Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A Christmas treat

"Upon a frosted winter, upon a frosty morn, at Bethelehem in Israel, the baby boy was born"

Here on YouTube are Trinity Folk performing Working Man on the Sound Vision in Concert album. There are two versions of this song, both acapella - so none of the instruments on the video are actually played during this performance. The second version was the B-side of the single of Where Can I Find You, released by Parchment, as the band was called by this time. I have only just listened to it for the first time and the vocals are quite different to the original (or it may be the 45 speed on my player) - but the harmonies are clearer. It has a slightly different ending - and that's appended. You can see the video reflects the transition from Trinity Folk(some of whose members still remain nameless - anyone?) to Parchment.

Working Man does not appear on the Simply...Parchment CD set, maybe because that second recording was not as good as the original.

* Sometime ago I said there was only one tribute to Parchment on Youtube. I was quite wrong - there are many, many versions of Light Up the Fire, often called "Colours of Day". What is needed is a video of the original, certainly in time for the 40th anniversary. I wonder if Derri Daugherty had heard the original his rendition of the song might have been more lively?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Marie Lacey

Marie Lacey Think Again 1979 Producer: Pete Yates-Round. Grapevine 133. A superbly produced showcase for this Northern Ireland singer. The album fuses pop, gospel, jazz and a bit of rock and roll to create the kind of high quality pop production that often eluded Grapevine and other Christian labels of the era. From the first notes of the first track, 'Perfect Submission', the album maintains its pace through to the end.

There are five songs of Marie's own composition, including the rocking Think Again.As on several other Grapevine albums these were copyrighted to Parchment Music. There are three songs by Danniebelle Hall - not a name I know.

Highlights include the up-tempo gospel 'I Go to the Rock' and the final track, Hall's reflective 'Like a Child'. Lyrically Marie's message is unsubtle. But she's a talented musician as well as being a singer-songwriter and features on the piano and the Fender Rhodes electric piano.

As well as producing, Pete Yates-Round joined Marie in doing the lively, Parchment-style backing vocals. And there are handclaps from folk-rock legends Reynard, who must have been in the studio producing Green Anthem, the album that preceded this on Grapevine.

Other information was difficult to find - and there is not a great deal on the sleeve. She's not in The Archivist but Crossrhythms has a page devoted to Marie Lacey who, apparently continues to be prominent in the region's worship scene.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

40th anniversary

Next year is the 40th anniversary of the release of Light Up the Fire. There should be a celebration or an event some kind (John Pac?)

BBC4 is currently showing weekly editions of Top of the Pops from 1976, that is 35 years ago. It would be great if next year they slipped that back to 40 years and it was possible to pick up Parchment's filmed performance of the song - especially as nobody yet has come forward with any film of any kind of the band performing.

* I have done some research and sadly there seems little chance of episodes from September 1972 emerging. According to this site, just two episodes survive from the whole year.

Friday, September 09, 2011

This year's Caedmon gig

If you are near northern England, 70s acid folk gospel band Caedmon have returned to the source of their inspiration, no less than Caedmon Hall, Gateshead, to play a gig on 22nd October 8pm. Tickets available  from the Gateshead Live website.

They are joined by a Newcastle-based band  - Let Sleeping Dogs, who are said to be similar in eclectic style to the reformed Caedmon, drawing on a range of instruments and styles.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Where Can I Find You?

I was listening to Where Can I Find You and I misheard the fourth line as "I still can't find what I'm looking for". The line, in fact, goes "'Cause I'm looking for something I can't find". This set me wondering whether it helped inspire the famous and profoundly spiritual U2 song. Maybe there's a clue in the grammar: For both songs start by searching for a "you" - a person. But  the choruses refer to an object a "what", a "something".

It's an entirely reasonable hypothesis. A friend was impressing on me the other day how influential the Light Up the Fire album was on a generation of young church-goers. U2 members, with their background, were most likely familiar with it. And Parchment set out a vision of spiritual life as a journey, of seeking and learning. U2 more than anyone embodied the band's vision of a culture that embraced traditional Christian spirituality - not rejected it - and of Christians having a place in modern culture.

So to Where Can I Find You. It's a beat gospel song with some amazing echo added by John Pantry, creating an ethereal moaning vocal. For some critics it typified the phenomenon of gospel bands playing musical styles years out of date - as beat had died before the Beatles. For others it's a great example of acid folk at its best - and I'm surprised its Heathcliffian vocals haven't been picked up like other tracks on the album. We don't know for sure when it was written - probably long before 1972. It was released as the band's second single in 1973 with the Trinity Folk acapella folk song Working Man as the B-side. I'm guessing it made no impact on the charts. A shame - but I'm also guessing that over the years it has inspired thousands on their journey by one means or another.

And it ends on a different note to the U2 song, whose singer never finds what he's looking for in spite of believing in the cross "of my shame" which "you... carried".

All together now: "you gotta look for me when you don't really want to..."

PS There's another Caedmon gig on the way. Details to follow.

Monday, June 13, 2011

It took some time

Paul and Sharon Take The Time. 1978. Producer Pete Yates-Round. Grapevine 121.
It's taken me some time to get to grips with this quirky, Irish production by Paul and Sharon Reid. I wanted to like it, and have quite liked listening to it. In fact I've heard it quite a few times. 

Eventually it dawned on me. It rocks! It has rock and it has gospel and in many ways is a true blend of rock and gospel - without a great deal in between.  Like so many other Grapevine records, the producers spotted interesting guitar work and it is the guitars that set the pace throughout. Sharon follows, singing along to complex melodies. Sometimes she goes up when she might do better going down.

Once or twice the pace slows. Windsong is a lovely, harmonised Celtic melody and shows another side to the couple.  In the main however it represents, possibly, one of the earliest attempts to use rock, rather than folk, for praise music. Choruses such as "I want to praise you" and "Glory, Power to Jesus Our Lord" abound. It's hard to imagine  congregations managing to sing along to Paul and Sharon's choruses - but maybe, with some mellow arrangement.

The songs are all composed by Paul and Sharon. There are backing vocals from Pete Yates-Round and Sue McClellan and a string synthesiser. I had assumed Paul and Sharon played the electric guitar - but in fact that was provided by the ever-present Mo Witham.

* I have just checked Ken Scott's the Archivist review. "Acceptable but not Grapevine's best" is the verdict. However Ken thinks the album is more 'mellow' than I do -"mostly mellow songs with pop leanings," he says. Well, it's not a band - but it is high-paced and melodically complex.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

A huggable chicken

Caedmon. A Chicken to Hug. 2010. CRCD00001
With the first notes the years fall away. We are transported back 35 years to the original sound of Celtic folk-rock, before Runrig, before Big Country, before U2. And we are transported once again another 1,300 years back to the golden age of Celtic mysticism, spirituality and Christianity.

Imagine if they could sustain this for a whole album - as the original Caedmon album almost achieved, becoming a classic once some collector picked up one of the original 500 pressings from the dusty shelves of a second hand music shop.

This CD released at the end of last year merits a mention because it is remarkable for its very existence. Caedmon in the 1970s, a Scottish student band, has been classified by some with Parchment in the very narrow category of Christian acid folk. On the whole, the bands did not sound similar - but they did create unique and wonderful sounds. That was recognised when the limited press Caedmon album because a collector's album, routinely changing hands for £1,000 or more. Some 30 years later - with the lead vocalist a vet in the Midlands, they managed to reunite, play some reunion gigs and then produce a CD.

 Well, second albums don't have to be the same and bands are allowed to mature and move on. In Caedmon's case they had more than three decades to forge individual lives  - and the miracle was that they re-formed, played together and have given us an album of songs that bridge the gap of decades.

In A Chicken to Hug (the source of the album's title is revealed in the bonus track at the end), the instrumentation is a little more sophisticated and the singing a little hoarser than in 1978. So while in 1978, the band did calypso Celtic-prog-folk style, now they do African music (Ouagadougou) in African style. But the cello is still there, there's some mandolin and there are Jim Bisset's electric break-outs from folky melodies. And I don't remember the accordion from the first album.

In fact there is an extensive list on instruments on this album, including a mbira, a fretless bass, a ukelin, a djembe and a bhodran.

The obessions are middle-aged, reflections on lives that have been difficult, joyful and varied - and as a band that have drifted apart in some ways yet remained, Still Here, faithful to youthful aspirations. It's a similar mixture in lyrical content to Sue McClellan's band River, a rare attempt to reflect the real passage of real lives.

So once you pass that first track, don't expect youthful nostalgia. We had that at the live gig - but even more welcome is a band recognising that great music, and especially spiritual music, should be timeless in speaking to the seven ages of humanity.

My only criticism: the original Caedmon album was a classic. The discovery of a live recording was a massive bonus because this is a band that likes to play its instruments and play them well and creatively. It would be good to hear more jamming, more of them letting rip.

Let's hope for more in the near future!

Link to the album's Facebook page

Monday, February 14, 2011

Fish Co - Beneath the Laughter

Fish Co. Beneath the Laughter. 1977. Producer John Pac. Grapevine 114.
Last time I discussed this classic Grapevine album it was on the basis of a couple of sample tracks.

Now a full download has become available on the web at Electric Psalms. I think the download is legitimate - in that there's no effort under way to market CDs or paid downloads from Fish Co, so far as I can tell. And the tribute site,, links to downloads of later incarnations of this band, such as Writz and Famous Names.

At the time I commented that Grapevine picked up a band that was undergoing rapid evolution. Having heard the full album now, I can report that the combination of Fish Co, Steve Fairnie and John Pac indeed produced something utterly remarkable.

The album morphs from acid folk to something that only be described as punk folk. The title track, Beneath the Laughter and much of the album have a lush electric folk sound, reminiscent of Shamblejam. But Fish Co were heading in a different direction to Parchment, who returned to a more acoustic, rootsy sound in Rehearsal for a Reunion, while Steve Fairnie and his bandmate Steve Rowles stayed close to the rapidly changing tastes of the late 70s and early 80s.

With the exception of John Pac's production there was no cross over in performers - and in fact the album features Pete Banks, of After the Fire on keyboards. So by the end, the band is experimenting with funk and then, in the song Super Heroes, with the new sound of punk - yet still overlaid with the lush female backing vocals of Bev Sage (Mrs Fairnie).

As with many Grapevine albums, copyright was attributed to Parchment Ltd.

Full tracklisting:
Beneath the Laughter
Never Feel Alone
Two on the Street
Across the Table
Miss Esther Lauden
Seventies Children (funk)
Harbour Mouth
Sail Away
Super Heroes (punk)

Friday, January 14, 2011

Pack Up Your Sorrows - Ruthanna

This gives me an excuse to talk about the New England folk singer Ruthanna who began releasing albums in the mid-1970s. I've been stalking her work on ebay for some time and was able to spend some Christmas money to pick up her second album, the live recording Radiant Circle.

There is surprisingly little about her on the web, possibly because she is very much around and the music-sharing web-sites are reluctant to share her albums. On e-bay she's sold as 'weird folk' and much of her stuff is gospel influenced - although her own MySpace website hints at a bit of a spiritual journey, possibly away from the church. Her first album sells for 50 dollars.

If  you collected the Ancient Star Song site's Christmas albums you would have picked up her collaboration with the Catholic priest Richard Ho-Lung - the astonishing Star Lullaby.

I would say she's somewhere between Joan Baez and an Appalachian singer and fits neatly into the genre of remarkable New England musicians that includes Dana Lee Price and more recently the Innocence Mission.

Anyway Radiant Circle, which I am still playing on continuous loop, includes a version of 'Pack Up Your Sorrows'. It's  more derived from the jingle-jangle Joan Baez version than the Parchment rendering - which, like so many Parchment interpretations, seems to have been utterly unique and was a deeply moving adaptation of the song.

Ruthanna uses an instrument called the lute-guitar and that may be responsible for some of the tingly backing music on the album.

Here's our last report on Pack Up Your Sorrows

Monday, January 03, 2011

Love Is Come Again

 There was I watching BBC Alba's Alleluia! (It's a Gaelic channel) and up comes a report on Love is Come Again, the classic track from the Light Up the Fire album.

It seems it could be a Gaelic melody, rather than an English one, as the writer John Macleod Campbell Crum was the son of a Gaelic speaking wealthy Scottish business family. Crum himself spent his adult life in England as a Church of England clergyman, according to the programme.

The programme, number 11, features a stunningly beautiful acapella Gaelic version of the song, known as Ăˆirigh Bileag Ur Ghorm. You may be able to find it on the BBC iPlayer if you're quick. Failing that Alba's website has another, equally glorious, rendition of the Gaelic version of the song, performed by a band, and you may find it by following this link and selecting the song title.

Parchment's high acid folk version of the song has attracted the interest of collectors in recent years as we recorded some six years ago.

* I have just spotted that an anonymous poster on this site last year suggested the melody was very similar to a French carol.  The band always recorded the song as "traditional" as I recall. So did Crum borrow from a French carol - or did a French carol composer borrow from Crum?