The Ghost Rider – The Depth and Touch of Neil Peart

neil peart rip

Guest blogger: Curtis James Healy

For those who know me, it seems often I am always just in a sticky wicket, facing some kind of challenge that never dissipates.

For the most part, I face those challenges by taking on an echelon of information and knowledge in books and reading. To paraphrase Richard Wright, “…in books I found the power to save my life’.

Today, I highly recommend Neil Peart’s ‘Ghost Rider’, not only the eponymous song, but the book that prefaces the album ‘Vapour Trails’.

Among hundreds of volumes I have read, this one obviously stands out today. It recounts how Neil reclaimed his life, after the death if his daughter in a tragic car accident and then his wife’s death a year later in a failed fight against cancer.

He just got on his motorcycle and drove off, from Quebec, to Alaska, down to Mexico and back. I read it five years ago almost, and will forever be grateful to this man, who knew harrows I still cannot understand, not only for his formidable cadre of music, but the fact he felt it important to cast down a portion of his privacy, feeling it worth the telling, for imparting so much wisdom that kept me hanging on, though our experiences were greatly different.

In almost the past five years, I’ve known twenty people who have died, about five a year, formative heroes, friends, associates of friends, and family, and tonight it climbs to twenty-one.

There are so many thoughts and emotions swirling right now, how along with other artists, geniuses, philosophers in the Canadian Hagiography, there is now a trifecta of those who contract and perish from brain anomalies and ailments.

Neil Peart now enters into a trinity with Marshall McLuhan, for which much of his music, though sourced differently, tracked much of Marshall’s speculations and observations of technology, and Gord Downie.

Gord’s speed to another master lost, whose wealth unto this world and your home shall never perish, though the world is poorer this evening, fly by night, Neil, nothing can stop you now.

Frank Turner Interview

Written by: Liam Eales

He has been called the hardest working musician in the world. With over 7 albums 4 complication records (With an abundance of originals and covers), 2 books and numerous other side projects including hardcore band Mongol horde, Frank Turner has established himself as one of the most relentless artists of our time.

The closest England has come to producing their own Bruce Springsteen, Frank has a knack for blending his ideas, interests, passions, anxieties and personal life into fantastic sincere rock/folk/country/punk records. The kind of record that can be hard to find on the mainstream market in recent years.

His accomplishments include selling out Wembley Arena and playing at the 2012 Olympic opening ceremony in London.

The man is a master of his craft and owns the stage. Having played over 2000 shows and counting, he has no plans of slowing down.

If I haven’t made it painfully obvious yet, I’m a fan (A word he doesn’t like). So even though it is early days in my career, I thought I would reach out to ask Frank for an interview and try to allow him to introduce himself.


Liam: Hey Frank, how are you?

Frank: Good thank you. Happy to be home at the end of the year.

Liam: First of all, thank you for doing this during the busy holiday season.

Frank: A pleasure. It’s good to be home from tour and winding down for the year, if not the decade.

Liam: Awesome, well let’s get started.
So, you’ve just got off the Mongol Horde tour, this past summer you came out with an amazing new album No Man’s Land, your second book and a lot more touring, the album Be More Kind just a year earlier, as-well-as getting married! Where did you learn to have that kind of work ethic?

Frank: I come from two families. My father’s family is characterised by impatience, my mother’s by practicality. It seems to be a good mix.

Liam: What advice would you give to someone who wants to be more productive?

Frank: There are 24 hours in each and every day, you can use them all.

Liam: On top of all this, you still make time to meet and chat with fans, and leave your email open for them to write to you. I know we have met on a few of these opportunities you create.
However “ Fan” is a word I hear you don’t really enjoy using. Can you elaborate on that philosophy?

Frank: The word “fan” implies a permanent divide between the people who make music and the people who listen to it, and I’m uncomfortable with that. My early exposure to live music was through the London hardcore punk scene in the late 1990s, and it was a scene that was very much characterized by egalitarianism. When bands finished their set, they’d jump over the barrier and watch the next band. It’s ingrained in me from back then. I want my music to be part of a wider conversation between equals.

Liam: Speaking of fandom, you were recently name-dropped by the Boss (Bruce Springsteen) himself, on a list of more contemporary artists he enjoys. What was that like for you?

Frank: That was pretty surreal, but something I can be proud of for sure.

Liam: Eton College is a place that hung around your neck for years. Not the most punk rock place on earth. What is your relationship with your secondary school and are there positive things you have you have to say about it?

Frank: I don’t have a current relationship with my secondary school, I’m in my late 30s, that would be weird.
I didn’t enjoy it much at the time, and certainly didn’t choose to go there. I got out as soon as I could and started making my own choices. The education was, obviously, pretty incredible, and I’m grateful for that. But the social milieu was vile, and it’s something I’ve been trying to distance myself from since I first got there.

Liam: On your most recent tour, you did an unplugged set with the Sleeping Souls as well as a solo set for the No Man’s Land songs. In the unplugged set, you opened up about your past and created as sit down storytelling experience from songs across your discography. Why was this important for you to do?

Frank: I’m not sure I can say it was important as such – more that it struck me as interesting, as different, as a refreshing approach. I try not to repeat myself as an artist if I can avoid it. I’ve never tried that approach to a show before, so I got into it conceptually, and found it really inspiring actually. It’s given me a lot to think about going forward, both as a songwriter and as a performer.

Liam: Forgive me if I’m wrong, on No Man’s Land, it sounds like each song is sonically and lyrically tailored to stylistically fit the time period of each song’s story as-well-as tonally match the subject matter. Personally I find sounds incredible and incredibly, sonically diverse as a result (Jinny Bingham sounds like it could be ripped from Sweeney Todd, and Dora Hand sounds like it was being played by an actual cowboy). Was it difficult to write in various styles and learn so many new ways of crafting a song, all for one project?

Frank: That wasn’t the case on every single song – there’s precious little link between the music of “The Lioness” and the life and cultural world of Huda Sha’Arawi. But where I could make it make sense, I did.  Trying to write a jazz piece for Nica Rothschild was a major challenge for me, and one I enjoyed. I always want to try my hand at pushing my own boundaries a little, every time I make a record. I guess it was just more at the forefront this time around, given some of the subject material.

Liam: Have you ever thought about writing a musical?

Frank: I can’t say I’m a huge fan of musicals alas. That said, I have friends in that world more recently who’ve given me a deeper appreciation of the artistry involved. Still, not really for me.

Liam: Sierra Leone charity group WayOut Arts, is something you’ve been working with for a few years now. What can you tell us about them and how it’s inspired you?

Frank: They’re a group who use music as a conduit to reach some of the poorest and most marginalized people in the world. It’s really quite mind-boggling, visiting the slums and the camps, but then also meeting a lot of the people involved and hearing their stories, and seeing how much of an impact a group like WayOut can have on individuals’ lives. It’s a small group, they’re not going to change the world, but then again their size makes everything they do more personal. I like to think I have some genuine friends out there now, which is a lovely thing, and the fundraising I do for them enables them to make a huge impact.

NOTE: If you are interested in making a donation or finding out more about WayOut Arts their website is https://www.wayoutarts.org/

Liam: Known for being always on tour, you are finally making the rounds in South America. What took so long? and how does it feel to finally get over to that area of the world?

Frank: Touring in South America is, it turns out, not the easiest thing to organize, the scene there is still pretty wild west, there are a lot of sharks and you have to be careful about committing to travelling so far. Thankfully I finally found the right promoter, so I’m going at last. I’m excited, it’s a completely new part of the world for me. There are people excited about the shows, which is cool, and I hope to learn something new while I’m there too.

Liam: Author/Critic Clive James recently passed away. You often plugged him, and his writings as an inspiration for Be More Kind. Care to say a few words on his work and how it impacted you?

Frank: I was aware of his work as a television critic, but it was only comparatively recently (the last 10 years or so) that I became aware of his work as a cultural writer and poet. His erudition and wisdom blows me away, he might be my favourite prose writer ever, and he’s certainly hugely broadened my cultural horizons. The book “Cultural Amnesia” pretty much changed the way I think about everything.

Liam: Your catalogue is huge and a lot has been released in a short amount of time especially compared to other artists. What in your career are you most proud of? and/or what would you like to be remembered for?

Frank: In a way, the thing I’m proudest of is still being here, still standing. It’s a rare thing to sustain a career at this level for more than a decade, to release 8 albums, and still be selling tickets and making some kind of an impact. It was unlikely enough that I’d ever succeed, but to continue to do so after this long feels like a real achievement to me. Spending your time considering how you’ll be remembered strikes me as a slightly foolish thing to do, it’s quite narcissistic, plus I won’t be here then anyway by definition, so I can’t see why I should care that much.

Liam: The roaring 20s are about to begin! As I understand it you’re a man of history and learning as much as you are a musician. You went to University for 20th-century history, any reflections/analysis on the past decade and anticipations for the next?

Frank: I feel like we’ve lived through a decade that has seen a lot of political fragmentation and division in the west and north. That’s pretty worrying. But from a statistical point of view, we’re still living in the wealthiest, healthiest, most peaceful moment in the history of our species, and that’s something to consider and cautiously celebrate, in my view. There are huge challenges ahead, not least the state of the climate, but then I think we’re discussing that more than ever before, which is some small kind of progress

Liam:  What does the next decade look like for you? and any plans for next year, that you are at liberty to reveal of course?

Frank: I have no idea how the decade as a whole will go – in 2010, I’d have been surprised to see myself here, I’d imagine. Next year will be about touring, but also finishing off a new record for 2021. So there’s that.

Liam: Frank, thank you for joining us, it been a pleasure.

Frank: The pleasure was all mine.


So there you have it!

Frank will be on tour in 2020 and a new album 2021!

You can buy his latest album No Mans Land on his website https://frank-turner.com/

Stephan Plank – Resetting The Preset

konrad-plank-1
 

Not many people get to say their dad was a “super-producer”, but in the case of Stephan Plank, son of Conny Plank, it turns out to be true.

konrad-plank-6

Who Is Conny Plank?

While “super-producer” might seem a rather nebulous term to apply to someone, it’s hard to think of a better-fitting way to describe Conny Plank, considering that musicians from around the world to record with him at his abode in Germany, where he had his studio for many years. 

konrad-plank-9

Many might call Rick Rubin, or Mutt Lange, two of rock’s big super-producers. Producers like Timbaland or Dr. Dre may have been referred to in such a way as well.  Of course, what makes each of these producers “super” is different from one another, as they all have their fortes.

Conny Plank, and his motives for making music at the time that he was fervently doing so, are altogether different again from all the rest. 

Conny, in his own way, is surely in the same stratum of certain legendary names in the music business, except he is less associated with mainstream music, never aiming for fame and glory so much as experimentation and purity of sound, so he has, as a result of not playing “the game”, a bit more mystique surrounding him, and credibility as an artist for endless miles.

konrad-plank-10

In his home studio, Conny recorded some of the most sonically expressive, idiosyncratic, and experimental recordings ever to be pressed to vinyl, including many great krautrock albums by the likes of Neu!, Kraftwerk, Guru Guru, Night Sun, Can, and many more, some of whom were native to Germany.

Here’s an example of one of the many ground-breaking albums that Conny worked on, by Cluster (formerly Kluster).  It is but one in an long lineage of albums with Conny Plank’s unique stamp of sonic engineering wizardry.

In addition to having a big impact on Krautrock and rock in general, Conny Plank was responsible for some of the earliest “ambient” albums (before the term was coined for such music) as Cluster & Eno, Kraftwerk’s Autobahn, and his wife Christa Fast even sang on Music For Airports by Eno, which could be considered one of the first, if not “the” first, album of this kind.

Conny recorded with many musicians who made their way to his studio from all corners of the globe, and then, from there, these musicians went on to have a deep and lasting impact on music and future musicians.  

I’m referring to the likes of Devo in their early years, as well as the Eurythmics, Ultravox, Killing Joke, The Meteors, Kraan, Hunters & Collectors, A Flock of Seagulls, and dozens more artists, some more obscure, some more well-known.

One might wonder how Conny Plank was able to have such a prolific output for so many years and still manage to capture so much lightning in a bottle.  To many, it is still somewhat of a mystery, and understandably so.

The recording of various artists went on until Conny’s untimely death in 1987 of laryngeal cancer.


Conny’s Son, Stephan Plank

While Conny lived, he worked tirelessly with band after band at his home studio, while his wife and only son watched him work, and provided a home life, if a somewhat unconventional one.

stephan plank

His son, Stephan, grew up in an atmosphere both strange and interesting, making playmates out of some of the odd house guests who would arrive, stay a while, and then eventually leave, perhaps never to return.

When Conny died suddenly in December of 1987, it was difficult for anyone to process; most of all his family, who was used to Conny being a rather indomitable spirit.  Now he was gone.

Stephan was barely a teenager when Conny died, and so it took him a long time to process his death, and reach any kind of closure.  

Indeed, it wasn’t until his 40’s that Stephan finally had the urge to look back at who Conny was, and make sense of his legacy as a creative force in the music industry.

This reflection lead him to the creation of his own documentary, called The Potential of Noise, which features interviews with a slew of musicians who knew Conny best, from working with him in the studio.  

Here’s a trailer for the documentary, The Potential of Noise.

I caught up with Stephan on October 1st, 2019, to ask him questions about the documentary, his father and his music, and what his life his like now.


Interview

YC: Why did you make this documentary?

SP: In a sense, I was liberating myself of my father.  I was 13 when my father died, and I grew up in the music industry.  My mother then continued renting out the studio, and soon people were approaching me saying, “You’re the son of Conny, wow!”  and I would think to myself, “…but I don’t know what he did.  How should I reply to this?” 

In a way, I made this film to clear this up this mystery, and give myself a chance to talk about it, and also reach a better understanding of my father.

YC: Did you know about his impact at that time?

SP: I suspected the impact.  Growing up in the studio, all the people knowing about it…for me, it was not knowing what a producer did and how he worked that bugged me.”

konrad-plank-11

YC: So you didn’t really know this – the extent of Conny’s influence – until you started making the documentary?

SP: Yes and no, growing up in the studio, I had seen how producers worked with different bands, but i didn’t know how Conny worked with bands and how he liberated their thinking.  The interesting thing about the work of my father was that he did a lot of “first” albums, so he was an integral part in constituting the bands avatars or egos where his own ego became fused with the bands’ ego.

YC: Were musicians and bands just randomly coming to his studio, or did he somehow advertise for musicians to come to see him?

SP: His records were his calling cards.  Lots of people at this time who were looking for a producer, would look at their record collection, and see that Conny had made many of their favourite albums, so they would come because of this.

YC: Was this localized to your area of Germany or were people coming from all over the world?

SP: Everywhere.  For instance, Devo from America, Hunters & Collectors from Australia, and many others from around the world…they would hear something like Kraftwerk and Neu! and they wanted to come see him and learn his methods. 

He was a lightning rod for bands who wanted to approach music differently.  For instance, Devo first wanted to work with David Bowie, and then Brian Eno, who was a friend and frequent collaborator with Conny, so he brought Devo with him to visit Conny. 

Ultimately, Brian Eno was thinking to shape Devo to be a little more pretty-sounding, but when Devo realized that Conny was like-minded to them in terms of anti-melody and embracing noise, they decided to work with him instead.

YC: How did Conny come to know Brian Eno?

SP: This was through Neu! that he met Brian, who came to our farmhouse to work on Music For Airports, which featured my mom singing some of the vocals on that album. 

YC: All this happened obviously after Brian Eno’s Roxy Music days, but how was the connection made?

SP: Brian Eno heard Conny’s work through Neu!’s first album, which had an appeal to many British musicians.  Some of these new Krautrock sounds that my dad was making were very interesting to many British musicians who were looking for a new type of sound at this time. 

These Krautrock albums weren’t about “hit” singles, but more about a new mentality towards music.  For instance, Michael Rother was in Kraftwerk and Neu!, and collaborated with Cluster, which lead him to Eno, and Music for Airports.

konrad-plank-3

YC: There was not much like Eno’s Music For Airports at the time, really, right? This was a truly groundbreaking album.

SP: If anyone should be found guilty of launching “ambient” music, it should be Brian Eno and Michael Rother.

YC: Did you or do you now listen to any ambient music yourself?

SP: I listened to a lot of it growing up, and I think it’s very interesting to see how it all started.  My father was born in 1940 and he grew up in the time of the 2nd World War. 

He grew up in Kaiserslautern, or K-town, and this was a place which featured a lot of troop entertainment.  My father was friends with a couple of G.I.’s so they’d take him to see some of this entertainment.  There is a term in German – “icht”  – and he said he was icht when he listened to this troop entertainment.

YC: So he appreciated this type of music a great deal.

SP: Yes, a lot. He loved big band music like Duke Ellington. There is actually a story about Duke Ellington involving my father, where Duke Ellington came to Cologne to do a concert, and he needed a rehearsal space, and my dad didn’t have his recording studio at the time (because he wasn’t yet a sound engineer), but he was working in one. 

He asked the studio owner if he could have the Duke come to the studio and rehearse. Conny happened to be able to record this session, and then when Duke finished, he asked my father if he could hear the recording he made of his band, and when he heard it, he told him that he was doing “good sound” and that he liked what he heard. 

This was the point where my father heard his hero say he was doing a good job, and then he felt like he could be a sound engineer – this encounter boosted his confidence.  I wasn’t sure i this was a tall tale or not, because these things can be exaggerated, but then I went through the archive of our studio, and I found the Duke Ellington tape, which I then made into a vinyl release, and this is now available.

YC: When was this released?

SP: 4 years ago now. 

YC: Did it see a big release?

SP: We released it worldwide, but the audience for obscure Duke Ellington releases now is a very specific group of music fans.  Some people have even called me to tell me jokingly that Duke Ellington sounds even a bit Kraut-y on this release.

YC: Is there any truth to that?  Does it sound sort of Kraut-y?

SP: I can’t hear it, but I like the idea.

YC: This would have been at the beginning of Conny’s career, and the end of Duke’s?

SP: Yes.  This was recorded July 9th, 1970.  Now it is available on Spotify.

YC: Ok, well I’ll have to check that out.  So, once the studio became active and Conny had gone into the business of sound engineering more officially, at this point you were just there running around, being a kid.  Did you think the environment you lived in was normal?

SP: Everything your parents do seems normal to you, because at first you have nothing to compare it to.  For me, these slightly strange guests being around all the time was normal to me.  And, as musicians are, they were very playful people, so they made good playmates for me.

YC: And these musicians would stay there for days, or weeks, while your dad worked in his studio?

SP: Yes, he worked constantly.

konrad-plank-5

YC: Did you see him much?

SP: Well, he was right next door, but it was clear that this is where the big boys played.  You have to realize, this was a time before digital looping was possible. 

So they had to use tape loops, so they’d be setting up microphone stands all over the studio, which was very interesting-looking to a 5-year-old.  So I wasn’t allowed to touch anything, or their work could be destroyed.  Therefore, I wasn’t allowed in very often, or very rarely.

YC: At what point did you realize what was going on in there?

SP: Between 10-12 years old, I started to understand the concept of work.  But there was no time to really ask my dad about the finer details of his work. 

At that time, it just made more sense for him to focus on his work, rather than explain everything to me.  I was aware that something interesting was happening, and I was aware that people wanted to meet my father, or to see some of the famous musicians who came there, like the Eurythmics, and to get their autograph.  To me these were just normal people working with my father, not stars.

Conny Plank

YC: Were you an only child?

SP: Yes.

YC: So were you very well-behaved then, or more of a brat?

SP: I was basically a brat.  I was fighting for the attention of my parents. By the time I was becoming a teenager, although we did not know it, my father had cancer, and would die soon.  He died December 6, 1987. 

At the start of 1987, around Easter holidays, we went with the Eurythmics to records their Japan Live tour.  I was taken along, because my father was very aware that his time with his family was becoming limited.  Still, he was working like a madman.

YC: At what point did you realize he was nearing the end of his life?

SP: My parents were optimistic until the last second.  I remember I was with some friends, because my father with in the hospital again, and on that Sunday I got a call saying my father had died, and so I came to the hospital to see my mother and brother.  It was horrible.

konrad-plank-2

YC: What happened next?

SP: My mother continued to rent out the home studio, and musicians continued to come there to record.  It was a nice place, and had a lot of analog gear, and so it was still very attractive to musicians to come there. 

Recording studios can often be a stressful place for musicians, because they may have gotten a record deal, and suddenly the pressure is on to make their greatest music in a limited amount of time.  In other words, they would feel like the meter was running.  

My father and my mother together built this place to ease musicians of this feeling.  It wasn’t a fancy place.  It appeared a little bit squalid, but this was by design, because it would release some of the musicians’ tensions about being in a studio in the first place. 

And then, musicians could let go and really inhabit the music they were making.

YC: Was Conny a fan of live-off-the-floor recording?  Is that the scenario musicians were in at his studio?

SP: Conny was a fan of live recording, and he had some movable walls on wheels which he could turn and move so musicians could see each other.  He was also very adamant that bands recorded their first version of a song live. 

They could do overdubs after, but the live feeling had to be captured.  And he was very avid about sound quality.  There was a particular way the my father liked the cords in his studio, to be the exact right length with no cable wasted or lying on the floor tangled up.

konrad-plank-7

YC: He was just very organized with his cables?

SP: This was the magic of my father, the way he made the musicians less aware of the recording process just by arranging the cables in a particular way.  My father’s goal was to help musicians to let go during their performance, and then he would catch these results, and he made it all seem easy.

YC: I guess Conny was always listening and tuned to the music even if the band didn’t think he was?

SP: Yes, Conny seemed relaxed and the band would also be relaxed, but if he heard a synthesizer reach a point where he knew it was the perfect tone for the song, he would stop the band and tell them to make sure to leave that synth at that setting, because he knew it sounded great. 

He would say “Stop, don’t touch the knob again.  You are precisely at the hot moment!”  In other words, he could always recognize when the band was at the peak of their performance. 

He wasn’t trying to force them to get there, but when they got there, he knew.  If a band was not getting better as they continued, he knew they’d reached their peak at that point. 

He was simply good at hearing when a band was playing their best, or if something special was happening. 

Conny Plank, Dieter Moebius and Mani Neumeier at Conny's studio, 1982

YC: So he didn’t intimidate anyone like some producers might?

SP: My father was a little bit like a psychologist, who would ask you questions, and then not tell you anything.  He was able to get a band to think about a concept, and then they would get ideas based on what he said. 

He didn’t need to tell them anything, just get them thinking about things they weren’t thinking about before.  This way, they could conceive an original idea.

YC: Was he trying to guide them, or manoeuvre these bands?

SP: He wasn’t trying to control them.  He was just trying to get them to think about what they might want to become, but he didn’t tell them what was, because he himself didn’t know. 

YC: Would you say most bands liked his methods as a producer?  Were there any bands who didn’t appreciate his methods and left the studio?

SP: Most bands did like his methods, and after his death, he became more of a superhero of german production, and so it was hard to find anyone who would say anything remotely negative about him. 

This is why I was thankful to Holger Czukay, who told me “Well, he probably wasn’t the perfect father…”  Most people treated him, in the interviews, in a very reverent way, but Holger had the guts to just say exactly what he thought, the way he experienced it.

YC: Why did Holger do that?

SP: Well, Can and Holger were all about authenticity, and Holger realized who was asking him, and to be true, he had to say it like he felt it.  He was afraid of nothing, basically, and you learn to live with the consequences.

YC: Did he witness it personally or was he just speculating?

SP: Holger just saw that it was him and my father, and then me and my mother.  He knew the band was disturbing family time, but he also knew he wanted to do it because it was so much fun.

YC: How are you now with work?  Has any of your father’s famous work ethic affected how you approach work?

SP: I feel like my parents gave me a gift.  We all seem to rebel against our parents in some way, and luckily, I am able to rebel by reading night time stories to my daughters every night.

stephan plank 2

YC: So you are reacting to your parents mistakes in some way?

SP: Yes, I feel like we all, as parents, try to not make the same mistakes as our parents, but mistakes are unavoidable, so even if we avoid some of their mistakes, we will make new, original mistakes. 

YC: Are there any qualities of your father you feel like you do exhibit?

SP: Well, I am still quite obsessive, especially with my work, but the fun thing about making this film was to see how my father became almost a spiritual father to some of these bands, because whereas their parents may no have been pleased that they were pursuing music as a career, my father was always very supportive, telling them how amazing he thought they were. 

He said “Let’s make this great!” and they would accept him as a father figure.  Whodini came to see my father from New York, and they met him, and they met me, and they told me they felt like I was their little brother.  So, in a way, the interaction at the studio was one big family.

YC: Was there ever any band that your father didn’t particularly want to work with?

SP: He refused to work with U2. 

YC: Why, because he didn’t like their music?

SP: My father said that he worked best as a medium between the artist and the tape.  And he wouldn’t know what kind of consciousness he’d have to transfer with Mr. Bono.

YC: What does this mean?

SP: I can only say his words, I don’t know.  I just think it’s interesting he called him Mr. Bono. 

YC: Well it sounds like maybe your father couldn’t relate to the way that U2 approached him?

SP: Maybe.

YC: Conny obviously had his own specific tastes when it came to sounds he liked, and he also helped to define certain tastes as well.

SP: Yes, and when he died, his life’s work was not compromised.  He never reached a stage where he had to make recordings to make ends meet.  He was 47 when he died, so this was early enough that he had yet to make any compromises.

YC: Basically it’s fair to say everything was going well and then he met an untimely end due to unexpected health issues.

SP: Yes. Conny is a bit of a mystery because most producers focus on one particular sound, but Conny’s favourite flavour was innovation, and he was thinking in terms of “If this is innovative, I will do it…”

YC: What became of all of his gear, like that mixing desk he made?

conny plank mixing desk

SP: It’s in London, and still earning its money at the moment.  The last Franz Ferdinand and Hot Chip albums were recorded with it, so it’s still in use, with Dave Allan.  I had the choice to put it in a museum, or I could give it to someone to work with it.  So I chose to find someone who would use it.

YC: Was it a sentimental thing to have to take the rest of his studio apart?

SP: It was done out of need.  When Conny died, we were 4 million euros in debt, and, in 2005, when my mother fell ill, we were 400 000 euros in debt.  She somehow managed to fall out of the German health care system, so I had to pay for fixing her brain tumour in cash. 

So things needed to be sold, and it eventually was mostly sold.  There’s a shop in Hamburg, Germany, and it still has some of my dad’s gear, including our Hammond B5.  Sometimes people want to buy it, and I will talk to them.  If they are good people, I will sell it to them. 

My father was never the sum of his equipment, but he was the sum of the ideas he planted in other musicians minds, which means he’s still out there in a way. I think that today my father’s idea of a nice setup might be a nice laptop, and some good converters. 

He’d probably travel with a flight case.  He might even have been glad to get rid of the studio eventually, because, to be honest, maintaining all of that analog gear can be a pain in the ass.  You constantly need to tinker with it to keep it running.

YC: Like you said, he was into innovation, so he probably would have embraced phones and computers fully.

SP: My dad was really into technology, and he bought the first Macintosh computer available. 

He bought it under the impression that he could record a musician in New York, and the quality would be good, which obviously wasn’t the case, but at that stage, people told him it would be possible. He was really on the cutting edge, always curious about it. 

He had the first emulator, and he always said stuff like “Reset The Preset”  to get the machines to go to the fringe places, the red part of the meter so it would groan a little bit.  What happens when you get to the place where they’re not supposed to be.

konrad-plank-4

YC: What would he think of the crappy production work out there today?

SP: He always liked well-produced music, and hated badly made music.  I think the ratio of good to badly produced music has always been about the same.

YC: So he wasn’t really a snob then?

SP: No, not at all.  There a german tradition called Karneval which is 4 weeks before easter.  It’s a very christian / catholic thing, where everyone dresses funny and gets blind drunk.

There is a certain kind of music which goes with it.  Very basic, in a good way. Conny loved the authenticity of it.  He recorded Bläck Fööss, who only did carnival music.  He really loved this music.

YC: It sounds like German party music… like polka?

SP: Yes. He loved the identity-finding moments, and he liked Europe a lot – the idea of it.  Many bands from Europe would come to him and try to record something in English, and he would try to encourage them to sing in their own language. 

These bands give identity to a whole country.  When my dad had bands recording at our home, we would sit down to eat dinner, and I remember one of the sins was when a band said they wanted to sound like another band.  This was not cool.  My dad would say you are not born to be a copy.

YC: What would your dad do if a band really wanted to sound like another band in the studio while they were recording?

SP: Conny was very good at figuring out if a band wanted to sound like another band before they came in, and then pre-emptively not work with them.  His goal was originality over anything else.

YC: Yes, which is why I like many of the bands your father had worked with – so many original bands.  I was surprised at how many of these exceptional bands there were, when I saw the documentary you made.

SP: As a producer, Conny was very ego-less.  Many producers have their particular flavour that they give to a band.  Conny was called “Mr. Sound”, because his flavour was that the band sound like the band. 

He said that every band gets the sound they deserve.  My father really loved Prince, and his album Dirty Mind, and one of the musicians who came to the studio said he wanted to sound like Prince. 

So my father said, if you want to sound like Prince, you need to sing like Prince.  This musician really couldn’t pull of Prince.

YC: What is your job now?

SP: I do management for Nina Hagen and I’m making 2 more films.  One is a documentary called The Truth About The Truth. 

YC: Sounds cryptic, what’s it about?

SP: In your brain you have two buckets, one which holds information and one which holds truth.  There’s a switch in your brain that decides where it goes.  If the info gets into the truth bucket, we’ll be able to debate about it.  I want to make a documentary about this mechanism that decides this.

YC: How’d you think of this idea?

SP: There’s a german word “zeitgeist”.  In a way, this idea has been explored a lot already.  Ad companies think they know how to implant the truth in someone’s mind, and I think that it’s interesting to make people more aware that someone is trying to do this.  

I am working with Reto Caduff again, and we are currently gathering funds to help make the movie happen. I also have a start up company that I co founded called Re2you and we are trying to liberate people from technology, since Google and Apple sit on top of all the ecosystems.  So we want to emancipate people from this.

YC: All that sounds good and I look forward to seeing the new films when they arrive.  Thanks for chatting with me!

SP: Thank you!

konrad-plank-8


Thanks for reading, if you have any comments or questions, pose them below!  

Bang Bang Bar Band Talks Twin Peaks – An Interview with Au Revoir Simone’s Heather D’Angelo

au revoire simone twin peaks

As a fan of Twin Peaks, and specifically the music the show has produced over the years, Season 3 had me wondering, like many fans, about some of the musical acts that were featured at the Bang Bang Bar (commonly referred to as the Roadhouse).  Many of these performers were indie acts, with a few exceptions. 

The full list of musical performers who performed at the Bang Bang Bar during Season 3 include: Chromatics, The Cactus Blossoms, Au Revoir Simone, Trouble, Sharon Van Etten, Nine Inch Nails, Hudson Mohawke, Rebekah del Rio, Moby, Lissie, The Veils, Eddie Vedder, and Julee Cruise.

The Twin Peaks Season 3 Soundtrack expands on the above list with many other tracks from the show, with the overall musical effect of the entire track list being that of a tour de force.

twin peaks season 3 soundtrack

The music of Twin Peaks has always been exceptional, with the main theme song written by Angelo Badalamenti even winning a Grammy for Best Pop Instrumental Performance back in 1991.

music from twin peaks angelo badalamenti

The music of Twin Peaks remains unique.  In this article, I had the chance to interview one of the members of Au Revoir Simone, Heather D’Angelo, now a Bang Bang Bar band alum, and ask her about her own personal Twin Peaks experience. (skip to the interview)

But first, a bit of context…

About The Bang Bang Bar (The Roadhouse)

twin peaks bang bang bar

In Twin Peaks Seasons 1 and 2, the Roadhouse was established as a location on the show that fit into the nuanced plot written by David Lynch and Mark Frost, and would tie into the overall arc of the show sporadically, with drama between the shows’ characters playing out there from time to time.  

The concept of the “Bang Bang Bar”, as it was referred to as more so in Season 3, was also the show’s musical center in seasons 1 and 2.  However, Julee Cruise and her band were the only act we see play there during the first two seasons.

As viewers, we can only assume that Julee Cruise was only one act of many to pass through there, but we never get to see any other acts play.  Perhaps this is something Lynch sought to correct in this latest season of Twin Peaks.

During the first two seasons, Julee appears there several times throughout the entire run of the show (including the movie prequel, “Fire Walk With Me”), playing her soft, angelic music juxtaposed against some dark, depraved drama taking place in the plot, creating a juxtaposition of both tranquility mixed with violence – an unsettling combination to be sure.

With the Roadhouse being such a seedy juncture in the Twin Peaks world, the idea of such a pure and unfettered sound of one such as Julee Cruise performing in such a dark place was and still is an unlikely proposition.

Fast forward 25 years…

25 years later twin peaks

Enter: Twin Peaks, Season 3

Enter Twin Peaks: Season 3 (The Return), aired in 2017.  The plot picks up almost literally 25 years after the finale of Season 2, where Cooper becomes possessed by Bob and delivers his famous line: “How’s Annie?”

This final episode (called “Beyond Life and Death”) to a beloved TV series was not the ending many fans were hoping for, but that’s the way director David Lynch chose to end the show, when this final episode of Season 2 first aired on June 10, 1991.

The reasons for this ending to Season 2 were perplexing to fans, but no less perplexing than the entire run of the show itself up until that point, really. 

Still, while hardcore Lynch fans always appreciate a good Lynch-ian twist, more casual (and probably less fanatical for absurdist cinema) fans of the show were left with mild cases of PTSD from watching their beloved Cooper become possessed by the ultimate evil, and then: roll credits.

Perhaps it had something to do with David Lynch not directing the majority of Season 2, and walking away from the show until the final episode, where he comes back with the express purpose to, in his own special way, put an end to the show he started.

As has been reported by various sources (ie. Vanity Fair), David Lynch hates Season 2 more than anyone else could, with the tousle-haired cinematic maverick having been quoted publicly as saying it flat out “sucked”.

david lynch smoking

Fans would have to wait until 2017 when Season 3 of Twin Peaks finally reached airwaves to see how things would get resolved, and many were likely hopeful that such a gut-wrenching finale would indeed see some sort of satisfying resolution, once Season 3 finally concluded. 

Fans of Twin Peaks might have thought a positive outcome to be particularly imminent, considering this was David’s chance to right any directorial and plot-related wrongs done to the show throughout Season 2.

Well, did he?  To answer this question would take us well beyond the scope of this article, and so at this time, let’s now return to the topic of…The Bang Bang Bar, and the music we hear there throughout Season 3.

Back To The Bang Bang

One thing that seemingly had not changed much in the world of Twin Peaks was the Bang Bang Bar.

bang bang bar exterior

In the world of Twin Peaks: Season 3, it was still the place in Twin Peaks where various seedy drama and nefarious subplots play out.  But this time around, we’re treated to a variety of diverse musical acts.

It was as if the Bang Bang Bar was perhaps doing better business these days, busily booking more bands, and becoming an increasingly hipper place to be, which we, the viewers, we privy to seeing who would turn up week to week. For nostalgic fans, Julee Cruise and James Hurley both come back to the Bang Bang Bar to perform.  

Otherwise, we were treated to some fresh faces at the good old Twin Peaks Roadhouse.

Cue: Au Revoir Simone, playing their tune, “A Violent Yet Flammable World”, from Season 3: Episode 9.

Au Revoir Simone

Some of the choices for bands who performed at the Bang Bang Bar during the run of Season 3 seemed to be more in line with the world of Twin Peaks that fans know, while other performers were more unexpected.  

Au Revoir Simone, who perform on two episodes of the entire Season 3 run of the show , were at once a fitting, and yet somewhat unusual, choice.

au revoire simone

Why fitting?  Well, here we have, not 1, but 3 silky-voiced chanteuses playing ethereal, melancholic music in a slow, pulsating manner.  This is enough, perhaps, to qualify them as a good fit for the rather happening, and yet fictional, venue.

Why unusual?  It seems that in the intervening years between Seasons 2 and 3 of Twin Peaks, the always and forever-to-be stuck-in-the-past environs of the show have been forced to admit that yes, even in a seemingly timeless setting, time is passing. 

Hence, Au Revoir Simone have their synths in tow, and there is no particular attention drawn to their synthpop nature.  Perhaps now Twin Peaks is a world that has caught up to as far as the 1980’s, rather than being a throwback to the ’50’s or ’60’s.  

(The interview begins…)

Interview with Heather D’Angelo of Au Revoir Simone

heather d'angelo

It seems that curiosity got the better of me.  I felt the need to reach out to the bands who played at the Bang Bang Bar during the run of Twin Peaks: Season 3, in order to satisfy my fan-boyish urge to know more about these bands, and how they managed to appear on the show.

And so, here is my conversation with Heather D’Angelo, who is one third of Au Revoir Simone, discussing the bands’ appearance on the show and how it all came to pass.  Enjoy!


When did you start writing music?

Au Revoir Simone started out as a cover band, actually, working on covers of 80’s and 90’s songs from different genres.  We were just doing this for fun, as friends getting together and seeing how it went. 

Back in the early 2000’s, we (Annie Hart, Erika Forster, and I) used to jam together, when we were all living in Brooklyn, and decided to form an all-girl keyboard band, since all of us played keyboards and we thought that all of us playing synths would be pretty entertaining. Eventually, each of us was armed with multiple synths – sometimes we’d have 9 going at once!

As far as our covers went, it turned out that our covers were too idiosyncratic to be just covers – they had their own sound – so that gave us the notion to start doing our own songs.  And it all began there!

Eventually, we got enough material together for a little EP called Verses of Comfort, Assurance & Salvation.

Weirdly enough, a Japanese label and a British label picked up the EP, but we didn’t get any attention in the US – no one cared.

Funny thing was that the Japanese label had an english name – Rallye, and the English label had a Japanese-sounding name – Moshi Moshi

Moshi Moshi already were a well known indie label in England at this point, with bands like Hot Chip on their roster.  They were the ones that kind of operate on a new level, by saying “Ok, you guys are going to work with this PR company, etc.”, giving us tips on how to be a bit more professional.

So how did these labels come across your music, which then lead to your encounter with David Lynch?

They became aware of us through an indie music blog from the early days of the internet.

My good friend, Matthew Perpetua, is like the godfather of the music blogs. I think he actually had the very first music blog out there on the web in the late 90’s, called Fluxblog. There may have been one other one at the time, as these things tend to pop up in the zeitgeist at around the same time, but he was definitely one of the first.

Fluxblog was very popular for indie music and Moshi Moshi used to read his blog. Matthew used to write about our band when we first started, as he was a big fan of synthpop, and indie acts, and so Moshi Moshi read one of his features on us.

Steven Bass and Michael McClatchey then got a hold of our EP, which, at the time, was something we were screen printing ourselves in Annie’s bedroom and trying to distribute ourselves.

By the time we got to our first actual mature album, The Bird of Music, that was put out by both Rallye and Moshi Moshi, which had proper artwork and distribution. 

Listen to The Bird of Music on Spotify

The Bird of Music is what eventually ended up in the hands of David Lynch in 2007.

How did that come about?

There was a really cool event going on at Barnes & Noble in New York for some time, where they’d promote an author and then pair that author up with a band. 

A music supervisor for Barnes & Noble would seek out a band that they felt would match the author, and the author would do a reading from their new book, and a band would play during the reading, or between chapters.  It was pretty cool.

The music supervisor at Barnes & Nobles was trying to get us to do one of these events for some time, but it wasn’t working out, as we were always on tour, or the timing just wasn’t right.

But one day the music supervisor called and told us that David Lynch was promoting a new book, at the time, called Catching the Big Fish, and she thought that our music would pair really well with his work. 

catching the big fish

The book was about meditation, and she thought we could play some of our more dreamy material.

So we said “yeah”, because this time it worked with our schedules, and plus, it sounded really cool, so we did it!

But it wouldn’t have been possible if it weren’t for David’s sound supervisor, Dean Hurley, hadn’t heard our music, liked it, and passed it on to David, who also liked it.

So, we then met David at the actual Barnes and Noble event, where we played, and he read from his book.

(cue: a  short clip from that show in 2007)

This was the beginning of your collaboration…which would have been about 10 years before Twin Peaks: Season 3 aired.

Yes.  Back in 2007.

That’s pretty cool that you encountered him that way.  His output is very varied, so to connect with him on a book reading is very cool.  Were you aware of all of these things that he does at the time?  For example, the books, the albums, the artwork, and so forth.

We were aware of him, generally speaking, but we didn’t know just how many things he was involved with. 

The event at Barnes & Noble was amazing.  That particular location of Barnes & Noble was something else – it was huge, like 4 or 5 storeys, and jam packed with people.  Just a massive, massive, MASSIVE building.

And when he was there, it was unbelievable – every floor, just shoulder to shoulder people, all trying to catch a glimpse of him.

For those who weren’t on the top floor, there was kind of a play-by-play being piped through their sound system, like one big listening party, and everyone was there just soaking it up.  It was then that we clued in to just how huge his fanbase actually is.

Were you into his stuff prior to this show?

Yeah, I really liked Blue Velvet, and his movies in general, but I wasn’t really a fanatic.  Same with Annie and Erika – we just knew of him, as most people do.  I had not watched Twin Peaks, though.  It just never crossed my radar.  I guess I was just too young.

I didn’t catch the show when it came out either, but a friend of mine recommended I watch Twin Peaks when I was in high school, so around ’95, as he thought it would be up my alley, and it was.  Had you seen any of his other movies?

Some of them.  I saw Mulholland Drive, which I enjoyed, and I was going to watch Inland Empire, but a friend of mine saw it and he was so traumatized by it, I didn’t really feel like watching it.

Yeah, Lynch seems to be very good at making very unsettling films that confuse and disturb people, as well as anticipating peoples’ expectations (especially fans) and then defying them.  I couldn’t make it through Inland Empire either!  That’s why I was wondering how Season 3 of Twin Peaks was going to turn out, considering his work seemed to be getting progressively more abstract.

Well, we have had the opportunity to collaborate with David several times over the years, since 2007, and so we were getting comfortable trusting his creative and aesthetic choices.  For instance, we worked with him on a retrospective he did for his work in Paris at the Foundation Cartier.

(cue: video clip from that exhibition)

(interview…continued) He had rebuilt a setting from Eraserhead at the gallery, and we were to perform in this setting.  So, he managed to incorporate our music into this production, and we were like, “Hell yeah!” and so we did it, and it was great!

Another time he invited us to play at Silencio, his private club in Paris.  Again, this is a beautiful club with a red-draped stage, and he was gracious enough to invite us into his world, which we have always been more than happy to do.

(cue: Llorando scene, from Mullholand Drive, filmed at Silencio)

(back to the interview…)

Over the years, we’ve remained friends, and would visit him in L.A., checking in from time to time.  He’s been very encouraging, incredibly sweet, and a great mentor to us. 

Prior to the return of Twin Peaks, he was mentioning it would be good to work on something together, and we thought that would be great, although we weren’t counting on it. 

We knew that historically, David has worked with Julee Cruise, Angelo Badalamenti, and so we weren’t really expecting to work on any major projects with him, per se.  He seemed to have his inner circle of collaborators, and so we thought it was nice of him to suggest a collaboration, but, again, we weren’t expecting anything.

But then, we got the call from Dean Hurley, David’s longtime musical collaborator, who informed us that David was going to re-launch Twin Peaks, and was seeking out bands to be part of the show, and he was hoping we’d take part.  Before we knew it, we’d said “yes” and we were part of the production.

We’d never really worked with David before in terms of being part of one of his movies, and so we didn’t really know what we were in for.

None of Au Revoir Simone were actors, but we flew to L.A., and we arrived at this house, that looked like a community center from the outside, and we found that they had recreated, in minute detail, the Bang Bang Bar.  It was like, “Oh my god, I’m in the Roadhouse!”  Even though, outside it was hot and sweaty, this set made you believe you were in the Pacific north west, like Washington state.  It was insane!

There were extras everywhere, and everyone was dressed up like it was the ’90’s.  There were a few other bands there, like the Chromatics, and the Cactus Blossoms, who were playing that day.

We had no idea what was going on.  We didn’t know who was playing, or when, or how to dress.  We had no guidance of what to wear, which was particularly odd because the fashion of Twin Peaks is so particular.  We didn’t know which decade we were supposed to appear to be from.  ’80’s? ’90’s? Now?  Rock stars, or not?  We didn’t know.  We decided to just go with a “classic” look.  

We knew he was going to ask us to do two of our songs, which we did.  It was lip synched.  This wasn’t like Saturday Night Live.  We performed our songs, it didn’t take too long, and then we left.  Time passed, we didn’t hear anything at first.  Eventually, we heard from David, and he said “Great job!”, so we thought “Great!”

We were still very confused as to how this would all play out.  We still didn’t know if he was going to be using the footage of us playing, or just use our recordings on the soundtrack.  Would it be both songs, one song?  Just a snippet?  

We didn’t see how any of it turned out until the show aired.  Eventually, we were told to keep our eyes open for Episodes 4 and 9.  We saw it on TV like everyone else.

(cue: band playing their song, “Lark”, from their album, “The Bird of Music”, during Season 3: Episode 4 of Twin Peaks.

(back to the interview…)

For both episodes, I had Twin Peaks’ parties in San Francisco, but I told my friends that if I didn’t show up on screen, not to be surprised.  We weren’t promised anything, so then when we did appear, and we had a fair bit of screen time, I was shocked!

Both songs were edited, but that made sense, for the purpose of the episode sequencing.  Still, it was entirely a surprise that we even made it on the show at all!

I guess you didn’t get to sit down and watch the “dailies”, huh?

No, we are not from the film industry, so that didn’t even occur to us.  There wasn’t even hair and make-up, so how we presented ourselves was completely up to us.  Had there been a hair dangling in the wrong spot, I don’t know if David would have brought it up or not.  It all happened so fast. 

We had been on photo shoots before, where people fussed over our appearance a lot more than this instance.  So that’s surprising, that we were now committed to tape for an iconic show like Twin Peaks, which will be seen by our children and children’s children, and we weren’t really prepped in any way for this.  I just knew that we were performing, and David was there, behind the camera, capturing every bead of sweat.

Was the lip synching difficult?  What kind of direction did he give you?

We weren’t given any direction, so we just tried to channel our best collective Julee Cruise vibe.  We had basic instructions as to when to start lip synching, and that was about it.  

You were saying there were other bands there at that point?

We saw some of the other bands, but we didn’t really see too many other bands.  For the most part, we were just in and out.  We heard there was a shoot for the other bands on another day, but we weren’t there for that.  

Are any of you particularly influenced by Julee Cruise, what with the hushed, angelic vocals, and all that?  Were you told to emulate her in any way for the show?

No, not at all.  We are fans of hers, for sure – especially Erika – but there was no mention of us sounding like her, or us trying to sound like her.

Our influences are Stereolab, Bjork, Pavement, Air…Broadcast is a huge influence.  I personally am very into Air and Stereolab.

Pavement, really?

Definitely, I love Pavement.  

Are you guys formally trained musically in any way?

No, we’re all self-taught.

How do you come up with your songs, as a band?

We all have input in each others songs, although usually, someone writes a song, initially, and brings it in.  That’s when we begin to shape the songs to fit Au Revoir Simone.  Nothing is really off limits for discussion, and it ends up being an equal process in the end.  No one has more representation in the band – it’s equal parts all three of us.

No creative differences?  Wow, nice.

There are differences, but as a trio, there can always be a critical voice if someone is strongly against something, and we like it that way.  We can push and pull the songs until we are all happy with the result, but it’s not always easy to come to a consensus.  For instance, if someone doesn’t like a bassline, or some other musical element, we talk about it, until we can all agree on something.

How do you feel now that you are on the Lynch fan radar?  Do you consider yourself to be on that radar?

Yes, we are aware that his fans are now paying more attention to us, with many of them being very passionate.  It’s cool.  

And how has that balanced out with your entire fanbase overall?

Well, our old school fans are the best!  Like, if ever there’s any sort of hardcore Twin Peaks fans who don’t approve of us for some reason, our old school fans will jump to our defence.  It doesn’t happen much, and besides, that’s just how it is on Youtube.  People debate all the time.  For instance, why did we get picked for the soundtrack and not some other “dreamy” sounding pop band?  Maybe someone more like Julee Cruise should have been picked, some might say.  All in all, everyone has their own opinion.  We encourage discussion, and we appreciate different views.

Fair enough.  Did you bump into any other cast members at all while you were there filming?  I happened to watch some interview with Kyle MacLachlan, where he said that he didn’t even see any of the show until it was on the air, or really knew what was going to happen overall?  Kind of amazing, since he was basically the show’s star.

It doesn’t surprise me.  There’s an element of secrecy to all of this.  Plus, I think that everything was shot individually.  We didn’t really interact with the cast very much.

Did you talk to Mark Frost (Twin Peaks co-creator) at all?

twin peaks mark frost

No, I didn’t.  

So you never read any of this Twin Peaks books – The Final Dossier or The Secret History of Twin Peaks?

the secret world of twin peaks

No, I’ve just heard of them.  Haven’t read them yet.

They’re interesting, if you are into the sort of “bigger picture” of Twin Peaks, and the mythology and sort of subterfuge that goes into the show.  They act as companion pieces, and they’re really cool if a fan wants to dive deeper into that world, as they let you in on some of the more secretive elements.  For any fans out there, I’d totally recommend them!  But anyway, what happened after Season 3 wrapped up.  What changed for Au Revoir Simone?

I have seen David twice since the show aired.  One at the Festival of Disruption in Brooklyn, and another time back in L.A., after Season 3 had aired.  When I saw him last, I had just watched all of the episodes of Season 3 and I had a million questions that I wanted to ask him.  So it was hard to not geek out on Twin Peaks and ask him lots of questions.  I did get a few things out of him, but generally, we didn’t talk about that much. 

I did, however, mention to him how much I loved Episode 8, as it was so groundbreaking and probably the best thing to be aired on television ever.  I had a chance to dork out with Dean Hurley, but he really doesn’t have the inside scoop on Twin Peaks either.  No one but David and Mark know the whole story.  It’s always fun to speculate, though.

How did you feel about the ending of Season 3?

I liked it.  I am a fan of cliffhangers, though.  Besides, if you expect anything by David to wrap up with a neat little bow, you’ll probably be disappointed. So I didn’t expect the show to end in any neat and tidy way.  Which it didn’t.   

twin peaks season 3 ending


(interview end…) 

Check out Heather’s new fragrance line – Carta

Check out a list of all the music used in Twin Peaks: Season 3

Who is Clifton Chenier?

Clifton Chenier (born in Opelousas, near Lafayette , the June 25 , 1925 – died in Lafayette on December 12 , 1987) is a zydeco musician, and among the most celebrated musicians who play in that genre that ever lived, having been called the King of Zydeco music, and King of the Bayou (by Paul Simon).

who is clifton chenier

Zydeco, stylistically, is a mix of Cajun and Creole music with influences of jazz and blues. Clifton played the accordion, and was the first to use this instrument to play blues style music.

Here is a rare clip of Clifton Chenier playing live, and you can see from the video footage that he infuses his music with a spirit that simply makes people want to get up and dance!

Biography

Clifton Chenier learned to play accordion at a very young age thanks to his father Joseph Chenier.

He began playing at various balls and parties on Saturday nights, with his brother Cleveland Chenier, playing a corrugated washboard, which is quite literally a washboard, but can be used as a musical instrument as well.

Here’s Clifton a little later in his life – 1979, with Honeyboy Edwards, and Lightnin’ Hopkins in NYC.

Ok, backing up a ways.

In 1945, Clifton left the family farm to work in the sugar cane fields. He then went to Lake Charles to join his brother Cleveland. There, he met other great pioneering zydeco musicians and refined his style, leading to the distinctive style that won him a Grammy later in life.

His professional career began in 1954 , when he signed with Elko Record and recorded Clifton’s Blues (under the name of Cliston Chanier ) which was a local success. He continued with Ay-tte-fee ( Hey, little girl , the spelling of the Cajun title has had many variations!) which made him more widely known.

Here is Clifton’s recording of Louisiana Stomp as Cliston Chanier.

He toured extensively with the Zydeco Ramblers and signed with Chess Records in 1956 . The Chess label did not do too much publicity for its records, and so he left in 1958, and moved on over to Houston.

He finally signed at Arhoolie Records in 1964, expanding his audience to a more “white” audience. Clifton was welcomed warmly in 1969 at the American Folk Blues Festival, a legendary festival indeed, making him even more famous for this bourgeoning style of music known as Zydeco.

In 1973 he signed the music of the Alain Corneau France film company. In 1979, he was diagnosed with severe diabetes and had have one of his feet amputated.

Clifton’s career was crowned by a Grammy Award in the year 1983 for “I’m Here”, and then in 1984 he was made a National Heritage Fellow for his contributions.

He died in 1987 of a kidney disease in Lafayette, Louisiana.  Clifton Chenier was buried in All Souls Cemetery in Loreauville, Iberia Parish, Louisiana.

king of zydeco

Posthumously, Clifton was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame, and then later, in 2011, he made it into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame.

Clifton’s son, CJ Chenier took over for his father, and continues his music producing legacy of red hot zydeco concerts and records.

Clifton Quote

“My music is not complicated. It’s nothing but French dances with a little swing to get people moving.”


Discography

  • Clifton Sings the Blues (2004)
  • Louisina Blues & Zydeco / Bon Ton Roulet (2001)
  • Live at Grant Street (2000)
  • Comin ‘Home (2000)
  • Live at 1966 Berkeley Blues Festival (2000)
  • Cajun Swamp Music (1999)
  • Bayou Bayou (1999)
  • In New Orleans (1998)
  • Zydeco Are Not Dirty (1997)
  • I’m Coming Home (1996)
  • On Tour (1996)
  • We’re Gonna Party (1994)
  • Live at St. Mark’s (1988)
  • 60 Minutes with the King of Zydeco (1988)
  • Bogalusa Boogie (1987) * Sings the Blues (1987)
  • The King of Zydeco (1985)
  • Live! at the Long Beach & San Francisco Blues Festivals (1985)
  • Country Boy Now (1984)
  • The King of Zydeco Live at Montreux (1984)
  • I’m Here! (1982)
  • Live at San Francisco Blues Festival (1982)
  • Blues & Zydeco (1981)
  • Boogie ‘n’ Zydeco (1980)
  • Bayou Soul (1979)
  • Clifton Chenier & His Red Hot Louisiana Band in New Orleans (1979)
  • Clifton Chenier and His Red Hot Louisiana Band (1978)
  • Cajun Swamp Live Music (1978)
  • Frenchin ‘the Boogie (1976)
  • Bogalusa Boogie (1975)
  • Out West (1974)
  • Clifton Chenier Live (At a French-Creole Dance) (1973)
  • Bayou Blues (1970)
  • King of the Bayous (1970)
  • Clifton’s Cajun Blues (1970)
  • Louisiana Blues (1969)
  • Black Snake Blues (1966)
  • Louisiana Blues & Zydeco (1965)

Test Dept Interview January 2019 – Speaking with Paul Jamrozy and Graham Cunnington

Today I speak with Paul Jamrozy and Graham Cunnington, of the innovative and highly-engaging UK-based musical act, Test Dept – a group which gives new meaning to the expression, “brutal honesty”. 

This is because Test Dept has ever been raining blows upon inanimate objects, albeit in a percussive and poly-rhythmic fashion.

To the uninitiated, these sounds may seem disorganized and shrill, and perhaps even…maddening. 

If you’ve seen the musical “Stomp”, imagine that briefly, if you will.  Then, replace those happy-go-lucky performers with staunch political activists, and then invite Ogre, Al Jourgensen, and all of Einstürzende Neubauten to the party.  This might give your “normal” individual, who may not get out much, some approximation of the sonic scenario here, although, that description is oversimplifying things quite a lot.

In any case, the skittish and faint of heart may be unlikely to enter a venue with Test Dept on the marquee, particularly if they are aware of the group.  The sound of a rabid gray wolf baying outside their front door may prove to be more soothing aurally to such an individual.

However abstract and disjointed Test Dept’s on-stage presence may seem to people who have always tended to bathe in the jaw-slackening sounds of pop music, there is, and has always been, a game plan and purpose behind everything Test Dept does.  And there are also those that know this, and appreciate their activities.

https://testdept.org.uk/

For the record, Test Dept is known globally for their impassioned live shows, and for their use of industrial “found” material (ie. scrap metal), refashioned into more purposeful instruments, with which they make their unique music. 

They have been interpreting the world around them and converting it into vigorous sound since 1981, when they emerged in New Cross, London.  Their mission to make music with a built-in purpose continues to this day.

With over a dozen members come and gone over the past almost-30 years, and many collaborators to speak of, Test Dept has been quite prolific, developing a formidable body of work.  This is work that may certainly be deemed influential to anyone who knows how to recognize when influence has been passed along the winding corridors of modern culture, as modern culture has a distinct tendency towards wilful forgetfulness.

If you’ve seen some of Test Dept’s video output, you will know they are, in addition to being very rhythmic, visually stimulating and cinematic.

 Here is a clip called Program for Progress to demonstrate what I mean.

Recently, the core members of Test Dept has re-formed in order to take the stage once again, motivated by the curious goings-on in global culture.  It is they who I had a chance to put some questions to.  Luckily, they responded.

So, to delay no further, here is my interview with Test Dept, where we discuss a variety of topics.  We start, as logic would dictate, at the very beginning.


For those who don’t know the band or its history, Test Dept, by your own admission, emerged from a decaying culture in South London in the early 1980’s. So much so that you literally grabbed hold of pieces of that crumbling world and started making music with them. Do you remember the first time you did this, and the circumstances around it?

GC: We had been living in Amsterdam when the idea for Test Dept emerged. We relocated to the docklands of South London where we were surrounded by the inevitable consequence of Thatcher’s destruction of the heavy industry and manufacturing economic base in favour of a service economy.  

PJ: Corrugated sheeting, empty beer barrels, gas cylinders, car springs, they were everywhere around us. Deptford Creekside was our playground, we wandered around the old decaying factories, rummaged on the banks of the Thames and scavenged in the scrapyards that proliferated the area.

Stowage, Deptford / mylondondiary.co.uk

Was your music, in the beginning, more a reaction to the music at the time, or the politics? For example, were you bothered at all by the disco duck?

PJ: It began more as a noise thing, a reaction to where we had been after punk, we had a sense of unfinished business. The post punk period, with the wide spectrum of new experimental music that poured out was all very liberating. The politics were already there but developed rapidly with the hate figure of Thatcher to oppose, The Falklands War, followed by the ‘English Civil War’ that was the ‘Miners Strike’ and the wars kept coming. Must say, Disco duck never really caught on in Deptford but must confess it is quite irritatingly catchy.


Do you feel your music is “atonal” or “noise”? For instance, do you think of it as such, or do you think of it as perhaps “nice” or “relaxing” but maybe just an “acquired taste”? Or are you more of the mindset that “yes, it’s an awful racket, but we love it!”?

PJ: I think you pass through a number of states and emotions in the performing and listening modes. Sometimes you had to go through the pain barrier to reach a crescendo or release and that was true of the audience too. Not everybody got that but those who did were very passionate about it. To us it wasn’t an infernal racket; it was co-ordinated and constructed into a giant machine in which we were all components, that sense of utilitarian unity gave us a vision of building something immense and beyond individualist egos.


Once you make an album using pieces of discarded metal and whatnot, does that metal hold any sentimental place in your heart, or do you simply shove it back into the sea or the scrapyard from whence it came? In other words, do you consider yourselves pioneers of worldwide recycling, or are you simply riding the waves of detritus and scrap as it crests, and then surfing away in the opposite direction once the wave crashes down?

PJ: Well we have had some fabulous pieces over the years but through our own transient lives, lack of a continuous space to work in, etc. Many fabulous pieces were lost such as our giant ten-foot trumpet and the sputniks (antique 1950s brewery barrels made of a very distinctive alloy); but some were just too big to keep, like the ten ton tank that nearly brought the Albany Empire ceiling crashing down. Some took a beating and were just destroyed in action. 

demolished Cars and scrap metal ready to be shipped – amsterdam


Bands like Coil, or maybe someone like Alec Empire, seem to have taken a sound you created and distilled it into more palatable tones with some of their albums. Have you ever thought of doing something more contemplative and “new age-y” in the same way as something like Time Machines (Coil) or Low On Ice (Alex Empire)? Hell, even Throbbing Gristle made that “funk” album, right? Perhaps have a sexy female voice singing “skulls crack” could open you up to…ah, forget it.

PJ: I think we have always been diverse in working with a variety of styles including some ambient tracks, think Plastic (Beating the Retreat), Comrade Enver Hoxha (Unacceptable Face of Freedom) and female vocalists, Nadka (Terra Firma),  Gododdin the album with Brith Gof and Totality the album with Katie- Jane Garside.


You have long been associated with the “art” world, whether it be performance, sculpture, concept art, and various counterculture and subversive movements within the “art” world, some dating back decades if not centuries. How comfortable are you being associated with the art world in general?

PJ: The ‘art world’ is far too general a term, we do not sell commodified work to an art market and whilst appreciating work aesthetically, we find that this art world, as an arbiter of taste, is distasteful and totally removed from our lives. However it is true to say we have many artistic influences going back to the movements of Dada, Futurism, Constructivism in the early part of the last century; and on to the multi media of Fluxus, the political stance of the Situationists and other radical art movements in the latter part of the last century. These movements and the art produced was indeed revolutionary and critical of the society it evolved into, using art as a vehicle to expand horizons, or to create visions of a new world of possibilities.

Fluxus street theatre

Obviously, Test Dept has no problem making “regular” people uncomfortable with your music, both in recordings and live performance. Surely, even as new people get exposed to your music, they are still as uncomfortable now as they were when you first arrived on the scene. There will always be suburbanites and people racing down Wall Street who, at most, would cast you a disdainful and utterly fed up / confused glare. Assuming you have always enjoyed people’s squirming discomfort at what you bring to the table, do you still enjoy it today?

GC: There are certainly some artists who’s main focus seems to be on making people uncomfortable in a sonic sense, but this is not our aim. We make music that we feel reflects and comments on the world around us, which at the moment is pretty uncomfortable. Our sonic palette is partly gathered from our surroundings and not based on standard ideas of ‘musicality’ (although harmony and melody can have their place at times). There is certainly beauty, and even musicality, in noise. Sound is just vibrating air and all objects that vibrate to make a sound when hit or plucked or bowed (or simply turned on in the case of mechanical objects) are potential instruments; its just about how one perceives or places them. What is comfortable for some is uncomfortable for others – before the C20th atonal music was considered uncomfortable (if not incomprehensible), now it is accepted as a mainstream musical form. It’s all down to perception and taste.



What are your thoughts on bands that people consider to be flag bearers of industrial music who came along after you like Ministry and Nine Inch Nails? Has your influence on them been acknowledged by them, or anyone else, and what do you think of what they’re doing in relation to what you’re doing?

PJ: Trent Reznor has made positive statements recognizing our influence (in fact he has said that NiN are not industrial but rather have industrial influences) but it is not something that really concerns us. In media terms we were pushed to the periphery having not had the majority of our back catalogue available for many years. That was why it was important to publish the ‘Total State Machine’ book to show our history and all the diverse projects that took us into many unchartered waters way beyond the industrial.

I think the majority of these American ‘industrial’ bands are more akin to traditional rock bands that have incorporated electronic and noise elements into their sound, which is fine. However I think we come from a different place, a very European heritage of found sound, electronic experimentation,  the classical avant-garde and noise aesthetic with a heavy load of tribal drums thrown in for good measure.


What can you say about Some Bizarre Records, in terms of how the label operated and some of your label mates. In relation to the last question, bands like Einstürzende Neubauten seem to be a more an apt comparison to Test Dept vs. a band like NIN, but is that how you see it, or do yourself as having nothing to do with any of these groups?

PJ: Some Bizarre were responsible for bringing many of the best experimental and alternative acts under one roof and were almost untouchable for a long period. All these acts were very different but shared a sense of creative adventure that is rare. We were always fiercely independent while recognizing that which we had in common with bands like Neubauten, Laibach and others, which was largely our sense of being European in the midst of the cold war.



As the world seems to get only more zany and steeped in various real and imagined conspiracies, how do you see your place in it today?

GC: We try to comment on what we see around us in the real world. Conspiracies used to be political or industrial cover-ups of power-plays or incidents involving subterfuge, mistakes or outrages; these days they are often whole world-views, propagated and expounded upon by a multitude of voices requiring little or no concrete evidence. Anything can be extracted and extrapolated to fit any theory if only limited and specific data is highlighted as proof. 

PJ: We have entered a new era of what has been termed ‘Surveillance Capitalism’, where every action, every click is monitored, captured and sold. Information is on the money. Avoiding Facebook or other capture vehicles only slightly minimizes the risk. Be under no illusions the Trojan horse is already within all of our firewalls. You have been Googled.


Test Dept – Selected Discography


History – The Strength of Metal in Motion (1982)

View on Test Dept website


Ecstacy Under Duress (1983)

View on Test Dept website


The Unacceptable Face of Freedom (1986)

View on Test Dept website


Terra Firma (1988)

View on Test Dept website


Bang On It (1993)

View on Test Dept website


Tactics For Evolution (1997)

View on Test Dept website

Chatting About Pre-Beatlemania British Rock ‘n’ Roll with Ex-Mod Bryan Rogers

In this article, I chat with my friend Bryan Rogers, self identified ex-mod, about his time growing up in and around the music of London, England, in the late 1950’s and early 60’s, where he experienced the birth of rock ‘n roll in the UK first hand.  This was before Beatlemania, so pre-1963…

Bryan Rogers was born on the 10th December, 1940, in Hitchin, Hertfordshire, England.

Here he is around age 2.

These were the pre-British Invasion days, and Bryan was there in person as bands like The Beatles, The Stones, and many more started playing small dance halls and theatres in and around London, before heading off to America to make it big.  

Venues like the Locarno Ballroom in Swindon, the Lyceum in London, McIlroys in Swindon, The Locomotive Pub, Farr’s, Gaumont State Kilburn Ballroom, and so forth…these were places that Bryan would frequent to listen to these rock ‘n roll groups, whether they played live, or a DJ was there playing records so the teens could boogie-woogie, as it were.

All this was happening around the same time that American rock legends like Bill Haley and the Comets, Buddy Holly and the Crickets, and many others were coming over to the United Kingdom to find new fans in the youth of England, and influencing those British bands who would later “invade” America.

In speaking with Bryan over the years, I’d heard tell of his adventures in and around jolly old England (particularly London), seeing all of these bands and having some first hand encounters with a few of them.  

Finally, I had a chance to sit down with Bryan Rogers, and chat with him on the topic of early rock ‘n roll in England in the early 1960’s, and what all went down back then – the way it was.

Bryan is, by nature, a curious cat, and usually cats live perilous lives, but this cat has fortunately survived to relate his tale to me, who was very interested to hear about his (mis)adventures and dirty deeds over across the pond.  

Hope you all enjoy our chat, and if you have any comments or stories of your own, please leave them below!


On 50’s music and the 1960 British pop music charts

Bryan: So back in the ’50’s, it was mundane music compared to what it is today, like Doris Day and Frankie Laine …for Chrissakes!  

And then there was The Shadows, who were the back-up group for Cliff Richards…they recorded a tune on their own called “Apache”, which was a knock off of an American group.

Anthony Newly was another English film star who became a singer, and then there’s Shirley Bassey…

Who else we got here?  <scanning the pop music chart from 1960> Roy Orbison’s in there with “Only The Lonely”.  

Presley started to pop up around then too.  Lonnie Donegan, Emile Ford and the Checkmates.  Cliff Richards and the Shadows again, yeah.  The Everly Brothers…these people are slowly coming on…yeah, these are the British, not the American charts, mind you.

And then there was people like Tommy Steele, who wanted to be American, like Elvis Presley, but he never was.

YTMS: Tommy Steele, never heard of him.  Was he really famous?

Bryan: In England, he was…he was on a merchant ship, and he learned how to the play the guitar, so he sung a few songs…became a big hit.  Because people like Bob Dylan were on the go, right?

YTMS: So he was a troubadour kind of guy?

Bryan: He was a folk singer…

YTMS: Big changes in music between 1960 and 1970…

Bryan: Yeah, the whole British Invasion happened.  The Animals, Freddy and the Dreamers, The Kinks, and all those groups.  I think The Animals come from Newcastle…

Seeing Rock Bands in the Early 1960’s (Pre-Beatlemania)

YTMS: When you were growing up over there in England, you saw a lot of these groups when they first came up?

Bryan: Yes, at the local dance hall, on a Saturday, they’d come and play, and we’d dance to them.

YTMS: What was the place called?

Bryan: The Locarno Ballroom, in Swindon.

YTMS: Locarna?

Bryan: Locarno.

YTMS: How big was it?

Bryan: Probably …

YTMS: 1000 people or so?

Bryan: Yeah.  I’d also go to the Lyceum Theatre, in London, just off the Strand, in the center of London.  It was all mainly records there.

YTMS: Just records?

Bryan: DJ’s, yeah.

YTMS: Any bands there?

Bryan: No.

YTMS: Ah, it was just a dance club, not really a venue for live bands to play. 

Bryan: Right.

YTMS: So where did you start seeing actual bands play, and when?

Bryan: Most of the people from that time, most of the bands…like The Undertakers, that was one of ’em…because of the success of The Beatles and The Stones, bands started coming around to the dance halls to play.

Some of these groups found success, like Freddy and the Dreamers.. I didn’t really like them, but there you go.  Uh, who else?  There was the Dave Clarke Five.

YTMS: They were a rock group?

Bryan: Yeah. “Bits and Pieces” was one of their songs. <sings a snippit of the song> “Glad All Over” was another one of their hits.  They come from Tottenham area of London.

YTMS: So they played at the Locarno? 

Bryan: No, but I saw them play in Tottenham.

YTMS: You’d travel around to see bands play?

Bryan: Oh yeah.  When I was livin’ in London, I had a scooter, and I’d tour around to the different city halls, dance halls…

YTMS: How far would you go to see a group?

Bryan: Half way across London.

YTMS: Really?

Bryan: Yeah, and London’s a big place.

YTMS: Just scoot on over?

Bryan: Yeah, Seven Sisters Road… just down the road from the stadium, there was a pub on the corner… at the pub, they’d have these dances, play all these pop songs…

YTMS: You were big on the clubs at the time around there?  You and your friends?

Bryan: Yeah…we’d hang out at Baker Street, which is in the book about Sherlock Holmes.  22B Baker Street. 

I used to go to a club called Farr’s.  F A double R apostrophe S, Farr’s.  We were about 14 or 15 then.  So we’d go there, and we used to have tailor-made suits.

YTMS: Really?

Bryan: Ok, here’s the scoop.  My friend Dennis and me.. Dennis lived down the road from me.. and he says, “Bryan, do ya want a job?”  Paperboy…I said “Sure.”  We had to walk two miles up the road, to this place called Ellington’s.  We go straight up Carlton Vale, and if you’d continue up Carlton Vale, at the end is a T junction, and that’s Abbey Road.  THE Abbey Road. 

So, prior to coming to Abbey Road, on Carlton Vale, we turn right on Maida Vale I believe it was, and we’d walk along there, and turn left, across from Maida Vale underground, and there was Ellington’s.  So, we were paid to mark up the papers, like, everybody in England had the morning paper.  We’d get the address for some apartment building, or “mansions” as we called ’em, take a Daily Mirror paper and a Women’s Own magazine, put them together, write the address down, fold them, put them aside, and a paper boy or girl would come and take them. 

So we used to mark up the paper rounds, and we also had a round of our own.  Now, let’s put it in dollars, it’ll be easier to understand.  They were pre-paid, say, 50 cents a week to deliver papers…

YTMS:  Ok…

Bryan: Dennis and I would get, say, 3 dollars a week to mark up the papers every morning to deliver a round, and our own round as well.  A suit back then, it used to be guineas, would be, say, around about 17 dollars for a tailor made suit.  So we were makin’ 3 bucks… what do you think we’d spend our money on?  Sharp linen.  So when we’re 14, we’d save our money.  And another thing, we’d have a con game going.  We’d go around to all these different apartment buildings, or mansions, that we knew were the other paper boys’ routes… knock on the door every Christmas, tell ’em we were the paper boy…

YTMS: <snickers>

Bryan: …and they would give us a tip.  Maybe 50 cents or a dollar. 

YTMS:  That’s pretty good…

Bryan: So that used to go towards our suit fund.  Twice a year we’d have tailor-made suits!

YTMS: Wow!

Bryan: Yeah.

YTMS: You bought more than one I guess…had a whole wardrobe full of ’em?

Bryan: Yeah.  Dennis had some overcoats made, but I never got those.

On Becoming A Mod

YTMS: What were you guys like you called? 

Bryan: Mods.  We had the short hair.

YTMS: You were trying to be a mod on purpose?

Bryan: We never thought about it at the time, but yeah.  We’d pick up some shoes, they were tapered.  Pointy, tapered shoes.  Fake crocodile skin…We had flared trousers…

YTMS:  Yeah…

Bryan: …with a little slit on the side at the bottom.  And maybe 2 or 3 covered buttons going up the seam on our jackets.  Single or double breasted, covered buttons, as well.

YTMS: Hm…This is what it was like to be a mod.  Any other defining characteristics?

Bryan: We had short jackets.

YTMS: Does that mean you were cool? 

Bryan: Yeah, we were with it. 

YTMS: Tough?

Bryan: No, no, no.  We had our own little clan, and we’d gyrate together, at these dance halls.

YTMS: Yeah, yeah.

Bryan: Now, if there’s any “teddy boys” around, or “rockers”…

YTMS: Is that what the other guys were called?

Bryan:  Yes. Now, they wore jackets down to their knees…black velvet collars…and had really tight jeans on.  And they had these boots called “chukka boots”.  They used to have crimped soles about that thick <gestures>, black or dark blue.

Bryan: So imagine – big pairs of boots and long jacket <laughs> with hair down back, like Presley, you know.. a D.A. .. Tony Curtis, you know.. film star.. he had that down there, and that was called a duck’s ass.  Parted down the middle, it all come down.. <gestures> and then a quiff over here <gestures>…So they were teddy boys, yeah.  And if we ever met… it was a punch up.  Sometimes, we’d get on our scooters, and we’d drive down to Bornemouth or Brighton..south end, that’s on the coast…and we see any rockers, it them or us.. we’d go for it.. like Quadrophelia. 

YTMS: Did you go looking for ’em?

Bryan: Nah.

YTMS: Were you worried about seeing them?

Bryan: No, there was usually more of us than them.

YTMS: Were there a lot of fights? 

Bryan: Just now and again, not that often.

YTMS: People get stabbed?

Bryan: No, no. But, prior to that, the teddy boys…they used to have razor blades, put them in their collar, or in their hat.  That was their weapon of choice – a razor.

YTMS: Sounds dangerous…

Bryan. So I come in at the end of the teddy boy era, basically, and at the beginning of the mod era.  Which was good…I prefer to dress smart than scruffy with messy hair.

YTMS: Did that work better with the birds?

Bryan: The birds, yeah…

YTMS: Did the girls like rockers or mods better?

Bryan: The mod girls liked the mod boys and same with the rockers.  You could tell by looking at somebody who was who.

YTMS: Did mods and rockers ever get together.

Bryan: Probably…well… I doubt it.

YTMS: So for bands at that time, who did you see?

Bryan: Prior to going down to the town Swindon where the Locarno was, I told you before I went to the Gaumont State Kilburn.  It could hold 4000 people. 

Guy Mitchell was in that early list here <from the 1960 hit parade>.  Singin’ the blues, we went and saw him.  When I was a young kid, every time I’d go by this theatre, I’d see Louie Armstrong would be advertised, Ella Fitzgerald, all the jazz people, yeah.

YTMS: Did you check them out?

Bryan: No, we were too young.  Maybe 10 or 11.

YTMS: Not interested?

Bryan: No.  And then we went up and we saw Guy Mitchell.  We went and saw Bill Haley.  I’ve told you this in the past.

Barging In On The Platters

And then, we saw The Platters.  You’ve heard of them?

YTMS: Yeah.

Bryan: So we said, let’s see if we can get in backstage and see them. Well, lo and behold, the first door we tried – it opened.  You don’t usually… We pushed on the door and it opened.  As we walked in, The Platters were there, as close as you are…there they were!  I thought the girl was pretty.

They stood and looked at us, we stood and looked at them.  Nobody said a word.  Then somebody goes, “Hey, what the f*** you doin’ here, get the f*** out of here!  And we were gone!

But…not only did they have this little stage at the state theatre, but they had this little dance area…and Gene Vincent came in…and he sung there.  Be Bop A Lula.  And that was another person who I told you before that you are aware of…The Beatles liked him.  They all followed these guys.

YTMS: This is pre-Beatlemania?  ’62?

Bryan: Maybe a little before that.

YTMS: Did you ever end up seeing those big British bands.  The Beatles, The Who?

Seeing The Beatles

Bryan: No, never followed The Who.  I saw The Beatles and The Stones in Swindon. It was like an Eaton’s store, and they had a restaurant on the second floor…and on a Monday night, they used to have groups there.  Or lone singers…and this was prior to The Beatles becoming famous, they were there…The Rolling Stones another week.  Long John Baldry was there. He was there, he was talking to this guy, he had a woman with him, and I was there with my friend Dave…and we could hear everything they were saying, we were standing by the bar…

YTMS: Didn’t you tell me some weird story about this guy?

Bryan: Yes, I did.  So after a long conversation, this guy says to Long John Baldry, “Who’s the girl?” and Long John Baldry turns to the girl and says, “What’s your name again?”  <laughter> So, all these singers at the time, they all knew one another… they used to meet up.  Elton John got his name…it’s allegedly said… they were lovers, Elton John and Long John Baldry.  I heard this many years later, on the radio.. and…they split up, Long John Baldry dumped Elton John.. his real name was something like “Jimmy”…

YTMS: Reggie…

Bryan: Reggie something-or-other, yeah yeah…so, he changed his name, and because he liked Long John Baldry, he called himself John…this is the rumour, anyway…where he got Elton from, I don’t know…but it’s been successful for him.

YTMS: Yeah…

Long John Baldry Reuinion (Many Years Later)

Bryan: So, fast forward to a few years ago in Cambridge. There was a bar over by Soper Park and Highway 8.  There was a little blues bar in there. 

YTMS: The Cave?

Bryan: No, that little plaza with the pizza place.  Around the corner, they had a blues bar.  And Martin says to me, cause he was workin’ there…he says, “Dad, come, Long John Baldry’s here! Why don’t you come and see him?” So I went and saw him…he had this hat on, he always had this thing for a hat… and long hair now…When he was at Swindon, he wasn’t wearing a hat when he was talking to that guy and that gal, and he had short hair…blonde hair…he was a tall guy, about 6’4″, maybe taller. That’s why they called him Long John, I guess.  He was in this blues bar here and Cambridge and I went to see him…And, as he walked towards the dressing room I went to speak to him…

YTMS: He didn’t remember you, did he?

Bryan: No, no…I just wanted to say “Hey, I saw you in Swindon!”, but he just poo-poo’d me away and went into the dressing room. So Martin spoke to him after the band were done for the night. He said “Yeah, I remember Swindon, yeah” But I didn’t know he was gay ’til Martin mentioned it. 

YTMS: Really?

Bryan: I had no f***** idea. 

YTMS: He came to Cambridge (Ontario)?

Bryan: Yeah, he came and sung in that bar.

YTMS: Wow.

Bryan: To me it’s the end of the road if you’re singin’ there.  But, he was known by a lot of people. 

YTMS: Yeah, he was famous.

Bryan: Yeah…I’ve got all these books here about all these different musical groups, and now and again they’ll cross paths. 

McIlroy’s in Swindon

YTMS: So what was that place that was in Swindon, the restaurant?

Bryan: Yeah, on Monday nights it was a dance club, and during the day, a restaurant. One night, we saw Jerry and the Pacemakers.  The place was called McIlroy’s.

YTMS: Was this a cool place to play?

Bryan: Yeah, and it probably held about 500 people.  And a lot of the performers came there just when they were getting famous, or prior to.

YTMS: The Stones played there?

Bryan: Yep. This was before they were locked in a room and told not to come out before you write a f***** hit song.

Bryan: If you look up McIlroy’s in Swindon, you’ll see some of the flyers of the Beatles and the Stones.

YTMS: You were allowed in to this place, at 14, 15? 

Bryan: Yeah, there was no booze.  Actually, maybe there was.  You used to be able to drink at the Locarno.  I was 19 or 20 then.  But you could drink when you were 16…there were no drugs back then.  No one talked about them, and they didn’t even really exist to us.  The only people doing drugs were the groups – the Beatles and the Stones.  In the circle of people I moved with within London, and within Swindon, we didn’t do drugs.  We didn’t have a clue.

YTMS: Probably for the best…

Bryan: I remember…I used to hang out with a guy named Eric Heaton.  We eventually had an apartment between us, and had all the birds over.  We had a friend, Willie, who used to hang out at Locomotive pub in Swindon. 

Eric used to go there more than I did.  One time, we finished drinking in there, they closed the bar.  Willie says “Come on boys, let’s go back to my place and have some carrot wine.” “No,” i said…I’d had some of my mother’s homemade wine, knocks the s*** right outta ya. “No, no,” he says, laughing like a crazy Irishman. So we go back to his place and have some carrot wine, on top of all the beer we drank.  Then we staggered up the hill, until we got to the flat we were livin’ in.  I laid on the bed, and the f***** room was goin’ round and round.  Then I had to throw up, so I fell off the bed, got on my hands and knees, and crawled round to the bathroom.  Oh, that carrot wine!

YTMS: I never heard of carrot wine.

Bryan: Brutal.  So those groups back then, we’d watch them, and after a while we’d dance to them.  They were pretty cool.

YTMS: Were you a fan of the American bands when they came to England?

Bryan: We might have seen a few of them.

Jerry Lee Lewis – No Encore?

YTMS: Didn’t you say you saw Buddy Holly?

Bryan: Buddy Holly was when I lived in London, and went to the Gaumont State Kilburn. 

Like I said, the first guy we saw was Guy Mitchell. “Singing The Blues” – that was his big hit song.  After that, it was Bill Haley and the Comets, and then Buddy Holly and the Crickets, and then there was Jerry Lee Lewis. I checked on this – he only sung in three concerts, and that was it.

YTMS: In the UK?

Bryan: Yeah, the press gave him a hard time, cause he had married his 13-year-old cousin. But I read many years ago in about 1980, in the Penthouse or Playboy, I was reading that, and here’s an article on Jerry Lee Lewis, and then there was a paragraph about Jerry Lee singing at the State Kilburn, and it said we boo’ed him off the stage, because he married his 13-year-old cousin.  It wasn’t because of that.  We listened to him…he did his bit, and here’s the reason why we boo’ed him…

YTMS: Why?

Bryan: Why do you think?

YTMS: He sucked?

Bryan: No, he was fabulous.  It was because he left the stage, and wouldn’t come back and do an encore.  NO ENCORE.  And another guy that would not play an encore was Roy Orbison. When I used to ride my scooter around London with my pals, we’d see tour posters with Roy Orbison and the Everly Brothers…

But you know, they were the best of times, the 60’s, and all those groups.  There wasn’t 1 group, or 2 groups…we used to have parties at my house, with my parents. 

After the British Legion closed on a Saturday night, people come over and we’d play records like Little Eva “Locomotion”, The Beatles, The Stones, and whoever else was popular at the time. 

They were good parties, they really were, and then we’d sit around and play cards afterwards, drinkin’ my mothers’ home made wine.  Then I’d get up and say “Holy f***!  It’s broad daylight!” and everybody’d be gone…


And so concluded my chat with ex-mod Bryan Rogers.  Stay tuned, we may yet chat again!  

Read about Bryan Rogers’ life story – http://imnotadoctorbutillhavealook.com

The History of the Saxophone

Reading through the history books, the saxophone remains one of the most remarkable instrument ever to appear on the music scene.

It has been many decades since its invention, but the sax still stands out. The relaxing, sophisticated, romantic, and sensual sound the sax produces strokes your nervous system in an exciting way that you can’t get enough of it.

Here’s a classic sax album to kick things off by the “colossus” himself, Sonny Rollins.

Although music has continued to change over the years, the saxophone has consistently enriched the music scene. The sax is one of those instruments that fascinates you even if it is lying around, not being played.  Just the look of it is intriguing.

Sax music is not just about the external sound that is produced by the saxophone; it’s a piece of the soul. Its an expression of what is felt from deep within. The sax has many of the same characteristics as the human voice, with a great deal of character and diversity of sound.

Adolphe Sax & The Invention of the Saxophone

The saxophone was invented more than 170 years ago by Adolphe Sax.  This would have been in the 1840’s (patented in 1846).

Adolphe was one of the most renown instrument makers of his time. He was also a clarinetist and flutist.

Sax’s father was also a skilled instrument maker and had passed this skills to his son. Being a skillful instrument maker, Adolphe had made some improvements and changes to existing instruments.

The improvements that Adolphe had made in the bass clarinet through the extension of the lower range and creation of the ophicleide helped him to acquire the experience that he needed to make the first saxophone.

Being a student of clarinet and flute in the Brussel’s Conservatory of Music, he made an observation that only a keen student would have seen.

He noticed that the typical woodwind had a missing range and he believed that just a brass instrument would fill that void. He then began to develop an instrument that would overblow the octave, and he made an instrument that had both clarinet and horn properties.

Adolphe created saxophones in various sizes both small and big. He then applied for a patent for this instruments and was then given a 15 years patent. This patent was a composition of the fourteen different designs that he had created.

The fourteen original designs where then categorized into two groups each ranging from contrabass to soprano.

 The two groups were E and B and F and C. The set E and B were used in military bands although it is the most commonly used set in today’s saxophones.

The set F and C was often used in the orchestra. Throughout the 15 years he had, he experimented on this instruments to find the right key. He finally settled on an instrument that was alternating in between Bb and Eb.

The Evolution of the Sax

After his patent expired in 1866, various instrument makers arose and made some improvements and changes in the sax.

Although Adolphe may have tried different modification such a lowering the range, a French instrument maker was the first one to be able to make this kind of adjustment.

Minor changes such as the addition of keys for alternate fingering were made. This made the saxophone easy and fast to play it. Bending the pitch was also achieved through this modification.

Various developments were made on Adolphe’s saxophone such as operating the tone holes with one key. Initially, the saxophone had two separate octave keys that helped to play the upper registers. This advancement made it easier to play the sax.

Buffet, one of the largest saxophone manufacturing company, immediately after Adolphe patent expiration, together with other companies such as Millereau, began producing licensed saxophone.

In 1881, shortly after Gautrot had been dismissed, he renewed his patent and made more innovations on the sax.

This aim of the new patent was to extend the saxophone bell so that it could produce the A and Bb notes. He also added another octave key to make a total of four. The addition of the octave key was to enable the production of G and F notes.

Pierre-Louis Gautrot

When it came to manufacturing and designing instruments, Gautrot was a genius.

Just after Adolphe patent expired, he applied for his patent in 1868.

After carefully making observations on the challenges the saxophone was faced with, he realized that pad leaking was the most significant problem. His patent was aimed at producing saxophones that were leak proof. 

Although the system Gautrot introduced was not perfect, it had a great impact and minimized the problem of a leaking pad.

Although Gautrot was a genius he also had his weaknesses. He had poor management skills when it came to business and this lead to him being declared bankrupt.

Henri Selmer and The First Modern Saxophones

Seimer is one of the known manufacturers of clarinets and other mouthpiece instruments.

He founded a company named after his name that is located in Paris.  He won a number of medals such as gold and bronze for the instruments that he had manufactured. 

He made various development on Adolphe’s sax in the early 1940’s. This included the renovation of the octave key, and the best of the development was offsetting of the tone holes.

His company was the first one to create a modern saxophone.

Most of the modern saxophone trace their origin to this model. He invented the balanced action of the sax that leads to a significant improvement in the sax world. His mechanism was straightforward and it made it easy to play the lower register in the same speed you could play in other parts.

Mark VI

Mark VI is the most remarkable saxophone that Selmer created. This model was available in alto, soprano, tenor, and bass. Salmer’s Mark VI saxophones were transitional and incorporated both the design that he had seen in the preceding saxophone and also the element design that was found in the current saxophone.

All these instruments were manufactured in France and later imported to other countries such American and British markets. This model set a standard that all manufactured use. There have been modifications over the years of the saxophone, they are all variations of Selmers Mark six model.

Charles Houvenaghel

Understanding the technical difficulties that could confront an instrument, the life of Charles Houvenaghel was devoted to improving the saxophone.

His knowledge of the manufacturing processes gave him an upper hand as compared to other competitive manufacturers.

He had those rare qualities that once come along once in a while. He was so brilliant in instrument design, he had an ear for music and a background in engineering. All these qualities combined made him redevelop the mechanics of the saxophone system.

He used the tone placement principle of the Boehm system. Although the regular fingering system of the sax is used, addition of new fingering can be used.

The most distinct feature of this modification is that it lowered the tones and you do not need to use the side keys to produce both the tone scales.

This instrument was expensive to build and many saxophonist players were unable and unwilling to learn the newly introduced fingering despite its advantage.

Only a few numbers of this instrument were able to be produced into the market. This model was only used for a few years and is not currently in the market.

Parts of a Saxophone

The sax consists of a conical tube and a bell. It also contains 20 to 23 tone holes at intervals, and they vary in size. To play the upper register, two vent holes are placed along the tube. Soft leather cups cover these holes.

Although the saxophone is categorized as a woodwind instrument, it is made of brass which is different from what most woodwinds are made of.

In contrast to brass instruments which produce sound when there is contact between the mouthpiece and the lips, the sax produces sound through wooden reed which is oscillating.

Another significant feature that makes it be classified as a woodwind is that pitch is produced as a result of breath going through the closing and opening keys.

The yellow brass is mostly replaced with copper for tonal and visual effects.

Little significance is given to the type of material used in the manufacturing of saxophones. All the attention is focused on the sound that is produced. Different materials such as polycarbonate and plastic have been used to a certain degree in the production of saxophones. 

A silver plate or an acrylic lacque coating which can either be clear or coloured is used to cover the brass before the final assembly of the saxophone parts.

Applying lacquer coating is very crucial in preventing oxidation of the brass. This maintains the shiny appearance of the sax. Over the years, different surface colours have been used. It’s just a matter of preference.

History Continues…

The saxophone is a versatile instrument. It adds a sensational moment to all music genres.  From rock to blues to folk to jazz.

The saxophone sound is very unique and cannot be ignored when its played in a mix. As is the custom of many bands when trying to find their rebellion by experimenting using different instruments, the saxophone has been a stable rock in an ever-changing sea.

The magic in bringing your emotions to a standstill can only be found in the saxophone.

The History Of The Clarinet

Instruments have always played an essential role in music since their advent, tens of thousands of years ago.

As much as music can be done with simply the human voice, there is just a magic about instruments accompanying the human voice that only your heart can understand. 

Much of the knowledge behind older instruments is shrouded in mystery, as we see images in old books and paintings, and have little to no knowledge about what exactly they are. 

It doesn’t help that these odd instruments are being played by mythical (and dare we say fictional) creatures.

We can only postulate that certain instruments of today somehow trace back to these ancestral instruments, and we need to dig deep into the dustiest of history books, to find out more details on just what these instruments were.

Today, we will be talking about the history of the clarinet, a unique instrument from the woodwind family, and the result of a revolutionary development that was built upon another instrument called the chalumeau (pictured below).

Difference between a clarinet and a chalumeau

Although the clarinet and the chalumeau are somewhat similar in appearance and, to an extent, the way they are played, they are two separate instruments.

The chalumeau, which is nearly identical to a recorder, was in existence before the invention of the clarinet.

The sound of chalumeau, at lower registers, worked fine, but it lacked vibrancy at higher registers. 

Another instrument, called the Baroque clarinet and sometimes called a “mock trumpet”, could cover the higher notes.  Both had a limited number of notes they could play.

The development of the clarinet created a high-quality sound at both high and low registers.  In this way, the arrival of the clarinet was born out of a certain need for a fuller range of notes.

Here is a quick video review of the chalumeau and the Baroque clarinet to hear their respective sounds.

In addition to the tone holes of the chalumeau, their distance for the lower octave is similar for the upper octave.

The first clarinets (once the instrument was invented and its structure was decided upon) also had two extra holes as compared to the chalumeau.

Due to certain practical and theoretical restrictions, the instrument makers prior to the 1700’s could not manufacture the particular effect the clarinet producesd, and had to rely on these other instruments to get those sorts of sounds.

Who invented the clarinet?

Johann Christoph Denner, an instrument maker from Nuremberg, together with his son, invented the clarinet. 

Denner was experienced with making whistles and hunting horns, and just 10 years prior to 1700 is when he moved towards oboes and recorders, and, in time, came up with something new and exciting – the clarinet!

A few of his originals still exist today, dating back over 300 years now and demanding hefty sums at auctions.

The arrival of the clarinet came after a long period of experimentation with the chalumeau, which Denner was busy examining with and working on improving.

As a maker of instruments, he knew what instruments had and also what they lacked.  You can be sure, in speaking to the players at the time, that he often heard an earful in regards to whatever issues they were experiencing with their instruments back then. 

It was the time of music which involved many huge concerts, and all of the big names in what we now call “classical” music were living and breathing like Haydn, Vivaldi, Beethoven, Bach, and so many more, and so there was an emphasis on producing the utmost quality instruments at the time for these composers, and the players who supported their works.

Denner wanted to build an instrument that could play both the upper and the lower registers without much sacrifice in terms of clear intonation. Two extra holes were added to the duodecime key to achieve this.

The first clarinets to be invented were very simple and had a similar look of a great recorder.

These early clarinets had two keys, and, with time, another key was added to make three keys.

With this addition, the newly minted clarinet instrument had a wide tonal range as compared to trumpets and oboes of that particular time. 

Being relatively loud and able to perform difficult jumps, the clarinet had an ease of playing which could not be obtained on other instruments like the trumpet, due to its various mechanical restrictions.

The fact that the word “clarino” was used to mean a small trumpet is an interesting twist on things, and, it so happens, that the word clarinet may have originated from it.

With enough small tweaks, and the addition of the two holes to the chalumeau, this new instrument basically became what is now known as the clarinet. 

With time, and more tiny alterations, the clarinet became more and more itself.

The sensational sound that the clarinet produced made it find usage in the orchestras of the day sooner than expected.

In the year 1740, Vivaldi had written a concert and Händel had composed an overture in 1748, both of which demanded the use of the Clarinet.

The development of the clarinet attracted various instrument players looking to try this new and exciting sound. The most widely known instance is from the Mannheim Orchestra, where two oboe players transitioned into clarinet players.

Further development of clarinet

Just like any instrument, the clarinet had its challenges and technical difficulties as it evolved.

The clarinet had only five primary keys by the 1760’s.  People of the time wondered if it was even possible to play music with that kind of instrument?

Clarinet players, loyal to working with this new instrument because of its entrancing sound, found ways to play this new instrument even with the limitations of developing models.

With each new technological jump and musical challenge, craftsmen and clarinet players strived to improve the instrument, and, if possible, to achieve perfection. The progression was in small steps which sometimes could lead to dead ends.

Eventually, however, the demand for greatness was at hand and entire concertos were being produced with the clarinet at their center.

Types and versions of clarinet over the years

Many clarinet types emerged, over the years, but only a few have survived to date. The development of these particular varieties of clarinets were as follows.

In the year 1710, the Denner’s was the first type of clarinet to be established in any way as a standard.  After all, it was his invention, so people looked to Denner for the template of how the clarinet was to be made.

Iwan Müller’s Clarinet

As time progressed, Iwan Müller’s version of the clarinet was established as a new benchmark for the instrument.

Being an instrument maker and a clarinet player himself, Iwan Müller developed a spoon-key with sunken holes, a conical ring, and an airtight pad.

This is because the old keys were unreliable, since they had a felt pad simple pivot-mechanism. Müller developed a ligature and changed the reed to what is commonly used today.

Altogether, Müller’s clarinet had 12 keys.  His development was not accepted by the Paris Conservatorium, as they believed in the characteristics of each specific scale not be tampered with.

Clarinets by then were only able to play one scale, and an introduction of a clarinet that could play chromatically would destroy this particular characteristic of each scale that they wanted to see upheld.  Also, they were a little bit snobby.  

In 1939, another development was made and was attributed to the name Bhoelm.

Theobald Boehm’s Clarinet

Theobald Boehm, a flute maker and composer from Germany, brought changes in the instrument world by making two changes.

The first change that he made was able to create a mathematical basis that could be used in determining the exact construction of the tone holes. This applied to the concert flute as well as the up and coming clarinet.

The ring key was his second invention. Covering of a hole that may have been larger than the finger that lies on it, the ring key was made possible through his creativity.

Here is a sample of the man’s work – a beautiful flute piece.

Hyacinthe Klosé

Hyacinthe Klosé, a Frenchman, developed a model of this clarinet and, being a Frenchman, he knew how to deal with the finicky nature of the Parisian Music Academy because he himself was a composer and also professor at the Conservatoire de Paris.

As one might expected, his fellow Parisians were convinced of his assertions about the clarinet.  Hence, his instrument was accepted and is currently played worldwide today.

But the progress didn’t stop there.  In 1900, a new German system was developed by improving Iwan Müller’s system. This type of clarinet is attributed to the name Oehler.

Although the German system did not make the Bhoelm system its standard, the Oehler standard is just as good as the Bhoelm system.

Although, in their opinion, any German will tell you that the Oehler system is far much superior to the Bhoelm system.

Although the two instruments look similar, there exists a difference between the two instruments. The significant difference can be seen in the keys that are meant for the little finger.

The Oehler system has a half-round key ends with a wooden roller and flat two levers, where the Bhoelm system has four levers.

What are clarinets made of?

The Clarinets can be made using different materials.

Classical instruments are commonly known to have been made from boxwood.  To send notes far and wide that are part of difficult passages, the instruments have undergone a dynamic change.

Grenadilla has become the most widely used material in making the clarinet. Grenadilla is commonly used because it has a higher density than boxwood.

The use of grenadilla makes it more comfortable during the performance to support the clarinet with body hence allows more air volume. This makes the sound to be more gentle and soft.

Here is a video by Yamaha talking about the difference between ABS resin and grenadilla.

The clarinet family

The family of clarinets is made up of similar instruments, although the sizes vary.

This includes bass clarinet, contrabass clarinet, alto clarinet, and piccolo clarinet. 

The bass clarinet can trace its origin to France. 

There are also instruments in this family that differ slightly in construction, such as the basset horn. 

The clarinet and jazz

Since 1910, the clarinet has continued to play a central role in the jazz music.  It could be said that jazz music was made for this instrument moreso than classical, but that would be splitting hairs.  

The attraction between jazz music and the clarinet is not surprising, in retrospect.  Jazz music has a mysterious sound that is quite beguiling, and that same description could be used for the clarinet’s tone itself.

The Bb soprano clarinet is one of the most commonly used instruments by jazz pioneers such as Sidney Bechet and Johnny Dodds.

Here’s the best of Sidney Bechet, just to give you a taste of his incomparable clarinet styles in the old New Orleans jazz mode.

A number of bands have actively used clarinets from the 1920’s to the 1970’s, but this is generally found outside of the realm of the the rock, pop, and blues genres that dominated the radio starting in the 1940’s.

The usurping of the clarinet from the jazz ensemble by the saxophone, made the clarinet seem to disappear partially. This is because the saxophone was a louder and more forceful instrument, that did not have as complicated of a fingering system.

Also, modern jazz required an increase in speed and this did not also favour the clarinet, which was not built for the same blinding ferocity as the sax. 

That said, you can rock out on a clarinet (examples below) and it can be played quite fast.  But, if you look at a saxophone, you can see that by design it is designed to really wail if you push it, whereas clarinets are a more demure instrument by nature.  

As you can hear, it is possible to “riff” on a clarinet, but at the same time, it always has that “nice” and rather calming breath-y sound that basically precludes it from being a full-on rock instrument.

Now, you might say, “Why don’t they just electrify a clarinet like you would a guitar?”  Well, they have.  If you are interested in this concept, please check out the following video on the subject of electric clarinet.

Because it is naturally a rather lively instrument, clarinet is found everywhere in a wide variety of musical styles.  Modern styles, older more obscure styles – clarinet has a wide berth in terms of appeal.

Samba and choro, both of which are Brazilian music style, use clarinets quite liberally.

Clarinets have also been featured in the folk music in Macedonia, klezmer music and Bulgarian wedding music.

In conclusion, the clarinet is one of the instruments that is indispensable to the vocabulary of music, due to its exotic and unique nature, ability to play speedy runs, chromatic embellishments, and generally lighter touch.

The uniqueness of the clarinet still stands today as its prime feature, and we can’t imagine that the clarinet is going anywhere anytime soon.  All hail the clarinet!  Leave us a comment if you also love this instrument, or if you know about something that we may have missed!

The Controversial History Of The Banjo

History can be a hard thing to discuss, because, inevitably, you probably weren’t there to see the events unfold as they did. 

This is especially true when we’re talking about the history of one particular musical instrument with a somewhat checkered past – the banjo.

The banjo, as we know it, dates back 400 or so years to the Carribean in the 1600’s, when and where it was first documented.

By documented, I am referring to the only way anything way typically was documented centuries before now, and that is to say – in books, by way of either sketches or more detailed drawings, since cameras weren’t yet invented.

Sir Hans Sloane – First Documented Picture of a Banjo

For instance, here is an image taken from a travel journal from 1707 by Sir Hans Sloane, called “A Voyage to the Islands of Madera, Barbados, Nieves, S. Christophers and Jamaica”. 

This shows the first documented image of what appears to be a banjo, or something like it, in the Carribean isles.

It should be noted that the book from which this picture was taken, was based on events that occurred in 1687, and then transcribed into book form in the 1700’s. 

Sir Hans Sloane was a noted Irish physician, and his purpose in the Carribean was to assist the new Governor of Jamaica, the second Duke of Albemarle, as his personal physician.

While visiting the islands, he collected plants for study and also documented other things.  He also invented drinkable chocolate (chocolate milk), so you have him to thank for that, apparently.

As you can see from the drawings in his documents of the islands around Jamaica, these “banjos”, as it were, didn’t really resemble the banjos of today.  This is because they weren’t, strictly speaking, banjos.

These instruments were, at the time of documentation by Hans Sloane, considered to be simply the instruments the peoples of the Carribean were playing at the time, and in the text you can see them referred to as “lutes”.

One of the defining characteristics of a banjo, which is present in the above example, is the drum-like body.

I should mention that, around this time in history (mid-1600’s), there were dozens of variations of stringed instruments that all appeared slightly different.

With the increasingly large migration patterns of people in 1600’s, it was certainly a difficult task to document what each was called, and what unique traits each one possessed.

Stringed instruments themselves date back 40 000 years, so it’s not as though stringed instruments themselves were new.  Humans have been playing stringed instruments for thousands of years. 

Plucked lutes, in particular, have been documented in Mesopotamia from around 6000 years ago.

Today the word banjo is loosely defined as: A stringed musical instrument (chordophone) with a round body, a membrane like soundboard and a fretted neck, played by plucking or strumming the strings.  

The origin of the word “banjo” can be traced back to several places, including “banja” from Jamaica, “banza” from Brazil, and mbanza from Angola.

I’ve also seen the word “banjo”, used as a verb, meaning “to beat” or “to hit”.  As in, “He banjoed that guy in the face.”  This usage is, apparently, of British decent.  I don’t believe it is commonly used nowadays, but only the Brits know this for sure.

Where Did The Banjo Instrument Originally Come From?

Although the first documented picture of what could be considered a banjo dates back to the 1600’s in the Carribean islands (ie.(the one at the top of this article), this doesn’t mean banjos were “invented” in the Carribean.

Again, if we define a banjo as a stringed instrument with several strings and a drum-like surface, we can trace its origins back even further, and to other continents.

There are many popular perceptions surrounding precisely where the banjo originated, and there are logical reasons for each of these presumptions. 

For example, most people who live in North America don’t think first of the Carribean as the birthplace of the banjo.  To some of us living in North America, suggesting that the banjo came from the Carribean doesn’t really sound accurate, and I think this is understandable.

The more dominant association that Westerners, I think, tend to recognize between the banjo and a particular geographic location, links the banjo, at least in the Westernized mind, to the southern United States.

This is a fair guess, as much of the lore, not to mention the majority of the popular media from the past 50 years, associates the banjo with styles of music that originated in the southern U.S., such as bluegrass, dixieland, and country music.

In addition, southern banjo players have been prominently been featured on various television shows and movies over the past 50 or so years, and that leads many of us to simply assume that banjo must come from the southern U.S., not the Carribean, as most research points to quite clearly.

Indeed, I’d say that there is a deep association between the instrument we call the “banjo” and states in the U.S. which are considered to be Appalachian. 

Appalachian states include: West Virginia, Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia.

In turn, the history of Appalachian culture traces back to Scotland, Ireland, and Germany, when those peoples moved to North America and began living there in the 1800’s.  And so, there are those who might guess that the banjo may have come from these countries, originally. 

For example, it would seem fairly logical to think that the banjo may have come from Ireland, where the banjo is still popular today, when Irish peoples migrated into the mysterious and mountainous Appalachian rural regions, when the potato famine and general starvation prompted them to leave their homeland.

As many of us are aware, there are various stigmas attached to the idea of the someone who is from Appalachia, both good and bad, which I need not elaborate on here. 

Suffice it to say, Appalachian peoples are considered to be of the land, and there is certainly a connotation that links banjo playing to a more rural type of folk. 

In other words, an impoverished people, and this is fact is very much line with the reputation of previous peoples who played the banjo in past decades, where they were of a lower caste.  

Here is that famous scene from the movie Deliverance, featuring the classic “dueling banjos” bit, although one “banjo” is clearly a guitar.

The interesting thing about the boy from Deliverance, Lonnie, who was presumably chosen for this unusual appearance (the book depicts an albino negro), is that he didn’t even know how to play the banjo, nor was he recruited from the backwoods of northern Georgia.  

This next clip interviews the “boy” himself (now in his 50’s), played by Billy Redden, where he talks more about his role in the movie and his lack of skill on the instrument.

The clip also includes an interview with Ronny Cox (who played Drew Ballinger) talking about the cultural significance of the famous banjo scene, as being one of the defining movie moments of all time.

As more research is done about the history of the banjo, an interesting but rather dark narrative began to emerge from the gloaming of the past.

All that is needed to put this in perspective is a proper view of history and the slave trade in the 1600’s, which historians, by this point, have illustrated rather conclusively, to the point where any educated person would have trouble refuting it.

When it comes to the banjo’s true origins, all research points to it originating from Africa.  Specifically, countries such as Senegal or The Gambia (ie. Senegambia), which were the focus of the slave trade.

The original picture which I shared at the beginning of this article, from 1707, shows a version of the banjo that does not yet appear in its modern form.

Banjos made from gourds

When the banjo was beginning to catch on in the Carribean, it still showed some evidence of its past where it was fashioned sometimes out of gourds, serving as a shell for the body.  This was then attached to its characteristic long neck, and strings were added.

Before banjos took on the appearance we know them to have today, with a circular body shaped that almost looks like a snare drum, their precursors from Africa were often made from different materials than were available in the Americas in later centuries. 

Here is a reproduction of a colonial era banjo made with a gourd for a body.  As you can see, this has influences of a style of instrument popular in Africa over the centuries.  At the same time, you can see how this instrument below does have characteristics of the modern banjo.

Next, we have an image of a banjo that seems to bridge the gap, between a banjo body made out of a gourd, and one that more resembles a wider circular drum. 

Even though it still has a primitive look, like it wasn’t “professionally” built, this banjo begins to take on a more “modern” shape.

The image most of us conjure up when someone says the word “banjo”, was not yet in existence in 1707, and wouldn’t be for at least 100 years.

Here is an old banjo from the 1900’s.  By this time, banjos were fully Americanized, one might say.  It has the modern fretboard, the modern tuning pegs, and the unmistakable body and neck shape.

To reach its modern form, history would have to wait until the late, great, and controversial Joel Sweeney came along in the 1830’s and “invented” it, or so it has been said.

Joel Sweeney, “Inventor” of the 5-String Banjo

Joel Walker Sweeney was a popular minstrel performer from the first half of the 19th century hailing from Virginia, who was perhaps the first popular white man to famously play the instrument.  At the same time, he was said to have been taught by African Americans, which is partly why he could play so good.

Joel Sweeney has been credited with raising the profile of the banjo from an instrument associated with the unwashed masses, and bring it up to a level of sophistication which could be eventually be accepted, and then firmly embraced by the middle class.  

Claiming that Joel Sweeney somehow single handedly raised the stature of banjo playing on a global level is almost too ludicrous to say, but it may in fact ultimately be true. 

The reason the claim is contentious, is because Joel Sweeney was not just a talented performer who ended up making the banjo more famous because of his adept abilities on the instrument.  He certainly was that, but that was only part of how Joel Sweeney shined the spotlight on the banjo, and “brought it” to the higher societal castes, as it were.

Here is a book on Joel Walker Sweeney, if you are interested in getting the full story on the man and what he did for the banjo.

Feature Pick

Feature Pick

The Birth Of The Banjo: Joel Walker Sweeney And Early Minstrelsy

Buy On Amazon

The Birth Of The Banjo: Joel Walker Sweeney And Early Minstrelsy

Buy On Amazon

It is more accurate to say, I think, that Joel Sweeney was a multi-talented circus performer who, according to rumour, played the instrument with his feet, while fiddlin’ with his hands, and then playing mouth harp all at the same time, when the mood hit him. 

He was also highly skilled at imitating animals, as one of his primary talents for which he was known.  Basically, the guy was just a son of a gun who was, by all accounts, very entertaining to everyone who happened to catch his performances.

His influence spread as he and his troupe toured America, as well as Europe, and even played for Queen Victoria in 1843.  He then went on and played and showed off his formidable banjo playing skills with his brothers, called Old Joe’s Minstrels.

Joel Sweeney’s influence on the popularity of the banjo cannot be underestimated.

The controversy, which occurs more in retrospect than it did at the time it happened, comes now from the fact that Joel was a blackface performer, a practice which is now practically forbidden in Western society today.

To be specific, blackface is the theatrical practice where non-black performers painted themselves up to look “black” with greasepaint, burnt cork, or shoe polish.

The last time we saw people performing in blackface wasn’t all that long ago.  One more recent instance was The Black and White Minstrel Show from 1978.

Consider this – slavery didn’t end until 1865, with the introduction of the 13th Amendment, which declares: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

Of course, it is not difficult to see the connection between the racial stereotypes that blackface seemed to promote, and the mistreatment of blacks through the centuries.  In fact, the idea of the old style minstrel show, complete with blackface, is a quick reminder to many people, to this day, of the existence of slavery, and various caricatures of black culture.

Of course, where you had minstrel shows in the 17th century, onward, you had blackface, and so then you had banjos.  Banjos, the instrument which was beginning to see acceptance worldwide, and detaching itself from various prejudices of the times, was still very much embroiled in what I can only call “racism”.

It is understood that, in the context of the times, minstrel shows were quite normal.  Then again, so was slavery. 

Perhaps the most famous blackface performer people know today is Al Jolson, who was the highest paid entertainer back in the 1920’s and was, at the time, proclaimed “The World’s Greatest Entertainer” at one time.

Al Jolson, although he didn’t play the banjo himself, helped popularize one of the most well known banjo songs ever – Oh Susanna. 

To me, this song represents, in large part, why the banjo is thought to come from the southern U.S., as the lyrics reflect this, and the song is maybe the best known banjo tune of all time.

As you can see above, Al Jolson used blackface makeup, which he often did. 

This practice of blackface dated back to, reportedly, the 1400’s, but had become very popular in colonial America at the time in the 1800’s.  There are many pictures of blackface performers holding or playing banjos.

The association between minstrels wearing blackface makeup and the banjo itself is a strong one, but I don’t say this to indict the banjo as being part of the history of racism, even though it essentially is a part of that history.  That said, you can’t really “blame” an instrument for anything, can you?

Of course, there’s no denying that the banjo probably wouldn’t have made it to the Carribean, to be used by slaves in the Americas, had it not been brought across the seas along with the thousands of slaves who played similar instruments, and who were sold to slavers at the time, in the 1600’s, when the trade was in full swing.

It is worth mentioning that at this time, the banjo was not called a “banjo.”   I mentioned some of the other names of the banjo that were used previously, but, back in 1687, when Sir Hans Sloane was travelling in the Carribean, writing his now-famous journals, he referred to the instrument as the “strum strump”.  Nice name!  

Akonting

In these African communities in Senegambia, from which slaves were being captured and brought to the Americas by the thousands, there was (and still is) an instrument known as the akonting, which is said to be the precursor to the modern banjo.

Other African instruments said to be precursors of the banjo include the ngoni and xalam, but for now I’ll focus on the akonting, a hide-covered instrument said to be the most similar to the banjo. 

The akonting (also known as the ekonting to the Jola tribes who first created them) is a strummed folk lute style of instrument which is similar to a banjo, traditionally made with a gourd for a body, along with two strings for melody, plus one drone string played with the thumb.  This makes the akonting similar to a 5-string banjo. 

The akonting can be traced back to the village of Kanjanka, Senegal.  It can be tuned in different ways, similar to a 5-string banjo, and its tuning, called kanjanka, equates to kan (5th note of a scale), jan (root note of a scale), and ka (the flatted 7th), or 5/1/-7. 

Here is a picture of a Jola village, the originators of the akonting / ekonting instrument.

Up next, we have a man named Daniel Jatta, playing a tune written by his father on the akonting in the traditional style. 

The downstroke style here, called “o’teck” or “to strike”, is very similar in style to the very first banjo styles in the Americas, the “stroke style”, which was a precursor to the clawhammer or frailing style.

While all of this seems very plausible, that the akonting was brought over to the Americas by slaves, and that is the instrument upon which the modern banjo was based, there is still some controversy around this topic, making it unclear at which point exactly what happened during those harrowing years when the slaves were brought to the Americas.

Banjos on the Plantations

By 1807, there were over 3 million African slaves in the Americas, where they harvested crops like tobacco, sugar, and cotton.

Once the slaves were living in the Americas, they lived on the plantations, worked, and, above all else, suffered.  For a more detailed history of what this was like, go here.

As much as the African slaves suffered, their music never left them, and they looked for opportunities to express it, as anyone would.

Although they basically were brought here with nothing, the African slaves were eventually able to have some small respite from their masters, at first through the singing of gospel music, which is something that was impossible to take from them completely and helped them cope. 

Then, if they were able, they would produce the occasional musical instrument that they were able to build by hand.

This is where their memories of their favourite native African instruments came back to them, and they were able to make these banjo-esque instruments, in order to accompany their singing, and put voice to their struggle. 

That is, if their cruel slave masters allowed it.  Some plantation owners certainly did not accommodate their wishes, regardless of how modest they were.

Here is a recent “lynching memorial” erected in Montgomery, Alabama.

William Boucher

In the midst of the tumult that was America in the 1800’s, due to slavery, wars, and other factors, a Baltimore man named William Boucher was busy building instruments, including drums and minstrel banjos.  He was the first ever commercial maker of banjos in the U.S.A.

Here is a video which shows a replica of a Boucher banjo being played.  Not surprisingly, there’s a little Oh Susanna thrown in for good measure. 

You can still purchase original builds of these banjos, although they will can cost upwards of $10 000 nowadays.

Conclusion

While there is plenty more to say about the development of the banjo up through the years, I think it’s alright to stop here.  

As we know, the banjo went on to become an instrument that is a major part of the broader musical landscape around the world. 

Despite its confusing and controversial history, I can say that in 2018, if a young person wants to learn the banjo, they can do so without having to ponder all of the heavier historical baggage that comes along with it and just enjoy the music.  

That said, sweeping history under the rug is never a wise thing to do, especially when we know some of the facts.