Ireland - Full Moon 191 - 04/06/12
From head to heart
Mellow Candle's Swaddling Songs
Following our retroscope
series of latter years, here we go again! Here's Speakers'
corner's cousin; From head to heart. Luna Kafé's focused eye
on great events, fantastic happenings,
absolute milestones, or other curious incidents from the historic
shelves'n'vaults of pop'n'rock. Blowing our ears and our head, punching
our chest and shaking our heart.
Making us go sentimental, but not slaphappy. This moonth the Lunar
spotlight revisits yet another 40 year old platter (it seems we're on
the 40-year-old trail), taking
us to Ireland; the land of leprechauns and Guiness. Enter the prog-folk
The last couple of decades have seen the release of lots of much sought after albums and recordings from the 1960s and 70s. Several of them were released, but didn't make any stir; others were never released at the time. Some recordings include a few great songs, but these treasure chests are seldom filled to the rim. And there are good reasons why some releases sank without a trace or recordings never found any interest with the established music business. But there are exceptions. Here is one of the greatest. One of the few released by one of the majors, Decca's progressive Deram label. It sold next to nothing in its own time. However, its reputation has grown and grown to some Holy Grail of the original folk-rock movement in the latter decades.
You can read the sad and fascinating story of the band elsewhere on the Net, not least the in-depth article taken from the book Irish Folk, Trad & Blues: A Secret History by Colin Harper and Trevor Hodgett from 2004. So let's not repeat everything here, only mention that the band initially was a girl trio from Dublin that recorded a single for the actor David Hemmings' (yes, the one from Michelangelo Antonioni's hip swinging London movie Blowup) and
Yardbirds' (yes, the band that performed and smashed guitars in the same movie with the short-lived Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page line-up) manager Simon Napier Bell's SNB label in 1968 at the tender age of 15. They allegedly received a royalty check for nine shillings (less than half a pound sterling) and that was that for quite some time. The band eventually regrouped with two of the girls Clodagh Simonds (vocals and piano) and Alison Bools (vocals) up front backed by Alison's husband-to-be Dave Williams (guitars, vocals) and Pat Morris (bass). The band signed with Deram in April 1971. William Murray joined on drums and percussion and Pat was substituted by Frank Boylan by this time. The album was recorded in London during some long days and nights in December of the same year and released in April the following year.
All in all, Swaddling Songs fits better in the folk-rock than the acid-folk bag, with less emphasize on acoustic instruments like guitars and violins than in the acid camp. The greatest asset of the band was unarguably the song writing skills. Add two excellent female vocalists that both sing on all songs. And a ditto guitarist, too, check out the delightful sound and playing in particular of the first half of "Sheep Season". Clodagh's piano playing sounds great, too. It seems the piano might have been the starting point of many of the songs, though often it is drowned to some extent in the album mix. The somewhat hilariously merry "Boulders On My Grave" is a great exception. The album includes 12 songs, all originals, seven penned by Clodagh, two by Alison. More than half of the songs can be characterised as solid folk-rock
with drums, electric guitars and bass and all. Clodagh's "The Poet And The Witch", "Dan The Wing" and "Break Your Token" are maybe the most traditional sounding of them and can effortlessly compete with the best songs of Fairport Convention, Pentangle and Steeley Span. Alison's "Heaven Heath" that opens the album, is another folk-rock gem driven forwards by Clodagh playing the harpsichord for the very first time. It wasn't easy...
The remaining songs are more indeterminable, not necessarily inspired by the Irish folk heritage. Pop-rock and ballads and some inspiration from the vast continent on the other side of the Atlantic are involved. "Silver Song" is a beautiful slightly blues-tinged ballad with an exquisite arrangement where guitars and piano entwine, even with a wonderful and sad viola involved. The greatest of them all, in my humble opinion, is without any doubt Clodagh's melancholic and hauntingly beautiful "Reverend Sisters", with only piano and the two female voices. If I had to pick one ballad for the desert island stay, I guess this would be it. "Dan The Wing" backed with "Silversong" were chosen for the Deram single off the album. It probably sold even less than the album. Maybe things might have fared better if "Reverend Sisters" had been chosen for the A-side..
Anyway, the music of Mellow Candle has certainly stood the test of time. Swaddling Songs has been relaunched on CD on several occasions in the 1990s and 00s. Clodagh has in later years claimed that the band certainly couldn't compete with Fairport and the other bands of the British premier folk-rock league mentioned above. She gives a lot of the credit for the album's strengths to Decca's in-house producer at the time David Hitchcock (Caravan, Camel, Genesis to name but a few). The release of Virgin Prophet in 1994, a collection of demos, proves her wrong. They were recorded earlier than Swaddling Songs and includes several of the album tracks without drums, before William Murray had joined the band. The demo versions almost match the ones recorded in Decca's professional studio and works very well in their own right. Last year saw the release of a vinyl collection that included Swaddling Songs, a second LP with 14 of the 15 songs off Virgin Prophet and the two singles released by the band, even the 1968-single "Feeling High"/"Tea With The Sun" written by a very young Clodagh Simonds.
Mellow Candle might be long gone, but the music will not be forgotten in quite a while. Swaddling Songs is a unique and quirky masterpiece!
Copyright © 2012 JP