Sunday, 7 December 2014

Revisiting John Sangster's Lord of the Rings LPs.

        When discussing The Hobbit Suite record two years ago, I offhandedly described John Sangster’s Lord of the Rings LPs as too ‘trad-jazzy’ for my tastes. I have been revisiting a few of these albums of late – prompted in part from reading Sangster’s autobiography Seeing The Rafters (1988) – and I’ve gotten new insights into the man’s work that have caused a revision in my thinking on these albums.
Sangster’s Tolkien-themed series of albums comprised, The Hobbit Suite (1973), Lord of the Rings (1975), Lord of the Rings Vol. 2 (1976), Double Vibes: Hobbit (1977), Lord of the Rings Vol 3. (1977) and Landscapes of Middle Earth (1978). All of these were double LPs released on EMI apart from the two hobbit records which were single LPs released on local jazz label Swaggie. The EMI records have all been excellently remastered and re-released on CD by Move Records. Swaggie have remastered and re-released The Hobbit Suite and selections from Double Vibes which features the aforementioned album plus four songs from the latter title. (Given the paucity of reissues of Australian jazz recordings from the sixties and seventies, this may provide some indication of the esteem in which these records are still held by people in the local music industry.)
The Hobbit Suite was apparently quite a spontaneous recording with a small ensemble and most of the tracks are first takes. After the success of this record Sangster was emboldened to try more ambitious arrangements for the new music he was writing and went to a major label that could support his vision. These records feature expanded brass and string sections in addition to the core jazz band.

For the past year or so I have been thoroughly listening to the first two LOTR albums and The Hobbit Suite which preceded them. (I haven’t heard LOTR Vol 3. or Landscapes of Middle Earth at all – and I won’t do for quite some time. Sangster died in 1995, his musical output was finite and I’ve got to make this stuff last.)
Firstly, despite the aesthetics of the cover art and the song titles being allusions to Tolkien at face value, Sangster’s autobiography makes clear that these records too, are autobiographies. His life, in musical form. For example, the ‘Knockabout Trolls’ from The Hobbit Suite? Those ‘trolls’ are Sango and Sluggsy AKA his mate, drummer Len Barnard, doubling on washboard out the front of the band! And as for the stoned laughter and banter in the background of Longbottom Leaf from LOTR Vol 2. well, let’s just say that they may well have been method-acting. Legolas et al may hail from Middle Earth, but the bird calls in the field recordings on these albums are clearly from natives of the New South Wales temperate forests, near Sangster’s home of Sydney.
In addition to these coded titles, the music itself represents the myriad of styles that Sangster has played in, beginning in the burgeoning Australian jazz scene of the forties. From his book: “If you want a musical autobiography, it's all there in the Lord of the Rings albums. A crazed montage of all the jazz (and other) idioms I've been involved with during my life. All the musics I love are in there; some plainly stated, some distorted and disguised a little bit the way memories sometimes go."
My dismissive description of the LOTR records as merely ‘trad jazz’ is just plain wrong; these records encompass a ridiculous range of music from within and without the jazz scene, such as old-style trad, ragtime, be-bop, big-band/swing, blues, film music, avant garde and musique concrete. The fact that the first LOTR record has a track like Uncle Gandalf Needs You followed immediately by Ents And Entwives is a feat of juxtaposition that shows how ballsy Sangster really was. Sangster worshipped old greats like Bix Beiderbecke and Ellington, but he was equally a fan of experimental icons like Sun Ra, Moondog and Xenakis and all these influences coexist on these discs.

I’m glad I persevered with these records as these are superb examples of Sangster’s work and are significant albums, not just for Australian jazz, but Australian music in general. Is it too much to hope that one day Sangster’s music will see a resurgence amongst the hipsters and the Oz music bourgeois alike, and Sango himself celebrated as an unheralded genius? I really hope so. Australians are famously unwilling to revere their own as cultural figures worth praising, but a talent like John Sangster must transcend this and take a rightful place in the antipodean cultural canon alongside the likes of Barry Humphries or Charles Blackman. On yer Sango. 

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Lord, Why? - The Cambrian Explosion

This is the second single from The Cambrian Explosion's album release Marine Theology. Yes, this is a song from my own band and I'd very much like you to hear it. On this one, we grind out some garage gospel with an arsenal of vintage and modern instrumentation, including flute and cümbüş.

The lyrics recount a lament from a protagonist attempting to reconcile the existence of fossils, dinosaurs and other natural phenomena with a fundamentalist belief system. Lord, why'd you leave the shells on the mountaintop?

You can download this song for free on our Bandcamp page.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

A Wave In The Ocean - The Cambrian Explosion

A Wave In The Ocean is lovely vocal pop number with an overall middle-eastern fusion style, accented by the Turkish oud. (To be more precise, a cümbüş.) It's the first single from Marine Theology, an oceanic theme album from my band, The Cambrian Explosion. I realise this is a little outside of my usual brief for this blog, but this is music of which I am extremely proud and would like to share with as many people as possible. Let me know what you think, and please pass this on to musical fellow travelers if this is your kind of thing.

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Nature Songs - Queensland National Parks and Wildlife Service (1978)

 Although I was brought up in Victoria - Australia's southernmost mainland state and a long way from tropical Queensland - this record of environmentally themed children's tunes reminds me of my childhood. My family's particular jam was the classic Feathers, Fur or Fin by Don Spencer, but there must be a whole world of Australian ecological kid's music out there to discover. Due to the incredible natural heritage we've inherited, environmental education is often given a high priority in Australian schools, even at the earliest levels. And as all educators know, there's no more effective route to data retention than singing along to a catchy, upbeat tune strummed on a guitar.

Although a lot of these tracks are folky, three chord guitar-based numbers, there is plenty of inventiveness in the execution of these Nature Songs. I'm The Spider is rendered as a weird, glammy stomp with a delay pedal guitar solo. Marsupial's instructive lyrics about our unique native mammals are delivered via kind-of-rapping backed by indigenous didgeridoo and rhythm sticks.

The lyrical content is occasionally a little ham-fisted, but overall fun and informative and not afraid to touch on environmental issues that might seem too obscure for kids. What songwriter today would have the balls to write an entire song about decomposition for a children's audience with lines like:
I decided to look closer, I bent down on my knee, I saw some fruiting bodies of the bracket fungi. Looking even closer, I saw some fibrous threads, fungi have no roots so use hyphae instead? Or an entire song about coral polyps or epiphytes?

The record is divided by the two sides; side one is the dry side featuring songs about life on land, side two is the wet side (from The Polyp Song onward), featuring songs about life in the water.

Label: Private
Released: 1978
Players: Brian Mackness - words and music.
Sandy Pollard - lead vocals and harmony, six and twelve string acoustic guitar, electric guitar, bass guitar, flute, descant recorder, alto recorder, sopranino recorder, autoharp, glockenspiel, percussion and sound production.
Laurie Stone - mandolin, technical  advice, sound mixing and production.
Steve Errey - sound recording.
Jacky Nisbet - vocals and harmonies.
Keth Ross - banjo.
Mick Walker - blues harp.
Darryl Boyd, Jason Boyd and Leanne Mash - narration, vocals.
Sam Bun'tarrawuy - didgeridoo.
John Guillot, Robyn Kreis - percussion.
Brian Mackness - sound production.
Peter Ogilvie - bird call recordings.
Amanda Hadley, Melinda (Lindy) Hadley, Gregory Hadley, Gregory Mash, Tony Rasmussen, Stuart Mash, Kathryn Mash - vocals.

Engineered by Laurie Stone at Multi Media Studios, Spring Hill, Brisbane.


Saturday, 7 June 2014

I'm selling a couple of Libaek singles on eBay.

If anyone's interested I'm selling some singles on eBay, amongst them, a few Libaek records: the Thatcherie single from the Inner Space soundtrack, the Boney Title Theme single from the Boney soundtrack and the Andy Sundstrom Northern Territory single composed and produced by Libaek and previously featured on this blog. I've also got a bunch of 7" singles released by Secret Chiefs 3 in 2007 and a Ween single from White Pepper, if you're into those sorts of things.

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Field recording from old Oceania: A Souvenir of Fiji - Tamavua Village Singers (197?)

Due to their proximity, there are a lot of folk recordings from the islands of the Pacific to be found in Australian charity and secondhand shops. Some of them are great; many are forgettable. I really like this EP because it’s a field recording of the performers in their traditional setting. It was recorded in a bure (a Fijian wood and straw hut) in Tamavua by one James Siers. You can hear the crickets buzzing in the background and it has genuinely captured a certain sound and place. 

This is also an interesting recording as in addition to four traditional Fijian compositions there is a rendition of Twelfth Street Rag, an old Tin Pan Alley standard. The aforementioned tune is played with hacky gusto by the guitarist - or is it a ukelele? - without any accompaniment by the vocalists. 

I wanted to create a new label for categorising recordings from this part of the world. I assumed that Fiji would be in Polynesia, but it is in fact part of Melanesia along with New Guinea and associated islands. I’ve since ran with Oceania which is the most all encompassing term for this region, although this also apparently includes Australia. (I don’t think this inclusion makes for a particularly meaningful term. Australia is too culturally overbearing to be included in the more modest nations of the Pacific and should probably be left out of any such definitions.)

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Incidentally, this record was released by Hibiscus Records, a subsidiary of Kiwi Records. I am very interested in any releases from either of these labels, both of which specialised in indigenous musics, field recordings and other wonderfully esoteric materials from Oceania and New Zealand respectively.

Label: Hibiscus Records
Released: I really have no idea. Probably 1970s.
Players: Samu Loki
Malakai Niubasaga
Semesa Lewai
Aca Tomasi
Bulewa Vilitati


Wednesday, 7 May 2014

A beautiful sixties Greek soundtrack: Hellespontus - Stavros Xarcharkos (1966)

This is a classy set of original Greek folk music from 1966 composed by Stavros Xarcharkos. The dominant presence of the bouzouki on most tracks lends the album a strong Greek, traditional feel, but there is a welcome addition of unorthodox tones for this style of music such as electric guitar and glockenspiel. As the liner notes say, Xarcharkos has a ‘talent for blending unusual instrumentation with the warm melancholy of beautiful songs’. There’s a lot of range here, from slow, spooky bazouki numbers such as Horos Tou Sakaina - which when I first heard it, I was sure was the source material for Secret Chief’s 3’s Ship Of Fools* - to fast, odd-metred folk dances like Fos Tis Avgis and Ipomoni.

This LP was originally released in 1966, but was reissued in 1972 when one of the tunes was appropriated as the theme song to the successful BBC drama series The Lotus Eaters. It is from this reissue that this rip was made, which I was fortunate enough to find at the Phillip Island Vinnies Store.

*It's probably not.

Label: EMI
Released: Originally 1966, this reissue sometime after 1972.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Moog-tinged jazz-funk from the King of Jingles: Vichyssoise - Bruce Clarke & Maryan Kenyon (1973)

Bruce Clarke was an Australian jazz guitarist, composer and founder of legendary label Cumquat Records. He was one of those diverse hired-guns of the Australian scene, active from the late fifties until the seventies when he started teaching. In 1957 he set up The Jingle Workshop, a studio and production company responsible for countless pieces of television music and soundtracks.

On this record Bruce teams up with Maryan Kenyon, a classical pianist from the Melbourne Conservatorium who worked at The Jingle Workshop. Bruce was a big fan of the Moog synth and Maryan ‘used her spare time to learn and master the equipment at hand’, so the liner notes inform us. ‘Maryan is not just a very pretty face’.

The notes, after having reassured us that the classically trained pianist featured on the album is good-looking (what about Bruce?), mostly wax lyrical about how unusual and eclectic this album is; a combination of bold, unique flavours, just like vichyssoise - a vegetable based French soup - which helps to explain why Clarke and Kenyon are posing in front of a giant leek on the cover. There is a wonderful and unexpected array of sounds to be found on this disc, mainly from the various Moogs and other electronics featuring in most songs. 

The feel of the album is dominated by white-Australian jazz funk with a hint of exotica, exemplified by the brilliant Djerba. Djerba opens with a slow, middle-eastern section scored by tom drums and a back and forth interplay between Clarke’s classical guitar and Kenyon’s wah-wah synth. The song then segues into an upbeat funk riff, allowing Kenyon some space to noodle around a bit with the synth and for Clarke to bring on some fuzz guitar.

Vichyssoise is a consistently good listen throughout due to well-chosen songs (about half originals by Clarke or Kenyon, the rest covers) and the extremely high quality of playing from the two stars and their band. Also, the very well-executed and constant presence of Moog and early synths on the tracks always keeps me entertained, setting it apart from other albums of it’s oeuvre.

Postscript: As inexplicable as it sounds, Howard Moon and Vince Noir appear to be members of Bruce and Maryan's band. Howard has a well documented love of jazz, but I'm surprised to see Vince involved. I'm pretty sure this proves the existence of parallel fiction realities.

Label: Cumquat
Released: 1973
Players: Bruce Clarke - composer/arranger/conductor, classic and electric guitars, Fender bass, Moog synthesiser, vocals
Maryan Kenyon - composer/arranger, Fender-Rhodes, acoustic pianos, harpsichord, Moog synthesiser, vocals
Brian Czempinski - percussion and special effects
Ted White - woodwinds (sax)
Llloyd Knapp - woodwinds
Barry Veith - woodwinds
Fred Hosking - woodwinds
Ron Anderson - woodwinds
Bill Harrower - woodwinds
Eddie Oxley - woodwinds
Keith Stirling - trumpets and/or flugelhorns
Bruce Gardiner - trumpets and/or flugelhorns
Reg Walsh - trumpets and/or flugelhorns
John Hughes - trumpets and/or flugelhorns
Ron Webb - trumpets and/or flugelhorns
Orme Stewart - trombones
Clive Webber - trombones
Jack Glenn - trombones
Col Williams - trombones
John Kennedy - cello
Judy Grieve - cor anglais
Maurice Sheldon - tuba

Strings uncredited.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Braddock cigarettes toe-tappingly tackle women's lib: The Braddock Way of Seeing Things - Larry King (197?)

More cigarette advertising songs! This is a promotional 7" I found at the always awesome 3MBS record fair. Braddock are a brand of cigarettes that no longer exist, but who were clearly aiming for a very manly, conservative image with this campaign. I found it very difficult to get any details about this record at all until I found the website of what turned out to be the producer: Brian King. There are a lot of Brian Kings out there, and it wasn't until he replied that I knew he was the right man. Here is an excerpt of his email:

For about 10 years starting in the 70's I was in partnership with Larry King (no relation). We had a company which produced advertising jingles and film music.

When "Braddock" came our way it was right in the middle of the "Women's Lib" movement and the brief was to create a campaign which celebrated the differences between men and women. Larry King was a good looking guy, kind of like the "Marlborough Man" and as well as our company producing the music Larry also got the gig as "The Braddock Man". This involved a short live tour to Melbourne which was the place they decided to test market the brand. The slogan for the campaign was "Braddock....Not Mild".

It was all good fun but to this day I've still never smoked a cigarette!

I emailed Brian back with a few follow-up questions - I was quite curious as to whether there were any photos of 'The Braddock Man', for example - but he didn't reply.

There are eight tracks on this record with lyrically consistent themes of women dressing differently to how they used to, bureaucracy and red tape making a man's life difficult and very little mention of tobacco or cigarettes - although every composition ends with Braddock's aforementioned tagline, 'Braddock…not mild'. As Brian alludes to, this was a pitch aimed at the kind of blokes who were threatened or bewildered by the womens' rights movement and there's an amusing lack of subtlety in the lyrics which pretty much all boil down to 'Everything is different to how it used to be (so smoke our cigarettes)'.

Label: Private press
Released: 197?
Players: Larry King - vocals
Brian King - producer

Friday, 3 January 2014

Australian Geographonic - tracks from Pat Aulton, Philip Merifield and Barry Hall At The Conn Organ.

The Place I Want To Be - Pat Aulton (1980). Pat Aulton is quite a celebrated musician and producer who was particularly successful in the sixties and seventies, producing hit records for people such as Normie Rowe. I was familiar with Aulton through a fantastic library track called Barrier Reef that he contributed to Standard Music Library ESL 126 alongside John Sangster and Sven Libaek. On The Place I Want To Be he is front of the microphone and singing this somewhat awkward paean to Great Eastland - a chunk of northern New South Wales and south Queensland. Aulton forges ahead with gusto, even (almost) selling artless lines like, ‘We’ve got people peanut picking up in Kingaroy’ or ‘All through the inland and right along the coast, when you look at people’s faces, you can almost see them boast’. I suspect this was the theme song for the regional television network Great Eastland Television as they commissioned the track and the term ‘Great Eastland’ isn’t widely used in a geographical sense. The B-side, Country Nights fares no better lyrically but has some lovely production touches.

It’s Another World - Phillip Merifield (198?). It’s Another World is actually the B-side of this single, but I like it better than the A, so here it is. This is another promotional single either for the Gippsland region in general, or a business called ‘Lakeland Wonderland’ in Lakes Entrance, that rare thing that has basically zero Google presence, so I haven’t the faintest idea. Anyway, the song itself is in the same ‘list as many towns as you can’ school of songwriting as The Place I Want To Be, but feels a little bit more natural. I haven’t found any information at all about Merifield, but the single was produced by John Wallis, a folk muso who has been active since the eighties and is still playing today. (And, to illustrate the incestuousness of the Australian music scene, on his 1984 LP A Singer Of The Bush he was joined on keyboards by Ian Eccles-Smith, whose progressive releases I have previously showcased on Urban Bowerbird.)

The Lights Of Adelaide - Barry Hall At The Conn Organ (1969). Barry Hall is a bit of a star organ player who released a number of LPs in the sixties and seventies and at 77 years old still has new CDs for sale on his website today. This track is off his Choose Your Own LP which was the name of Barry’s radio show on Adelaide’s 5DN. On this show, Barry would ‘spin records, give cheerio calls to listeners, handle competitions and play the organ’. Little wonder that Barry remained a ‘firm favourite with housewives over the years’. One competition that 5DN held in 1968 was an Australia wide songwriting contest for a song about Adelaide. The winner, The Lights Of Adelaide written by Mr. Cliff Johns of Belair, is given Barry’s organ-driven treatment with accompaniment from Kevin Roper on drums and Roy Wooding on guitar. Sure, it’s a daggy and antiquated tune (have you ever been to Adelaide?) but it’s pretty charming and the addition of live guitar lifts it above the general standard of op-shop organ music. All in all, it perfectly sums up Adelaide, or ‘Radelaide’ as it is regularly, sarcastically referred to by Melbournians and Sydneysiders alike.