Paddy's Sixteenth KBC article

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[Here is Paddy's sixteenth article for the Newsletter. It appeared in the twenty-third issue (Fall 1989).]

...I suppose that I must have been about seventeen years old. I was working for the English Folk Dance and Song Society in a little cupboard. We dealt with traditional music and stuff to do with folklore and dancing. It was quite a scene: it was the early days of the Sixties 'folk revival,', there were a lot of guys with beards and girls in tartan dresses, the odd vicar dressed as a hobby-horse, people would sing unaccompanied songs often with a finger in one ear, arran sweaters, concertinas, sword-dances, portable tape-recorders, corn-dollies, bagpipes, penny-whistles and Appalachian dulcimers...

An outside world of hevercraft and mini-skirts skimmed by, as I sold tickets and insytruments and books to these various folk. I had a pretty good working knowledge of all our stock and new releases, so one snowy Saturday I found myself confused when I saw an album on the counter that I didn't recognize and had no reference for. Its name was A Cool Day and Crooked Corn. So I placed it on our phonograph platter and accidentally exploded an atomic bomb in my life.

I sat there trasfixed over my Kit-Kat and cup of tea, almost wishing I wasn't hearing this. I couldn't understand a single word, and yet this thing seemed to be liquidizing my soul. A group of girls from New York singing in supernatural harmony and involved in their own kind of revival: the music of Bulgaria. [I have tracked down this record, and have discovered that, indeed, The Pennywhistlers managed to create an extraordinarily accurate reproduction of the authentic a cappella female vocal-group sound which more recent converts to Bulgarian music have become acquainted with through the recordings of The Bulgarian State Radio and Television Female Vocal Choir and The Trio Bulgarka. Their voices lack perhaps a little of the Bulgarians' original power, but their elocution and musicality seem, to this amateur enthusiast, at least, very convincing.]

By the time I had played the album continuously three or four times, the snow was pouring down. A young couple came into the shop--if you would like the details, the man looked a bit like a Swedish Tom Petty in an Afghan coat, which was a rare garment in those days, and the young lady was small with short dark hair and very beautiful. They were my first customers of the day. I said,

"Hello. Isn't this music beautiful? I've just found it sitting on the counter..."

She said, "It's our record."

"I'm sorry, I didn't know who it belonged to. I just found it here. I hope you don't mind me playing it..."

"No," she said. "No, it's our record. Look on the back. My name is Ethel Raim, and this is my group, The Pennywhistlers."

I looked on the back and there was a picture of Ethel and her friends. I looked straight up, and there she was, standing in front of me. We talked about Bulgarian music and instruments. She even autographed a photo for my little sister Kate.

You could say that I became obsessed with the album, the sound of their voices and the shapes of the words, and long after I stopped working there Ethel's music was my constant companion.

It opened a door into a huge world of tradition. In many ways I had taken a finger out of my ear so I could listen in stereo; and I found myself in a whirlpool of music, magic and marvel.

These are the bottom rungs of a ladder that stretches through time and leads to here: The Sensual World of Kate and her sisters Eva, Stoyanka and Yanka--The Trio Bulgarka.

This ladder is so long now that time and weirdness are insufficient for me to give you the individual steps and influences that brought us to the point of this unique collaboration. I hope it's a combination that will please you.

Let me tell you something else I'd like to get straight with you concerning the title track...If you look at the credits you can see that it says that I am playing whips on the track. This is a mistake made by some silly person that didn't ask. I'm playing a pair of fishing rods. I wanted to get the impression of a rich Irish lakeland, and the swishing sound of the rods should conjure the atmosphere of fly-fishing, tweed hats and long Wellingtons. However, the idea of whips is a long way from my original intention, so please accept my apologies, as I feel this credit is misleading.

OK...What's a valiha?

It's the instrument on Love and Anger that starts and ends the track, and sounds a little like a classical guitar, but it's not. It comes from the island of Madagascar, and is a kind of box-shaped harp about four feet in length, with strings on two sides. The strings are made from untwisted bicycle brake-cable. There is a little wooden bridge under each string for tuning, and the strings are plucked with the tips of the fingers...

There's someone out there that I owe a big thankyou to. We can't find your name. We know you live in Holland, and several years ago you sent a cassette to us of a selection of your favourite tunes, including Rosina de Peira, harmony-singing from the Bahamas, and some Macedonian a-la-Turk ensemble music...You must know who you are by now, and that you are an unsung rung on the ladder, so get in touch and be recognized, and in the time in between please accept my thanks and a kiss from my sister. [The person in question is Jan Libbenga, a music journalist who provided a tape of a version of the Macedonian melody which Kate subsequently arranged for Irish instruments and recorded on the title track of her album. Unfortunately for Mr. Libbenga, he did not wait to read the above graceful acknowledgement by Paddy and Kate, but lost no time in publishing a mean-minded accusation in a Dutch music journal which accused Kate of "fraud".]

Other helpful folk include: Joe Boyd, Sally Reeves, Judy Greenwell, Borimira Nedeva, Rumyana Tzintzarska, Nellie Tzvetkova, Fred Muller, Zandra Markus, Patrick Jauneaud, John Porter, Mitra and Lubimka Bisserov [The Bisserovs are another, younger Bulgarian female vocal ensemble who became friends with Kate during her involvement with the Bulgarians' concerts in England and Europe], Melanie Spriggs, Professor Lee Saunders, Jim and Haydn [Bendall] and Ken from Abbey Road Studios, Roy and Jacqui Harper, Dave and Toni Arthur, Chris Thomas and Ian of Audio-Venue, Guy Marriot, Dr. Smola & Dr. Crausse of Supraphon Records, Dave Clancey of Casio, Rev. Normal [this last is an inside joke: the Reverend Normal is a character in some of Del's and Paddy's articles from earlier issues of the Newsletter.] Thank you for your kindness and help.


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©1990 Andy Marvick