Saturday, November 25, 2006

Third Ear Band

This very rare video has been gifted to me some months ago by my friend Baz, from the UK. I have no idea of what he's doing now, he disappeared from the web, but I hope he is ok.
If there is a band whose music can really be called "magic" this is the Third Ear Band. They started in the London underground scene, with the name of Giant Sun Trolley, experimenting their own fusion of western and eastern music, in those glorious days of 1967. It's been because of an accident - part of their instruments had been stolen - that they became an acoustic band, and discovered the secret formula of the most evocative and hypnotic sound ever, combining indian raga, celtic and mediterranean folk, free-jazz, atonal avantgarde and minimal classical music.
The "progressive" label Harvest had the courage to release two memorable albums between 1969 and 1970: Alchemy and Third Ear Band (also known as "Elements"), followed by an interesting soundtrack for Roman Polansky's movie Macbeth.
As written on the sleeve notes of Alchemy: Words cannot describe this ecstatic dance of sound, or explain the alchemical repetiton seeking and sometimes finding archetypal formes, elements and rhythms.
After the second album the strings players Richard Coff and Ursula Smith left the band, so the percussionist Glen Sweeney and Paul Minns, a fantastic oboist, joined by Paul Buckmaster on bass, decided to try to become a more accessible "pop group", after they met the guitarist and singer Denim Bridges. They worked on an album called The Dragon Wakes, that never saw the light, played on a couple of BBC radio sessions, and did a brief tour in Europe, during which they also performed at the Beat Club.
This is, as far as I know, their only video available, with a line-up that they called the Third Ear "Big" Band, including also another percussionist whose identity is unknown to me. I haven't found any informations about him even on the biography written by the Italian musical journalist Luca Ferrari.
This unreleased tune is much more conventional than their early recordings, a mellow folk-rock that still sounds enchanting anyway, Minns' work on oboe in particular is great, as ever.
I have to say that the clip is a little frustrating as you don't get to see the musicians very well, they appear as small figures with giant incense sticks in front of them and the front cover of their second album on the backgorund; the idea was probably to make them look as little devotional statues.
My dream to see the Third Ear Band back became true thanks to Luca Ferrari, who was able to find Glen Sweeney and convince him to reform the band. Between the late eightes and early nineties, with different line-ups that for brief periods included also Paul Minns and then Ursula Smith, they recorded three more records for the label Materiali Sonori and played some concerts, bringing back some of the old magic.
This post is dedicated with gratitude to Paul Minns and Glen Sweeney, who died, respectively in 1997 and in 2005.

Third Ear Band - Hyde Park (1970)


See you


Thursday, November 16, 2006

Steve Hillage

Steve Hillage is a great guitar player, the hippiest among the musicians that emerged from the Canterbury scene. He recorded some fine psychedelic music in the late sixties with the bands Khan and Arzachel, then he ended up playing for some time with another group of freaks: the Gong.
The spacey jazz-rock music of his first solo works, in the second half of the seventies, certainly owes much to the typical Gong sound, with the addiction of a very interesting use of electronic keyboards. There are three keyboard players in these clips, Miquette Giraudy on sinthesizer offers a very important contribution to the band, she had already played with the innovative Tonto's Expanding Head Band and with Todd Rundgren.
These two jams are taken from the German Rockpalast festival of March 1977. Salmon Song is from his first, and maybe also his best record Fish Rising, from 1975, while the cover of Donovan's Hurdy Gurdy Man appeared on the second one L, produced by Todd Rundgren in '76.
Hillage disappeared from the scene for about a decade, then he returned in the early nineties with a totally new style: a trippy electronic trance music. He and Miquette Giraudy play now as duo called System 7.

Steve Hillage - The Salmon Song (1977)
Steve Hillage - Hurdy Gurdy Man (1977)




Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Glastonbury Fayre 1971

Though only 7.000 people went to see it, the Glastonbury Fayre Festival of 1971, held in coincindence with the summer solstice, is a legendary event in the history of British free festivals. The organizer Andrew Kerr was much more interested in mysticism than in getting rich with rock music. He had the idea to make a giant wooden pyramidal stage, that took eight days to be built, to concentrate the energy of the solstice. I don't know if it was because of the pyramid, but an atmosphere of magic and harmony made the festival really special, as can be seen in the documentary directed by Peter Neal. The artists appearing on this movie are: Arthur Brown, Melanie, Terry Reid, Fairport Convention, Family, Quintessence, Traffic. Unfortunately the exibitions of other musicians like David Bowie, Edgar Broughton Band, Gong, Pink Fairies, Gilberto Gil, Hawkwind, Mighty Baby, Brinsley Schwarz are not shown. Of course is worth looking also at the spontaneous happenings among the audience.
The two perfomances I chose are really compelling. The Fairport Convention plays a very loud, fast, almost frantic version of Dirty Linen, a traditional also present on their album Full House, one of the best folk-rock record ever.
The Traffic closed their concert of June 22 with an irresistible Gimme Some Loving, the famous song that a very young Steve Winwood composed when he still was in the Spencer Davis Group. On this occasion the band is joined by some African percussionists.
Both these songs are impossible to be listened to while remaining sitted on a chair.
A triple LP set, complete with a booklet and a poster, including songs from this festival and others gifted by various bands, was published in a limited edition of 5.000 copies. If someone who owns a copy of this record would be so kind to upload it somewhere I'd be very grateful.
If you can read Italian, you will find more informations about the festival and the record on this page.

Added on November 12: In the comments you can find the links to download the album, kindly uploaded by my Brazilian friend Carlos. Thank you!

Fairport Convention - Dirty Linen (1971)
Traffic - Gimme Some Loving (1971)


See you soon