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Music fan by instinct

Presenting Sam Lee…and Elizabeth Fraser!

(l-r) Jo O’Keefe (violin), Josh Green (percussion), Bernard Butler (producer), Elizabeth Fraser (guest vocalist), Sam Lee, James Keay (keyboards), Misha Mullov-Abbado (double bass)

Yes! That Elizabeth Fraser, former lead singer of the Cocteau Twins and one of the most amazing voices to ever grace this earth and she’s on this new track from Sam Lee, which dropped into my inbox this morning.

Produced by Bernard Butler (another legend round 17 Seconds Towers), it is taken from his forthcoming album Old Wow which is due out on January 31, 2020 via Cooking Vinyl.

Fraser and Lee bonded over a shared love of traditional music, and she attended several of his gigs. Of the song he says ‘The song originated as an English Gypsy Christmas Carol taking root at least as far back as the 1700s, and was collected almost exclusively from the Gypsy community. It has all the hallmarks of an ancient proto-religious song that has more recently shed lots of the more Christian meanings to connect in with a more animistic relationship to the winter solstice time’.  Fraser’s contribution contains a traditional Scottish song ‘Wild Mountain Thyme.’

Sam Lee is on tour in the New Year:

29 January 2020     Glasgow Glasgow Royal Concert Hall (Strathclyde Suite)

31 January 2020     Newcastle Cluny

01 February 2020   Manchester Night and Day

03 February 2020   Nottingham Rescue Rooms

04 February 2020   Leeds City Varieties

05 February 2020   Birmingham Glee 

06 February 2020   Exeter Phoenix

07 February 2020   Bodmin St Petroc’s Church

08 February 2020   Lyme Regis Marine Theatre

10 February 2020   Cambridge Junction 2

13 February 2020   Brighton St George’s

15 February 2020   Canterbury Gulbenkian Theatre

16 February 2020   Norwich Open

17 February 2020   London EartH

19 February 2020   Bristol St George’s 

21 February 2020   Cardiff The Gate

Christmas Posts 2019 part 3

I’m not religious – but I do enjoy a fair amount of what might be termed religious music. As well as choral works, singing Christmas carols is kinda fun, just as much musically part of Christmas to me as much of the music I have posted here over the last few weeks.  And my absolute favourite Christmas carol of all is ‘Silent Night.’

There’s an article over on Wiki about how the song was first written and performed in Austria on Christmas Eve 1818, by a priest, Father Joseph Mohr, and Franz Xaver Gruber. Mohr had first written the words in 1816, which makes it just over 200 years old. (I idly wonder how much of the music I have featured on the blog over the last thirteen years will be listened to in 200 years’ time.) Written in German, the original version is Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht. According to Wiki, during the famous Christmas Day Truce in 1914, it was sung by both British and German troops simultaneously as it was one carol both sides knew.

It has been performed by many, many artists over the years. Sinead O’Connor, above,  recorded a version for the 1991 TV film The Ghosts Of Oxford Street.

The carol has reportedly been translated into over forty languages, and that includes Gaelic. Enya originally recorded a version in Gaelic in the late 1980s:

The quintessential Christmas record of the last twenty years is Low’s Christmas album (though a close second for me is Tracey Thorn’s Tinsel And Lights). It could almost have been written with them in mind…

Sufjan Stevens’ version is as ethereal as Low’s but more trippy:

Can recorded a version in the 1970s:

A few weeks ago, in London’s Rough Trade store, Mrs. 17 Seconds and I picked up a vinyl re-issue of The Temptations’ Christmas Card. A new video has premiered for it, and while I could clearly post a different version of the track every day for a year, I’ll leave you to enjoy these:

Interview – Robert Forster

Robert Forster. Photo credit: Martin Godwin for The Guardian

Ahead of the release of a second Go-Betweens boxset released this week, 17 Seconds tracks down mainman Robert Forster for a chat…

17 Seconds: Hi Robert! Great to talk with you. You’re about to release G Stands For Go-Betweens Volume 2, which kicks off with your fourth album as a band, Liberty Belle. Did this feel like a new chapter in the band’s story?

Robert Forster: Yes. We had learnt lessons, particularly from the rather rough and involved process of recording our third album ‘Spring Hill Fair’. The feeling in the group was, we have to take control of our recordings. We have to be ourselves. Sounds easy, but  can be hard to do under the pressures of the music business.


17S: You signed to Beggars Banquet at this time. Did this offer stability and did you feel a good fit for the label?


RF: They gave us stability, financially and in their enthusiasm for our music. We also enjoyed being signed to a label, that at the time, had a reputation as a ‘goth’ label. [Bauhaus, Gene Loves Jezebel, The Cult.]

17S: You were based in London at this point. How did you find living there – and where were you living? I’m assuming that after Australia the weather was terrible but what else did the city have to offer?

RF: Times were tough. Money was in very short supply, and the winters were long. We were there for our career and our proximity to Europe, which we loved touring.


17S: Amanda Brown (violin and oboe) joined the band in 1986. Is it true the band met her busking their songs in Sydney?


RF: No, she wasn’t busking. She was playing in a cafe with an old friend of ours from Brisbane, from the late seventies. They did a number of originals that our friend had written, and a version of ‘Draing The Pool For You’ that I had written. Amanda’s talent on the violin was immediately clear.

The Go-Betweens in 1988


17S: Before recording 16 Lovers Lane the band returned to live in Australia. What impact did this have on the band as a unit and individuals?


RF: Sunshine. Ease of life. No more home sickness. Sense we had done our time in London and it had done our career and our music a service. And it was time to be in a new town. Bands need new things, new challenges to survive.


17S: What do you recall about the break-up of the band? Is there anything you would have done differently?


RF: Not really. The band had run its course. We were tired, in debt and unhappy. Grant told me he wanted to leave the band, and I told him I felt the same.


17S: Can you pick a favourite album and/or single from this period?

RF:Danger In The Past, my first solo album.

17S: Can you give us any clues about the third volume?

RF: Lots of unknown songs. Plenty of surprises.


17S: Do you speak to any members of the band these days?


RF: Yes. I am in contact with all of them. We live in different cities around the world, but stay in touch.


17S: What music do you listen to now?


RF: Aldous Harding. Bill Callahan.

G Stands For Go-Betweens Volume 2 is released by Domino on December 6

Christmas Posts 2019 part 2

There is the theory of six degrees of separation, which suggests that is how far we may be separated from another human being. There is also the theory that around Edinburgh it’s about two degrees of separation. When Frightened Rabbit’s frontman Scott Hutchison took his own life last year, there were many people that I knew who did know him, and the impact on the music scene here in Scotland was felt very deeply. In his memory his family set up the Tiny Changes charity, which you can find about here.

‘It’s Christmas So We’ll Stop’ was first released in 2007, and then again the following year. There are several versions floating around on the net, so give these two a listen, and remember the work of a great musician.

…and the ‘choir’ version, very evocative.

Christmas Posts 2019 part 1

This is a repeat of a post I did last year. Having picked up a copy of his fabulous 1978 Avocet album (on vinyl, obvs) this afternoon, it seemed only fitting to repost this. In the coming weeks I will post albums and tracks of the year. I know some people are posting albums and tracks of the decade, I’m still trying to puzzle those out. Not because I haven’t heard lots of amazing stuff over the past decade, but because I’m overwhelmed by it all…

Bert Jansch is one of many folk artists that I’ve discovered over the past decade or so, along with Fairport Convention, John Martyn, Sandy Denny – and of course, Richard Thompson. His version of Christina Rosetti’s poem ‘In The Bleak Midwinter’ is gorgeous. It can be found on his 1974 album LA Turnaround.

It was originally set to music written by Gustav Holst; and the setting by Harold Darke a few years later in 1911 was judged the best carol in 2008. The Darke setting below is performed by King’s College, Cambridge. Funnily enough, while I’m not religious, there is still something incredibly Christmassy to these ears about hearing the Christmas Eve services – and as much a part of Christmas to me as offerings from the Pogues, Slade and Frightened Rabbit. Similarly, I do like the sound of a Salvation Army band playing carols, it’s part of the ambience I associate with Christmas.

Album Review – Jaz Coleman

Jaz Coleman with the St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra -‘ ‘Magna Invocatio – a Gnostic mass for choir and orchestra inspired by the sublime music of Killing Joke’ (Spinefarm Records)

Um..er..sublime? Killing Joke?

No, really. This is no opportunistic orchestra for hire play the hits of Killing Joke (something for which we should all be thankful). Rather these are thirteen tracks that take on musical themes within Killing Joke’s music. The result is ninety minutes of sublime music that stands as one of the best albums to be released this year.

It’s not the first time that Coleman, Killing Joke’s leader since 1978, has worked within classical music. As a child he studied piano and violin and was a chorister in several cathedral choirs. Even forties years ago, as Killing Joke formed and took off he was studying classical music. An expert in that field, Conductor Klaus Tennstedt, described him as a “new Mahler.” His first classical release, Songs From The New City, a collaboration with Anne Dudley, was released as long ago as 1990.

A Gnostic mass, in case you’re wondering, is a ritualised celebration of the mysteries of existence. Over the course of this album there’s plenty to ponder, so that the rock vs. classical debate hopefully gets left behind very soon. It’s just music, kids, and all the better for it. The orchestra, the St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra is Russia’s oldest.

The promotional track doing the rounds ‘The Raven King’ (see below) is a great example of why this album works so well. It takes the 2010 Killing Joke track ‘The Raven King‘ – a tribute to the former Killing Joke bassist, Paul Raven, who died in 2007, and takes the melody someplace entirely else, while remaining close to the spirit of the original. Those familiar with the music of Killing Joke (hopefully most of you) may expect that translating the music into this new form that it contains the paranoia and rage that characterises much of their music. The surprise is that a) it doesn’t and b) it still works perfectly well. The reworking of 1986 single ‘Adorations’ is another highlight.

As someone who’s long enjoyed classical music, and indeed the work of Killing Joke, this album works well on several levels. Yes, there’s the majesty (I don’t use that word lightly, you understand) and power that you expect from Killing Joke, and the passion from classical music. Indeed, you don’t need to be particularly in either camp to appreciate this album. One that I intend to pass onto both my classical loving parents and rock fans. Nor does it at any point invoke that dreaded spectre to ‘rock-classical crossover.’

In the press relase, Coleman states ‘“The end goal was always to bring magic into the listener’s life in some meaningful way”.

Mission accomplished.

****

Magna Invocatio – a Gnostic mass for choir and orchestra inspired by the sublime music of Killing Joke is out now. The vinyl version will follow on January 24.

Gig review – Karine Polwart

Karine Polwart – Usher Hall, Edinburgh

November 16, 2019

(Yes, it was a week ago, but it’s been a rather chaotic week, yet this has left a nice glow…)

It’s that time of year – yet again – when thoughts turn to end of year lists. High on the list at 17 Seconds Towers is Karine Polwart’s Scottish Songbook (see here for review), eleven songs from the last fifty years of Scottish popular music delivered in her own style.

Interviewing her in August, she explained that the album evolved out of the exhibition on Scottish pop music that took place last year at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh and a night of Scottish pop in a folk style that she curated at the Leith Theatre. ‘The amount of effort for one night led to four days in a studio and pondering the issue of ‘How can you make a go of them in a way that’s not shit karaoke?’

As anyone who has heard the album will attest, it’s most definitely not shit karaoke. The show opens with her radical reworking of The Waterboys’ ‘The Whole Of The Moon.’ The skill of the reworking is that it maintains the spirit of the song, even though it doesn’t have the famous trumpet solo.

There’s some excellent banter form the stage, drawing upon her time growing up in Stirlingshire, including an excellent story about the girls who decided that they weren’t going to do knitting if the boys weren’t. She sheds light on the songs – it’s still a surprise to learn that Strawberry Switchblade’s song ‘Since Yesterday’ is about nuclear war.

When interviewed, she indicated that there wouldn’t be a second volume, but there’s a number of tracks that get an airing tonight. On paper, a choir of schoolchildren coming on stage to join a version of Lewis Capaldi’s ‘Someone Like You’ should have been unbearably cloying, but it comes together surprisingly well. Perhaps the highlight, though, is a medley of Eurythmics’ ‘Here Comes The Rain Again’ and Bronski Beat’s ‘Smalltown boy.’ She jokes that it’s because they both feature the word ‘rain’ prominently in the song but it’s a genius reworking. As a songwriter, it’s understandable that she may not wish to do a second volume, but  her reworkings make for an engaging listen.

New from The Flaming Lips

I’m not going to starts Christmas posts properly until we’ve got past Thanksgiving (Mrs. 17 Seconds is originally from Indiana, so this gets noted more in our home than it would do otherwise in most Scottish homes), but this popped into my inbox on Friday, and is too good not to share, frankly.

It’s a tribute to the David Bowie and Bing Crosby medley of ‘Little Drummer Boy – Peace On Earth‘ originally taped for a Bing Crosby special in 1977, and released as a single in 1982. The video is as wonderfully psychedelic as you might expect. This performance was originally shown last December and was directed by Wayne Coyne and George Salisbury.

Now, although the info from the US says it’s out now, it’s not on iTunes, in the UK at least, so you’ll have to keep your eyes peeled…

In other Flaming Lips’ news, there’s a live album, entitled The Flaming Lips Recorded Live At Red Rocks With The Colorado Symphony Orchestra due on November 29. This version of ‘Race For The Prize’ is glorious.

Forthcoming from Paul Vickers and The Leg

Ahead of the December 6th release of their new album Jump, Paul Vickers and The Leg have unveiled the first single and video from the album.

Released on Tenement Records (who have also given us releases by Aberfeldy, George McFall and Dominic Waxing Lyrical), if you’ve never heard the band reassembled from the ashes of Dawn of The Replicants the first single is an excellent place to start. ‘Chieftain Of Paradise‘ manages to sound like a slightly sinister knees-up and a call to arms. No mean feat, I think you’ll agree. A couple of plays and it is very pleasantly wedged into your brain.

The video is cheerfully bonkers and great fun. The first verse drops clues about early Elvis Presley singles with hands holding up singles to drop clues. I can’t work out if this was low-budget or not, but it’s wonderful to have a single that doesn’t take itself too seriously.

The album tracklisting is as follows:

  1. Hearing My Voice
  2. Do your Best
  3. Chicken Church
  4. Hopelessadocus
  5. Sherbert And Chili
  6. Little Turtle Wars
  7. Help this Animal
  8. Chieftain Of Paradise
  9. Xmas In The Jungle
  10. The Blackburn Giant

Album Review – Mappe Of

Mappe Of -‘The Isle Of Ailynn.’ (Paper Bag Records)

Mappe Of is the moniker of Canadian avant-folk artist Tom Meikle. On this, his second album he sets out to document a fantasy world that draws parallels between a mythological space and everyday conflicts, concerns and struggles within our lives. While that might sound on paper like the sort of stuff that punk rock came to save us from a little over forty years ago, this is no prog-folk monstrosity, but rather a thing of beauty. I come not to bury brother Meikle but to praise him.

Moodwise, it’s absolutely perfect for this time of year in the northern hemisphere. Daylight is becoming progressively more and more scarce, and the sense that nothing is permanent becomes ever more prevalent. Were it not for the fact it’s so damn cold here in Scotland, I’d be using this as the soundtrack to walk barefoot through autumn leaves and treasuring what remains outside. I’ll just have to wrap up warm – but this warms the soul.

Comparisons have been made with the likes of Bon Iver and Fleet Foxes, the sense of the very sad being absolutely beautiful. While it sounds nothing like Mogwai in full-on explosive mode, it does capture a lot of their magnificent melancholia. At times his voice reminds me of Tim and Jeff Buckley, perhaps most on ‘Thessalon’ and the fragility of music evokes Vashti Bunyan or Mercury Rev circa Deserter’s Songs. Yes it’s ethereal in places, and electronic in others – the juxtaposition on ‘Unkno’ (no, that’s really not a spelling mistake) is particularly successful. Voices sore like church choirs (as opposed to Gospel choirs), both evoking death and life.

‘Volcae’ evokes Radiohead as much as the Buckleys; with its refrain of ‘I was born in magma’ it evokes both Meikle’s beloved fantasy writing as much as reflecting on the turbulent world that the first two decades of the twenty-first century have been. Pan’s Labyrinth made the viewer try to make sense of the fantasy and reality and what was really stranger; this works on a similar level.

At this time of year, the music writer finds themselves drawn to consider end of year (and decade) lists. I hope this will manage to make itself known to those who can spread the word as much as listeners. While the music within here may not appeal to all, those who take the time to live within the album will want to spread the word. If you cast aside your prejudices, you will find yourself rewarded. If folk, prog, psychedelia or ethereal sounds have ever moved you, then take the time to investigate this. There’s scarcely a wasted note within.

****

The Isle Of Ailynn is released on November 1 on Paper Bag Records.