James McNally Answers Questions from Fans and Shares His Thoughts on 10 Years of ACSS
Greetings to all ACSS fans and lovers of light all around the world!
Let me first send my sincere thanks to our special friends Kathleen and Don for their continuous devotion and hard work over the years in keeping everyone informed, enthusiastic and up to date at www.afrocelts.org. In very difficult circumstances it is has been very much appreciated. Also thank you to all those who have kept coming here month after month while we were underground in melodyville trying to finish our fifth Afro Celt journey. At last Anatomic is free! It seems surreal that although we finished it almost 6 months ago we've been in limbo ever since waiting like yourselves for its out of our control, ever-changing release date.
But now that its here I would like to offer anyone who wants to, a chance to ask some questions and perhaps get inside the making and meaning behind the music and all things Anatomic. Anything from individual track conception, instruments played, album titles, track names, guest singers, musicians, melodies, lyrics, anything you like, just fire away. As an Afro Celt producer, I often find that even amongst ourselves we can share very different views about what has been important about the making of each album from its creation and production to the mixing, marketing and even the politics of the music industry itself and to that extent you may get a completely different perspective and answer from each of us. This to me has been always been a vastly inspiring and healthy situation as it has also been challenging and difficult. It's these very differences coming together and going forward together that defines our music best.
We have often had great debates into the night about certain tracks but I always knew that something would happen to make the music itself win. In reference to what Simon commented on in an earlier stream, the instrumental Mojave was one of these incidences where perhaps we did not all get it at first or indeed share the same passion about it during its conception but in the end the track itself proved too strong to be ignored, especially when playing out live. I suppose the whole vision behind it felt like too much of a James McNally track as opposed to an ACSS one, but this was certainly not the case and as usual the music itself finally won through. Personally, it always felt from the beginning that this was going to be the most emotional and powerful instrumental we've recorded to date, a feeling shared by many and I'm very proud of the way it has turned out. True, I feel there is a lot of me spiritually in Mojave, as there is in many of the tracks on the album, who I am, where I come from, where I live, but from that nucleus were fused expressions and personality from all other members of the band so each could feel they belonged to it or in the very least come along for the ride. That's in effect how a lot of the tracks would be handed around amongst each other on past albums and indeed this one. If at anytime any of us felt the music was incomplete it would be held over until it was ready as was the case with both Mojave and Drake. Mojave was never meant to be track 10 on Seed. It just wasn't the right time or place. Like picking fruit from the vine, it was born to be track 3 on Anatomic; complete with nothing missing and judging by the massive reaction to it everywhere I'm sure it will end up an Afrocelt classic.
As you can probably detect, my dream over the years of writing and producing ACSS material was primarily based on the concept and structure of the songs themselves and the journey they told. It's been a privilege to work with such colleagues that made you feel anything was possible and that no collaboration in mixing, tradition or crossing musical boundary could ever fail. As a songwriter/producer, I have been totally spoiled and had some crazy visions become reality along the way. To all the musicians whose artistry in such a maze have made this album so beautiful, I say thank you and a special thanks to the never-ending unsung heroes Martin and Mass, both of whom are true sonic geniuses. TSG for short. Words fail but you know what I mean.
As usual, a lot of the reviews I've read so far and in the past have showed little insight into what really makes it all tick with most totally guessing at what's going on and blabbing on about bagpipes etc. so hopefully I might be able to unravel some mysteries and shed some light on your favourite tracks. Like Simon, I believe we have made our most coherent album to date. The whole package in terms of content, sound, running order and appearance has never been so at ease with itself and I really hope you all enjoy it.
I'll be here during this release week from tomorrow night after our friends in the USA and Canada get to try Anatomic out and so feel free to just ask any questions and I'll do my best to get through as many questions as possible in the next few days. Forgive me if response is a little delayed as I'm in the middle of nowhere here in the West of Ireland. Not so much broadband as bored band waiting for a page to appear.
Question on Anatomic: "Trad" music
Ok, this is cheating a bit because it doesn't relate directly to Anatomic, but rather to the ACSS experience as a whole. In addition to an attitude of shocking indifference from the UK music press, the band also seemed to receive a bit of flack from the "folk police" of the traditional music scene, especially after the first album. But that has seemed to soften over the years, as you have collaborated with a number of "traditional" musicians on your albums (culminating with the prominence of Eileen Ivers on ANATOMIC). The real breakthrough to me seemed to come with Volume 3, when Mairead and Ciaran of Altan played on "Colossus." So, James, since you probably have as many friends in the "trad" scene as you do in world music and pop, what do you feel is the traditional music community's perspective on the Afro Celts in 2005?
Answer by James McNally
Interesting question Don. In over ten years now the Afro Celts have had the pleasure of working and recording with some of the world's finest musicians, singers and percussionists from all corners of the Earth. Each brought, in their own unique way, a vast array of talent, tradition and contrasting musical backgrounds to play a part in taking the Afro Celt collaborative philosophy into a new age of making music, crossing cultural boundaries with such a passionate desire to embrace a future without losing sight of the past.
I suppose the band was always going to take some criticism along the way but it never really bothered me. In fact, it was quite understandable as the Afro Celts created an enigma that just didn't want to fit into any one's preconception or category. In reality though there are no bigger critics than the band themselves. For a piece of music to go on any album it would have to be qualified by the whole production/writing team before it made it. That intense process ensured such confidence behind our music that the big bad wolf could huff and puff all it wanted.
In Irish music circles I feel we've earned a great deal of respect over the years though some may not like to admit it. We even won an Irish music award for best crossover group. As you know all our songs and instrumentals are original compositions and that's been critical to our existence because it just wouldn't have worked playing straight trad over beats and grooves. We would have lasted perhaps 2 albums doing that and anyway that never really interested me as I've been writing my own tunes since I was eleven. In 2005 our instrumentals have clearly become one of our most recognizable signatures and their effect has influenced many groups and musicians along the way.
It still amazes me that when you look at the list of our Irish traditional contributors over the years, it has to be one of the greatest line-ups from you could ever hope to work with. Along with, as you mentioned Kieran & Mairead from Altan and the amazing Eileen Eivers you can add legendary piper Liam O'Flynn, Davy Spillane, Ronan Brown, Martin Hayes, Emer Mayock, Mairead Nesbitt, and Michael McGoldrick. With such amazing artists as these sharing our new musical journey and bringing such indomitable character to our tunes down the tears, you will understand another major factor as to why we have never let any form of fear-based, small-minded flak as you put it, hold us back. All of our guest collaborators were kindred spirits blessed with the same kind of fearless pioneering style that made us all get together in the first place
By the way I've never met any of these "Folk Police." Who are they? I would imagine not many are actual musicians. If you ring 911 or 999 and ask for them you may be arrested for wasting people's time. That sort of sums the whole thing up for me. Whoever they are, if they get up your nose I urge you to complain to the Folk Police Complaints Authority straight away.
Keep Music Alive
Question on Anatomic: Dorothee
Dorothee's contributions to the album are a revelation. It's common knowledge that the band first worked with her on the HOTEL RWANDA soundtrack. But can you provide some additional details about the working relationship, such as...
1) Did the vocals for "When I Still Needed You" and "Mother" come out of the same recording sessions as the material for Hotel Rwanda?
2) The track with Dorothee on the Hotel Rwanda soundtrack was rather abbreviated. Is there other material from these recording sessions that didn't make it onto the Hotel Rwanda album?
3) To what extent was the band able to work with Dorothee in the studio? Did you write/record with her in person, or were her vocals essentially recorded remotely and then "pasted in" later? Don
Answer by James McNally
Hi Don. Thanks for your patience. The answer is quite long as I have tried to be as enlightening as possible.
Firstly, it must be said that ACSS's success on the Hotel Rwanda soundtrack was almost single handedly down to Martin's incredible production work and dedication to the cause part of which led to the discovery an amazing bright young new star from Rwanda, Dorothee Munyaneza.
The request for us to get involved on the soundtrack of Hotel Rwanda came to us twice last year but on two very different levels. The first was an approach to do the actual whole score and with this coming hot on the heels of our brief dalliance with Martin Scorsese on "Gangs of New York," we were very excited by the whole prospect this time of creating all the music for this incredible story.
Right from the start we knew this film would be a perfect match for our music. Most great films usually come intertwined with very unique and recognizable scores or themes to match and I was immediately motivated to go in search of a main theme that might just work throughout the story. If you consider for example the music from films such as Peter Gabriel's score on "Rabbit Proof Fence," Michael Nyman,s The Piano" or the likes of "Gladiator" and "American Beauty," you have one very strong identifiable theme running throughout each and in due course this theme becomes as important and synonymous as the film itself, each identifying the other.
Within days, between my working space in the studio and Martin's arena in the main room we had opened up tracks ranging from big orchestral led themes to simple but huge Rwandan percussion loops for us all to contemplate as well as plenty of very appropriate pieces of unreleased music from the ACSS archive. The subject matter as you all know was extremely harrowing and emotional from the start but we all believed we had the initial beginnings of an incredible moving score. During that time, however, the usual Hollywood machine reared its commercialized head and with that came political pressure to use music from various sources, as is usually the case with many soundtracks these days. Our full efforts at this time had to be put on hold while we diverted our attention back to Anatomic, which was in preproduction.
After a further period of time the producers came back to us again this time looking for us to work on a series of specific scenes only. Although the task was still very significant it felt quite an anticlimax to the type of challenge we were ready to accept previously. Composing the whole score was exactly the type of project I thought would allow us to show the ACSS at its greatest strength but ultimately that opportunity was somewhat diluted this time around. Using various composers on the same score can invariably make the whole process of achieving continuity much more difficult and indeed a lot more time consuming for all concerned.
When we received this second approach we were still involved in the writing/pre-production phase of our next album. For my part, I was deep in the throes of experimenting with the 70 or so initial backing tracks I'd put together for Anatomic over a couple of months. Some of these backing tracks and loops were previously created with the film in mind, others went on to instigate tracks such as Sene, My Secret Bliss and Anatomic, and indeed all 70 of them went on to have bodhran recorded on them (an intense process which lasted 3 long days and nights recording with Martin while trying to avoid Repetitive Strain Syndrome by doing 20 at a time). Unfortunately, my wrist took six long months to forgive me for it.
What with the situation of the album and the new agenda of scene specific music now required for the film, it was not really practical for the whole band to get involved around the one computer screen. Our system of multitasking in different parts of the studio had to come into force now and it was Martin who stepped up to the plate and took the producer's mantle on the film in the main studio which is totally surround sound equipped. His amazing musical ability at working and creating to picture in all formats was clearly demonstrated over the following months with the beauty and depth of the music he brought to the film. We couldn't have done it without him and I congratulate him wholeheartedly on a job well done.
In the process of creating the parts he came across Dorothee, whose inspiring success on the soundtrack led to further recording sessions after the film and specifically for our new album Anatomic. When I Still Needed You and Mother did not originate from the recording sessions for Hotel Rwanda but obviously they are deeply inspired by them. Yes, it is true that some of the music recorded for the film did not make the soundtrack but I think that's quite a common situation. Also common these days are cases where a song makes it onto the soundtrack album that's not in the actual film. What's that all about then?
With regard to working directly with Dorothee, both Martin and myself got to write and record with her (in person as you put it) on "When I Still Needed You" and Martin worked independently with Dorothee on the initial version of "Mother" before we both hooked up again to see if a collaborative vocal would work with what she had done. I'm please to say the idea worked out fantastically resulting in one of the best songs we've ever done. During some of the interviews I've done for the album, it's been said to me more than once that Mother transmits a universal, spiritual message beyond the personal one of Dorothee's alone by evoking the same feelings of love, longing and pain we all share in that special relationship and that's exactly what we hoped the song would do with the two voices working as one.
Incidentally, as Hotel Rwanda was out on release receiving its well-deserved accolades all around the world not to mention several Oscar nominations, another film director was looking for ACSS music. Clint Eastwood wanted to use "Rise Above It" at the end of his rather successful Oscar winning "Best Film", "Million Dollar Baby." Unfortunately, the track was not legally available to use at that time which was a massive blow to us as our music would have then had major exposure on two of the Oscar nominations for best film last year.
Question: How best to get the word out?
Given the lamentable lack of promotion of Anatomic so far, what can we do to help? I've posted some messages and requested Mojave on Mike Harding's BBC program and I'll do the same with the Radio Scotland Celtic Connections, they'd probably play something anyway. o, are there any other radio stations you'd like to folk to make requests to? We'd happily do some fly-posting in London if you want. I'm sure you don't want folk going overboard on hype, so your input as to what you guys think is appropriate and worthwhile would be welcome. fx
Answer by James McNally
Thanks for the thought guys. Keep the faith. As long as our music remains timeless and universal which so far it has proved to be for more than ten years now, then that's all we can ask for. Keep playing it, keep loving it, keep telling people about it and someday it may break through. On the other hand you could always find somebody with two million friends and persuade him or her to get each of them Anatomic for Christmas. Yeah, long shot I know.
Questions On Anatomic: Dhol Dogs
How did the track "Dhol Dogs" get its name? The dhol only makes a short appearance, so I'm wondering why that title was chosen.
Answer by James McNally
O my God! I can't believe I'm posting this at 4.51a.m. but no sleep for me this week. Yes, indeed, the Dhol drum only makes a fleeting appearance in the track but its presence in the name represents more of a symbolic nature to encapsulate the kind of force that the piece undeniably delivers. The backing track was very much Mass' baby initially and he came up with the title of Dhol Dogs very early on and we all just loved it. He's also a very big dog lover and I mean big ones.
You can't argue that this track is one of the most slamming tracks we've ever done and in many ways embodies the sort of power that our Master Drummer and Dhol player Johnny Kalsi always brings to the show. In my view, the title also represents a massive tribute we owe to him. Besides the brilliant Dhol performances JK has gifted us with over the years, he demonstrated on Anatomic what a truly world class all-round percussionist he is with some of the finest sessions of Tabla playing you could ever hear. An exceptional musician, and an exceptional man. Talvin eat your heart out.
P.S. And yes before you ask. I know there are no ducks in Drake.
Questions on ANATOMIC: Artwork
Hello James, and THANKS for your accessibility and willingness to answer questions about the album and the music. What a treat for the fans. My question: Can you comment on the title "Anatomic"? What's the significance? And how about the baby on the cover?
Thanks and God bless. Don.
Answer by James McNally
Hi Don. Thanks for that. This is a subject that has already attracted a lot of comments and its great when minds get buzzing on the mystery of a title prior to release. I have to say I am sometimes uncomfortable explaining the meanings behind such thoughts as I prefer the listener to find their own messages in the music and about such titles but seeing its you Don I'd be delighted to oblige.
Choosing the perfect album title that can satisfactorily describe the choice of colours you find inside an Afrocelt CD can be a difficult process and it usually happens with us when all the music is in place. After that begins another difficult process of designing the perfect artwork to bring that very title to life. We have all had various individual ideas down the years about each song with the actual album title usually cropping up from one of the actual track names. On this occasion, the title "Anatomic" just happened to originate from me and it came out of the blue without any such association to an individual track until later. The name had an immediate impact amongst the band members and Anatomic was born.
As you work with the tracks during the last few months before delivering the album, finalizing and mixing them into what they end up as, the musical pieces sort of form a shape that helps you see the body of work as a whole rather than separate entities. At least that's what you hope will happen. The shapes I was seeing at the time were based around the human body and in particular the structure and science of the human form (think Gray's Anatomy). No matter who we are we all belong here. But that wasn't the whole story as I also felt there was a great energy coming from the material. It was very powerful listening to all the tracks in sequence and I felt the name needed to show that.
Basically "Anatomic" came from two words: (1) anatomy (the study of the way we are made) and (2) atomic (as in the coming together of various atoms to create energy). After the title was born, the RealWorld art department led by Marc Bessant did an amazing job in taking these initial thoughts along with all the musical parts in bringing it all to life in the artwork that graces the album. The baby inside the Afro Celt Logo/Space pod was an idea of Marc's and it was exactly and instinctively what we were after. I felt we all were totally on the same wavelength throughout the process, which was just great. The energy is represented in the roll fold in the movement of the baby as it tumbles and discovers its way through a world of technology to its final destination as a new Afro Celt soul. Mad isn't It! But I'm sure thats how all Afro Celts are made. My favourite part is the dissection of the ear on the back. Just what would we do without them?
JAMES MCNALLY ACSS
Question on ANATOMIC: "Mojave" percussion
There's a beautiful interlude during "Mojave," from about the 6:50 to 7:20 mark, in which your flute is accompanied by what sounds like a bodhran. But it sounds like the bodhran is being played with a BRUSH, similar to what one would use on a standard drum kit. Am I hearing correctly? What instrument/technique is producing this sound? It's fantastic. Don
Answer by James McNally
Thanks Don. As usual you are absolutely right. It is a Bodhran played with one of my secret weapons -- a brush stick. On this particular breakdown part, it is quite exposed and quite easy to hear but believe it or not the bodhran has been one of the most utilized and recorded Instruments throughout our Afro Celt career. If you listen carefully to practically any track on any album, you will hear the importance that the Bodhran plays in one form or another.
Even though the Bodhran rarely receives a mention in any of our album reviews over the years preferring to credit the more aurally transparent percussive elements, the drum has consistently proved to be the most influential rhythm instrument since we started making ACSS music. It is truly an amazing and surprising beast capable of sonic extremes from a simple whisper to a thunderous sub bass groove. I've had the joy over the years of playing and recording with some of the world's finest drummers and percussionists, most of whom have been blown away by the sheer diversity of such a simple looking drum. It takes years to master but once achieved it can be the backbone of any percussive arsenal. Unlike some of the other drums we use, Talking Drum, Djembe, Dhol and Tabla to name just a few, the Bodhran, by using different sizes, skins, hand and recording techniques, it has this amazing chameleon ability to sound completely different from one track to another.
A few more examples of the brush bodhran can be found bringing in the rhythm at the start of "When I Still Needed You", on the end of "My Secret Bliss" under Sevara's vocals, and during the beginnings of "Sene", "Mother" and "Drake" and in many various parts throughout all of the other tracks. Sometimes its beat is so low its practically disguised but nevertheless remains totally fundamental to the Afro Celt percussive formula.
The brush part of the stick has actually been the major factor in allowing such consistent use of the instrument possible. Playing with the normal stick eats up rhythmic space and drastically limits the adhesion quality and dynamic cooperation with other the percussive instruments (especially the live Drum kit) so you have to always remain innovative and flexible in your playing.
I particularly honed my brush stick technique while working with a radical Hip Hop group called Marxman. Playing with the normal stick was very busy over such heavy Hip Hop grooves but the brushes allowed the drum to fit in no matter what was thrown at it. The sticks are specially made for me and have lighter plastic brushes rather than the usual steel ones drummers use, which would rip the natural skin to pieces.
So thanks Don for giving me a chance to champion the Bodhran at last. It thoroughly deserves it.
James McNally ACSS
Question: Who is Mass?
He seems to keep very much in the shadows. But he's credited with having a big part behind the production and he's sort of been in the sidelines for the Afrocelts since Volume 1. Is he some "famous" producer using an alter ego? Does he have other stuff out?
Answer By Martin Russell
Okay, let's finally de-mystify Mass and shed some light on when, where and why he came on board.
The first two ACSS albums were extensively worked on in "my other studio", Sonic Innovation #1, which is in a light industrial estate in North London, where Simon and I did many projects together in the 1990's. It has a control room and a small overdub booth within the shell of the area which I built, and for recording bigger stuff it has tielines through to a fairly large rehearsal room, which was owned by some friends of mine, and was the main reason why my studio was built there.
So, most of the time there was a constant flow of rehearsing bands making their own variety of racket in this rehearsal studio across the corridor from me. Some of them were serious, some measured the success of their rehearsals by how many empty beer cans they left in the trash at the end of the night. You knew that a band was really serious about it if they rehearsed during the business day - more so if they did it regularly - there were a couple of these who I started to see to every week, and I occasionally used to lurk outside their rehearsals to hear what they were doing more closely.
The best by a long shot was called Trench, which at the time I first heard them was a three-piece band consisting of Mass on bass, vocals and electronics, his musical soul mate Lee on guitar, and a succession of drummers whose names I'm a bit foggy on. They had several things which attracted me : I've always been big on three-piece bands because when they're good it's as if the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Generally the "group dynamic" of three people is always nice to be around. Trench (particularly Mass and Lee) were superb musicians with good tracks and an interesting direction - which was probably too ahead of its time. I used to go to see them in some of London's venues where the a-list bands of tomorrow do their gigging and search for that elusive deal or breakthrough needed in order to get to the next level. Mass reminds me that I attempted to befriend them with an offer of a loan of my Moog Taurus bass pedals - which they declined - really a pretext to see if they wanted to do some tracks with me in my studio - which they also declined, because Mass did all that for them (writing, arrangements, production) himself. He also did a lot of freelance engineering and production. I recognized a fellow obsessive when I saw one and we kept in touch. After a number of further incarnations of Trench, he and Lee started doing a studio-based project - the Pygmies - I don't know much about this but they did release some tracks.
Round about the time of "Vol 2 : Release" we had just been on "Later with Jools Holland", a live-music-based TV show we have in England. Mass and I met in the street, (me on the way into my studio, he on the way home from one, having done an overnight session), and he mentioned that he'd seen the show and liked what we'd done. I was looking to lighten the load on myself during the next batch of recording (because "Release" had proved to be an over-enormous amount of work and stress) and thought that he might be the man for the job. I was also very interested in what he might bring to the table on a creative level. We sort of "did the dance" for a while - he gave me a bunch of tracks to listen to, then suggested he do a mix of an Afro Celts track which I could then play to James and Simon to see if they approved. He suggested "Eireann" and "Amber" - I gave him the elements for "Eireann" and he did a mix of it. It was his Audition Piece. You've probably heard it on "Pod" and it became the basis of the live version from the "Further in Time" shows onwards. (And as far as I know, he's still not been paid for it, either - maybe when he does "Amber"...). Needless to say, Simon and James did approve, and when we assembled for Volume 3, Mass set up his equipment in a room next to the control room and proceeded to impress us with his expertise on a daily basis. His taking over a large part of the drum programming on the album allowed Simon the opportunity to really explore the mandolin and bazouki as well as the guitars and to evolve the sort of trademark textures we now associate with him, which had their beginnings in tracks like "Colossus" and "Green". Mass also contributed to the writing of "Life Begin Again" and "Persistence Of Memory", and was very hands-on in the preparation for the "Further in Time" shows. Sadly, we've never managed to lure him out on tour with us, however hard we tried!
With every subsequent project he has become more and more indispensable, and the experience of our mixing "Seed" and "Anatomic" together is something I know I'll remember with great pleasure and pride in years to come - despite all the inevitable peaks and troughs we always go through en route to the final result, there's always a celebration of our "team vibe" at the end of it ...... and a haircut for me from his lovely lady Hiromi! You really should see the wonderful paintings she does.
I'd better stop before this starts to read like a job reference!
Very best wishes to you all
Martin Russell ACSS
PS : It's been very satisfying seeing this become such a Happening Place in the last few days. Your appreciation of "Anatomic" and enthusiasm for what we do in general is HUGELY appreciated and very touching. Thank you all very much!
Question on Anatomic - Drake
Was called 'Mandrake' on the Volume 3 extra disc...why the name change?
Answer by James McNally
This is the oldest track on Anatomic. As it matured with age waiting for its moment to shine its shortened nickname became more popular and appropriate.
James McNally ACSS
Question on Anatomic: Instruments
In the credits of the album, you're credited with playing both guitar and kalimba, two instruments that I don't recall you playing on other ACSS recordings (although it's hard to keep track because the list of instruments you play is so extensive!). So, are there any instruments that you learned to play as the album was being recorded, or that you played for the first time while recording Anatomic?
Also, who's doing the whistling at the end of "Beautiful Rain?" I was under the impression that it was Iarla, but www.allmusic.com says it's you. Don.
Answer by James McNally
Don, your thirst for knowledge is boundless. Yes, I can confirm that this is the first time I've played Kalimba on an album. Martin had a beautiful one in the studio and I managed to prize it off him so I record it on "Mohave". I've always wanted to get my hands on one ever since I did a solo show in Paris with the late great Dr. Hukwe Zawose. He had this amazing thumb piano probably one of the most primitive instruments Ive ever seen anyone play and the sound of it along with his performance was utterly spellbinding.
I have however played guitar before, on a couple of tracks on Seed - - "As You Were" and "Deep Channel". Playing lots of instruments is not really what interests me these days although it's still been a huge advantage that has allowed me to visualize the initial beginnings of songs from the bottom up through programming along with bodhran grooves to the harmonic middle ground of the keyboards piano area and also from the top down via the whistle, pipes, and accordion top lines. Three completely different starting points of creation that helps inspire a greater choice of material.
I was playing a variety of instruments long before I became an Afro Celt so it was always very natural to carry on doing so when it all began. Since being in the band however I've been much more inspired to explore my love of song writing/arranging and production and thats exactly what I've spent most time developing rather than learning another new Instrument. Concerning the whistling on the end of Beautiful Rain, you're right again and the reviewer as usual is way off target. It is Iarla whistling at the end on the beginning of the outro.
James McNally ACSS
Question on Anatomic: Single?
In another thread Simon mentioned that he thought "Nevermore" would have made a great radio single to promote SEED. Is there a track from ANATOMIC that you feel would be well-suited for radio play? As we all know, radio is a bit tricky as most stations won't play extended pieces. So, even though it would be incredibly painful to do so, is there a song on ANATOMIC that you feel could be "edited" (it's painful just to type that word) or remixed for radio play? Don
Answer by James McNally
Editing Afrocelt tracks for radio and singles is a very dangerous operation. However as we speak we hear that both "When I still needed you" and "My Secret Bliss" are being edited for radio play in the United States. Fortunately a lot of stations are also going to play some tracks in full which is cool. As yet no move to release a single but if I had to pick one from the album it would have to be "Mother".
James McNally ACSS
Question re: Last one for Real World?
Hey guys, greatly looking forward to picking up the new record tomorrow. I note that there is mention this is your last album on Real World. Is this so? I am surprised to note there is next to no promotion on it on their website -- a rather desultory splash screen and press release -- so I'm wondering if the relationship there is no longer working for you, or them. What's the deal, and where next?
Finally, will we ever see afrocelts.com? There was that phantom appearance years ago, then nothing. . . no slag on www.afrocelts.org, of course. But an official site would be much appreciated. Why isn't the new record on iTunes yet? I want my Anatomic now darn it! Michael
Answer By Simon Emmerson
Hi Michael! After Volume 2, our management re-negotiated our deal for another 3 records. There was never any secret about this, Volume 5 was always going to be our last Real World record. Pod was a bonus record for Real World that we weren't contractually obliged to make but wanted to do because there was a demand from our club and DJ following for a re-mix CD. We also wanted to get our videos out to the public and do a multi media surround mix of the track North. Hence the double package CD.
We are still the biggest act on Real World and have the most active back catalogue sales. It is not up to me to be an apologist for the music industry; God forbid I could ever do such a thing! However, it really is not in the record companies interest to not promote this record (excuse the double negatives, it's 'diplomatic speak'). I agree things have been a bit slow. This was not helped by the fact the whole European music industry seems to close down in August and goes on holiday (wish us musicians could afford such luxuries). As far as I know they are planning to get an Afro Celt micro site up very soon with filmed footage taken during the making of Anatomic. I don't know what their plans are after Anatomic but they may put out some follow on releases to keep the catalogue active: a live record was discussed at one point; a record of surround mixes, a best of record, etc. This is largely up to them and will no doubt be premised on sales of Anatomic. Needless to say it all helps if you feel inclined to send them some positive feed back on your reactions to Anatomic and a gentile inquiry into how they plan to promote this record and why it still says: "Anatomic will be available soon" on their web site, when the record came out yesterday! Maybe they're waiting for us to make that elusive Smooth Jazz album Amazon.com feel so keen on promoting.
Question on Anatomic: Live? Promo?
Will there be some concert dates for an "Anatomic"-Tour in Germany/Austria/Switzerland ? Would be lovely to see you guys again with joy, sweat and dancing feet. Inshallah. Michael
Answer by James McNally
Sorry friends but this question may have to wait a while to be answered. We would love to come to all those places again and have the chance to take an Anatomic show on the road. Unfortunately, there are no plans as yet to go anywhere with the full line up which is our preferred set up. We've done a couple of sound system DJ sets this year but no plans for more of them either at this point.
It's such a hugely expensive undertaking for the full live unit to go on the road. As you know we are based all over the world and these days tour support from any record company has become a thing of the past. Hopefully if Anatomic goes well it will create a natural demand for us to design and achieve an economical tour.
Strange to think that our last real full shows were sell outs at the Royal Festival Hall in London and the Glasgow Concert hall for Celtic connections. It seems a very long time ago.
James McNally ACSS
Was there anything on this Cd that you (or anyone else) did that you didn't get to do on any previous Cd's? Jaden
Answer From Simon
This is the 1st Afro Celt production in which myself and James both brought ourselves a dog: Springer Spaniel in my case and Scottish Terrier in James.
Answer From James
Hey woof. I'm a WESTIE not a Scottie. I'm a pure white pedigree West Highland Terrier. 11 months old now. I'm a Scottish breed, born in Wales, Live in Ireland and my name is Morsel.
Question on Anatomic: Track name
Why is Mojave called Mojave? The contrast between that big dry desert and the lush nature of the track seems conflicted; is that intentional?
Answer by James McNally
Hi Seattlefriend. Ah the Mojave Desert, I know it well. I've spent many a day driving those endless roads. Once I found myself on a photo shoot wearing black in 110 degrees heat on a dry salt lakebed that was the lowest place below sea level in North America. Somehow Mojave Desert is more like a state of mind than an actual place.
The track name however derived not from a place but from a people - a tribe. The Native American Indian - The Mohave Indians. Aha Macav - The people who live along the water. I too live along the water and I do feel that the top line melody was definitely inspired by the land & water that I call home. Mohave was always going to be about the main whistle/pipes melody which came to me pretty early in the creation of the track with everything else set up to support it. The top line itself to me is a very open language as opposed to just a Celtic one. As usual the tapestry system thats crucial to the structure of our instrumental tracks never rests until we all have had our say. The actual connection with the name Mojave did not come to me until we had recorded Iarlas first few phrases for the track. He loved the opening sequence of chords. He was very moved by it. It was a perfect canvas for him to paint. I remember thinking back to Inion from Vol 1.and about how it was a call to prayer. Somewhere in the opening sequence I felt there had to be another form of calling and heard something beyond actual words that was spiritually captivating and universal. As soon as Iarla opened up I heard the Native American Indian calling out to all the tribes. Strange but sometimes it happens like that. I heard the name Mojave in the first phrase you hear. There was never any doubt about it.
The dream world to the Mojave, was just as real as the physical world. Through dreams they could travel back to the time of creation and learn the meaning of things. They could learn of gifts they had been given. Powers and abilities certain men had been given to heal or lead in battle. These people would fast for days and prove true to tests designed to verify their talents and receive their visions.
I hope the journey Mojave takes you on is just as fulfilling to you as it is to me.
Questions On Anatomic: Name Change
Anatomic arrives in stores for me tomorrow, but I thought I'd take a chance and ask a question that I've been thinking about, and I'm sure other fans have been thinking about too. Can you shed any light on the decision to release this album under the name Afro Celt Sound System instead of Afro Celts, and to label the album Volume 5 when Seed was Volume-less? No matter what name the group records and performs under, you guys are one of the most amazing groups of musicians around today and I thank you for all the joy you've given me and the other fans.
Answer by James McNally
Thanks for your comments and support. I suppose conforming to type was never one of our strong points down the years of making music. Creating Seed was a strange time for us all. It came fresh off the back of our most commercially minded album "Further In Time". Although critically acclaimed and very successful we found ourselves trying to do a u-turn immediately in order to reveal another side to us rather than just do another Vol 3. Our need to learn more about ourselves pushed us on to create the more acoustic nature of Seed (hence the dropping of the sound system to just Afrocelts - a shortened name used widely by both us and our fans as is still the case). Moving from using programmed backing tracks live to the combination of real bass and drums was also hugely instrumental in the dropping of the "Sound System".
Unfortunately when you change a well-known brand name you need a lot of support to get the message across that it's the same band using a different name. That didn;t come in the way we needed it to and confusion reigned for quite some time. Oh..... It still does. At the time we felt we had come full circle in understanding that vol 1,2 & 3 were a sort of apprenticeship in the art of getting to know how we made our collaborative music and now we had come of age and felt that Seed was a sort of rebirth for us. We all still love that album. Some of our all time favorite tracks are on it. Seed now however will no doubt be seen in a later life as the missing Vol 4. I love mysteries don't you?
Anatomic found itself surrounded by hardly any of the kind of pressure that Seed was under and our little diversion under the name of Afrocelts was deemed a limited offer only. Instinctively, we have left you wondering if we have made a secret Vol 4 that only dogs can hear (Only crossbreeds of course). Although the use of real bass and drums are still very evident on our new album so too is the sound system that has returned to its natural position of inside left. Anatomic has a perfect balance of both worlds but I suppose the sound system has always been a major factor that helped set us apart and will remain part of the name forever more.
Hope that doesn't confuse you even further.
Question: Instruments on North 2?
Could you tell me what instruments you used in North 2. Still can't figure out if its a windpipe or simply a whistle. I first saw ACSS in Montreal, at the jazz fest in 95 or 96. It was under a pouring rain and everybody stayed till the end and the atmosphere was absolutely magical. Tell me James, is ACSS planning a comeback in Montreal. I would like to be there again. I was impressedwhen I saw Pedro Eustache from Yanni's Tribute, but after listening to your stuff I was totally floored. You really have a way to express yourself. I hoped you would have been a little more present in Anatomic but then again I would be listening to a James McNally CD instead. Please don't get too commercial in future records although tempting. Cheers mate.
Answer by James McNally
Thanks for your comments. I remember that show at The Montreal Jazz festival very well as much for meeting a great musical inspiration of mine as for the show. Pat Metheny was also playing the Festival that year and it was always an ambition of mine to get him to collaborate with us. An opportunity nearly opened up for a guest appearance on Mojave this time around but alas timing did not work out as his own album (that must be his 125th) was in production at the same time.
That show and indeed that whole period was a very special time for us. It was our first tour in North America. Joe (Bruce) on Keys and Ronan (Brown) on Pipes were with us then and as the rain poured down we expected a wash out. However the crowd kept coming and by the end of our set the audience was an endless mass and the reaction to the band was euphoric. When we arrived in Montreal we didn't really know what to expect. First time in Canada and also first time at a jazz festival but that night we found out two things. Firstly, just what an amazing music-loving city Montreal and its citizens are and secondly we realized after this show that our music had become truly global & no longer confined to just one type of music festival or genre. The confidence that show inspired is still evident in our approach to any type of event in the world. After that first amazing experience, if my memory serves me right, we played 2 more memorable concerts in Montreal and also supported Dave Matthews there on his North American tour in 2001. It would be wonderful to return sometime in the near future especially with our full line-up but as of yet no shows are planned.
With regard to North 2 it is a rather full on mix. In terms of the backing track I think everything in the ACSS percussive arsenal was pumping away including the kitchen sink although the Dhol really stands out as the master drum. Keyboards and programming are at warp factor 9 and on top you have the usual doubling up of low and high whistles and Emer Mayock's pipes.
I don't really understand your remark about my presence on Anatomic as I'm playing on all tracks. Heaven knows what a James McNally CD sound likes as Iv'e never actually done a definitive solo album yet beyond the one-off whistle album commissioned by BMG/Windham Hill back in 1997 but let me say that when you listen to an Afro Celt album you are actually listening to partly a James McNally album and one that, in collaboration with my fellow co-writers, I've poured a great deal of heart and soul into. If you are especially talking about the presence of the whistle I think as on all our albums it has always featured significantly. Track 2/3/4/6/7/8 all have integral whistle parts. Some reviews have referred to the whistle in all sorts of ways from African and Asian flutes to a South American Geita, which is always puzzling but I suppose in another way it could be conceived as a compliment. The whistle on the front of Mother and Dhol Dogs are the same Instrument as on Mohave, Anatomic and Secret Bliss. Other times like on Sene and Dhal Dogs, whistles feature in all sorts of odd ways including playing two of them at a time searching for hooks and melodies that the team might be able to interplay alongside Simon's guitar riffs and hooks throughout the track. The way the whistle and guitars play off each other has become very distinctive to our sound and is evident everywhere. Sorry you think things are a bit too commercial for you but that's certainly not the criteria we set out on. We are just songwriters and composers of music and what comes out is a very natural process.
James McNally ACSS
Martin Russell Speaks - A Rare Inside Look at the Making of Anatomic
An Introduction by Kathleen
Martin Russell is a songwriter, producer, engineer, keyboard player and an absolutely key part of the Afro Celts. Many of you may have seen Martin behind the sound board at ACSS gigs, but not many realize how critically important he is in creating the music of the Afro Celts. I've persuaded Martin to give us a rare, behind-the-scenes guided tour of the recording of Anatomic. We will feature several songs each week until Martin has taken us on his journey through all the tracks on Anatomic. Along the way, Martin shares wonderful jewels of information about making other ACSS CD's too. And just so we all know who our guide is, I've added a recent photo of Martin.
Without further ado, here are Martin's experiences making Anatomic in his own words . . .
When I Still Needed You
The Atmospheric Introduction
The atmospheric introduction came about from the rediscovery in my audio archive of some overtone singing recorded during the Real World Recording Week in 1995 - the period during which much of the focal content for Volume 1: Sound Magic was captured. It had been a contender as a textural part on the Lament (Eistigh Liomsa Sealad / Listen to Me) and part of it may even have been used on that in its literal form. The process of turning the various elements into a sampler instrument led to my getting fascinated with the way the voicing evolved and interacted as it sustained, which became an inspiring harmonic gateway into the journey.
Here is a chronology that I put together for the BBC Radio 3 feature called "Making the Grande Salade":
08/04/04: MR - Reloaded archive recording from Volume 1 (originally a textural element from the Lament) + prepared for soft sampler.
11/05/04: MR - 1st sketch programming combining Zil Voice and Hurdy-Gurdy
21/05/04: JMcN - Covered as part of Bodhran Day 2
12/06/04: N'Faly - Covered as part of Kora Day 1
17/06/04: MR - 1st sortout of Bodhran/Kora
04/07/04: MR - Guide assembled for Hurdy-Gurdy Recording
05/07/04: Nigel Eaton did half-hour blitz as tail end of Urban Trad Session
07/07/04: Simon - came in during Hurdy-Gurdy sort and played original sketch bazouki
12/10/04: Dorothee - 1st vocal
13/10/04: Richard Marcangelo - Percussion day 1
15/10/04: Mass - combining Dorothee Vocal with Percussion Arrangement
18/10/04: JK Percussion Days 2+3
28/10/04: Simon - Bazoukis and Guitars for real
05/11/04: Dorothee 2nd Visit
08/11/04: Dorothee 3rd visit
12/11/04: JMcN - Accordion - Covered as part of Melodic Day 2
19/12/04: Dorothee adds end vocals
14/01/05: JMcN - Guitars + More Accordion
The Accordion Air
The accordion air was an area that I felt for a long time would be a good area to venture into. I wanted to get James to play an emotive solo accordion on an ACSS track ever since Simon and I did "Hamar" on the Maryam Mursal CD. Usually we get some rhythmic parts and occasionally a feature melody, but we've never attempted a slow track or something timeless before. The simplest and most naked things are often the hardest to get perfect. The way the accordion air evolved was a painstaking process which involved firstly defining the blueprint of what the part should be and establishing the best placing of the phrases relative to the backing (using James' playing from the first Melodic days and editing it at micron level until it was satisfying to us!) and then recording the master performance for real, knowing what we were after, and eventually equalling and then surpassing the blueprint version. What you hear is virtually a one-take performance and it was one of the last pieces of recording done on the album.
For me, the accordion air it is up there among the "memorable last minute musical occasions" which James and I have during the albums. Other moments like this include the low whistles on "I Think Of" (on Volume 2: Release); the piano and whistle on "Onwards" (on Volume 3: Further in Time); building and inserting the kora solo section into "Colossus" on Further In Time (in fact, this was so last-minute that we delivered it as a structure update to a mix session that had already been going on for two days!) and the piano on "All Remains" (on Seed).
Setting up the Verses
The hurdy-gurdy drone fades in and the buzz rhythm reveals the tempo. Simon "ticks over" on the Stapletone, the bodhran starts up, closely followed by old-style MKS10 arpeggiation and a squelchy bass synth. James reminds us that the accordion isn't done yet, and we hit the instrumental verse. There's a lovely repeating bazouki part which builds up as the verse chords go by and the percussion starts to roll - the last piece in the puzzle is a small taste of N'Faly's kora part - simple and effective - it hints at what's going to happen further down the track. And then - - heeeeere's Dorothee - - the voice of "Hotel Rwanda" and a huge discovery. I can't say enough about how talking to her puts one's idea of "problems" into perspective. In the song, she is asking her friend not to forget her - even though she has gone - and we know what "gone" means in the context of the genocide in Rwanda. Getting this vocal to be the right size relative to the backing was difficult towards the end of the section, and I resorted to doubling her up rather than getting her to sing it more aggressively, which wouldn't have been the right attitude for her subject matter. Mass' string build is the last building block before a sudden breakdown.
The Middle and the Rest
The kora and voice make the middle section and was one of the biggest musical payoffs yet for me - it's folkloric and simple and sounds like the "real deal" for just the right length of time before we're off again. After reprising the second half of a verse, adding some chordal hurdy-gurdy, my writing was losing its way. Fortunately, James picked up the creative baton and ran strongly with it to the end, which arrived by his playing accordion and bass pedals at the same time and establishing a fresh section where we could go out on a big'un. This new part involved getting Dorothee back to develop and record the chant voices with James, which was our final bit of pre-Christmas 2004 recording and another memorable occasion. I had the usual worries one has when introducing friends to other friends and I hoped that James and Dorothee would get on well. As you can hear, they did! It was great for me to just sit back and be able to catch the ideas as they happened. The final thing which really made the section feel that it belonged to the previous part was discovering that a slightly adapted version of Simon's bazouki part from the first half fitted pretty much all the way to the end, combining well with James' driving extra guitars and accordion. Dorothee's many voices power us to the last round of the section and leaves James to finish the track off building to a mighty accordion swell chord. This naturally gets the "full cathedralisation" treatment it deserves, completing the "statement of intent" - we're back! And we're not just regurgitating our "isms".
My Secret Bliss
Emphasizing that we're determined to go somewhere else new before finally giving away Mojave - here's another outstanding collaborator: Sevara Nazarkhan, all the way from Uzbekistan, courtesy of Real World. This track had an extremely odd beginning, being originally six stand-alone sections that I bolted together in a number of ways before arriving at the shape it now has. James' "incept loop", which was the basis for recording the bodhran and kora, was very happy. It was comprised of all major chords (a bit like the chorus of "The Mighty Quinn" - if that means anything to anyone these days) and I was secretly determined to get rid of it as soon as possible. Going minor instead set the kora up in a completely different way, which, for me, was really going somewhere. Simon came along while I was systematically "darkening" everything by putting it into minor keys and he gave me the bulk of the guitar work in one long session.
Originally, as is mentioned later on, the incentive to assemble the parts I had into something coherent came from the need to send a choice of three tracks out to a possible guest vocalist we had in mind. The other two already had vocal parts from Iarla and N'Faly respectively, so this was included by way of "... or you could do your own song on this one..." Anyway, that all came to nothing, but there was now a backing track. When a combination of James' enthusiasm and Real World's desire to obtain "further exposure" for Sevara brought us to the point of getting together, the track was one of three which we offered her and, I'm proud to say, was the one she picked to sing on.
She came to the studio with her manager one evening when they were passing through London. Unfortunately, James couldn't be there that night so Simon and I made them welcome and guided her through the track. We got some good parts very quickly before going for a meal. I remember that Sevara became more interested in eating than in singing after we'd done a couple of passes. This brief first session left us with the very front vocal, the middle and some of the ending, plus a few other parts which, when he heard them, James felt would make better verse melodies than what she'd gone for at the time. So we got her back shortly after Christmas and her part of the song was completed relatively easily - a good time was had by all. It turned out that the lyric was a very old Uzbek text, so it was just a question of changing the melodic slant of it to fit the purpose, rather than having to significantly rewrite anything. The dynamic of her performance brought a brand new - and very sexy - ambience to the track. We found ourselves loving it.
Getting Iarla's part was harder. He was very busy with his solo album, Invisible Fields, at the point when My Secret Bliss needed to be completed. Now that we had Severa recorded and compiled and it was all sounding very promising, we recorded James doing a blueprint vocal to explore and complete the "duet concept". This got a universal "thumbs-up" from all concerned, including Iarla, so his task when he was finally able to get involved was pretty straightforward and painless. Last man on the track was Francis, whose bass guitar, combined with Mass' overhaul of my original drum programming, resulted in a rhythm track that finally ticked every box too.
The second chorus, where they're singing together, is very special. The last (held) note actually goes into harmony and makes for a real Kenny and Dolly moment. The outro, which follows it, has a great rap-whisper-speaking-in-tongues vocal performance from Sevara, which blends eerily with James' whistle, which we didn't even have on at the time she was singing. Spooky .... we left the very ending as it happened to remind ourselves of the playful vibe we had going by the time the track ran out.
It is strange for me to be writing about the ancestry of this track at this point because I have very recently spent a couple of weeks re-visiting it for a surround mix that has turned out quite well. It is about to be combined with some really outstanding images. Watch this space!
With Mojave, we were in the unusual situation (for us) of having the benefit of doing it live before committing to it on an album. It was originally a major contender to be on Seed and even got taken as far as the mastering process before being "yanked". There was never a real musical consensus between us about it at the time, and it had proved very difficult to mix. But, because it was the only completely fresh piece of writing on Seed (the rest of Seed had its roots amongst the huge batch of recording we did for Further In Time), to me it had more of a feeling of being new and exciting than anything else. I have to admit that I was in the camp that wanted to release it there and then, and I can see now that I was wrong! The clincher was that we already had "Rise Above It", which with the arrival of Mundy's song content had grown into something of epic proportions. We couldn't really have more than one track of over 10 minutes on the album and an edited "Rise Above It" was all set to be "the radio track". We did start to do a fairly serious live version of Mojave on the post-Seed shows.
The way it worked live varied according to whether it was the opener or an encore but the energy that Ian Markin's handling of the real-versus-programmed-drums issue brought something to the track that we knew we had to include on the recorded version. We finally got Ian into the studio for a couple of days shortly before Christmas (adding real drums to Mojave, Anatomic, Mother and Drake). The final element to be added was an additional whistle part towards the end based on how James had ended up playing it live.
The First Section
The vocal content happened when Iarla came over to London to work on one of the later songs on Seed. I think it may have been All Remains. At the time I was reading The Stonor Eagles by William Horwood, which included some poems about sea eagles in Scottish Gaelic, with translations. I remember showing a couple of these to Iarla and asking him if there was any connection between them and his brand of Gaelic. I was walking him through what was new and Mojave came up. He got interested in singing on it and we selected a section of the keyboard part and looped it so it cycled slowly. Iarla started to sing some phrases over it and once he had done a bunch of wordless stuff, he started to develop a Gaelic lyric about eagles flying. Id like to think that Iarlas lyrics were inspired by the book, although I cant really be sure because I am not fluent in Gaelic.
We eventually ended up with over twenty minutes of this which James heard and loved. Since James was the man developing the main melody and backing track elements, he took a copy of what had been done and did the bulk of the auditioning and elimination process, developing a prototype compilation which I then re-made with the master audio.
There's a further anecdote about this section for the trivia inclined. When Mass and I came to do the mix for the Anatomic version, there was an archived stereo pair of vocal-plus-effects tracks from the Seed mixes which had been put down separately (for us to be able to catch and preserve the best of a rather vibey random delay-based effect that was coming out differently each time - it's on the right-hand side, after a few of Iarla's vocal phrases) which we ended up having to use because we couldn't better it this time round.
The Main Melody
James' melody, arranged for whistle and Emer's pipes (and which the rest of the track is merely a picture frame for), still sounds as good to me now as it did when I first heard it in late 2002. It's a reminder of how true the old saying we've all heard is "you can't beat a good tune". I guess that is why we've had such a strong and positive reaction to Mojave. It may be our best melody yet.
Sene´ (Working the Land)
N'Faly's finest hour on an ACSS album? There's a quality in his voice on this track that has eluded me on virtually every other recording we've done with him. We got close to it on Onwards (on Volume 3: Further in Time). What I've always been looking for is an approach and sound like we hear when he's playing kora and singing to himself in the dressing room at live shows - light, intimate and haunting. Maybe we got it on this track because he came into the process earlier than usual on this album, and didn't have to project through a barrage of synthesizers and percussion in order to be heard. His kora and vocal input made a fairly undistinguished "writing loop" into an A-list track pretty much straight away.
That being said, the path to the finished song was by no means a straight one! I recall Mass and myself getting very bogged down in a 2-version scenario which only got resolved when Simon and James gave me these directions - - a) "get over it," and b) "get the best bits of each regime and put them together" - - which I duly did. This is why Sene´ starts off in 3/4 (waltz-time - my regime), evolves into 6/8 (Mass'), and then finishes back in 3/4. Other points of interest are the instrumental bits. The first one answers the kora and is played by James on very low whistle and Eileen Ivers on fiddle. The second one is an Irish-tune-kind-of-melody written by James, but played by Eileen joined by Emer on wooden flute, under which I managed to briefly get the track back into 3/4 for the very end and register a "conceptual victory" with a score of 2-1 to me!! Sorry Mass, I win.
In December 2003, Simon and I went over to Ireland and worked with Iarla for a few days, staying with him and his family at their beautiful home in Inistioghe. He had fairly recently embarked on his new solo album in his studio, and we wanted to try a change of approach (and scenery) to kick-start some vocal-based stuff on Anatomic before he became too immersed in his own project (Invisible Fields). It was lovely for me to get out of the London studio into a Room With A View. I didn't see much of the outside world, however, because I had to quickly get myself "session-competent" on Iarla's Pro Tools system, which was a worthwhile challenge in view of the result we achieved.
The Song Part
We had taken several tracks-in-progress over to Ireland that weren't really doing it for Iarla. While trying to find a keyboard sound to better illustrate one of these ideas, I came upon a particular "workstation combination" which triggered us on the path to Beautiful Rain. Simon had his Takemine acoustic connected directly (so we could talk about what chord to go to next without our voices ending up on the recording) and we fairly rapidly evolved the shape of the song and recorded a guide backing track for Iarla to sing on later. After we'd had a lovely evening meal cooked for us, I went and fiddled with the track (having a nightmare with ProTools' "implementation" of midi - but eventually managing to record the separate keyboard elements to take back to London) while Iarla and Simon chatted and finished off the wine. It soon became apparent that vocally we weren't going to get any further that night! However, the next morning (my birthday) a highly motivated Iarla woke me up very early and wanted to sing the finalised lyric immediately before it got away. We recorded just two takes of it before breakfast. With the exception of a couple of words, the vocal comes entirely from the second take. Given that songs in English have historically not always been easy for us to arrive at, this was a huge success harking back to the one-take days of Inion and some of the earlier Gaelic songs. We also added some melodic whistling at the end which, by a quirk of fate, made it onto the final version.
The Middle to the End
When we brought the track back to the studio in London and played it to James, he had an idea for a Part 2 which could feature a collaborator - - a very famous male African singer. We sent him a 3-track CD containing Beautiful Rain (with an extended ending for him to sing over), My Secret Bliss (in pre-Sevara format) and another track with an amazing N'Faly vocal chorus. We got absolutely zero response in return. This was extremely disappointing at first, but what with Sevara (and eventually Iarla) coming to the rescue of My Secret Bliss and already having great stuff from N'Faly on Sene´, it actually turned out for the best. We did, however, still have to resolve what to do with the end of Beautiful Rain (after the little kora section in the middle of the song). We tried it a variety of ways and even tried recording real drums on it to keep the feeling of taking it up a gear. Nothing really worked, however, so we finally decided to revert to it as originally written, allowing space to go somewhere new with it if inspiration happened. Mass took it on, initially just setting out to replace the workstation drums with something less off-the-shelf, but eventually arriving at a solution to the ending which finally worked well for us. I had reservations about keeping the whistling at first. Simon was thinking Goldfrapp/cool, whereas I was thinking Val Doonican/not cool at all! What finally made it work for me was the way the whistling morphs into the airy synth sound which follows it. So, ladies and gentleman, for part two, and after much consideration we give you Val Doonican meets Hey Jude meets Love To Love You Baby - with Johnny's tabla solo laid over the top of it. Enjoy!
Much kudos should go to Mass for this existing at all. At the point when we were poised to record percussion for Anatomic, there was already a bunch of preferred ideas - - and then the rest. Mass looked through the tempo list of the preferred stuff and observed, quite rightly, that it was largely comprised of slow and mid-tempo material and that there were very few up tempo tracks. There was an element of "you guys are getting old and slow" about this, which was worrying! I can barely remember what the "incept loop" for Anatomic was, but because it was at a tempo we didn't have, it got trotted out come percussion time with Johnny and Richard, and we got ourselves some percussive assets which Mass, and later Simon, worked on, evolving the "first draft" sections of what has become our title track. Further kudos to Mass are in order for coming up with and playing the bass guitar part and enduring the blisters and finger-soreness that came with the job!
Anatomic starts with the only cross-fade on the album. It was the only possible one, so we had to do it. I came across a couple of little pygmy whistle phrases that James had played in passing while "trawling for melodies". The first one I turned into an intro, with Emer adding a harmony to it on her rosewood flute. The second one happens after Simon's "african electric guitar" verse, and is an illustration of what it sounds like when James is playing two whistles at once. I'm really looking forward to seeing that done live one day!
Ian does a fine job on drums here. He was replacing a great piece of programming that was probably more "swung" in feel than a human being would naturally play. This was the last track he played on at the end of a very long session and I distinctly remember looking through the window after we had listened to a take of this, hearing Mass telling him down the talkback that it still wasn't quite swinging the way he had in mind, and seeing Ian almost collapsing over the drum kit, holding his head in his hands and really wanting to be out of there. I hope he feels that the final result is worth his having suffered a little.
Other points worth a mention: the combination of whistle and flute carrying a tune in unison are a first for us unless you count the live arrangement of Big Cat where it happens for a few bars. The dhol drum feature is the nearest we've got to recording the drum well. It's a difficult thing to get the top and bottom of the sound to voice well in a studio. Eileen Ivers' lovely fluid fiddle playing was a joy to experience, and our giving her "the last word" at the end of the track resulted in a fine timeless moment which beautifully solved the problem of how it should finish. All in all, this is one of the most chilled-out instrumentals we've done, with everyone playing really well as the focus shifts and they go from being soloistic to textural.
I have loads of mixed feelings about this one. At the beginning, I remember having a real conviction that the kora part was something special and a way into the track. The "incept loop" was all in one key and therefore so was the kora, so I knew that initially it was going to become an exercise in finding alternate harmony so we would have somewhere to go. I had a few experimental sections up and running at the point when Dorothee Munyaneza first came by to sing, and her verses helped me to establish what was working and where to go key-wise for a contrasting middle part.
This wasn't originally a duet. We had already broken one of our "rules" with When I Still Needed You - - that being that any "collaborating singer track" has traditionally always had two voices. For example, Sinead O'Connor sung with Iarla on Release, Peter Gabriel sung with Iarla on When You're Falling, Robert Plant sung with Julie Murphy on Life Begin Again, Pina sang with Iarla on Go On Through, etc. Yet, here was Dorothee on the verge of getting away with it twice on one album! Getting Iarla in on the act on this song was completely down to James, who wrote and demo'ed the male voice melody and came up with great ideas regarding how to manipulate the structure around in order to accommodate more singing and arrive at the version you now hear. We had been working on the basis that it was worth finishing the recording on the track no matter what the final result was going to be, and had recorded Ian Markin on drums, Francis Hylton on bass guitar, great acoustic guitars from Simon, and lovely whistles and percussion. The song was too good to fall off the album on a technicality!
I was in an unusual situation when the final vocal recording was taking place. My partner Sandra is from Croatia, and in mid-January she had to go back there at very short notice to visit her mother, who was seriously ill with breast cancer. We were, by then, on a very tight schedule as far as finishing the album was concerned, and my having sole charge of our daughter, Antonia, then aged 9, during the latter stages of the recording was something I hadn't bargained for at all. Nevertheless, we got our "team vibe" going and got on with it, and very soon she became a fixture in our studio life, making tea for us, sitting in on the Eileen Ivers sessions, developing black eyes just like daddy. We still managed to get to school punctually somehow despite leading "a life of bohemian excess".
As we were recording Iarla's vocal for Mother on 1st February with Antonia in attendance, midway through the evening I got a call from Sandra to tell me that her mum had just died a few minutes previously. Because Iarla had to be on a plane early the next morning and we were nowhere near finished, there was nothing for it but to carry on regardless. I took ten minutes or so to talk to Antonia and tell her that Grandma Ivana had died, which she didn't really know how to react to, and then we continued the recording, with her sitting on my knee while I worked the computer and James worked the talkback. When we had finished, I took her home and we found a photo of her and her grandma and lit a candle in front of it.
The reason for my telling you this story is to illustrate how widely applicable the title turned out to be. Up until we mixed the track, it had the working title of Potboiler(!) because the "incept loop" was largely a clay pot rhythm. In Mother, Dorothee is singing about how overjoyed she was when she heard people outside shouting that her mother had come and found her (during the genocide in Rwanda she and her mother had gotten separated). Iarla's lyric is a kind of separate entity to this, but one that resonates with Dorothee's subject and the events of the night we recorded Iarla. There is a lot of synchronicity. James suggested Mother as a title when we were mixing it. I liked it and I'm glad to say that everyone else agreed with the idea. There's joy, sadness and a lot of love evident and implicit in the track.
Dhol Dogs is Mass's baby. His programming room is in the basement of the studio, under the room where we watch TV and relax, and in late 2003 we gradually became aware of an evolving track with an amazing bass line and rolling groove thumping away downstairs. Appreciative looks were exchanged, various conversations were had, and we were very pleased when the track began to be regarded as an Afro Celt possibility. Simon was the first to play on it, adding the guitars around the same time that the early parts of "Anatomic" got worked on. I didn't have a great deal of input other than recording the top line tune content with James and Eileen Ivers, and helping out a little while it was being mixed. It "kicks serious butt" whilst keeping some beauty in there at the same time. What more can you ask for?
Drake, originally titled Mandrake, was written during the touring cycle of Volume 2: Release and tried out live at that time. It was largely recorded during the Further In Time sessions. The little electronic hi-hats on the front of it were literally the first programming work Mass did for us on the first day he came on board. At some point during Further In Time, it was decided that because this and Onwards were end-of-album tracks (and Onwards was a good contrast to Persistence Of Memory which preceded it, which Iarla was already singing on), we should park the song until the next album.
We dusted it off and added a little tabla and shaker to it with Johnny in 2002, and I mixed it to use as the end-of-album track on Seed, but the combination of the arrangement and my mix of it still didn't feel as if it really belonged in that particular batch of work. So, it got parked again.
To make sure it would work this time, we replaced the more out-there electronic drums with real ones (courtesy of Ian Markin - a really good, sensitive and dynamic performance) which took away some of the Amon Tobin "angular vibe" that had been a strong flavour on the original. Now we have a "trademark Markin wigout" instead to go with the one he plays live on Deep Channel! With a little bit of bass guitar from Francis to keep things organic for a bit longer, we set about mixing it for Anatomic and felt that it came out pretty well. Hope you think so too. The recording brings back a lot of vivid memories (particularly the mandolins, the piano and the Indian harmonium) and harkens back to a time of great possibilities for us, pre 9/11, when it seemed like we were "poised for greater things", whatever that might have meant.
Anatomic - A Track by Track Review
Our resident discographer, Don, with contributions from your www.afrocelts.org webmaster, Kathleen, bring you our exclusive track by track review of the new brilliant CD from the Afro Celt Sound System. Please also check out our Discography page for our review of Anatomic and our Lyrics page for the lyrics to most of the songs.
When I Still Needed You Anatomic kicks off with what is easily one of the Afro Celts' strongest guest-artist collaborations to date. The band worked with Dorothee Munyaneza on the Hotel Rwanda soundtrack, but that project only hinted at this amazing singer's talent. Dorothees voice is powerful and compelling on "When I Still Needed You," a song about friends separated by the horrors of war (sung in Munyaneza's native Kinyarwandan language). The Afro Celts back her up with a slow-building soundscape that combines acoustic percussion, a hurdy gurdy, what sounds like either a mandolin or bouzouki, and an intense keyboard bass. The song begins on a somewhat dark note but turns uplifting halfway through. Fans of Simon's and Martin's production work with Maryam Mursal will love this track. Sonically, the extended intro reminds us of something from Volume 1.
My Secret Bliss This track is a duet between Iarla (singing in both Gaelic and English) and Sevara Nazarkhan, an Uzbeki singer who released a fairly successful solo album on Realworld a couple of years back. The song shoots for what can only be described as a "funky" sound, with bubbling keyboards and an almost hip-hop style drum program. In fact, aside from some lovely whistle playing from James McNally (and an awesome bodhran outtro), this is one of the few ACSS songs I can recall in which "traditional" instruments are not prominently featured. Repeated listens reveal new layers of detail and finesse, making this a great addition to the band's catalogue.
Mojave You know it, you love it, you won't be disappointed! Whether you've seen "Mojave" performed live at an ACSS gig, or have watched the amazing video clip from the Cambridge Folk Festival on the BBC's Web site, you know that this is the song that fans have been clamoring for. "Mojave" made its live debut on the band's tour in support of Seed, but the band may have felt the need to perfect it before releasing it on disc. They have. Iarla's ambient, Gaelic vocals are gorgeous, the programming is aggressive and intense without overpowering the live performances, the interplay between Emer Mayock's uilleann pipes and James McNally's whistles is exhilarating, and Johnny Kalsi's drumming is mind-blowing. Be sure to pay attention to Simon's guitar, as well it has a sort of East African, soukous vibe going, which is a true testament to his virtuosity. Think of your favorite ACSS "epic" track "North," "Collosus," "Big Cat," "Whirly3," "Deep Channel," or "Rise Above It" this one matches if not outshines them all. Yes, it's that good.
Sene´ (Working the Land) The spine-tingling exuberance of "Mojave" is followed by a gorgeous, mellow track that showcases N'Faly Kouyate's delicate kora playing and vocals. This song definitely has an African feel throughout with multi-tracked chorus vocals, a whistle melody (that provides texture rather than an overtly "Celtic" tone), and earthy talking drums courtesy of Moussa Sissokho. Lyrically, N'Faly's Malinke-language vocals pay tribute to and honor African farmers and the contributions they make toward the betterment of society. In true ACSS fashion, the song takes a detour midway through, incorporating a cool drum program, a second track of N'Faly's vocals processed through a vocoder, and, finally, a short coda featuring Eileen Ivers playing an Irish air on the fiddle.
Beautiful Rain This song reminds me of "Persistence of Memory" in that it is sung entirely in English and places heavier emphasis on keyboards and electronics than on acoustic instrumentation. Iarla's powerful lyrics contrast images of a gleaming European city with the harsh realities of poverty and pollution. Attentive listeners will hear a few nice harp flourishes from Myrdhin, as well as some interesting interplay between a bass keyboard program and Moussa Sissokho's talking drums. The biggest surprise comes during the second half of the song, when Iarla switches from singing the melody to whistling it - - a very cool touch. All in all, this is another track that, while more mellow than "My Secret Bliss," seems well-suited for radio airplay.
Anatomic This is a traditional ACSS track in the vein of "Colossus," "Deep Channel," or even "Lovers of Light." Realworld Records promotional material provides as good a description as any of this song, so Ill quote it here: "The most classic Afro Celts track on this album, with steady dance beats, Emmerson's guitar and very interesting programming sounds and great soaring pipes by the band's virtuoso multi-instrumentalist James McNally and the acclaimed Emer Mayock this very club-friendly song also highlights Johnny Kalsi's muscular dhol drumming, some great fiddling, and a panoply of little solo spots for just about everyone in the band."
Mother The upbeat rhythms of "Anatomic" contrast greatly with the following track, "Mother," a beautiful ballad. This one is a duet between Iarla (who sings the chorus, again, in English) and Dorothee Munyaneza (who sings the verses in Kinyarwandan). The instrumentation on "Mother" is evocative of the band's previous effort, Seed, in that live bass is given prominence in the mix. Also featured are African percussion, along with some Celtic harp, flutes, and acoustic guitar. What makes this song a true Afro Celt affair, though, is not the instrumentation, but the incredible juxtaposition between Iarla's and Dorothee's vocals. Proving again that ACSS is about celebrating and honoring the differences between cultures yet finding commonalities that bind us altogether, Iarla as a full-blooded Irish icon and Dorothee, a genocide survivor and young woman from Rwanda, separated by language and culture, make amazing and beautiful music together in this standout track.
Dhol Dogs This is one of the most aggressive and engaging songs on Anatomic. Starting with a dark, symphonic keyboard intro, "Dhol Dogs" wastes little time building into an aggressive dance track that incorporates some wicked bass programming, a classic Afro Celts' flute-and-fiddle reel, and what sounds like some sort of Asian flute. Even without the actual dhol drums, this song offers a sort of "Asia meets Europe" vibe that really works.
Drake The closing track of Anatomic is another one that will be familiar to longtime fans. This song, previously known as "Mandrake," has been performed live on numerous occasions and was almost included on two previous albums. One of the live versions of "Mandrake," recorded at KCRW in Los Angeles, appeared on the bonus CD that was included with some copies of Further in Time. The studio version on Anatomic takes a similar approach, with a primarily acoustic flavor combining bodhran piano, guitar, and, on top of it all, Iarla's Gaelic vocals. Near the end of the track, however, the band throws us a curveball by introducing a spacey keyboard program and some aggressive drum kit sounds (think "Whirly3") before slowing things down again at the conclusion. As the mellow strains of "Drake" fade away more than an hour after the album kicked off with "When I Still Needed You". We believe old and new fans alike will agree that Anatomic is an excellent addition to the Afro Celts' extraordinary catalogue.
Pod - A Track by Track Review
Perhaps James McNally said it best in an interview with the New York Post in July of 2003. When asked about the Afro Celts' successful approach to music, James responded that the Afro Celts success lies in the balance of the influences of African music, Irish music, ancient traditional instruments and singing styles combined with cutting edge technology - - all seamlessly integrated to take people on a journey and "move from scene to scene in our passages like a drama." Pod is a wonderful, exotic journey blending African, Indian, Irish and even Arabic influences to compile remixes that range from funky to classical and from DJ club dance mixes to ambient ballads and soundscapes. Enjoy the ride!
Rise Above (Simon Emmerson/James McNally/Mass Remix) (6:16)
"Rise Above It" was released as a single in the US to promote Seed, and now it has been remixed as the lead track for the Afro Celts long-awaited remix album, Pod. In fact, it is only one of two tracks from Seed to appear on Pod. The new mix eliminates the vocals by Irish singer Mundy that appeared on the original version. However, the backing vocals by the members of Ms. Dynamite remain, although they have been significantly rearranged and combined with African reggae-like chanted vocals. The track kicks off in an atmospheric mode with swirling keyboards that soon transitions to a very funky beat, augmented by guitar and keyboard bass. It takes a dramatic turn midway through, as the music turns contemplative and a beautiful string arrangement is introduced. The strings end the song on a beautifully haunting, almost gothic note. This is an excellent remix and one of our favorite tracks.
Johnny at Sea (Martin Russell/Mass Remix) (4:47)
"Johnny at Sea" was first introduced as a "monitor mix" posted on the band's official web site for a time, prompting many fans to demand its release. A longer version of the song (running 5:53) was previously only available as a bonus track on Japanese pressings of Seed. That version of "Johnny at Sea" concluded with a melodic accordion melody that does not appear on the Pod mix. "Johnny at Sea" has a more acoustic vibe, featuring aggressive chanted vocals and a healthy dose of African percussion with a very cool funky groove. While there is a fair amount of electronic sound effects on the track, most of the beats come from live percussion, rather than from loops and samples. You'll find you can't help but dance and hum this one to yourself all day long.
Persistence of Memory (Rae & Christian Remix) (5:14)
This remixed track from the Further in Time album will be new to most fans, although an edit of the Rae & Christian Mix (4:00) appeared on RealWorld Notes #13 in 2002. This remix follows the same basic structure of the version heard on Further in Time, retaining all of Iarla's original vocals plus an extra verse. However, the Rae & Christian Mix contains an entirely different percussion track, and has a much more atmospheric feel to it due to the use of keyboard and synthetic string effects. Most notably, a second vocal track has been introduced, on which Iarla's vocals are heavily treated and pitched higher. This version is featured on the "Persistence of Memory" video on the bonus DVD, and is a perfect soundtrack for those who have traveled the world alone.
Further in Time (Mass Remix) (7:46)
The electronic, percussion driven, techno-influenced remix of "Further in Time" kicks off an "Afro Celts' megamix" that spans five tracks and occupies almost 30 minutes of time on the CD. The Pod version of "Further in Time" retains much of the basic structure of the original song on Vol. 3, including the vocals by N'Faly Kouyate. However, an echo effect has been added to the vocal track on this new remix and it features a driving beat that will have you dancing like never before. Despite the electronic sounds underpinning this track, the acoustic percussion of the original "Further in Time" is featured more prominently in the mix. The middle of the song features some extremely deep bass drops that help place the song firmly in the realm of "club music." The song concludes with a chant/percussion loop that carries over into the next track on the CD, "Full Moon Low Tide." Another one of our favorites.
Full Moon Low Tide (DJ Toshio Remix) (4:34)
"Full Moon Low Tide" is one of the more curious tracks on Pod, as it is not a remix of one particular song, but rather a new amalgamation of several Afro Celt songs. The track kicks off with a bodhran and other percussion that sound distinctly similar to something off of the Volume 1: Sound Magic album. Soon after, the theme played by the uilleann pipes at the beginning of "Whirl-Y-Reel 2" is introduced and repeated several times. As the pipes play and the heavy percussion continues, we then hear the voice of Iarla singing the opening strains of "Nil Cead Againn Dul Abhaile/We Cannot Go Home" (also from Vol. 1). As the track comes to a close, N'Faly's spoken-word intro to "Release" can also be heard, followed by the unmistakable bodhran beat of the same song. "Full Moon Low Tide" then transitions into the next track, "Release (Rollo/Sister Bliss Remix)."
Release (Rollo and Sister Bliss Remix) (4:58)
This version of "Release" (remixed by the British dance duo Faithless) is similar to a previously available remix of "Release". The first "Rollo & Sister Bliss Remix" of Release (which originally ran nearly ten minutes in length) was first heard in 1999 on a number of maxi-singles in both Europe and the US to promote the Afro Celts' second album. The version on Pod has been trimmed down considerably. The track kicks off with a very "jungle" sounding intro, and quickly adds a very techno-heavy bass drum and hi-hat accompanied by various sequencers and programmed sounds. The song remains primarily instrumental in tone for a time, save for an occasional vocal snippet from N'Faly (taken from the original "Release" recording and, in an addition unique to this version, from "Further in Time" as well). The track then comes to a full stop as we hear Sinead O'Connor sing the first verse of the song accompanied only by a low keyboard drone. The techno beat starts up once more as vocal tracks from Sinead and N'Faly (still singing a phrase from "Further in Time") carry into the next track. This version is a great dance track.
Release It (Masters at Work Segue/DJ Edit) (1:20)
This is not necessarily a song per se, but rather a brief rhythmic bridge between "Release (Rollo & Sister Bliss Remix)" and "Whirly 3", the centerpiece of Pod. While this short track includes the driving house beat that accompanied the original "Masters at Work Main Mix" of "Release" (7:59), it also reintroduces the "Further in Time" theme (which, of course, was not heard on the original MAW mix of "Release"). An interesting loop of N'Faly's voice carries this piece forward into Pod's musical and emotional climax, "Whirly 3."
Whirly 3 (Simon Emmerson/James McNally/Mass Remix) (7:54)
This epic track is not a remix, but rather a totally re-worked and expanded version of "Whirl-Y-Reel." As the vocal loop from the preceding "segue" track continues, Whirly 3 kicks into gear using the same music from the original "Whirl-Y-Reel 1" from Volume 1. The predominantly acoustic intro from the original track is replicated here using electronics and keyboards. A programmed sequencer line is introduced and then overlaid with an acoustic fiddle. However, just when it appears that the song is going to take a primarily electronic approach, an acoustic guitar, bouzouki, and most notably, a drum kit (rather than a rhythm program) are introduced. The song continues with the now famous reel heard on "Whirl-Y-Reel" 1 and 2. This musical passage then evolves into an acoustic jam, after which an entirely new reel is presented. This new piece of music has a distinctly positive vibe similar to that of "As You Were," from Seed, although it is played at a much faster pace. The song continues to build until it reaches a crescendo with a majestic melody that is played/sung by James through a vocoder. The interplay between drums, guitars, flutes, pipes, and fiddle reaches a fevered pitch before the song suddenly slows down and ends with a beautiful acoustic guitar solo. "Whirly 3" clearly has a perfect "live" vibe that seems to be patterned after the bands concert performances of the song. It makes for an awe-inspiring conclusion to the continuous piece of music that began back on track 4 with the "Further in Time" remix. Our favorite track on Pod.
Riding the Skies (Mass/Simon Emmerson Remix) (6:04)
The Pod remix of "Riding the Waves" contains equal amounts of both acoustic and electronic instrumentation. It opens with a distinct drum and bass percussion track, accompanied by an almost jazzy-sounding electric piano. The vocals are patterned closely after those on the original Release album version. Healthy doses of acoustic guitar and electronic sound effects are then introduced, along with a Middle Eastern sounding fiddle. Like the remix of "Further in Time," the song also includes deep bass drops that give it a "club" feel. Later in the song, a fiddle offers a counterpoint to the beat, playing the same musical role that a rhythm guitar might play in a rock song. Another excellent remix.
Eireann (Mass Remix) (6:17)
Mass' remix of "Eireann" was previously released on a bonus disc that accompanied initial copies of Volume 3 that were sold at Borders stores in the U.S, as well as on Simon's Celtic Soundclash compilation. It follows the basic arrangement of the original version of Eireann, but introduces a new, shuffling beat, a keyboard string accompaniment, and an interesting keyboard bass line. The track also features a subtle recording of bird calls and other natural sounds, evoking the work of Scottish DJ/multi-instrumentalist Martyn Bennett. A great remix and very similar to how the band has performed this song live on their last two tours.
Release (BiPolar Remix) (5:31)
The "BiPolar Remix" of Release, like a version of the "Rollo & Sister Bliss Remix," was featured prominently on the numerous "Release" CD and vinyl singles that were used to promote Volume 2 in 1999 and 2000, and may be familiar to some Afro Celts fans. This track has the "jazziest" feel of any other Afro Celts remix, due to the heavy use of brass instruments (sort of like a very mellow Tower of Power horn section) throughout the song and the addition of a funky bass line. The "Bi-Polar Remix" maintains the same basic verse and chorus structure of the original and retains the majority of Sinead OConnor's vocals, although Iarla's vocals are replaced by a melody played by the brass instruments.
When You're Falling (Wren and Morley Remix) (4:34)
The original version of "When You're Falling" was a major radio hit for the Afro Celts in the US, and this remix appeared on the European commercial version of the single. While Peter Gabriel's vocals remain intact on the remix, the backing track is altered through static effects. In addition, the original guitar/mandolin accompaniment is significantly rearranged. A deep bass line is also added, along with several new keyboard sounds. Iarla's vocals make an appearance in the bridge, although they are distorted through the use of electronic effects.
Lagan (Simon Emmerson/James McNally/Mass Remix) (4:35)
This version of "Lagan" originally appeared on RealWorld Notes #16. It takes on a darker tone than the original version from Vol. 3, and eliminates the majority of Iarla's vocals. The string arrangement and dhol drums that accompanied the original track from Further in Time are brought forward in the mix, serving as the focal point for the song and giving it a very powerful quality. An interesting aspect of the "Lagan" remix is the use of a vocoder, which at times sounds like an electric guitar and serves as an interesting counterpoint to the acoustic guitar. The beautiful, almost classical, string crescendo at the end of the song serves as a fitting conclusion to the Pod album.
Afro Celts' Fan e-mail of the Month
We get lots of fan mail sent to us at and we do forward your e-mails to the Afro Celts because they do read them and appreciate hearing from you! Periodically, the Afro Celts will choose one of their favorite e-mails as the Fan e-mail of the Month. Here is the Afro Celts' pick for this month.
I was flipping through TV channels when I happened to get our local P.B.S. station (KQED 9, San Francisco, CA) and got my first taste of Afro Celt music. I am a fifty-three year old Black man, born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area so, I’ve been a witness to (and a part of) many music revolutions and I tell you the truth, I haven't felt this feeling since the first time I heard Jimi Hendrix or when I saw Charles Mingus on the Dick Cavett show and for the first time in my life really understood what jazz was about. It's been a long time since I've been as excited about music as I am about Afro Celt music. It seems as if it is as much a joy to play as it is to hear. It's a music of joy and peace and harmony and it seems as if the two are such a natural marriage why didn't anyone think of it a long time ago?! I have a tendency to over express my self when I get excited so I'm going to stop before I start. I'm looking forward to attending the concert when it gets to San Francisco.
P.S.I literally type ten words a minute (six if you don't count misspelled words!) so you know I've got to be excited to sit down and struggle through this letter!"
Livin’ the Bardcore life by Simon Emmerson
Simon Emmerson from the Afro-Celts swaps the ol in folk with the fun in funky and explains how Forest School Camps helped him grasp the value of traditional English music.
"It should be called arsenic music or perhaps phaedra music. I have to think of all this as traditional music. Traditional music is based on hexagrams. It comes about from legends, Bibles, plagues and it revolved around vegetable and death." - Bob Dylan (1966)
Recently on BBC Radio 3 there was a very fine evening of discussion and music based on what constitutes the contemporary folk tradition. Among all the rather academic and cerebral debate, Norma Waterson was heard to say, "We do all this because its fun," a seemingly rather obvious statement but one of the few remarks of the evening that actually referred to the experience of playing folk music rather than the concepts that surround it.
The beginnings of my own relationship with English Folk are rather obscure and bizarre but apparently I share them with, amongst others, rising new English folk musician Jon Bowden, superstar DJ Norman Cook aka Fat Boy Slim, best UK dance act Groove Armada, internationally renowned journalist and broadcaster David Aaronovitch, Marianne Faithfull, Jack Straw, Michael Portillo, UK hip hop producer Louis Slipper and the organisational backbone of the 80s and 90s free festival movement (stand up Rupert and Tracy). What we all have in common is an organisation called Forest School Camps, a radical alternative to the scouts that grew out of a movement called the Order of Woodcraft Chivalry, set up by radical Quakers in 1916.
At the age of 6, in 1963 when Dylan was hanging out with Martin Carthy in English Folk Clubs learning songs like Boy From the North Country Fayre, I was sitting around my first camp fire, getting bitten by mosquitoes and feeling rather homesick and scared. In those days the camps were held in the grounds of the old Forest School, an independent organisation based in the New Forest, Hampshire, England. The schools philosophy was to educate children via the ways of nature and in particular the practices and customs of the native American Indians. Far out stuff of 1963 you may think, but the founder of this movement was an English born American called Ernest Thompson Seton who was hanging out with Native American tribes as far back as 1900. In fact he met up with Baden Powell in 1906 and Powell basically stole Thompson Setons ideas before writing the truly awful Scouting for Boys. In reaction to this, Thompson Seton set up his own US base movement Cos Cob which had 200,000 American youth recruited to the Woodcraft Indian schemes by 1920. The tradition of summer camps continues in the USA to this day.
Being a precocious little brat, I was thrown out of the scouts for refusing to swear allegiance to the Queen but thanks to Forest School Camps, myself and my mates would while away those long hot summers sitting in fields or open woodland singing the Woody Guthrie or Pete Seeger song book and checking out the latest Martin Carthy, Watersons and Youth Tradition tunes. Rather bizarrely we also got to learn all those natty Scottish and English dances, such as Cumberland Square 8, Caucasian Circle and Strip the Willow. Believe me, I could do a mean little Patter Cake Polka and, believe it or not, country dancing was also our theatre of romance. We were angst ridden teenage wallflowers at the local disco, but put us in an English ceilidh and we just busted our moves and rocked the house. The girls all thought we were really cool too.
Did we do this so we could uphold the correct interpretation of English Folk Music. Did we do this as aspiring candidates for the Radio 3 World Music Awards? No. We did it because it was fun.
I also had some of the wettest, windiest, coldest and most miserable mosquito bitten moments of my life at Forest School Camps. At times it also got frightening. In my early teenage years a group of us decided to do one of the many FSC tests and trials. This one was called Night Vigil. We had to go out alone into the woods, make a fire, stay up all night and then by first light of dawn bring back the embers of the fire to the camp chief. Being the New Forest, the trees were huge, dark, silent and foreboding things. The stillness brought out all my paranoia. Sleep was impossible. Time stood still.
At first I felt I was being watched by a group of brooding, unforgiving skinheads, the kind I spent most of my teenage years trying to avoid on the football terraces and in the estates around where I lived. The trees werent there to protect me, they were a community of critical adults and parents slowly swaying in judgement, creaking and tutting in the wind, whispering all their disapproval and disappointments. I wanted to tell them all to fuck off and leave me alone, but knew Id only get zapped by some projectile poison blasting out of their nasty little scratchy, twiggy fingers. Then the sun started to creep through the branches. The first few blackbirds and robins began to sing. As the light grew I had this overwhelming feeling of peace, beauty and an inexplicable sense of belonging or returning. I felt connected or earthed by a very real and tangible love. As I walked back to the campsite with my embers still glowing I was heralded by a deafening dawn chorus of birds all chanting my name like a crowd of football supporters as their team runs onto the pitch at the start of a game. Id done it and the birds had been with me all along.
Back at the campsite, Beefy, the camp chief (real name Ron Brand), was waiting. He threw our embers on the main campfire and welcomed us on the start of our path into adulthood. To this day, when I get stressed or overwhelmed by the demands of adulthood, I visualise that grove of pine trees silhouetted against the first light of morning and Im back there again filled with light, energy and love.
When Beefy died a few years ago, a ceremonial fire was lit for him and the ashes from his very first camp fire were thrown on to it, ashes that had been passed down from camp to camp over 70 years. The journalist David Aaronovitch was so moved by this ceremony he wrote a heartfelt tribute to Beefy in the Guardian based on his own experience on Forest School Camp.
All this might sound completely bonkers, especially to those more used to the rock and roll lifestyle. Most musicians I know yearn for the spiritual solitude of a 5-star hotel room with a well stocked mini bar and 24-hour room service. The quest of life is best travelled on an air-conditioned tour bus with a super efficient tour manager to cushion the blows. Yet
I feel privileged to have sat around a camp fire at 2am, feeling the earth buzzing beneath me, watching the shooting stars fly through the open skies of some rare, forgotten English wilderness. Its at times like this you can sing your heart out and your soul opens up without fear of judgement or criticism. Its at times like this the song resonates from a deeper place. This is our pagan heartland unmediated by priest, prophet, politician or journalist.
Iarla OLionaird once told me that traditional music is nurtured in the small spaces of our lives: peoples living rooms and kitchens, village halls, pubs and other informal gathering places where audience and performers are one. Its an inclusive, public language not an exclusive, private one. Ironically traditional music is best performed by the people who are happily ignorant that they are playing traditional music. They do it because its fun and they do it for themselves, their friends, family and immediate community, not for the critics or folk police.
Last Whit Monday I was in Bampton, Oxfordshire for the oldest convention of Morris dancers in the world ever. I havent got the details exactly right here but the West Side Morris Crew go back 600 years and the East Side 400 years. They have free access to the gardens and private property of the village. So you get to see inside all those huge walled gardens you normally drive past thinking "thats a bit posh!"
The two sides have been locked in combat for hundreds of years. Nevertheless the revelries take place on the streets, in the pubs, in the gardens without crowd barriers, bone headed bouncers, security fences, back stage crew passes, vip guest passes. Its genuine anarchy in the shires. As yet there have been no drive by shootings. Forget the ghetto fabulous style of So Solid Crew or hip hop artists from Compton, LA. The Morris Men were the first to mark their tribal differences with handkerchiefs and bling bling bells. Watch the cat walks next springs for John Paul Gaultier PVC, pointy breasted Morris outfits. At least the Morris Men do it because its fun.
Simon Emmerson. Copyright 2004