Monday, 16 January 2017

"Evensong/Fantasia Lindum" by (THE) AMAZING BLONDEL (2004 Beat Goes On Reissue - 2LPs Remastered onto 1CD) - A Review by Mark Barry...

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"...Shine On Your Celestial Light..."

Imagine The Incredible String Band had a three-way with Tir na n'Og and Gryphon and the offspring produced was Steeleye's Span's awkward child.

AMAZING BLONDEL will not be for everyone - ye old English rhymes about buxom wenches beneath willow wood - celestial lights up on Old Moot Hill and lute-wielding hairy men dancing Lady Marion's Galliard at the Siege of Yaddlethorpe (if you get my pint of mead).

UK released on the very adventurous Island Records in 1970 and 1971 (on both sides of the pond no less) – The Amazing Blondel and these two brilliant albums was part of the Fairport Convention/Fotheringay/Pentangle led Folk Revival sweeping the country and student campuses at the time. But our minstrel heroes veered away from the new hybrid of Folk Rock and went back to very ancient roots indeed. Theirs was a mission to tap into the deeply distant past - airs and tunes and instruments gathering dust in unloved Elizabethan museum spaces.

But I hear you say - that's all very nice and historically tickety-boo - but isn't most of that stuff unlistenable pigeon doo-dah. Well no - because amidst all the madrigals, pipe organs, harmoniums, tabor pipes and lutes - lurk pretty melodies - and a trio of enthusiastic Englishmen ready to glockenspiel your sorry city ass. At the time it was fresh and even daring. It’s dated now of course and does suffer from some serious hippy overtones laced with mushrooms and dodgy real ale choices. But there’s so much to love here too and this BGO Remaster is audibly fabulous (2 full albums for the price of one – how very trade union of them).

Here are the lullabies, galliards and merry dances on St. Crispin's Day...

UK released 14 June 2004 - "Evensong/Fantasia Lindum" by (THE) AMAZING BLONDEL on Beat Goes On BGOCD 626 (Barcode 5017261206268) offers 2LPs Remastered onto 1CD and plays out as follows (70:28 minutes):

1. Pavan
2. St. Crispin's Day
3. Spring Season
4. Willowood
5. Evensong
6. Queen Of Scots
7. The Ploughman [Side 2]
8. Old Moot Hill
9. Lady Marion's Galliard
10. Under The Greenwood Tree
11. Anthem
Tracks 1 to 11 are their 2nd studio album "Evensong" (as THE AMAZING BLONDEL) - released December 1970 in the UK on Island ILPS 9136 and February 1971 in the USA on Island SMAS-9302. Produced by PAUL SAMWELL-SMITH.

12. Fantasia Lindum [Side 1, 20:25 minutes]
Prelude and Theme
Song "Swifts, Swains and Leafy Lanes"
Dance "Jig Upon Jig"
Theme (Lutes and Recorder)
Dance Galliard "God Must Doubt"
Song "Lincolnshire Lullaby"
Dance "Basse Danse"
Theme (Lute Duet)
Dance "Quatre Bras Pavan"
Song "Celestial Light" (For Lincoln Cathedral)
Dance "Coranto"
Them (Lutes and Recorders)
13. To Ye [Side 2]
14. Safety In God Alone
15. Two Dances
(a) Almaine (b) Bransie "For My Ladys' Delight"
16. Three Seasons Almaine
17. Siege Of Yaddlethorpe
Tracks 12 to 17 are their 3rd studio album "Fantasia Lindum" (as AMAZING BLONDEL) - released November 1971 in the UK on Island ILPS 9156 and December 1971 in the USA on Island SW-9310. Produced by PAUL SAMWELL-SMITH.

JOHN DAVID GLADWIN - Lead Vocals, Lute, Theorboe, Cittern and Double Bass
TERENCE ALAN WINCOTT - Crumhorn, Recorders, Pipe-Organ, Tabor Pipe, Tabor, Flute, Harmonium, Lute, Harpsichord, Woodwinds, Percussion and Vocals
EDWARD BAIRD - Lute, Cittern, Glockenspiel, Dulcimer and Vocals

Other Musicians:
Chris Karan - Percussions
Adam Skeaping - Viola de Gamba and Violone
Jim Capaldi (of Traffic) - Drums on "Siege Of Yaddlethorpe"

The 12-page booklet features the lyrics to both LPs in that old English typeface - some black and white live photos of the trio and new highly entertaining liner notes from noted writer ALAN ROBINSON (dated January 2004). There are no credits for the Remaster but it sounds like Andrew Thompson's work. As both records are largely acoustic instruments - this is the kind of transfer that benefits from a delicate touch. Take the beautiful instrumental passage at the title track "Evensong" plays out which is followed by the short instrumental "Queen Of Scots" - both sparkling with clarity and full of presence - a very sweet job done.

Their debut "The Amazing Blondel And A Few Faces" had surfaced in May 1970 on Bell SBLL 131 in the UK (now a £300 rarity) and has been reissued separately. But their 2nd studio album "Evensong" from December 1970 was a giant leap forward and the UK issue came in a typically lovely Gatefold Sleeve courtesy of Island Records (repro'd in the booklet). Let's get to their unique type of new old-music...

Just what kind of instrument a Trumhorn, a Tabor or a Theorboe actually is remains an ecclesiastical mystery - but we're " to the Holy Wars to fight the Saracen..." on the opener "Pavan". Ladies of pleasure are mentioned in both "Pavan" and St. Crispin's Day" (using their ye old name beginning with 'w' and I don’t mean wenches) - but it's the impossibly pretty "Spring Season" that really catches the ear. This tale of 'courting' on dark nights that are dwindling and fires that need less kindling is properly lovely and featured as an example of excellence on the stunning 2009 "Meet On The Ledge" 3CD Box Set covering Island's Folk-Rock output (see separate review). "The Ploughman" is another gushing love song with a Harmonium anchoring a light but sweet melody. It spins its lovely way into your heart with yearning words like "...If I were a Weaver...I'd weave the tresses in your hair...Plait them with ribbons of gold...and bless each ringlet, curl and fold..."

Years of untold pain continue and are sung by all three in the strangely jolly "Old Moot Hill" - another air where a hurting soul wishes he was the lucky suitor come calling as she sits "...combing auburn hair before retiring to bed..." Our players ask another lady to come discreetly and meet "Under The Greenwood Tree" where he dreams of more nights of shameless love – if only her dowry wasn’t promised to another. The album ends with the huge Harmonium sound of "Anthem" where you half expect someone to walk down the aisle in a countryside church wedding at dusk as the boys (all dressed as Will Scarlett) sing like a choir "...your guiding light shines clear...through the twilight till the dawn..."

"Fantasia Lindum" goes for broke with the whole of Side 1 being one long 20-minute mishmash of 13-segments – and it’s frankly brilliant, brave and musically beautiful Suite with certain instruments a shoe-in for an album in 1973 called "Tubular Bells". The playing on this side-long opus is magical and the Remaster really brings the beauty of pinging acoustic strings, Dulcimers and Harpsichords into your living room. As they sing “...Crimsoned fragrance expounding...adorn your dreamfields tonight...” – you get lost in the voices and that unique sound they make and you also can’t help but feel that £30 as a Record Collector Price Guide quote is too low for these rare Pastoral Folk masterpieces.

For sure this music isn’t going to be everyone’s idea of Newcastle Brown Ale – but I urge you to seek out The Amazing Blondel in all its old-world diversity and unique British beauty. Shine on your celestial light indeed. And eh by gum but them were the days...

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