Block says that his new album largely consists of songs inspired by his connections with the Radical Faeries, which, if you’re wondering, is a worldwide anti-establishment countercultural movement, sometimes seen as a form of modern Paganism, whose purpose is to redefine queer consciousness through secular spirituality. Founded in California during in 1979 during the sexual revolution among gay men, although today embracing a wide range of genders, sexual orientations and identities, members hold Gatherings where those taking part work, eat, drag up, learn, love, share and seek spirituality and magick. Block is part of this and some songs here were auctioned as bespoke songs, some written by other Faeries, some with a spiritual or Queer slant, and some not Faerie songs at all. So. Now we’ve cleared that up, on to Faerie Fire Dances itself which, produced by Tom A Wright features such notable guests as Nancy Kerr and James Fagan, Martin Simpson and Sheila Chandra and Gina le Faux. As such it opens in robust form with the stirring ‘Faerie Fire’, a steady tribal stomp with drone and clattering drums calling to the Gathering set to the traditional Appalachian hymn tune ‘Our Meeting Is Over’ and featuring Kerr, Fagan and Chandra among the jubilant choral chanting.
Again set to a traditional tune, ‘A Fair Maid Walking’ (learnt from the late Roy Bailey for whom he served as driver and accompanist), and with Block on bouzuki accompanied by fiddle, melodeon and bass, ‘We Tend Our Gardens’, a swaying melody song about the circle of life written en route to his mother’s funeral.
Martin Simpson on banjo with words by fellow Faerie Kevin Qweaver Jackson and set to a darkling melody, ‘Happy Alone’ is about learning to be content with your own company whereas it’s the warmth of communion with others that anchors the shantyish swaying ‘The Sailor Home From The Sea’ with words by Australian poet Dorothy Hewett, accompanied here by Kerr and Fagan and sung in the version recorded by the latter’s parents.
An auction song, commissioned by a Faerie member and inspired by watching him doing yoga in a field, ‘Your Love Is Mine’ features Simpson on guitar, Block further accompanied by congas, balalon and piano and is basically about love shared with all, the earth and nature included.
By way of a diversion from the general tenor,’ Red And Green’ is a stirring over of Robb Johnson’s classic about politics and spirituality, here featuring Kerr on fiddle and Fagan on bouzouki and ‘rock god’ guitar. Simpson returns on guitar for the self-explanatory titled ‘I See Beauty Everywhere’, Wright on drums and with a somewhat calypso rhythm and melody and then comes another singalong swayer with ‘Never Stop Singing’, inspired by a birthday card from his eldest and written for his bar mitzvah, Simon Dumpleton on accordion and the lyric referencing how his son learnt to play the Beatles ‘Blackbird’ after just a few week of taking up guitar.
Written by a fellow Faerie following the suicide of another, arranged around minimal piano notes and featuring Sandra Kerr on autoharp, ‘Lost Boy (Beloved)’ poignantly draws on Peter Pan imagery in its hope of finding peace in the Neverland beyond. The longst track at over seven minutes, ‘Solstice In Avalon’ is a setting of words by Dux Dico about the Albion Faeries celebrations in Paddington Wood, opening with a spoken passage by Nick Simons, again featuring drone backing by Chandra and coloured by autoharp, viola, djembe, hurdy gurdy and accordion, it is, as you might imagine a stately, dramatic affair.
It ends, first with Block’s fingerpicking and Gina Le Faux’s fiddle on the six-minute ‘Kellswater’, set to the traditional dreamy Kellswater tune and with Block’s lyrics a Queer retelling of the classic boy meets girl in the greenwood tradition,and finally ‘Faerie Dust and Johnny Allday’, a folk-rock celebration and parting benediction for the two Fairies of the title with Kerr on autoharp and the call to “keep your light shining”.
The inspiration and some of the background stories may seem niche, but there’s a universality in the words and the music that deserves to find a wide audience beyond the Faerie fires.
Artist’s website: www.marcblock.co.uk
‘Go Well Faerie Dust and Johnny Allday’ live: