Thursday, September 17, 2009

new Ail Fionn recordings from Flanders

It had been almost two years since I've seen Inge, and even longer since we'd been able to play any music together. Our last meeting didn't go terribly well, and this had been followed by an intense, symbolic dream I had involving the two of us jointly stealing twelve beautiful 12-string guitars from a house near Glastonbury Abbey. We'd discussed possible interpretations of this, and decided to put our differences aside and try to find a way to come together in peace and reconciliation and make some new music. Twelve new pieces, that was the original plan. And if it worked out, we'd come together every year or so and do the same thing, possibly producing a series of twelve 'virtual albums' in the process. This would be free music (both in the economic and musical senses) and, effectively, a kind of devotional music. She had chosen six of my newer pieces, and I six of hers, and we'd been preparing for this for the last few months.

We met up on Sunday at a pretty impressive art exhibition (almost all anonymous) at a big squat in Wondelgem, just outside Ghent - this is the suburb where Inge grew up. There were squat-bands playing on a makeshift stage in the garden, but not the usual angry punk squat-bands of yore - what I heard sounded more like Godspeed-meets-Gong, a perfect soundtrack for wandering around looking at the various artworks in crumbling outbuildings and half-destroyed greenhouses. Back at Sven's we had a bit of a jam with Sven playing Moroccan frame drum and his friend Jan (a bus-dweller I'd met briefly once) playing darbouka.

Listen Here

me, Inge, Jan, part of Sven's head
me, Inge, Jan, part of Sven's head (and Mickey obscured)

Then next day Inge and I headed out to our old friend Thrine's farmhouse near Geel for a couple of days of rehearsal. Having spent so much time in cities during my Belgian visits in recent years, I'd forgotten how beautiful and quiet the Flemish countryside can be. This was the perfect place to get our sound together - Thrine and her family were incredibly hospitable and appreciative of our music. After a full day of music on the Tuesday, the recording mission seemed fairly secondary. Having established goodwill and generated some musical magic seemed enough.

Inge also played me some new recordings of her and Donna from their folk trio Youshka, as well as some very impressive recordings made by "Maximal Orkestra", a 9-piece group put together by an inspiring teacher called Pierre Dayraud at the music academy where she studies in Tarbes. She's been playing fiddle, Jean-Luc Ponty-style (and listening to a lot of Mahavishnu Orchestra), through a bank of effects, and I was pretty blown away by her progress in the last couple of years. The bulk of the stuff we were working on together was the usual saz-mandolin combination, but there were a couple of fiddle tunes in there too.

A few things got recorded out in Thrine's garden (on Inge's Zoom H2). Some of it's quite nice, I think:

Listen Here

The recording sessions at Funkey's place in Sint-Niklaas were appropriate relaxed and playful. We got quite a bit done on the Thursday afternoon/evening, then a bit more on Friday - really starting to get into it by this point - before Sven and Jan arrived. Mickey showed up fairly soon after. A big communal meal was prepared, then more music got recorded, with Sven playing percussion and Jan playing some lap steel guitar. Things got quite silly late into the night, with Sven playing his pentatonic "Japanese blues" piece "Mitsubishi On My Mind", as well as an attempted Michael Jackson tribute(!).

me and Inge (posers!)
promotional photo in a parallel world where we take ourselves far too seriously (posers!)

Saturday morning involved a long relaxed breakfast and absurdist photo session while various files got copied from Funkey's computer. We made the most of this time and re-recorded a couple of pieces upstairs on Inge's Zoom H2 digital recorder under Jan's supervision and with Sven (metronome in his ear) "conducting".

A few hours of stuff got recorded in the end - it may take me a few weeks to sort it all out, but I'm looking forward to the task. [24/09/08 - just heard from Funkey that due to a technical error with the stereo mic set-up, we've ended up with two left channels rather than left/ everything we recorded is unusable. This is a shame, but I don't feel hugely disappointed, as the whole experience of reconnecting with Inge and making music again was such a positive one - any recorded artefact was going to be secondary.]

Then it was all back to Ghent in Inge's van to catch some of the "OdeGand" festival (various concerts happening on the cities many waterfronts). We caught the end of an orchestra playing "Bolero" with a troupe of experimental dancers flinging themselves about on a floating stage, then fireworks, then off to a traditional "jenever cot" for drinks (witloof jenever is surely the most disgusting tasting drink ever!), and finally to 't Velootje, in the Patershol district, surely the most eccentric bar I've ever been in. Jan, talking for a while about the "Englishness" in my playing, mentioned Richard Thompson, which was an enormous compliment (just to be mentioned in the same context)...

bizarre mirror-image photo
me, Inge, Jan, part of Sven's head - part of an utterly absurd Saturday morning photo session

On Sunday, I met up with Erik, a yogi friend I'd not seen for almost 15 years. We wandered around the city aimlessly and talked as if no time had passed. Nice. We used to play guitars together, but he doesn't play anymore. He listens though. He was enthusing about Bach's cello suites and (a pleasant surprise), Robert Wyatt's Rock Bottom, an album I introduced him to in '92 or '93 - and still a big favourite of us both.

Then it was on to a squatted factory near the Bourgoyen nature reserve where Jan's bus is currently located. We had a meal and then a jam - me, Inge, Jan, Sven and Bart. Bart's part of the group "Buszjan and the Musical Society" as well as half of the duo "Buszjan and the Drunken Sailor" (they play sea shanties, pirate songs, rebel songs, etc.). We played our way through "What Shall We Do with the Drunken Sailor" and a couple of Jan's songs, then Sven taught us an ultra-trancey Chaabi (Moroccan) rhythm and an Algerian tune. Jan led us through some "Malian blues", as well as "St. James Infirmary" and "Louie Louie" (the first time we've played that, amazingly) - lots of fun.

My last day was spent hanging out in Sven's room with Inge and Sven, then getting a lift in Inge's van to South Brussels to visit Marie-Eve, one of the very first people I met in Belgium during my first visit in 1991. We were both in the same student tower block (I was on a research visit for my PhD) and then recognised each other during a gig at the now-legendary (and defunct) Democrazy venue where we both regularly went to see bands. She now works for an independent cinema cooperative, and has just had a baby, called Elias. Lovely to reconnect. She claims to have lost touch with music in recent years, but not entirely, as she introduced me to a remarkable album involving the Dutch anarchist collective/band The Ex collaborating with Ethiopian musicians.

I got back to Ghent in plenty of time for my coach home. Sven and Katrijn turned up a the coach stop with my rucksack and saz, kindly, and we hung out by Katrijn's car listening to Gnawa Diffusion on the stereo until my bus arrived. Perfect.


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