January 08, 2012

TEB's cultural sources on the Italian book about esoteric English folk music written by Antonello Cresti.

As announced some months ago (read at http://ghettoraga.blogspot.com/2011/11/new-italian-book-about-english-folk.html), on the last new book about esoteric English folk music written by Italian researcher & journalist Antonello Cresti a place is also reserved to the Third Ear Band in the chapter  titled "The Sixties: light and shade of the "Age of Acquarius".
There are an interview with the editor of this archive (for the author, "after the Glen Sweeney's death, we think he's the authority to refer to" - surely a too generous appellative) and an essay on the TEB's music cultural sources edited by Cresti himself.

If through the interview with me I've tried to focalize some themes already exposed somewhere here (i.e. the files in the essay section of this archive...),  very interesting is the Cresti's recognization about the philosophical sources of TEB's music, probably the best and deepest attempt to propose a study about it.
He states: "(...) The name selected [for the band] is particularly pregnant and it lends itself to several interpretations, more or less all fascinating: if the great wizard-philosopher Paracelsus (1491/3-1541/44) referred to the Third Ear, there are several cultures that link it to insight and clairvoyance...".

"(...) So, to use this expression one could allude to new ways to listen, a ritual active interaction between musician and listener; to listen with the Third Ear can mean to inaugurate a new phase of musical consumption where you cannot measure a track using the traditional aesthetic criterion, but it's the sound by itself to take predominance, meant to independent medium of journey, transcendence and change". In Cresti's opinion, a way already choosen by Terry Riley with his masterwork "A rainbow in curved air" published in 1968.

Antonello Cresti (2011)
Analyzing the track's titles, the author writes: "This album ["Alchemy"] is full as ever of musical invitation (all the tracks are instrumental) to take a more deep and conscious form of spirituality up: (...) if "Druid" obviously alludes to Druidism, (...) more astonishing is a sequence of less attended allusions to their contemporary scene: "Stone Circle", probably the more extraordinary album's track, a sort of ecstatic circular dance lead by lines of oboe, it's a clear tribute to the mythical Albion lost in the mists of time, a scenario also evoked by "Dragon Lines", where gongs from Eastern tradition have
John Michell
 juxtapose with a climax evoking in some ways some Medieval profane music. It's a clear musical transposition of pioneer theories of John Michell, who had transposed Chinese tradition of "Lung Mei" on English culture and told about "Dragon Paths". These "Lung Mei" (an expression we can infact translate as "Dragon Paths") are energetic lines discovered by ancient Chinese; from the heart of a dragon, usually laid in a valley among the hills, springs of energy have radiated, as it occurs with the "Ley Lines"".

A rare picture of a Druid Initiation ceremony at Glastonbury Tor in 1967.

At this point Cresti writes a digression about the Druid tradition rooted in England from the end of 1700, stating that it was in the Sixties that it started to influence the English culture.

Ross Nichols
"In this process", he writes, "an important date is doubtless September 22th, 1964, when the "Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids" was constituted, probably the most important organization devoted to the diffusion of the ancient knowledge of Druids, born in England thank to Ross Nichols - poet, artist, historian (...) - one of the key figure of the Druidism...".
"Just while the Third Ear Band is publishing its first record, Nichols spread all over England a Jean-Baptiste Pitois's book titled "History and Practice of Magic", a text had a strong impact on youth in this period, above all for who was interested into the reading of Tarots...".

"The incredible cultural background of Sweeney & C. shows to be much more wide than one could imagine: for example, on "Lark Rise" the band tribute to one of the most influential character of pastoral revival, the composer Vaughan Williams, author of the legendary "The Lark Ascending"".

Writing about "Third Ear Band", the 1970 second album, Cresti states that the group "proposed a reference to one of the most influential tòpoi of the ancient Greek philosophy, from Thales onwards. To talk about the four elements as the unique constitutional principle of reality was expecially philosopher Empedocles (492-430 BC), who asserted the original elements, or "roots", of all things was four - fire, air, earth and water; they are unchangeable  and indivisible, they don't born and don't die, but  join together and divide each other, originating all things. (...) The birth is just the mixing of the elements, the death is their separation".

Talking about the album's tracks, Cresti tries to set all the band's musical influences up: from "Air", in his opinion "probably the most harsh and unpredictable track of the album", near to contemporary avant-garde music of Penderecki and Lutoslawski; to "Earth", "the more 'earthly'", "even akin to the Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring"; references to the Heraclitus's norm of Panta rhei ("everything flows") are expecially on "Water": "reality is not something of static but a flow keeps trasforming".

Paracelsus by P. P. Rubens
After positive considerations about the last phase of the band's history, at the end Cresti admits that "even if English scene has been so fertile, it will have many problems to produce something of so blowing up and radical as Third Ear Band have done".

Anyway, apart the pages dedicated to the Third Ear Band, Antonello Cresti's book is a great and fasciating guide to the English underground/esoteric/mystical music produced in the last century. An important, esclusive contribute to the knowledge of just a rarely investigated area of interest (above all in Italy) with a lot of original stuffs (as, first of all, the interviews with important protagonist of the scene...).

Antonello Cresti - "Come to the Sabbat"
Tsunami Edizioni (pages 384, € 22,00)
The author can be contacted on Facebook at:


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paracelsus  (Wikipedia)

Jean Bapriste Pitois

John Michell
http://www.johnmichell.com/  (the official Website)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Michell_%28writer%29 (Wikipedia)
http://www.forteantimes.com/strangedays/obituaries/1692/john_michell.html(an obituary by Bob Rickard)

Ross Nichols
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ross_Nichols (Wikipedia)

Vaughan Williams
http://www.musicweb-international.com/Programme_Notes/rvw_thelark.htm (about "The Lark Ascending")

no©2012 Luca Ferrari (unless you intend to make a profit. In which case, ask first)


  1. I think it's more likely that the earthy folk simplicity of Tomlin's Lark Rise is more obviously rooted in Flora Thompson's Lark Rise tp Candleford which celebrates a vanished bucolic utopia. As such it's the anthithesis of The Lark Ascending and maybe was intended as such given the more alternative routes (roots) taken by Tomlin on his travels, as oppose to the more overtly bourgeois take on the pastoral indulged in by Ralph Vaughan Williams, who was instrumental in a far more taxonomical / taxidermical approach to English Folk Music which relies less on actual mythic landscapes so essential to Alchemy, than a romanticism which seems (to my ears) a complete anthema to it.

    Sweeney's vision here is one of intuitive misrule; more that of the mischievous trickster than the earnest mystic. I guess his role of catalyst in this process will always keep us guessing!

  2. Dear Sedayne, about "Lark Rise" I think you're right.I've put a Youtube version of Williams' "Lark Ascending" just for letting people to listen to it and think about the real correlations with Tomlin's track. Infact,when I read for the first time the thing written by Cresti I had some perplexity for your same reasons. Anyway, the important thing of this archive is that people experienced like you can tell their opinions and help everyone to build a solid knowledge about this order of things (not always too easy to know and understand). I could ask Dave Tomlin something more about "Lark Rise" and contribute to this debate...

  3. Sean, just wanted to know that you are mentioned more than one time in my book!

    About "Lark Rise", I've expressed the possible link with Vaugha Williams just in footnote, as a possible way to think about that track. But I'm happy to know that we can find other explanations.

  4. Antonello & Sean,
    just this afternoon I've written an e-mail to Dave Tomlin just to ask him which is the origin of his track.
    He has written me back few minutes ago: "Luca. It was indeed inspired by Flora Thompson's 'Lark Rise to Candleford'.
    Incidentally, have spoken to Allen Samuel who was very pleased to get the CD of him with the Third Ear. He also would be willing to write a piece for your archive but he doesn't use email. If you wish I could give you his postal address and then he will send you something in writing".

    So the thing is clear. In this case we have the luck to be able to ask directly to the composer... Often is not so easy...!

  5. Given Vaughan Williams passions with respect of the English Folk Tradition - both real and re-imagined - I've often pondered the possibility that there exists an Alchemical Ley Line which links The Lark Ascending (1920) to Lark Rise (1945), either back or forward in the scheme of cultural resonance so that one becomes a reference to the other, given that RISE and ASCENDING can be essentially synonymous.

    The English Folk Rock Albion Band explored Lark Rise to Candleford with a close eye on the English Folk Myth as proposed by Vaughan Williams and deliberately misreprsented in such classic ritual texts as The Penguin Book of English Folk Song. The results are nevertheless are quite fascinating, not least to the present discussion:


    PS - Hi Antonello - love see the book one day!

  6. I didn't know the track and I've to admit it's quite fascinating... Yes, the things you say are quite persuasive & suggestive and it is possible there's an underground line that links many cultural/social process through the History. Anyway soon I'll put a new file in the archive with the right reconstruction of the track's genesis by Dave Tomlin himself... even if none can tell which deep reasons and movements of mind could uncounsciously determinate the art's expressions...