and a few changes in orchestration and arrangement. The two tracks also seem to be played by a more stripped-down version of Sven's usual ensemble - there are no saxophone, flute or trumpet parts, just piano, guitar, bass, vibes and harmonica on Bush Theme. I am unsure why different versions of these songs were released on the single - is this a standard practice? I have a 7" single from Libaek's Inner Space soundtrack (Thatcherie/Sounds Of The Deep) and it contains exactly the same versions as featured on the LP. Weird.

I always felt that Bush Theme was one of the weaker tracks on Nature Walkabout and I think the increase in tempo and the concision of this arrangement improves it immeasurably. Lonely Australian Landscape on the other hand is one of my favourite of Sven's compositions and I like it even better with this pacing and arrangement. It takes what is already a great melody and gives it an incredible urgency and energy.

Label: Festival
Released: 1966 (I assume; that's when the Nature Walkabout soundtrack was released.)
Players: Unsure, but here's an educated guess: Sven Libaek - piano
George Golla - guitar
John Sangster - vibes, percussion
Ed Gaston - bass
Derek Fairbrass - drums

Richard Brooks - harmonica


Happy Xmas (War Is Over) - Incredible Penguins (1985)

Here's a concept: I'm going to share a piece of music which I really don't like. Think of it as an act of vigilance on my part, as I don't want to ever be doomed to repeat the kind of history which is represented by this release by the Incredible Penguins. This is a benefit single released in '85 by a number of actual and semi Aussie musical celebrities in the aid of the Little Penguin (Eudyptula minor). Allow me to outline the crimes committed by this single:

1. The abysmal artwork and title of the band. What the hell were they thinking? Is that snow in the background? Little Penguins are native to the southern coast of Australia and coastal New Zealand - they live on beaches, not snow. Then again, it does perfectly compliment the slap-dash attitude exuded by the single as a whole.

2. And speaking of slap-dash, what's with the choice of song? They've taken a very well known cover (which was rereleased after Lennon's murder only five years earlier), which was probably good for sales, but what has the song got to do with penguins? What's worse is that in order to create some kind of relevance from the song choice, they play samples over the outro of politicians talking about the Falklands War! What the hell does that have to do with the plight of this native Australian penguin species?

3. The musicians involved in making this record were frankly, pretty uninspiring. This single was the brainchild of Aussie music industry legend Molly Meldrum, who I would have thought could have assembled a pretty impressive mob of musos, particularly during his heyday in the eighties. Instead we get Angry Anderson and Brian Mannix! Granted, Meldrum also got Colin Hay, John Farnham and Bob Geldoff (who during this era evidently got involved with absolutely any charity single that would have him) but they are swamped by a chorus of no name Aussie singers and the Hare Krishna Chorus(?).

4. After you've handed over your hard-earned cash to help out the penguins, what sort of value do you get with this single? An extended version, a radio mix and an instrumental mix of the same song which was already done ten times better on the original - the listenability potential is just overwhelming.

5. Maybe this is going to sound like a weird complaint, but the Little Penguin isn't even endangered (and as far as I'm aware, wasn't categorised as such when this was recorded). Don't get me wrong, any money going towards the conservation of native species is great, but there are loads of other less well-known bird species in this country that could have done with the sort of financial boost that this recording would have brought in - such as the insanely endangered Orange-bellied Parrot. One can't help but think that the Little Penguin was chosen as an easy animal to identify with regardless of other potentially more pressing conservation issues at the time.

Basically, this recording feels like a soulless, vapid enterprise entered into by people who may well have had their hearts in the right place but ended up creating something so pointless and tacky, that it's no wonder that no one (and I mean no one) plays or has even heard of this recording today. It's hard to avoid being reminded of the brilliance of the Simpsons and their own vapid celebrity benefit single We're Sending Our Love Down The Well.

The Birds Around Us - Gould League of New South Wales (197?)

Here is number three in my series of posts on Australian bird call recordings. This one is an LP and from a slightly later era than the last two - it must have been recorded before 1977 as this was the year that the narrator, Alec Chisolm, died. The recordings were compiled by the Gould League of New South Wales which is an environmental education body that seemed to be a part of every Australian's schooling in the generation before mine. The Gould League isn't really active these days, but they really seemed to be a significant force in raising awareness of conservation issues in the sixties, seventies and eighties. The first side of the LP features the calls of many native birds with Chisolm's narration, whereas the second side is pure uninterrupted bird call recordings.

Label: Columbia/EMI
Released: 197?
Players: Alec Chisolm - narrator
Peter Roberts & Roger Golding - recordists

The Australian Kookaburra - Peter Bruce (196?)

Here is another bird call EP by Peter Bruce, focusing on another of Australia's iconic bird species, the Kookaburra (Dacelo novaeguineae). The Kookaburra is one of our most recognisable and well-known bird species due mainly to its extremely distinctive laughing call and its tendency to live in close proximity to humans. Although this EP was recorded by Bruce (who's amusing narrative style I remarked upon in my post on his Lyrebird EP) this time the narration is done by Richard Davies - one of those old-style announcer types who has that curious accent that fuses the classic Australian tone with that of the British private school. The first side of the record describes the calls and habits of the Kookaburra, referring to the indigenous folklore surrounding the bird and its place in the Aboriginal dreamtime stories. The second side is a mix tape of native bird species - Grey Butcherbird (Cracticus torquatus), Grey Shrikethrush (Colluricincla harmonica), Australian Magpie (Gymnorhina tibicen), Sulphur-crested Cockatoo (Cacatua galleria) and Boobook Owl (Ninox novaeseelandiae). Unlike the showcasing of the mimicry on Bruce's Lyrebird EP, no prior knowledge of Australian birds is needed to enjoy this set of field recordings.

Now, if you'll forgive a little self-indulgence, my own musical ensemble, The Cambrian Explosion, used the B-side of this EP as a sample for a track from our last album The Forgotten Music of Felix Ookean - a tribute to the Australian nature documentary soundtracks of the sixties and seventies. In the song, Those Bushranging Birds Of The Bush, we have taken the sample in its entirety and scored each call like different scenes in a documentary - have a listen.

Label: Columbia, produced by Geoffrey Jackson.
Released: 196?
Players: Peter Bruce - recordist and script writer
Richard Davies - narrator


Sunday, 8 April 2012

The Superb Lyrebird - Peter Bruce (196?)

I'm a musician and a zoologist, and I've always had trouble trying to work out where and how these two disciplines can interconnect. However, there have always been those who shared those twin interests and this where we get the field of bioacoustics - the study of the music made by animals. There seems to have been an assumption many years ago that Australian birds were musically inferior to the songbirds of Europe - probably due to the squawking, screaming calls of the ubiquitous native parrots and some of the more inharmonious honeyeater species. Despite this, or possibly because of this slight to their native fauna, early  Australians developed a patriotic pride in  the unique musicality of their native bird-life and much was written praising them. (Even while others were introducing European bird species such as Blackbirds to remind them of the birdsong of the old country). Obviously, audio recording was the best way to show off and share these unique soundscapes and back in the old days many vinyl recordings were released in this vein.

I was lucky enough to find two Australian bird call EPs both on the Columbia record label in an op-shop in Laverton. The first such record I would like to share is The Superb Lyrebird (Australia's Forest Singer) by wildlife recordist Peter Bruce, recorded, by the looks of it, sometime during the early sixties although no date is indicated. The Superb Lyrebird is very well-known for its extraordinary mimicry and this was something that was recognised and celebrated soon after Europeans became familiar with this bird. Superb Lyrebirds (Menura novaehollandiae) are found along the edge of south-eastern Australia in temperate forests and woodland. They are incredibly distinctive as they are large ground-dwelling birds that can measure up to 1m, including their tail. This huge fan-shaped tail is made up of two large outer feathers surrounded by wispy, light feathers in between. 

Peter Bruce provides us with narration on the habits of these birds interspersed with examples of their talent for mimicry. Bruce has an amusingly languid and descriptive tone but he is clearly very familiar with his subject and was responsible for the field recordings themselves. It must be said, that it certainly helps to be familiar with Australian bird calls to really appreciate these sorts of records - after all, how impressive is the Lyrebird's spot-on impression of a Gang-gang Cockatoo if you don't know what the hell a Gang-gang Cockatoo is? Regardless, there is something fascinating about listening to these sorts of recordings and imagining the world that Bruce is describing, where Lyrebirds are always calling and there's a friendly narrator to guide you through the Australian bush when it was a little more pristine than it is today.

Label: Columbia
Released: 196? (Bruce recorded an LP of Lyrebird recordings for Smithsonian Folkways in 1966, and it seems likely that this was EP was recorded at around the same time.)
Players: Peter Bruce - recordist and narrator
David Corke - writer of commentary
Superb Lyrebird - vocals

À L'Olympia - Alan Stivell (1972)

I found this LP in an op-shop and had no idea who Alan Stivell was or what sort of music he might play, but on the back cover were seemingly random phrases written in French: 'Futurisme', 'Diversité des cultures', 'Progressive-folk', 'Celtic pop-music', 'Monde technologique' and so on - it seemed like it would be interesting enough to gamble $10 on. It certainly was. This album is in fact, a live recording by Alan Stivell at the Olympia theatre in Paris from 1972. Stivell was responsible for something of a renaissance in the Celtic folk music of Brittany and interest in the Celtic harp generally during the seventies. This performance combines this traditional folk music with elements of rock and prog very effectively on this LP using harp, acoustic and electric guitar, dulcimer, banjo, violin, organ, drums, percussion, electric bass and bombarde, a traditional French reed instrument in the oboe family. Most tracks feature Stivells distinctive vocals (in French and English) and are traditional tunes that he has arranged for his band. For a live disc, the sound is excellent, although the crowd noise in between tracks is positively deafening, but I guess they were just really into it! I know I would have been - it sounds like an incredible gig. The first side is a mellow set which showcases the more folky material whereas the second side brings out the more contemporary rock influences. Although the first side is a great listen, I prefer the more folk-rock fusion tracks from the B side such as the instrumental 'Pop Plinn' which combines rocking guitar lines with a Celtic harp breakdown and a bombarde solo (the crowd goes nuts for the latter). The circular melody of 'Tri Martolod' and it's contemporary sounding beat make this another highlight of side two along with the closer 'Suite Sudarmoricaine' which starts with a flute-driven section but then quickly segues into a upbeat seventies rock song with a very catchy wordless chorus allowing even us non-Francophones to sing along.

Label: Polydor
Released: 1972
Players: Alan Stivell - Celtic harp
Gabriel Yacoub - guitare, dulcimer, banjo
Rene Werneer - fiddle
Pascal Stive - orgue
Gerard Levasseur - basse
Henri Delagarde - violoncelle, flute, bombarde
Dan Ar Bras - guitare électrique
Michel Santangeli - batterie
Serj Parayre - percussions
Mikael Klec'h - flute, bombarde

Discoveries Underwater - Howard J. Davidson (1988)

Everybody loves underwater soundtracks. This obscure, but well-loved genre has become very popular amongst record collectors, culminating in the veneration of records like Sven Libaek's Inner Space which was reissued in 2008. This album is from a different era from most of the popular underwater soundtracks, but it's an interesting and atmospheric listen nonetheless. The soundtrack is scored for an eighties documentary series on underwater archaeology, so ambient synths and slowly layered soundscapes are the natural choice for the subject matter. Where this sort of approach could so easily turn into a snooze-fest of glacial synthesiser, Davidson's material seems to more aligned with the Vangelis school of awesome synth soundtracks. Many of the themes are written in unconventional time signatures, but the composer's ability to make electronic music sound organic means that the listener barely perceives this deviation to the norm. Davidson is also able to incorporate live instruments into his electronic soundscapes to great effect such as cello in 'Aqua Sub Aqua' and guitar in 'Atocha'. The subtlety and depth that Davidson achieves with only synthesisers allows the live instruments to join in without jarring or sounding out of place. Overall, this album feels to me more like an ambient concept album than a television soundtrack and it is a piece that I find myself listening to a lot.

Label: BBC Records
Released: 1988
Players: Howard J. Davidson - synthesisers etc.
Hugh McDowell - cello
Phil Palmer - guitar