TAAB 2 – WHATEVER HAPPENED TO GERALD BOSTOCK?

Ian Anderson’s follow up to 1972’s classic prog rock album offers some answers

Prog Rock? Prog Rock? In 2012? Are you serious? Well, yes actually – although let’s use the original term ‘progressive rock’. Cast aside all prejudices as Jethro Tull’s singer / flautist / composer Ian Anderson explains what led him to revisit the genre some 40 years after the ground-breaking Tull album Thick As A Brick.

In the early 1970s bands like Yes, Genesis, ELP and King Crimson were pushing musical boundaries. The arrival of punk cast a shadow over a style of music that admittedly was becoming self-indulgent and pretentious, and the term Prog Rock became somewhat derogatory. But, Ian explains, “To me, anything is progressive if you are trying to take things on into a slightly new dimension, and draw upon different influences and push them into something that fits your own sense of inventiveness and your own career progression. So ‘progressive rock’ is a fine title.”

Jethro Tull’s short ‘prog rock’ era peaked with 1972’s Thick As A Brick, a 45-minute continuous piece of music charting the difficulties of a child growing up and confronting a frightening and unfair world. The album was encased in a spoof local newspaper The St Cleve Chronicle, with a headline story that a precocious schoolboy called Gerald Bostock had been disqualified from a poetry competition because of the inappropriate nature of his epic poem, which Tull then allegedly used as the album’s lyrics. Ian explains that the idea stemmed from the critics’ descriptions of 1971’s Aqualung as a ‘concept album’, even though it was just a bunch of songs a few of which had common themes. “In the light of the Aqualung reviews I deliberately set out to do a concept album that would in essence be a bit of a parody of other people’s concept albums and grandiose progressive rock adventures. I thought let’s take this slightly arrogant and pompous way of writing and presenting music to an extreme, with the fiction of a then 10-year old boy having written the lyrics. Of course it’s preposterous and really quite silly, but it was the era of Monty Python, when that sort of surreal British humour was quite well embedded in the British psyche.”

The album was a world-wide success, including a No 1 spot on the American Billboard chart, and excerpts from the piece have regularly featured in Jethro Tull and Ian Anderson live shows. But Ian had steadily resisted record company suggestions that he write a follow-up. It was not until a chance encounter in 2010 with old pal Derek Shulman of Gentle Giant, who nagged him to consider a 40th anniversary sequel, that Ian gave it some serious thought – and surprised himself by not dismissing it out of hand this time. He had noticed that in recent years his audiences had been changing. “It wasn’t just old codgers, it was kind of a mix between old codgers and young codgers. It really struck me that there was this new wave of interest from youngsters who want something that is an alternative and antidote to the X-Factor and the very repetitive rock music that does tend to be the stuff of today. So I began to feel that it was not quite as undignified as I had earlier supposed to be doing something that was more in that kind of progressive vein.”

In February 2011 Ian spent a couple of days sketching out some ideas. “It was predicated on the idea of what might have befallen Gerald Bostock, this precocious child, where would he have headed in life? And the more I started thinking about that the more I thought that there were so many pivotal moments in my own childhood where, often quite by chance, I might have gone in one direction or in some completely opposite direction. I could have been anything from a soldier or a sailor or an astronaut to a thespian or a silviculturist – although when I left school I actually tried first to join the police force and then to be a journalist on the local newspaper, before music took over while I was at art college.

“So I imagined Gerald Bostock as this 10-year old kid entering into puberty who, by the look of the young male model who was photographed in 1972 as the notional Gerald Bostock, was obviously a rather swottish schoolboy who probably wasn’t very popular at school and probably wasn’t very good at sports. What sort of opportunities would he have had, who would he have been, what would he have been led towards? I started to write a number of scenarios, including a piece looking at his possible early life immediately post-puberty, and then another piece later on for each of these characters that Gerald might have become, leading through to adulthood. Then in the latter part of the album I drew all these things back into a common kismet-karma kind of future where, in spite of all these chance interventions, there is maybe some element of fate and we all end up where we were going to end up anyway, in spite of the fact that we may have taken some radically different roads along the way.”

From that loose concept emerged TAAB 2. Recorded in November 2011 with Florian Opahle (guitar), John O’Hara (keyboards), David Goodier (bass) and Scott Hammond (drums), musically Ian has very deliberately echoed the feel of the 1972 album by using many of the same instruments, including a lot of acoustic guitar and lashings of Hammond organ, and to a large extent recording it with the band all playing live together, with the minimum of overdubs and no use of limiters and noise gates and other tricks of the trade, leaving engineer Steven Wilson (of Porcupine Tree) to tweak things himself. And, whilst there are ID points to allow separate tracks to be downloaded from iTunes, it is a continuous 53-minute piece of music with recurring musical themes.

Also echoing the 1972 album, and the St Cleve Chronicle newspaper sleeve, the 2012 album is housed in a mock-up of a local news website www.StCleve.com, which Ian designed himself in a deliberately not-too-professional pastiche of community websites (and which will be accessible online, with an area where fans can add their own spoof local news stories). ”It’s light-hearted most of the way through StCleve.com, with lots of fairly vulgar schoolboy smutty stuff, but there are also some serious bits and things that are quite observational of the parochial home counties way of life. There will be some familiar characters like Max Quad, and Angela de Groot who runs a fitness centre now. And there will also be various people known to me and known to the world, although their names are slightly twisted around. But you’ll know who they are….” And the 18-month world tour, starting in the UK on April 14th, will also nod to 40 years ago and what Ian describes as the “amateur dramatics village hall” 1972 stage show with a new theatrical presentation involving videos and character actors.

What is Ian’s view of the finished project? “Unlike the original 1972 Thick As A Brick, the mood of the album is not really a spoof. It’s not a funny thing; some of it is quite heart-aching and serious, and sometimes a bit intellectual, and sometimes a bit upbeat and amusing, but not in a spoof-fun way. It’s an altogether rather more serious work, and even when you think it’s being light-hearted and funny there’s a seriousness behind it.

“It’s observational about stereotype characters. And one of the stereotypes I chose not to make Gerald, at least on the album, was a politician, as it seemed too obvious – although he does appear on the album sleeve as a recently unseated Labour MP who’s come to live in the St Cleve vicinity. He does however appear in other guises like a corrupt Christian evangelist, as an overpaid investment banker with huge bonuses and the kind of person we love to hate these days, and as a casualty of war as a repatriated serviceman helping those less fortunate than himself to acclimatise back into the real world with obviously a very bitter sense of the futility of war. Those are down moments and scary moments. But you need to take people through it. So you sometimes do it in a light-hearted way.

“Somebody may draw the parallel with Quadrophenia, but that’s completely wrong. This is not split personality, this is about totally different characters that we all might have become in our lives. If we’d walked on the other side of the road, or picked up the ‘phone, or read that article in the newspaper, things like that could have changed our lives. And that unmistakably is what happens to people in their lives, the friends they make, the relationships they enter into, perhaps in marriage or whatever else. This is all about – as it says in a couple of places – the what ifs, the maybes and might have beens moments in life.

“One of the pivotal moments on this album is the piece A Change Of Horses, which fans will recognise from our stage shows over the last year or so. It’s about that point in your life where you say, if there’s ever going to be a change it’s got to be now. That happens to a lot of people perhaps in the forties or fifties, and I rather like the idea of this re-gearing, this re-evaluation, and there being a second part in your life where fate draws you to some conclusion. But it’s not just looking back, it’s also about looking forward. The what ifs and maybes were rich and exciting moments in my teenage years, filled with a mixture of promise and sheer terror, because it’s a scary world out there. So that’s what I’m exploring, and I think it works for people at both ends of the age spectrum, for the middle-aged Waitrose trolley-pushing shopper and the pubescent youngster who’s facing some decision-making.”

So just to confirm, from a 2012 perspective, is TAAB 2 a concept album? Ian is emphatic in his response. “Yes, it is very much a concept album! It is a concept album that I think is fairly grown-up and mature, but I think it should ring bells for people of all ages. It’s an intellectual proposition. I’m not sure how many people are going to be ready for that kind of a thing, but I think there will be enough people for it to be a worthwhile record to make. But it’s unashamed in its asking you to think about it and listen to it. Some of the music is pretty straight-ahead which you can just kind of groove to, and some things work without your being too cerebral about it. But the overall concept and indeed lots of the lyrics and parts of the music you are going to have to make a bit of an effort with. I think that some of us like to do that. Combine that with all the detail that’s gone into the peripheral aspect of presenting the album with the artwork, the stcleve.com website and so on, it all wraps up into a big package that I think will give people a lot of fun.”

Martin Webb January 2012

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The official Jethro Tull website: www.jethrotull.com

Cowboy Junkies – The Wilderness

You remember the Cowboy Junkies, right? Well, they are just about to release The Wilderness, Volume 4 of The Nomad Series on March 26, 2012, marking the conclusion of an ambitious schedule of four releases over an 18-month period. Before we get into that though, have a look at this gem of a video clip recording (one of our favorite folking Neil Young songs) which was recorded a few years back when the band played in Dingle, in Ireland.

The group’s Michael Timmins says of the new CD, “The title, The Wilderness, in some odd way seemed to define what these songs were actually “about”: fragility, emptiness, loneliness, beauty, chance, loss, desperation – the delicate balancing act that makes up a life. They are about being lost in the wilderness of age, the wilderness of parenthood, in the wilderness of just trying to find meaning and substance, happiness and truth in one’s day to day life. They are about standing alone in middle of it all, breathing in the cold, still air and wondering.”

The preceding album, Sing In My Meadow, a collection of songs recorded over a four day period that evokes the psychedelic, blues-inspired forays the band is fond of exploring on stage was hailed by R2 Magazine as:“Stunning”, while Q Magazine wrote: “..their creative instincts remain sharp…even familiar listeners will be intrigued.”

The first volume of the series Renmin Park, released in 2010, was inspired by Michael Timmins’ two-month stay in China with his family in ’08 and was called: “Their best album since those Trinity Sessions” by the Independent on Sunday. Demons (2011), the second in the series, is a collection of songs by the late Vic Chesnutt which the Daily Mirror called: “The finest tribute Vic could have”.

“The whole Nomad series is excellent, each album different and each outstanding in its own way”. Dai Jeffries Folking.com

Cowboy Junkies were formed in Toronto in 1985 after guitarist and songwriter Michael Timmins and long-time friend and musical partner, bassist Alan Anton, recruited Michael’s sister, singer Margo Timmins and brother, drummer Peter Timmins to join them.

The band recorded its blues-inspired debut album Whites Off Earth Now!! (1986) and released it on their own Latent label. Touring the US in support of the album, they traveled extensively through the South and Southwest, soaking up the music of Waylon Jennings, Hank Williams, Jimmie Rodgers and others, which provided the inspiration for the band’s second effort, The Trinity Session. The Trinity Session, the band’s seminal album, is a melancholic mixture of blues, country, folk, and rock featuring a collection of originals, covers and traditional songs.

For more than 20 years, Cowboy Junkies have remained true to their unique artistic vision and to the introspective, quiet intensity that is their musical signature, creating a critically acclaimed body of original work that has endeared them to an audience unwavering in its loyalty. Albums like The Caution Horses (1990), Black Eyed Man (1992), Pale Sun, Crescent Moon (1993),Lay It Down (1996) and more recently, Open(2001), One Soul Now (2004), Early 21st Century Blues (2005) and At the End of Paths Taken (2007) chronicle a creative journey reflecting the independent road the band has elected to travel.

Cowboy Junkies returned to Toronto’s Church of the Holy Trinity for a day in November 2006, joined by Ryan Adams, Natalie Merchant and Vic Chesnutt to revisit the repertoire of The Trinity Session in celebration of its 20thanniversary. The resulting film, Trinity Session Revisited, released as a DVD/CD in January 2008.

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Artist Web link: http://latentrecordings.com/cowboyjunkies/

Bap Kennedy THE SAILORS REVENGE

For nearly any singer/songwriter on the planet, the idea of collaborating with Mark Knopfler would be the stuff of fantasy. But for Bap Kennedy, it was just the latest in a long line of projects with high profile, and highly respected, musical legends. For a man who has worked with Steve Earle and Van Morrison, to name just two, an offer to record an album in the Dire Straits frontman’s own studio was another musical milestone. THE SAILOR’S REVENGE, the album that Kennedy wrote and Knopfler produced, features songwriting that grows stronger with every listen, assisted of course by Knopfler’s distinctive delicious guitar and tasteful widescreen production.

“The best singer songwriter I ever saw” Steve Earle

Bap’s first encounters with the record business were as rhythm guitarist, lead singer and primary songwriter for Belfast rockers Energy Orchard, with whom he recorded 5 albums. When the band left Belfast, they established themselves as legends of London’s live music scene. It was while he was in Energy Orchard that Kennedy first worked with compatriot Van Morrison, who gave the band several support slots to supplement their own hectic touring schedule of both the USA and Europe.

When Energy Orchard split up, Bap had little time to rest, because alt-country superstar, and longtime Energy Orchard fan, Steve Earle soon contacted him, suggesting that he would produce Bap’s first solo album.

Kennedy agreed, and soon found himself on the plane to Nashville, TN, where he would record DOMESTIC BLUES. The album featured several of Nashville’s most highly regarded musicians, including Jerry Douglas, Peter Rowan and Nanci Griffith. It was a real success, getting into the top ten of the Billboard Americana chart.

The follow-up album, LONELY STREET, was an artistic project based on, and dedicated to; two of Bap’s childhood musical heroes, Hank Williams and Elvis Presley and his next album THE BIG PICTURE would see Bap returning to work with Van Morrison, who had supported Kennedy since his Energy Orchard days. THE BIG PICTURE was recorded at Morrison’s studio, and included a Bap and Van co-write, Milky Way. The album also featured guest vocals from Shane MacGowan, lead singer of the Pogues, on the song On the Mighty Ocean Alcohol, and a reading from Carolyn Cassady, one of the leading figures from the Beat generation of American writers, at the end of the beautifulMoriarty’s Blues.

For Howl On, released in 2009, Bap recorded in his native Northern Ireland for the first time in his solo career and, much like with LONELY STREET, returned to writing a series of songs on a subject that had fascinated Bap in childhood.

THE SAILOR’S REVENGE features Kennedy’s most mature and sophisticated songwriting to date, an achievement in itself when you consider his back catalogue. Bap is joined by guest musicians such as Jerry Douglas, Glenn Worf and of course Mark Knopfler, all combining to ensure that the musicianship on the album is every bit as good as the songwriting. When it comes to the songs there are simply too many superb compositions to list here. Highlights include the album opener Shimnavale, a place that sits between the Irish Sea and the mountains of Mourne in County Down, inspired by old photographs of a family who lived there and Bap’s own experience as an immigrant. Working Man tells of Bap’s life as a builders labourer in the mid eighties while waiting for a record deal to come along and Jimmy Sanchez was written about the Chilean miners rescue where nineteen year old Jimmy, the youngest miner trapped was quoted as saying that God must want him to change, powerful words, hence the line in the song “I know I must change”.

THE SAILOR’S REVENGE is a phenomenal body of work and as “game changing” as a Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan with no brakes… We urge you all to buy it! folking.com

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Bap Kennedy is touring the UK, this month (March 2012), more information and the latest tour dates can be found at www.bapkennedy.com

Wailin’ Jenny – Ruth Moody’s debut solo album

Ruth Moody’s debut solo album The Garden was released January 16 on Red House Records

The Garden is the first full-length solo album from Ruth Moody. A founding member of the Billboard-charting folk supergroup The Wailin’ Jennys, she has long been recognized for her captivating voice, superb musicianship and impressive songwriting. Ruth displays all this and more on this stunning, highly anticipated release.

Gardens, like the seasons, are symbols of life and its cycles.” Ruth says. “They have always been magical places for me–where the tiniest seeds are planted and grow into beautiful expressions of life.”

Appropriately, the album opens with ‘The Garden’, which refers to an awakening, according to Ruth. “It was inspired by a theme from Voltaire’s Candide – the idea that we must work on our garden and make our little corner of the world beautiful, in whatever way we can.” Performed on the banjo and layered with lush strings and harmonies, this is the perfect introduction to Ruth’s rich and vibrant collection of songs.

Stretching beyond traditional acoustic sounds, the record uses organ, horns and pedal steel to create radio-friendly pop tunes like ‘Travellin’ Shoes’ and ‘Closer Now’, in addition to more spare tracks like the traditionally-inspired ‘Nest’, the sensual ‘Cold Outside’ and the poignant ‘Never Said Goodbye’. An unexpected treat is the sweet and catchy duet ‘We Can Only Listen’, co-written with Matt Peters of The Waking Eyes. In addition to Peters, Ruth is joined by an all-star musical cast that includes neo-bluegrass band Crooked Still, Kevin Breit (Norah Jones, k.d. lang), Luke Doucet, and a guest appearance by The Wailin’ Jennys. Sure to be a hit with Americana and folk fans, Ruth’s verdant garden of songs is a breath of fresh air.

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Artist Web link: https://www.facebook.com/Ruth-Moody-94362040214/