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The Frozen Lake

I’ve been releasing a song every month for half a year soon, and the reason is quite simply that I have a huge backlog of material that I don’t know what to do with…albums are expensive to produce and there is not a huge market in them.  So rather than allow these songs (there’s hundreds of them) to gather dust, I thought some of you might like to hear them.

This year I will also try and give you the background to them…starting with January’s single…the nearly 7 minute long The Frozen Lake

About 8 years ago I did a weekend of gigs in Denmark with my old pal Ed Conway.  Those who don’t know him can see what he does here.  Ed and I used to play together in a band called Rumpus…we were fairly popular in the late 90’s and made a living out of a comedy/chaos/folk/rock/riot act involving stuffed toys, cucumbers, numerous hats and “death defying feats”.  It was probably the most fun time of my life.  On the way back to the airport that weekend we stopped for lunch by a frozen lake (it was winter).  This became the inspiration for a story that Ed wrote down in a little notebook.  A classic British folk song sort of tale with a Romeo and Juliet twist.

A while later Ed showed me the notebook which had a bunch of other ideas for songs (though none quite as detailed as The Frozen Lake) and said I should take the ideas and write the songs for a folk album called “The Anonymous Folkie”…So I started with the Frozen Lake.  One of the other songs listed was last month’s single “Beasts of Burden”…so I’ve so far managed 2!

Originally I thought it should be very British Folk style in a Fairport sort of arrangement, but the more I played with it the more I felt it lending itself to a Peter Gabriel era Genesis interpretation.  So I picked up my 12-string and there was no going back.  One day I may well do a more traditionally folk version (same with Beasts of Burden) as I still think The Anonymous Folkie would be a fun project.  But for now it’s turned into a Prog Rock sort of thing, and I quite like it like that.

As with all the singles released so far I play all the instruments, sing, produced and engineered the whole thing.  This one has a lot more instrumentation than the previous offerings…so here’s a quick run down of what was used:

Vocals (recorded with U87  microphone going through Focusrite Liquid Channel emulating a classic Neve desk)

Martin HD 28V acoustic guitar

Guild GAD 12 string guitar

Musicman Stingray bass guitar

Fender Stratocaster going through Vox AC30

Roland RD300 stage piano (for midi keys)

Djembe

Drum Samples

Trombone

 

The lyrics are:

On a cold clear winter’s night stars reflect in the lake

Tears for her sweetheart filled her eyes

Till they could no longer hold the salt water drops

That drip ripples on the watery skies

It was tomorrow she was to wed but no bride will she be

The press gang took her fiancee away

To fight for king and country on some far off shore

With but a promise to return again one day

Each day she sits on the shore of the lake

Where as a child she had played

Staring at the other side where her true love had lived

And she longs to return to those days

Through the winter she could cross the frozen lake

To her love who lived on the other side

When the birds return and the ice begins to break

in the spring he shall make her his bride

She senses the bad news before it is spoke

In battle he drew his last breath

His body could not found but they all saw him go down

Sounds the news of his untimely death

Quite beside herself she walked into the lake

Walked on til the current pulled her down

And the icy cold water swallowed her pain

And in the dark depths she was drowned

A layer of ice formed on the waters that night

The coldest night we ever saw

And for a whole year winter cast a shroud across the land

12 months and the lake didn’t thaw

Through the winter she would cross the frozen lake

to her love who lived on the other side

When the birds return and the ice begins to break

in the spring he shall make her his bride

12 months of winter and a soldier appears

Enquiring where his betrothed might be

He is told of her death in the waters so cold

And in tears he is led off to see

He sat on the ice his heart heavy with grief

Salty tears melting the ice

Til underneath he can see the face of his love

And he thinks he hears her desperate cries

He broke through the ice to dive down to his love

Convinced that new life he could bring

And in her arms he drowned and the lake began to thaw

On that very first morning of spring

In the winter she would cross the frozen lake

To her love who lived on the other side

Now the birds return and the ice begins to break

For it is the spring and he shall make her his bride

Albums that formed me – No 1: Al Stewart – Love Chronicles

When I was 20 a friend of mine lent me 2 Al Stewart albums – Bed Sitter Images and Love Chronicles.  We did that kind of thing back then…the culture amongst teenagers was that we’d buy records on a Saturday at HMV or one of the 2 second hand record shops in Wolverhampton, and then we’d play them for each other, or maybe record them on cassette and give them to each other.  Many of us still did this well into our 20’s…I probably would never have stopped if my record collection hadn’t been stolen.

Bed Sitter Images was fantastic – a clear example of a record company investing in a young artist’s debut and it has elaborate orchestration on its many fine songs.  But Love Chronicles I immediately considered a masterpiece.

So with that in mind I’ve decided to use it as the basis of the first of a series of essays on albums that have been hugely influential in my life.  Partly because I enjoy writing and partly because it gives me time to appreciate them and share my joy. You’ll be able to see these on the first Monday of each month here on the MD Blog…

I nearly didn’t get to hear it (Love Chronicles that is)…whilst picking up the 2 records to take them home I dropped and just managed to catch them, prompting Mark’s Dad to say “He’s a big lad, you don’t want to upset him”.  Happily neither disc was harmed.

The album starts in New York city with the tale of the young Englishman observing the comings and goings of the Big Apple natives between the narrative of his romantic exploits with a harmonica-playing astrology student.  His observational skills and his choices of adjectives take the listener straight there.  It’s a fantastic opening number: upbeat and catchy.  In my early days of busking I used to sing “In Brooklyn” and enjoyed it vastly…I think I still know all the words!

Next up comes another observational piece.  “Old Compton Street Blues” has a beautiful haunting melody with a melancholic descending bass that perfectly fits the story of the young, beautiful model who “really did have something that the others never had”, whilst following her decline through destitution, rejection and prostitution into middle age.

Let’s talk about the musicians on this record.  I was a Led Zeppelin fan years before I heard these songs, and both Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones play on the title track (we’ll come to THAT later), but most of the album is played by members of Fairport Convention; Simon Nicol, Richard Thompson, Martin Lamble (recorded before his fatal car crash, though the album was released later that year) and Ashley Hutchings, although under pseudonyms, so they didn’t get in trouble with their record company…this did mean that I was unaware that they were performing on this album until much later…It was around this time that I got really into Fairport and regularly attended their Cropredy Festival but somehow didn’t realise they were on one of my favourite records.

The 3rd track is another song I used to play a lot in my busking days, and performed at my first ever solo gig.  “The Ballad of Mary Foster” is a terrific story of a husband and wife growing apart, but where most songwriters would stick to the relationship, Stewart delves into the whole life stories of both parts…the first part being David Foster’s story, and then we zap over into a completely different rhythm, tempo, mood and tune (which may be familiar to Dylan fans and folk music know-alls).  The band drops out and Mary Foster’s story is told just to an acoustic guitar.  Amazing amounts of detail are listed as her whole life is told.  Always brings a tear to my eye this one!

For me the absolute highlight of the album is “Life and Life Only” – again it’s the descriptive detail and back stories of the characters that make it so powerful.  From sitting on a wall at Bournmouth beach and looking at a few people Stewart manages to imagine every detail of their lives, assert that “sometimes it must get lonely” and then muse “who will I be?”

Side 2 begins with the song that, to me, sounds like the record company said “But we have to have a hit single on this thing!”  You should have listened to Al is that – a good song, but a poppy dancey sort of affair that feels a little out of place in this aural gallery….so for my side 2 always started with…

Love Chronicles.  Ok, I am a sucker for excessively long and complex compositions with lots of guitar solos…and at 18 minutes Love Chronicles fits the bill.  And it’s a story – a true story.  And perfectly told.  With humour, honesty, humility and intimate detail we are taken through the narrator’s love life from “passing sticky sweets under the table” at kindergarten through teenage crushes and crushing heartbreaks to mature relationsh where ”it grew to be less like fucking and more like making love”.   Ending with a big rousing thank you to all the girls he ever knew.  With an almost gospel feeling B3 Hammond to finish off the album on a mega-high.

The album is largely a singer-songwriter affair with an acoustic guitar base and that is absolutely my go to genre…in fact this album generally is the exact blueprint of how I best like music to sound…except for the production.  Unfortunately this was recorded in the days when stereo was new and multi-tracking was in its infancy…though contemporary with some great sounding albums (Led Zeppelin 2 for example), this has a terrible tinny acoustic guitar sound, and the band sounds like it was recorded live in a rehearsal room.  Even the 2007 remastering for digital release doesn’t save it.

What does save it – and more – is the genius of the songwriting combined with a fantastic band who seem to be allowed to just let rip and express the compositions however they see fit.  Most people associate Al Stewart with the classic “Year of the Cat” (great album)…but for me this is his best.  I just love this album.

Note: The digital release of this album as seen below on Spotify has additional tracks (Jackdaw, She Follows and Fantasy).  I HATE when albums are re-released with additional tracks…put them on a new album FFS…so press the stop button after the organ dies out on Love Chronicles for the whole experience!

New release: It’s Good To Be Here

It’s been a while since “A different kettle of fish” came out…Corona Lockdown finally gave me the time I needed to finish the next release…

And this is the point where I was hoping to say that the new single “It’s Good To Be Here” will be released on 1st July…

…However, the mastering and distribution ends both delayed things so much that we now have to wait til November…which means it will be after what would have been the next 2 singles!  The first of which is….

 

so

1st september 2020 – new single! Down The Pub

 

New album from Brophy’s Law – True Stories

October 2019…was the month that the new album from Brophy’s Law, entitled “True Stories” came out…featuring Mr. Dale on bass on all tracks except the opening one.  The band has been going from strength to strength the last couple of years, and it wonderful to finally have a product I can point people to…and one that I think is mighty fine.

The first 3 songs are about travelling – Neil Brophy was a backpacker in the old days, and these songs are from that period, when he’d move from place to place in Australia and New Zealand and elsewhere, playing his guitar and collecting true stories.  “Road to Meo” is also a journey – this time into yourself and your own personal destiny.  The first single, “Nice to know” is about then coming home to your hometown and finding that so little has changed while you were away.

“Record Collector” is probably my favourite track on the album – a post-punk celebration of the record collection and the lifestyle that went with it.  A good description of most of my teenage years.  Fear of fear is a critique of the mass-hysteria over reaction to the migrant “crisis” of 2016, caused by the right wing propaganda machine that owns much of the West’s press.  “Bears go Fishing” is a happy clappy live number that hopefully cheers everone up after the political song…”Lucky People” continues the upward vibe and “Viking Rover” is another “True” story – of how some viking ghosts came from Ireland to Denmark to build a pub…

Have a listen here:

whole album on Spotify:

My Cd collection pt. 1

I’ve finally moved to a permanent address, which means that I’ve finally unpacked my CD collection which has been in storage for about 7 years.  Having set them up on shelves in the studio I’ve started playing through them in alphebetic order.  So far I’ve got through:

The Adventure Babies: Laugh

The last album released on Factory Records and recorded at Mad Hat Studios in Wolverhampton.  I was going out with an engineer from Mad Hat while it was being made and knew some members of the band and the engineer Mark Stuart.  I met Steve Lilywhite, who produced the album (with Mark) at the Newhampton Pub one evening.  I always liked TAB’s catchy tunes and clever, unorthodox lyrics, and it’s a good quirky, feelgood album

Aerosmith: Big Ones

I never consider myself a fan, but listening to this, it’s astounding how many great songs they crammed onto this.  And you really can’t question the musicianship.  Brilliant stuff and full of deserved hits.

AfroCelt Soundsystem: Vol 1 Sound Magic

The first Afro Celts album is still the best I think and it’s great to hear it again.  Whirl-y-reel was briefly included in Rumpus and The Rhythm Maniacs set when we had Matt playing Bass, whistle and Sax.  Still as good as ever, and – having recently seen the new Emerson fronted line up – it’s got the visual element of a record by a band I’ve seen live (although most of this line up wasn’t there).  Great and ground breaking record.

All About Eve: best of

I’m not a big fan of “best of” albums, but this has nearly the whole first album on it – which is what I really wanted, but this was on offer for a fiver!  Martha’s Harbour, Every Angel must die, Gypsy dance…amazing stuff.  Shame they didn’t keep the magic going longer.

Alphabeat: This is

An Ok album if you can ignore the terrible lyrics, and the out of place cover of Public Image.  You can hear why they made such an impact when they came out, but in retospect, you can also hear that they didn’t have enough substance to back it up with a second bearable album.  Brainless fun for a party.

Altan: Best of

I know…another best of.  Great band and this is one of my most played CD’s (it never made storage in the cellar and has been with me the whole way through!)  Concentrates mostly on the early years and is thus more whistle dominated than later stuff.  Which is no bad thing.

Tori Amos: Tales from a Librarian

Terrific songs from a terrific artist.  Crucify should zap straight on to my Spotify “Greatest Songs Ever Written” playlist

Anthony and The Johnsons: I am a bird now

I bought this on impulse after hearing Anthony do one song on a tribute show (I can’t remember what show).  I rather like his bizarre voice, the music is atmospheric and the theme of gender identity interesting…but a whole album is a lot to take at one time

Atomic Swing: In their finest hour

A great example of why the Swedish music scene has for years been one of the best.  A real band playing real music with real songs about real things.  The bass is beautifully abstract – he does exactly what you don’t expect all the time.  Love this band.  Shame they didn’t do more – I think this is a compilation of 2 albums.  I knew Meat Swap Bossanova, from which many of the songs are taken, and I think they did one more.  Weird in retrospect to hear Phil Spector singing on “So in need of a change”.

B52’s – Planet Clare

Early stuff from the great B52’s – most of this is from 1979, and is the same material by and large they played when we saw them 2 years ago.  Good live band, and that live vibe is captured perfectly on record.  You can’t help but love em!

I’ll keep you posted as I continue…

Video a week on patreon.com

Hi and happy new year beloved folkies!

A new feature for 2017 is the Martin Dale patreon page at:

https://www.patreon.com/martindale

Here you can see live performances of songs, background info about the songs, thoughts about new songs and much more.  Better still, it’s an interactive experience – you can tell me what you think, ask me questions, make requests or say whatever you feel like to me!  I’ll reply to every post.

It’s launched today (1st January 2017) and there will be a new video (plus background info video) every Sunday come rain or shine, as well as bonus recordings, musings, song sketches etc.

Click the buttons and become part of it.  You know you want to!

Afro celt soundsystem

I don’t get to as many gigs (of other artists!) as I’d like to (except at festivals), so when I finally get the chance to see an act I really like it is double the pleasure.  So when my good friend and ex-Rumpus partner Ed Conway suggested seeing Afro Celt Sound System at Birmingham City Hall while I was in England last week, I jumped at the chance.

First, I will get the only negatives out of the way.  They looked awful.  Dressed in the clothes they did their shopping in and with (in the case of the piper, Griogair Labhruidh) a sweater your uncle wouldn’t even wear at Christmas, they hadn’t made an effort on the visual side.  With the exception of the one (hugely talented) African member, N’Faly Kouyate, who donned a long colourful jacket, and the dancers, in their traditional Indian costumes.  And Griogair rapped.  Rapping is shite in any language – even Gaelic.

Right.  That’s the negatives out of the way.  The music more than made up for it.  I had always considered ACSS to be a very electronic project, with the acoustic, traditional instruments laid over computer-based rhythms and synthesizers.  The electronic side, actually, played a much smaller role than I expected and the bulk of the sound was produced by the pipes/flutes/whistles, guitars, kora, drums, percussion and bodhrán augmented by terrific harmony vocals.  The synth was mostly providing bass (I would have preferred a bass guitar, but that’s just a question of taste). One of those who made the biggest impression on me was Rioghnach Connelly on vocals and flute.  A hugely talented lady with great on-stage attitude.  But they were all amazing, and took turns coming to the front before stepping back into the huge African, Asian and Celtic sound soup.

The set was mostly from the new album “Source”, but with a few pieces I recognised from the early Afro Celt albums.  The members of the “other” band who share the name may be threatening legal action and disclaiming the project, but it was very much a Simon Emmerson project in the beginning, as I understand it, and he pulled off a spectacular show with this line-up, featuring all the elements we loved from the early records.

Fab night.

Neil Brophy UK tour roundup

Had a wonderful week eating great British food and drinking great British ales, whilst playing great British venues in Great Britain.  Neil Brophy Band made its first steps into the great British music market and at the same time had lots of fun and giggles.

First port of call after driver and on-road entertainment Jim picked us up from Luton airport, was Dublin Castle in Camden, London, where sound crew Martin and Jens from Powerstage were waiting.  Not a big crowd, but a good way to warm up for the tour, with reunions with old friends, quality curry beforehand, quality beer after and an unexpected headline slot, when the headliners didn’t show up.

After a sardine night at the hostel, we headed up to Northampton, and, having sampled pie, mash and mushy peas and admired Jim’s hotrod, played a much longer set at The Black Prince.

Next day we went to The Adelphi in Hull (after eating the best fish and chips in the world).  This place is like traveling directly back in time to the 80’s.  Great atmosphere, retro-sound, characature characters and terrific beer.  This was the first of 3 gigs supporting the wonderful Blackbeard’s Tea Party – lovely people, and great musicians.  A really fun night, and a great response from the crowd.

Long trip the next day to the beautiful city of Chester, where we stayed with the wonderful Brian and Ann.  The venue – Telford’s Warehouse – was as beautiful as the city, the sound fantastic and the audience appreciative.

The last day was more relaxed due to shorter driving distance…just up t’road to Manchester.  Fac 251 is the old Factory Records building, and there’s a sense of rock n roll history in the place.  Another great night and both NBB and Blackbeard’s were on fire.

Lovely to be back in Denmark now, but what a great week in the UK!

England!

Will soon be off to the UK in one of my rare excursions outside of Europe 😛

Originally I was just going to go on a road trip with a mate to see Christy Moore play in Swansea.  This is still the case, but since booking that, it seems I have to stay a little longer in Britain.

Neil Brophy Band (of which, for those who don’t know, I am the bassist) have teamed up with Blackbeard’s Tea Party (one of my favourite bands) and will be warming up for them in Hull, Chester and Manchester in October.  Plus a couple of other dates without the Tea Party, one in London at the Dublin Castle and one in Northampton at The Black Prince…look on the “Live” page for the dates and venues!  This will be fun in more ways than I can express.  And even more fun if I get to see some of you Brits I so rarely catch up with!

I will also be doing a solo tour (just a couple of weeks) in April next year…watch this space

new discoveries

Newly discovered favourites:

Robert Ellis – what a guitarist!  Almost makes me love country music

Phil Ochs – I completely missed him until now, despite him being a big name in the protest song and folk world that I grew up with.  Now newly discovered his songs 30 years after his death.

The Felice Brothers – I know nothing about them, but the songs I’ve heard sound fab.

Damien Jurado –  Music to melt to!

The Leylines – They sound almost identical to the Levellers, which is a shame, but do it very well.