BRICKWORK LIZARDS – Haneen (Lazima Records)

HaneenYou probably couldn’t invent the way this band came about – but the results are very impressive and the beginning is entirely in keeping with the eclecticism of the music. Ten years ago, Egyptian vocalist and oud-player Tarik Beshir met Oxford rap scene stalwart Tom O’Hawk after a chance encounter at a party [not too unusual so far]. Discovering a mutual love of the 1930s harmony group The Ink Spots [how did that conversation get going?], they dreamed up an entirely new sound that would combine pre-war jazz with Arabic and Middle Eastern music [….and how did that conversation get going?]. From this surreal beginning, Brickwork Lizards began to take shape. The group is now an eight-piece band (oud, cello, drums and percussion, double bass, violin, viola, saxophone, trumpet, keyboards, guitar) and their second album Haneen has just been released.

As far as I know, the music is unique in the UK – and probably in the world. Have a listen to ‘Yah Rayeh’ in the video below (filmed in a church) and you will see how the component parts meld into a smooth sound which really shouldn’t work and actually works beautifully – the strings blending with the oud in the introduction, the lead shared between vocals and trumpet before the rap comes in (from up above in the pulpit, stunning idea), the band maintaining a rhythm which is simultaneously calming and up tempo. There are some remarkable musical brains at work here and there are musicians who have the dexterity to make it happen apparently effortlessly.

Tarik describes the underlying theme of the album as “paying homage to great traditions, some completely disappeared…some that hardly get written nowadays”. They have been described as playing Turkabilly music and there are a couple of traditional Ottoman pieces on the album: ‘Hijaz Zeybek’ and ‘Hijaz Mandira’ (with an introduction which made me smile at its nod to ‘You Can’t Hurry Love’). Equally, the old thirties sound (remember, they started the band because of The Ink Spots) comes across as the main style behind ‘We’re Through’ and the slower ‘Old Fashioned Song’ which closes the album.

‘Toro Mata’ is a slightly scary-sounding track, based on Peruvian traditional music with a rap lead on top of it. If by now you’ve clicked on the video below of ‘Yah Rayah’, you’ll understand that this works; if you haven’t, do it now, it’s the only way.

‘The Hanging Tune’ is a traditional English lament sung at executions. Like much of the album, it would make for a great soundtrack (in this instance, as I listen to the track I imagine scenes of full Christopher Lee Hammer Horror meeting up with 17th Century Puritans at the gallows).

So….Haneen is the second album by Brickwork Lizards, an Arabic jazz-folk ensemble from Oxford. The tracks move across eras, genres and countries to create a sound unique in this country. Hopefully, the notes above have inspired you to have a listen for yourself. I haven’t seen them live and, much as I’ve enjoyed the album, I suspect their true métier is in a live performance (somewhere like The Blind Pig from Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, perhaps?). There are a few gigs coming up in Oxford and west-ish (check their website) but I’m rather hoping that, for all the complexities of getting an eight-piece band on the road, they travel more widely and/or get on the list for a festival I go to in the summer. The album is great and I have high expectations should I get to see them live.

Mike Wistow

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Artists’ website: http://www.brickworklizards.com

‘Yah Rayeh’:

VARIOUS ARTISTS – The Food Of Love Project (Autolycus Records AUTO1CD)

The Food Of Love ProjectCommissioned to mark the Oxford Shakespeare Jubilee 2016, The Food Of Love Project falls into the weird and wonderful category. All the tracks are or were traditional – give or take Dave Moran and Nic Jones’ involvement in ‘Tom O’ Bedlam’ and Kirsty Law’s adaptation of ‘Go From My Window’ – but only a few are well known as are the performers, many of whom, like Stornoway, are based in Oxford. All the songs are performed or referenced in the plays of William Shakespeare, albeit “somewhat obliquely” to quote Alasdair Roberts.

The musical styles owe a good deal to the late sixties and as much to the nu-folk of the 21st century. Quite what Shakespeare would have made of Dead Rat Orchestra, I couldn’t say, but their opening sortie, ‘Bonnie Sweet Robin Is To The Greenwood Gone’, is a heavy example of early prog-folk. They had to provide new words as the original text has vanished and the connection is that Ophelia may sing the last line in Hamlet. And that isn’t as oblique as it gets but the result is that the musicians have carte blanche to experiment as much as they wish. ‘O Death, Rock Me Asleep’ from the wonderfully named Children Of The Midnight Chimes (actually Seb Reynolds and Tom McDonnell who curated and commissioned the project) is another example of heavy folk.

Elsewhere, Thomas Truax experiments with a steampunk version of ‘Greensleeves’, James Bell’s take on ‘Tom O’Bedlam’ is light and airy and Brickwork Lizards turn in a weighty performance of ‘Fortune My Foe’.

The final track is ‘Lawn As White As Driven Snow’, an eleven-and-a-half minute epic by David Thomas Broughton, which begins in a relatively conventional style and features two rather nice contrasting solos at its mid-point. The strange synthesisers are beginning the make their presence felt now and by the end has morphed into sonic strangeness.

I can’t guarantee that you will like everything on The Food Of Love Project and indeed there are a couple of tracks I might be wary of returning to but you can’t deny that it’s packed with musical ideas and there is a great deal that you will enjoy.

Dai Jeffries

Project website: https://www.facebook.com/Autolycus-Records

The Food Of Love Project features Shakespearean songs

The Food Of Love Project

Introducing The Food of Love Project, a compilation album featuring some of the great names of folk music performing a rich variety of songs either referenced or performed in the plays of William Shakespeare. The album was curated and commissioned by Sebastian Reynolds of PinDrop and Tom McDonnell of TMD Media to mark the Oxford Shakespeare Jubilee 2016, a festival programme of events exploring Shakespeare’s incredible legacy.

The Food of Love Project album is a treasure trove of varied interpretations and extrapolations of Shakespearean period songs. Opening with the orchestral drone folk chorus created by Dead Rat Orchestra with their version of ‘Bonnie Sweet Robin Is To The Greenwood Gone’, as referenced in Hamlet, the album gets off to suitably grandiose start. Steam-punk inventor/musician Thomas Truax reimagines classic English ballad ‘Greensleeves’ in a typically cosmic, surrealist light, and Oxfordian band Stornoway rework the old Gaelic tune ‘Eibhlín A Riún’ into a beautiful, sonorous nugget of pop gold. Talking about his performance of ‘Caleno Custure Me’, acclaimed Scottish folk troubadour Alasdair Roberts says:

“Of a couple of songs suggested to me in relation to this project, ‘Caleno Custure Me’ (referenced somewhat obliquely in Henry IV Part 2) was the most appealing. I appreciate the mystery of the uncertain etymology of the title/chorus line (although I suppose the most likely explanation is that it’s garbled Irish Gaelic). There’s a beautiful recording of the song by the late Alfred Deller, the great countertenor, who’s a singer I’ve enjoyed listening to a bit over the years. I thought that I would attempt to go ‘historically accurate’ with this new recording of the song and so I enlisted the services of my good friend and lute player Gordon Ferries.”

Having been commissioned and curated by Seb and Tom, stalwarts of the ever-thriving Oxford music scene, the Oxon crowd is well represented, alongside Stornoway, by local heroes Flights of Helios, Brickwork Lizards and James Bell. ‘The Children Of The Midnight Chimes’ is a unique collaboration between Seb (producer) and Tom (vocals), especially for the album. Their abstract, drone noise take on ‘Oh Death, Rock Me Asleep’ is fittingly atmospheric, considering that the poem on which it was based was allegedly written by Anne Boleyn as she awaited her beheading in the Tower of London. The album is completed by a magisterial take on ‘Farewell, Dear Love’ (Twelfth Night) by Rob St John accompanied by cellist Pete Harvey; a collaborative deconstruction of ‘Peg-a-Ramsey’ and ‘Yellow Hose’ (Twelfth Night) by Nathaniel Mann of Dead Rat Orchestra and folk guitarist Nick Castell; a sophisticated retelling of ‘Go From My Window’(Much Ado About Nothing) entitled ‘Strength In A Whisper’ by Scottish folk singer Kirsty Law; and a sprawling, ambient folk adaption of ‘Lawn As White As Driven Snow’ (A Winter’s Tale) to close the album by singer and experimental musician David Thomas Broughton.

The album is dedicated to the memory of John Renbourn, who had committed to participate in the project before he passed away in 2015.

Project website: https://www.facebook.com/Autolycus-Records

‘Farewell, Dear Love’: