May 15, 2022

Gary Lucas' piece on the TEB is out now!

The Wire magazine (issue 460 - June 2022) is out now with a piece by Gary Lucas on the TEB. As the publisher writes announcing the issue on the website: 

"Epiphanies: Gary Lucas is enchanted by Third Ear Band’s trancelike medievalis."

                                                                                                                    
And in fact in this writing he remembers the impact the music had on him, and the meeting with Glen in his flat...


no©2022 LucaChinoFerrari (unless you intend to make a profit. In which case, ask first

May 14, 2022

John Lydon on the TEB again...

Frankly, I never believed that Rotten had actually stated his appreciation for TEB and MacBeth music, particularly for the pop song "Fleance" (read HERE).
In a recent radio programme, however, (the YouTube video of which was pointed out to me by my friend (and musician) Alessandro Monti) John Lydon confirms this by stating that he loves the film's soundtrack - "I love the landscape they created...", "I really loved that band live, they played some very intersting things"
(but please overlook the fucking comparison with Enja's 'foggy' atmospheres!)...  

Below is the video with John endorsement at minute 29:30:

no©2022 LucaChinoFerrari (unless you intend to make a profit. In which case, ask first

May 11, 2022

Glen smoking a pipe at the Hyde Park free concert in June 1969.

Here below you can see an old Sunday Mirror short article about the Hyde Park free concert on June 7th, 1969 (the so-called "Blind Faith Hyde Park free concert") with a picture portraying Glen Sweeney as he smokes a pipe...

 no©2022 LucaChinoFerrari (unless you intend to make a profit. In which case, ask first)

May 02, 2022

The Wire magazine will publish a feature on the TEB by GARY LUCAS!

 
The upcoming issue of The Wire magazine will feature a piece on the Third Ear Band written by the great Gary Lucas!

Magazine editor Derek Walmsley contacted me to get some pointers on whether there are any photos with Paul Buckmaster to use.
 
no©2022 LucaChinoFerrari (unless you intend to make a profit. In which case, ask first)

April 02, 2022

Karl Dallas and TEB's "organic sound"...

It was probably the well-known journalist Karl Dallas who first coined the expression "organic sound" in reference to TEB. This is the article published by "Melody Maker" on December 20th, 1969, just after the tour in Holland and Belgium of the band in the new line-up with Ursula Smith.


 no©2022 LucaChinoFerrari (unless you intend to make a profit. In which case, ask first)

March 02, 2022

"The Crab & the Crescent Moon" original poster!

With Steve Pank, one of the eyewitnesses to TEB's early years in the role of tour manager, it was always that way. His memories come up a little at a time, over the years I've gotten used to it.

A week ago, totally unexpected, he wrote me an email with a magnificent poster of the band attached, one of the best ever made (Carolyn thinks so too), and told me the anecdote that follows:

"There is a story with this. The Third Ear Band was doing a gig on the evening when Apollo 11 landed on the moon.
I was staying in Richard flat, when we got back, we turned on the TV and watched live footage, of Neil Armstong walking on the moon. A short while later, later Glen said to me that he had had a dream the night before about the Crab and the Crescent Moon. 

I said, 'That would be a great title for a concert!' Dave Loxley agreed to do the poster, and this is the result."

Held on September 20, 1969 at Queen Elizabeth Hall (London), the evening was promoted by Blackhill Enterprises and also featured Bridget St John, Sam Hutt and DJ John Peel. 

About Sam Hutt, Steve writes that "he was a friend of Peter Jenner . He's a qualified doctor, who at time prescribed medical cannabis. Later he became a spoof country singer under the name of Hank Wankford."

International Time ad (April 1969)

 no©2022 LucaChinoFerrari (unless you intend to make a profit. In which case, ask first)

February 23, 2022

Chris Welch reviewed "Alchemy" in July 1969.

The day CHRIS WELCH ("Melody Maker") reviewed "Alchemy" on the issue of July 26th, 1969, other records was the wonderful Fairport Convention's "Unhalfbricking" (Island Records), Tyrannosaurus Rex's "King of the Rumbling Spires" (Regal Zonophone) and Nick Drake's masterpiece "Five Leaves Left" (Island Records). 

With his usual ironic register, that Glen loved too much, Welch writes about the mystical power of TEB's music - "simply strip to the waist on one's Earls Court pad, daub on cocoa, drop "Alchemy" on the turntable, and bingo! - one is immediatly in touch with the Spirit beings."

 

no©2022 LucaChinoFerrari (unless you intend to make a profit. In which case, ask first)

February 19, 2022

Paul Revere's lead vocals MARL LINDASY talks about "Mosaic".

Dear TEB aficionados, here below you can read an old "Blind Date" extract from Melody Maker published on June 21th, 1969. 

Provoked by listening some tracks blindly, Paul Revere & the Raiders' co-founder and lead vocals Mark Lindsay talks about TEB's "Mosaic", just recorded for "Alchemy".

 no©2022 LucaChinoFerrari (unless you intend to make a profit. In which case, ask first)

February 11, 2022

Paul Buckmaster talks to Roy Hollingworth in 1970!

You thought Ghettoraga Archive had left the scene? Nothing could be further from the truth!
Here is an interesting interview of Charles with the great Paul Buckmaster, from an issue of Melody Maker dated December 26, 1970... with a rare photo of the four-piece line-up.
While I'm busy digging into the history of the Edgar Broughton Band for an upcoming book, finds related to the glorious Third Ear Band experience continue to emerge from the dusty archives of popular music history. 

Stay tuned to these pages - you're in for a treat!


no©2022 LucaChinoFerrari (unless you intend to make a profit. In which case, ask first)

January 11, 2022

My copy of the original "14th Technicolor Dream" ticket.

This is my copy of the original "14th Technicolor Dream" ticket that Glen gave me in 1989, when I visit him at his flat in Sheperd's Bush (London). It's hanging on the wall of my  studio from that year. On the rear there's a dedication by Glen, a simple  "To my friend Luca."

Apart the preciousness of this rare object and the emotion for having received it from Glen, this event was one the most important in the English underground, the concert I wanted to attend.



no©2022 LucaChinoFerrari (unless you intend to make a profit. In which case, ask first)

January 07, 2022

A Third Ear Band gig poster from the past...

While doing some research for a book dedicated to the Edgar Broughton Band, I came across this old poster of a Third Ear Band concert in Guildford on March 7, 1971. The event was titled "Contemporary Music in Guilford".

Just four days later, on March 11,  the band recorded some tracks for a new album. "Evening Awakening" emerged from the vaults in 2018 when Esoteric Recording published the 3CDs remastered and expanded edition of "Third Ear Band" (PECLE 32653). 

 

no©2022 LucaChinoFerrari (unless you intend to make a profit. In which case, ask first).

September 30, 2021

"It's more about wishes, never about regrets". The second part interview with DON FALCONE.

 
This is the second of a two-parts interview with Don Falcone who involved Ursula Smith on Spirits Burning's record "Evolution Ritual". Here he talks about TEB's influences, music, the record market, COVID-19 lockdown, his gear, and future projects.
You can find the first part of the interview HERE
 
 
Don with a Spirits Burning album in January 2021


10. Do you think TEB music is still actual? Have they inspired your poetics in some ways?

"Third Ear Band fits in a category of music output that I describe as being timeless. Usually, I use that category to describe electric-based artists: Jimi Hendrix and Electric Ladyland, Can’s Landed in terms of its synth sounds, maybe something like Vangelis’ Blade Runner. While TEB used a VCS on occasion, they were essentially an acoustic-based band, and yes they were rich in a coat of folk, and medieval sounds. However, like those other artists and bands, they also sounded ahead of their time, putting out music that was very different than their contemporaries. And most importantly, the music has aged well. That’s what being timeless is to me.
Has this inspired my musical voices? Of course. That’s why I would mention them to invites during the early days of “Evolution Ritual.”


11. If it's so, have you taken something from their experiences? What?

"I would be remiss to not mention TEB and their improvisational approach to music. There is a continuous winding, uncharted path in many TEB songs, and that can be exciting for the musician, and for the listener. All the while, the entire band, seems like they are simultaneously heading in the same, and different direction. It’s quite exciting. It is this sense of acoustic arpeggios, movement, mystery, and otherworldliness that feeds into the possibility of a Spirits Burning album being an acoustic space rock album.

While "Evolution Ritual" took other turns, and Spirits Burning more often is not as complicated as some TEB songs, I’m always looking for the mystery in a song, and in its sounds. Plus, there is a hidden improv approach that has been there from the first album to the most current one. For example, when musicians like Daevid Allen or Nik Turner recorded at my home studio over the years, I would present the song, press record, and they would improv on the spot. It was rare that they would work out their musical performance ahead of time. In fact, one of the most interesting recordings was Daevid eyeing my music room bookcase, picking up my college thesis (a book of poems), and then randomly choosing lines to read and emote against the musical landscape. That sense of improv is even there when I do keyboard solos. Or, some of my piano-based ideas. For those ideas, I tend to not overthink things, and just dive in, to see where it leads me.
 
Going back to what I said before about TEB being timeless: We can say that TEB helps to remind me that the best music can simultaneously be of the past, present, and future."
 
 
12. How do you manage to integrate the working method used for "Ritual" and the traditional way of working in the studio with the band? The dimension of working remotely and the urgency of playing live? What is the relationship between the two dimensions? How do you feel about them?
 
"I treasure my time with live bands long ago, and all the practice time in practice spaces. Well, the spaces weren’t always great. But the people, and the ability to play off of one another was often special. It taught me a lot, and ingrained in me some important skills and concepts.

It prepared me mentally to try to apply the same energy and interaction to local or remote recording sessions in the here and now, and even to how I choose to play my own parts, or how I choose to mix. It’s always with the sense that we are in the same room, interacting, even if we are not. My hope is that many of the contributing musicians are doing the same thing on a certain level. If they ask for guidance, I try to keep that approach in mind as I provide what I would provide verbally if we were in the same room. At the end of the day, I want Spirits Burning to sound like a band, and not a solo album with guests; to sound like a band of equally contributing members.

I have to admit that I clearly miss playing with musicians in the same room. Especially a live drummer, as it can totally shape and reshape how you play a song, or even how you write a song. That said, I do not miss the actual rooms we used to rehearse in, or the cost of the room, or parking in sketchy parts of town, or lugging equipment around, or getting home late when you have to work the next day. Those factors cover some of the reasons why that part of my life closed long ago. Before the pandemic happened, I did have a few occasions to use the music room at Dolby to jam with a few co-workers, and it brought back some good memories. Especially when I played bass guitar, and visually and sonically played off of the drummer."
 
 
13. Usually, which instruments you play? Can you tell me which is your gear?
 
"I’m a keyboardist, who was originally a bass player.
My keyboard options include a mix of virtual instruments (plug-ins that you trigger via a MIDI controller) and physical keyboards. I use a Kurzweil K2000 as my controller, as it is a larger keyboard, and I like the feel of the keys.

I record and mix on a Pro Tools system, and use Avid and AIR plug-ins that run on that system. There is a great Hammond organ, acoustic and electric pianos, and a number of synths, including Virus Indigo. I also have the Structure sampler plug-in, which lets me trigger acoustic sounds, from orchestral to ethnic to pianos (like a Bösendorfer). I used Structure for some of the pitched and unpitched percussives that you hear on “Evolution Ritual.”
 
I probably have more physical keyboards than I need. I might not touch one for many months, and then make a decision that today I’m going to touch this one or that one. Each does have something unique about it. I have a Mellotron that a friend loaned to me. I have a pre-MIDI Roland Juno 60 that is great for spacey ambient patterns, swells, and pads. I have an old Sequential Circuits Six-Trak that always surprises me with new life, especially when mixed with modern verbs or delays. I have an M-Audio Venom and Waldorf Q, both underused. Writing songs and producing albums (and the day job) have eaten into my time for digging deeper into these keys. I did use the Venom as a controller for my 2017 live gigs… it was smaller and easier to take on a plane trip.
Although the airport security did open my keyboard case on the tarmac while I was seated on the plane, to make sure it wasn’t a weapon.
 
I have a Carvin 5-string bass that has a great sound. I average writing and recording a song a year with it. I like playing it through an Avid Eleven Rack with an MXR Phase 90 effect, or to create parts that sound more like a guitar. The one album that features me on bass for a whole album is by a band I was in called Fireclan.

I’m also fond of capturing found sounds for use in songs. For “Evolution Ritual,” these were unaffected, to stay true to the acoustic premise of the album. For example, there were DaVinci devices that I recorded at a museum in Albuquerque. In San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, there was a giant box that had giant strings in it, like being inside of a piano, and I recorded plucks and strums within it. For other albums, I’m more likely to process or affect a found sound. For instance, on the Grindlestone “Tone” album there is sample from one of my MRIs that is heavily effected.

I guess I consider all the effects in Pro Tools to be instruments, as least from a production standpoint, or when doing something more experimental. Of those tools, I’m quite fond of the ReVibe reverbs and TL Space’s convolution reverbs, and I’ve been playing with distortion a lot lately. Plus, I have a wonderful Eventide Harmonizer rackmount that I typically use for vocals. However, with the instrumental “Evolution Ritual,” I didn’t use the Eventide at all, or any distortion. I only used the plug-in reverbs that sounded natural. It’s probably the one Spirits Burning album that had touches of natural reverb added during mastering."
 
14. In this controversial era of looking more to the past than to the future, with a discography clogging the sales channels with retrospective boxes and anthologies of past phenomena, how do you see the future of music?
 
"Challenged. And Interesting. I’m not convinced the retro clog is entirely new. I remember buying every Hawkwind best of album and live album in the 70s and onward. Even bootleg cassettes. I remember getting a great gift of a Jethro Tull box set in the 90s, and buying a Sandy Denny box set around the same time. I also remember how many of us bought CD versions of all the vinyl albums we owned. It was the music circle of life. And none of it prevented us from searching for new music.

15. You think it's a false issue...
 
"I’m also not convinced that the retro clog is the root cause of a problem. It’s more indicative of a deeper issue, at least for those who create new music. It points to a potential disinterest in new music, regardless of who it is by. When we were young, we had the initial sparks of hearing new music, and wanted to be at one with it. As the decades moved on, some of us continued that search and find of new sounds, and re-experienced getting excited. That’s not the case for everyone.
 
Some people did relatively hard stops in their listening habits, or continued listening but let the radio or later, streaming services and playlists dictate their music experience. I saw this with family and friends in the 80s, 90s and so on. It’s not a new phenomenon for some people to be disinterested in what is new, or what is essentially changing. Add to that new generations who for whatever reason are not looking in this direction for music, or have created an entirely different definition for new music, and you suddenly find a world where it is difficult — challenging — for musicians be remain part of the dialogue. Maybe it’s always been this way."
 
16. So is the challenge greater now? 
 
"Sure. It does seems like there is less time to listen to music, and more competition for hours that we used to devote to listening to music, and even the money that we used to save and spend on new music.
In that sense, those expensive boxed sets, or those possible last tours (some of which I’ve attended, like Black Sabbath and The Who) do not inherently serve new music. If I were to look for a silver lining, it would be that the past can continue to influence and teach the present. Plus, well, it is fun to see and hear your favorite band of old one last time.
 
I do think that the future of music will be fine. It’s the future of the musician that is more uncertain. Especially, if you are trying to make a larger mark."
 
17. Do you think there will still be room for research into open musical forms like yours?

"There is always room. What isn’t as assured is the size of the room, or the number of people in that room.
 
It’s also an interesting question, considering that Spirits Burning is built on the past (musicians and styles), with the hope of creating a new music for the musicians involved and the people who listen. To that effort, and given my personal tastes, it’s definitely good for me to understand that I’m not involved with music that is commercial in the pop sense, and that it can sometimes challenge the listener. Basically, each album has a risk factor.
 
That doesn’t change my belief that the best music is a celebration on some level. Or, that music is inherently about passion and joy; a joy that can be inviting, and contagious in a good way. There is the joy of the journey (creating the music), and the joy of the destination (sharing and listening to the music). Yes, I do believe that the world has room for the music I am part of. That’s a big reason why I continue the journey, and invite people to collaborate on that journey. That said, it’s definitely healthier for me to see the reward in each mark the music makes, as opposed to grading success on the level of fame.
 
Looking ahead… When I hear soundtracks from some of the newer episodic series and films, I find a certain, extra hope. I like the creativity in what I’m hearing. Sometimes, when my wife and I are listening to these sounds, we hear a bit of me and something close to what I’ve done in the past, and smile. Or, I hear something that feels like a good roadmap for something new that I should try next. There seems to be an openness with these soundtracks, one that is… inviting, and contagious in a good way. This might be another place for my music. We shall see..." 
 
Spirits Burning at Kozfest in 2017 (photo by Jack Gold Molina)
 
18. Apart working on this record, what have you done during the long pandemic lockdown? Did you played some gigs on the web?
 
"I’ve spent a lot of time promoting Spirits Burning. First, there was promotion for the previous Spirits Burning release, “The Hollow Lands,” which was released on Purple Pyramid Records in December of 2020. Then, Karen (my wife) and I released “Evolution Ritual” on our Noh Poetry Records label. Self-releasing it meant relearning how best to announce its release, upload it for sales and distribution, get it reviewed, register it as a real release, and set up interviews. We’ve also been rolling out photo collages of the crew for each song on Facebook and elsewhere.

Don singing on stage at Kozfest in 2017 (photo by Michal Skwarek)
 
On most days, I’m a technical writer for Dolby Laboratories. I write documentation about tools for Dolby Atmos content creators. I’m overdue to start some immersive songs using these tools.

Ongoing, on the music side… Most of the sessions and mixing for “Evolution Ritual” overlapped with two Spirits Burning & Michael Moorcock albums. There was the completion of “The Hollow Lands,” and the development of “The End Of All Songs,” which I hope to complete in mid-2022. Over the last year, most of the songs for “The End” were written and initial parts recorded, and then I began inviting musicians. Some of the returning crew include Al Bouchard and Donald Roeser from Blue
Öyster Cult, and Hoshiko from Tangerine Dream. In the queue, and with fingers crossed are some first-time Spirits Burning contributors: David Cousins of The Strawbs and Paul Rudolph of the Pink Fairies.

Most of the songs still need lyrics and vocals. Al (Bouchard) is transcribing Mike’s text to create lyrics and vocal lines like he did for the previous SB & MM albums, when he isn’t working on his own music projects. At some point during the pandemic, I was honored to play keys on a track for his next solo album — Imaginos II, Bombs Over Germany (Minus Zero and Counting). This one has an October, 2021 release date, and is now shipping".

I also just finished an uptempo Spirits Burning song for a future Flicknife Records compilation. The song is titled “Purse (You For A Day).” It’s a fun punky, new wave song that might surprise some people. I wrote it back in the 80s, and started to resurrect it a few years ago. Nik Turner plays sax on it, and my wife did the lead vocals. To compete the song, I set up a long-distance guitar session by Joe Diehl, who was one of the guitarists who played the song back in the day. He did multiple parts this time, and it’s actually quite intricate. I’m definitely excited about it."

 
Spirits Burning at Kozfest in 2017 (photo by Michal Skwarek)
 
19. I wish to close with a question straight to the heart: do you have any regrets when you look back on your now long career?

"It’s hard to have regrets when you’ve done more than you could have imagined when the journey started. When I was listening to music in the 70s, or when I first picked up a bass guitar, or when I joined my first band, there was no way I could have imagined that I would someday be collaborating with some of the musicians I was listening to.

I’m really proud of most of what I’ve been involved with over the years. Yes, there is a small handful of songs that I wish I would have mixed differently, or approached slightly differently. But those are few and far between. Recently, I was listening to songs on shuffle mode, and I was amazed at how well some Spirits Burning songs sounded next to songs by other established artists (like Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Hawkwind, and even Kate Bush). As I continued to listen, Spirits Burning, as well as my work with Michael Moorcock & The Deep Fix and the Daevid Allen Weird Quartet sounded so fresh. In fact, I had forgotten some of the wonderful things the line-ups for a given piece had done.

I can see where I might wish one band or another had survived longer. I was in an incredible ambient-ethno experimental band called Thessalonians. They kind of had more in common with TEB than any band I’ve ever been in, given that they were tabla-based rhythmically, as opposed to rock drums. The line-up for our “Soulcraft” album did one album and gig. I would have loved to have done more gigs and albums with that line-up.

Overall, though, it’s never about regrets. It’s more about wishes, and what you did, or decide to do with those wishes. That can mean keeping a wish in place, and being patient until the time is right. “Evolution Ritual” is a great example of this, as it took me a few years to get to my dream of doing an acoustic Spirits Burning album."
 
Don relaxing with a glass of wine in beginning 2021

DON FALCONE/SPIRITS BURNING info
official web site:
Spirits Burning video archive:  https://spiritsburning.com/sbvids.html
Wikipedia page: 

no©2021 LucaChinoFerrari (unless you intend to make a profit. In which case, ask first).

September 27, 2021

Other two good reviews about "MOSAICS".

 

Two new reviews about TEB's box "Mosaics" are available on the Web: one is from the Italian magazine  INDIEeye  at https://www.indie-eye.it/recensore/coverstory/third-ear-band-mosaics-the-albums-1969-1979-la-recensione-e-lunboxing-del-cofanetto-cherry-red.htm with this pretty promo video:

the other one is from the English Velvet Thunder Webzine at https://www.velvetthunder.co.uk/third-ear-band-mosaics-the-albums-1969-1972-esoteric-cherry-red/ where Steve Pilkington writes with a funny register things like this: 

"The origins of what would become the Third Ear Band began in 1966, with an outfit going by the bizarre yet tremendous name of The Giant Sun Trolley. Their aim was, effectively, to produce sounds that had never been heard before, at least under the guise of ‘music’. An electric and eclectic ensemble, to give you an idea of what this lot sprang from, one of their compositions was called Eternity In D, a piece designed exclusively to allow the band to play the same note for as long as possible. This was often used as a means to clear a venue of stragglers in the early hours, as The Trolley were sent on to play until the place was empty and the remaining audience had fled. This often took very little time. However, there were exceptions, as the enormously entertaining booklet with this collection informs us that one night they went on at 3am, and proceeded to play two notes until seven. That’s four hours of two notes. However, by 7am on this occasion a number of audience members were still there. Asleep. They would periodically wake up, hear the same two notes, and drift off again. That’s a pretty unsuccessful way to clear a club, but not unrelated to what would become the Third Ear Band." 


no©2021 LucaChinoFerrari (unless you intend to make a profit. In which case, ask first).

September 22, 2021

The TEB... just a relic of the past?

In the Italian music magazine "Buscadero" last issue (# 442 September 2021), Andrea Trevaini reviewed the TEB's box with very positive words about the music and the band, but with some arguable statements about the actuality of their project (also totally ignoring the last part of their story in Italy...).

Here's a brief excerpt from the review:

"(...) these records are inextricably linked to a bygone era, so to appreciate them you really need to tune into the waves of a now-dissolved Hippy era. To understand this, it is enough to read some of the titles of the tracks of their first album Alchemy. (...) to find yourself immersed in a world where they seemed to be within reach of the counterculture: Indian music, Celtic religion, the cult of the dead from the Egyptian Pharaonic era, the phantasmagorical Chinese symbolism."
Are we sure their idea of music was simply rooted in that (hippy?) age and now is just a relic of the past? Maybe Bach is just an expression of 1600? Or Bartok is an old artefact of 1900?

As I wrote in my last book on the band, I think that just a superficial approach to the TEB's music and themes can suggest such childish prejudice: "Alchemy" can be seen as a clear transposition of the Book of the Dead for contemporary souls (life and death, ethics, religion, human spiritual aim...) and the Elements album is a dramatically pure chant for a planet going dead...

 

 no©2021 LucaChinoFerrari (unless you intend to make a profit. In which case, ask first).

September 16, 2021

Alessandro Monti published a book with two pieces about the Third Ear Band.

Avant-garde musician (and friend) Alessandro Monti has published with Arcana Editrice a book titled "Riproduzione Casuale"(in Italian) about "a sort of listening path from the point of view of the musician who, shedding light on cult and often obscure records, manages to link together the most diverse and distant music, through memories, experiences, reflections and provocations."

His original, very personal journey, contains also his two contributions about the TEB posted in Ghettoraga Archive months ago.

For detailed infos and for buying a copy click HERE


 
no©2021 LucaChinoFerrari (unless you intend to make a profit. In which case, ask first).

September 11, 2021

URSULA SMITH played in Spirits Burning's latest album. A two-parts interview with DON FALCONE!

 
"Evolution Ritual", SPIRITS BURNING's latest album, is a true masterpiece, a brilliant collection of free-form tracks played and recorded with many inspired musicians (read the press release HERE). One could classify it as a "prog" album, but that would be very reductive because Don's sound open vision makes it much more than that. A real alchemical work, in its letteral meaning. Believe me: in a record market that invests almost all its ideas and resources in retrospectives and theme compilations, an album full of new ideas like this is a real godsend!
As we know, Don, a very talented multi-instrumentalist playing quite everything,  involved Ursula Smith in a wonderful piece and the fact was so intriguing (and unusual) for me that I was prompted to ask him a few questions.
This is the first of a two-parts interview: the first is about Ursula's involvement on the record, the second one is about music, market and future projects.



 
1. How did your latest record come about?

"I wanted to do an instrumental Spirits Burning album between the second and third Spirits Burning & Michael Moorcock albums, both of which have lots of lyrics. Generally, I like to alternate between instrumental and vocal albums.
I also like to approach each album with some sense of newness or change. I had been talking to people like Bridget (Wishart) for maybe a decade, telling her that I wanted to do an acoustic-based Spirits Burning album. Now was the time."
 
2. What was the original concept?

"The original idea was to create an acoustic space rock album. As I invited people, I usually mentioned Third Ear Band as a targeted influence. I felt their sense of folk, primitiveness and otherworldliness were a good starting point. In my head, I could imagine acoustic instruments sometimes creating sounds that had more in common with a Hawkwind audio generator or synth, or percussives and rhythms that had a spacey tribal edge to them. However, some of the earliest invites who tend towards a more avant-garde approach were not available for the album, and as songs began to take shape and I worked on newer invites, I started to ease up on pushing the space rock part of the concept. Instead, I concentrated on keeping everyone focused on being acoustic or sounding like they were acoustic."
 
  Don at the keyboards in his home studio (Fall 2020).
                                       

3. Why did you even think of involving Ursula?

"Since the day I turned Spirits Burning into a collective, I’ve made an effort to invite and collaborate with musicians who I have listened to and admired throughout my life. As Spirits Burning has grown, I’ve been lucky to connect with musicians from Third Ear Band, Hawkwind, Van Der Graaf Generator, and many other bands that are close to my heart.

Of the Third Ear Band family, both Simon House and Pete Pavli had contributed to Spirits Burning in the past, and they were unfortunately unavailable for “Evolution Ritual.” As I was planning songs, and thinking about how to keep things acoustic, I took a good look at other violinists, cellists, and bassists. It seemed like a natural move to review other members of the Third Ear Band family, specifically, the string players, and then see if I could interest any of them in contributing.

It was around this time that I discovered Ghettoraga and reached out to you Luca, to see if you could help me connect with Ursula."
 
 
4. What was her reaction when you contacted her?
 
"Ursula wasn’t sure she could contribute, due to not having a clear way to do a recording. After an exchange or two of emails, she was receptive to try.
 
She didn’t really have any questions about the music or the project. I had given her info on the band, and what I was trying to accomplish with the new album. I had uploaded two pieces to Dropbox for her to consider, picking two pieces that I thought she would like, and that would be conducive to cello. I also gave her a link to a YouTube teaser video of a Spirits Burning & Clearlight instrumental album.

The two candidate tracks were “Strolling Into The Future” and “Your Better Angels.” The former had a clear arrangement, and she felt comfortable contributing to that one. The latter song was in its early stages, probably pitched and unpitched percussion only. Ursula decided that her cello part wasn’t working, and that’s how she ended up on just “Strolling.”


Coincidentally, each piece eventually ended up having a Steeleye Span violinist. Jessie May Smart would play with Ursula on “Strolling.” Peter Knight played on “Angels.”"
 

5. How did you work on the tune?

"Ursula’s first concern was how to do the recording. Not everyone is set up with a home recording studio, or has access to a large studio. Plus, this was during pandemic times, so having someone come to her and do a remote recording, or putting her in touch with a recording studio were not an option.

We established early on that she had Audacity, and could use that program to record. I provided some encouragement and recording tips. Ursula practiced a little with each piece, and then sent me a mix of her playing alongside “Strolling.” I reviewed it, and gave her a long-distance thumbs up to provide just her parts when she had them finalized.

Within a week of us initially connecting, Ursula provided the final cello performance, and it was great. She had some concerns about the quality of the recording, including a couple of places where it sounded like her cello moved. I told her not to worry, as I felt that I could apply EQ to help reduce any noise, and some incidental sounds might not even be noticeable in the context of the mix. Plus, I cut out the parts of the audio where she wasn’t playing, which is something that I normally do."
 
Ursula on cello during a rehearsal at St Andrew's Hall (Norwich) in 2008.
          
6. Did you ask her to play something specific (such as with a score) or did you leave her free to decide what to play?

"I rarely tell anyone what to play, unless they ask for some level of guidance. However, this song was atypical. Usually someone starts a song with one or two parts, and I manage a queue of musicians and their instruments that builds upon the starter material. For “Strolling,” Andy Dalby (once of Arthur Brown’s Kingdom Come) had actually worked out and arranged a full song, including some string parts. For this song, we would be replacing some of Andy’s parts, one by one, and adding new parts too.

I gave Andy’s version to Ursula, and told her to consider adding cello anywhere in the song where she felt inspired, which she did. In some places, her part would replace one of Andy’s. In other parts, she provided something new that helped provide energy and spice to the piece, which is exactly what I had hoped."
 
7. How did she react to the track done?
 
"I think Ursula was happy with it. She did note that it had a quirky feel, in context with the rest of the album. I would agree with that. It’s kind of where the album takes a couple of turns, before reverting back to its roadmap.

She also had an experience that many Spirits Burning musicians have when they are only part of the early stages of a song. Basically, she didn’t actually get to hear the final mix, with all the new musicians and performances until the album came out. So, it probably felt like a different piece on a certain level.

In terms of the whole album, Ursula felt that "the tracks covered a wonderful range of moods, landscapes from the feeling of ritual dances and feasts to reflective spaces and scenes.” She also mentioned that some of the other tracks reminded her of what the old Third Ear Band was trying to do, but with different resources."

8. Are you satisfied with the way the piece came out and with the record in general?
 
"Absolutely. For “Strolling,” I set out to build a band that took Andy’s initial score to a new level, and we did. The ramp up for the song went from Andy to Ursula, to Gabe (Monticello), who did acoustic bass pizzicato and bowed parts that were initially tricky to isolate and weave with Ursula’s parts. Next was Jessie May Smart, who provided a wonderful collection of violin parts, which became an additional lead instrument. Then, I replaced Andy’s faux accordion part with my melodion performance, and last, and most special, the drum parts were by original Blue Oyster Cult drummer Albert Bouchard. It’s a great song by a great ensemble, which is how I hope to describe every song on an album.

I am quite happy with the album as a whole. Most of the early listeners and reviewers have understood the attempt at creating new sounds and musical adventures through an acoustic-based focus. It definitely brings a smile to my face when I see the album being described as contemporary folk, or a review mentions that there is an avant-garde element."

9. Do you plan to present it live when possible (maybe with Ursula)?

"Once upon a time, I would have told you that a Spirits Burning live show was an impossibility. Given the hundreds of musicians involved with the band, and that they are scattered through many parts of the globe… it’s kind of mind-boggling to even consider who would be in the band, what songs from over 15 studio albums would we do, when would be a good time to play post-pandemic and without affecting day jobs, and where would this gig be, given where everyone lives?
 
Don in his home studio (Fall 2020).

However, once upon a time, I did add to my bucket list the desire to play live in England with Bridget, and then we checked it off. We did two gigs in 2017 (in a club in Bath, and then at Kozfest). We created a seven-piece band that had three Hawkwind family members, and did a one-hour set that featured three different lead vocalists and a couple of instrumentals.

The key to making the line-up work was that we created a core band in a single location (Bath area), where they could practice once a month or more over half a year. I would then practice with their practice recordings, and provide recordings of how my parts fit in. The key to the set-list was that Bridget and I worked out what Spirits Burning & Bridget Wishart songs we should do, and then Steve (Bemand) and I worked out a best-of SB set.

 
All of which means: I don’t know if Spirit Burning will play live again. It was a lot of work. If we did, I’d like to think that at least one song from "Evolution Ritual" would be in the set. And, I would love it if we had one or more acoustic-based string instruments in the ensemble. That would be quite special."
 
(end of part one - to be continued)
 
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