Friday, December 31, 2010

Electric Eden?

Santa dropped a copy of Rob Young's 600-page monster Electric Eden: Unearthing Britain's Visionary Music into my stocking this Christmas. It's a very readable account of the development of progressive folk in the 1960s - a sorry saga of death and self-destruction among many of the brilliant young musicians who created a new genre from traditional British folk. Quite a lot of time is devoted to the big names, such as the Incredible String Band, Fairport Convention and Pentangle but there are also revelations about many of the more obscure names that crop up on compilation CDs.

There's two pages devoted to Parchment et al. The pages feel like a bit of an afterthought, probably culled from blogs like this one. Rob, I think correctly, suggests that acoustic folk music was an "ideal idiom" for rewriting the hymn book in a modern, gentle image. He names some 14 bands as having made music of "lasting value", including Parchment, Trinity Folk, Caedmon, Water into Wine Band, Presence and 11:59 and a mention of Grapevine Records. And there's some intriguing speculation about Reflection Records A quick check suggests that quite a bit more information has surfaced about Reflection in the last year - including a tribute blog.

Rob Young sets all this in the context of some 60s musicians embarking on spiritual journeys of their own. However, unlike in the USA, in Britain there was very little cross-over to the Christian bands mentioned above. They were mainly fresh-faced youngsters, making their own way in the music scene. The big exception was John Pantry, who brought his talent and production skills to bands such as Parchment.

* Additional note: if you read the Amazon reviews you will see many writers highly critical of Rob Young's efforts to trace a succession to 'Electric Eden' through the 80s and 90s via Kate Bush and new romantics Talk Talk. I'm stuck on those rather tedious closing chapters too. It raises again the question of what on earth happened in the 1980s. Young tries to link the music to a particular view of England. In fact he succeeds in highlighting just how few musicians were playing progressive folk in the 60s and 70s because they thought it was an interesting genre and how many were involved just because it was there. The same comment applies to the Christian scene. Some were in Christian bands because it was a way of making music, others because it was a way of worshipping God or evangelising. In fact those who failed to adopt the latest musical styles were mocked mercilessly, especially at the Greenbelt festival (see the 1979 Greenbelt video) In spite of some deep thinking at the time by  the likes of Os Guinness, very few saw the creation and celebration of excellent music as potentially an act of worship in itself, rather than having some other purpose. In my personal view, this is reflected in the continued dumbing down of church worship music (often there is a fear that worshippers might admire the musicians - just as in the days when many churches banned musical instruments). The history of Parchment and the tensions, both artistic and within the Christian community, really highlight this. Is this a talking point for some of those who were around at the time? Comments welcome!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Wintry music

I made the mistake of going out in the snow with Parchment albums loaded on my mp3 player. 'Summer's coming'? It's not snow music! River's Shadow and Flame would be a better choice. Rehearsal for a Reunion's Angel Voices possibly.

However if you're looking for Christmas music of this era, the Ancient Star Song has gone to the trouble of creating a mega-collection of seasonal tracks. I haven't listened to it yet but it's currently loading to my mp3 player.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

The return of acid folk?

Today has been World Aids Day but has also marked another momentous event - the launch of a new album by 70s acid folk legends Caedmon. A Chicken to Hug is their second only studio album. Many of the songs will be familiar to those of us who attended their reunion gig. In nearly 40 years they've all had different life stories but have managed to work together successfully. Sadly Amazon's dispatching seems to have got mixed up with the Christmas rush - so no idea when my copy will arrive, perhaps in Santa's sack? You can find much of the back story at the Amazon page. Also at their own site where there are samples and a link to a new Youtube video.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

From the City to the Sea

John Neill. From the City to the Sea. 1976. Producers Sue McClellan and Pete Yates-Round. GRV 107.
This was another of the Grapevine label's early releases, put out directly after the last Parchment album Rehearsal for a Reunion. It's now available as a download on the Ancient Star Song site.

The label liked neat work on the acoustic guitar and this album is one of the best. Like quite a few Grapevine and Pilgrim artists, John Neill came from Ireland - and is a talented song-writer. In fact this album is so good it may find its way on to my mp3.

There's harmonica and, according to The Archivist, also dulcimer. I haven't heard it yet but I shall be listening again to find it. Does anyone have a sleeve shot?

Looking at our Grapevine discography, I see there are still one or  two albums that haven't been identified. What was GRV117 in 1978 or numbers 127 and 130 in 1979?

Friday, June 11, 2010

New songs on Pandora

If you're in the USA, and you're allowed to listen to the World of Parchment Radio Station we set up on Pandora you can now hear the following tracks:
•'The Dangling Conversation' by Simon & Garfunkel
•'Go Your Way' by Anne Briggs
•'High Low And In Between' by Townes Van Zandt
•'Soldier Of The Heart (Live)' by Judee Sill
•'Tomorrow Is A Long Time' by Judy Collins

They sound like interesting tracks. Sadly here in the UK, we're blocked from listening to the Pandora service and haven't been able to hear how the station's developing for a long time. Originally, it proved a great way of exploring the influences and legacy that led to some great music!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Caedmon live in 2010!

Not since discovering River six years ago has there been such an event. Caedmon were a lost legend, known to a hardcore of folkies and one-time fans. When I first heard their work, on an illicit down-load, I was blown away.

At the weekend the band, with all its members, played together in public for the first time in 32 years, gathering in the centre of Edinburgh. And there is even a new album in the pipeline.

As they re-created the sound of their legendary album, it became possible to see how it was done: a cello played like a fiddle; a folk ensemble playing in harmony with a rock guitarist; members with the talent and versatility able to magic up a mandolin, ukelele or accordion as the moment required; and those amazing Gaelic folk-rock melodies.

They were forgotten for a period of 12 years after the members packed up their student life in Edinburgh and set off for real jobs. In 1978 that folk-rock was not fashionable, especially acid folk as it came to be called. They have been of interest here because some analysts classify them together with Parchment as having been the only two Christian acid folk bands, both playing in the 70s, mixing electric guitar, acoustic, mandolin and more.

Watching them live, you could see a band that enjoyed doing what it did, not quite recognising the unique sound and corps of songs they had created. And don't forget in 1978 Celtic rock was only two years away. U2 were about to emerge as were Big Country.

As they played there were few signs of that 32 year gap. The extra performers on the stage - their children - indicated the passage of time. We saw musicians playing together, enjoying re-creating their former sound but also enjoying trying out new songs, adding the experiences of life to their one-time youthful exuberance.

So from our party these were the favourites:
Aslan - 2 votes
Old Kings (new song) - 1
Give Me Jesus - 1.
The last is my choice - even though it's not their composition and is a traditional spiritual. The rendition was  anthemic with vocalist Angela Webb (Naylor) joined on stage by her daughter.

Of the new songs I might have voted for Four Winds, performed by electric guitarist Jim Bisset, and telling, I think, a moving story in powerful lyrics. I'm sorry they didn't play Second Mile, my all-time favourite. Another time?

I hope they continue to play together. I hope some folk festival - Cambridge? - gives them the starring role they deserve.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Some updates

There's been quite a lot of activity involving two of the bands we've been taking an interest in.

Firstly Caedmon have announced plans for the first live gigs of the reunited band. They are to take place in Edinburgh, Scotland, on May 7th and the 8th. Details on their website. Looking forward to it!

Caedmon have also now made all the tracks of their original, highly valued album available for listening on their site - along with some of their new material.

Dana Lee Winner, formerly Dana Lee Price, has also made many of the Dave and Dana songs available for listening on her website. There are 13 tracks from the original albums together with some of her new material.  At a guess, I think it is all the original material written by the duo - with the covers of other artists omitted, presumably for copyright reasons. That means you get amazing tracks like Come on In, He's Not a Rumour and Right Track but you still have to find the albums to listen to equally amazing versions of songs like Empty-Handed and Still Waters.

Our tracking shows that, even though it's four months since we last posted anything, interest in Parchment and their legacy is still high with many daily visits to this site. Let's hope this encourages others!