March 14, 2011

Third Ear Band quoted on an Italian book about English electric folk music.

As reported some months ago at Italian writer/musician Antonello Cresti has written a book on "electric English folk" titled "Fairest Isle" (Aereostella, € 17.00) where a prominent position is reserved to the Third Ear Band. You can buy a copy through the Web site of the home publishing at

Apart some obvious well-known references to the band's history (mainly based on my book "Necromancers of the drifting West", 1997), the most important aspect of the book is the author's attempt to analyze his musical project.

On a chapter titled "Pariah" (= outcast), Cresti writes about the TEB as one of the band "more radically experimental", a "one-off and unique experience", "probably the most  remote and isolated outpost in all the epic of new English folk music", here  named "wyrd folk" from a definition coined in 1990 by American artist Tim Renner.
The author claims TEB music is deep-rooted in psychedelia (for cultural aptitude) and folk - for the use of acoustic instruments and above all "for the strong, almost sacral, bond with their place of origin, even if inexorably "elsewhere" as regards to the map of musical orthodoxys of yesterday and nowdays".
Summing up the main phases of the band's history, the writer attributes to Glen Sweeney the role of deus ex machina, "perfect and sincretic fruit of many urges and illusions of a generous age as that hippy generation".

Strangely scarce the list of musicians influenced by the TEB: apart the Italian Aktuala and Franco Battiato's "Sulle corde di Aries" albums, Cresti quotes just the Xenis Emputae Travelling Band and our Sedayne... ignoring other not less important experiences (documented in this archive at and

A specifc paragraph of the book is reserved to the analysis of the Elements album, with some interesting references to the links to the ancient celtic tradition of the cover lettering: "... infact it remembers the medieval Christian art and masterworks of miniature as that included on Lindisfarne's Gospels, works miniatured around 600 BC at the monastery founded by Saint Aidano on the wild isle of Lindisfarne, Northumberland...".

About the music on the album, Cresti underlines the relations with the ancient Greek philosophers (as Empedocle) and their idea of four elements as roots founding all the things.
“Sweeney and friends, with a tireless attempt of cultural hybridization, (…) pay their attention to a subject that, become famous thank to very wide speculations of Mediterranean world, it had appeared in many ancient civilizations all around the world: so the band’s holistic and pantheistic idea has contrasted to any materialistic and immanent conception of being ontology”.
Analyzing the four tracks, interesting the thinkings about "Earth" and "Water": on the first tune, Cresti claims "it's one of highest point reached by the band, even similar to the Igor Stravinsky's "The Rite of Spring"", with a "pure musicality, where the melodic element becomes primordial rhythm".
About "Water" (my favourite ever!), he states "it's the descriptive peak reached by the band: it starts with some naive sound effects, then the composition unravels on a brilliant counterpoint of strings that symbolize the conflicting current of water".

In short, for the author the album it's "the experimental top of wyrd folk, the work where different processes of cultural and stilistic hybridation, even if in a reference frame strongely Britannic, have raised to fertile state of the art".

An important contribution to the comprehension of the TEB's still  quite obscure epic, very rare in Italian music journalism.
Cresti is working now on a new book dedicated to the English "esoteric folk", with some new analysis about the Third Ear Band (and maybe also an interview with myself about the cultural sources...).
Of course, I'll try  to document it for your esclusive pleasure...

no©2011 Luca Ferrari


  1. Maybe in respect of Nothing At All... Yesterday we ended up in CLITHEROE, scene of distant Pop Festival in which the Third Ear Band appeared on the same billing at Dr Strangely Strange and Kevin Ayers.

    I wonder what memories still lurk in that picturesque Lancastrian country town with its little craft fairs, amazing castle views and rumours of witchcraft? Either way I'm sure Antonello Cresti would love it!

  2. Me too!, I suppose, dear Sean... But what's about your announced essay on the Thirds?

  3. I'm trying to put into words my feelings on the music of the Third Ear Band, but it's proving problematic - like trying to weave sand into ropes. Apart from manything else - we know the history, so it's got find another spin on things without being totally subjective. How to do it? How to hold water in a paper bag?

    Soon, I'm returning to Clitheroe Castle & I'm going to sit on the bandstand & commune with the ether and see what comes through!

  4. I understand your point of view about the things, it's not easy at all to put into words ideas and feelings about the band, because the risk it is to be too clinic with analyses loosing the heart of the matter: music is not a rational dimension, it's related to soul and feelings, so this is the real problem.
    When I met Glen for the first time I was really conscious about it and almost I couldn't talk... In my little tribute to the band, I also wrote an essay about the music but I was very embarrassed with the idea Glen and Paul could read my attempt to analyze their art... But I felt to do it, anyway, to tribute that magical sound...

  5. Hi Luca, did you read this book? I didn't but I think it might be good and i'm sure the TEB is mentioned...

  6. Thanks a lot for this, but I haven't read it. Maybe some Italian reader could write a review for us here...