Friday, May 20, 2016

GIRL : New York Girls

I suppose I may be the exception to the rest of the blogging parade here in that I don't know any New York girls. Girls from York, sure, one or two, yet how is it that this most english of songs relates to the women across the pond? To answer this question I consulted all my usual sources of education and edification, aka Google, and the fabulously entitled Shantypedia was the best I could find. (As a swift digression, don't you just love how any manual of information nowadays is a hyphen-pedia, and every crisis a hyphengate-gate? If there were a massive fallout between Jimmy Wales and his team, would it be pedia-gate? Actually, probably Wiki-gate, but anyway.......) So, moving on, we establish it is a sea-shanty, a song sung by jolly jack tars as they avasted landlubbers ahoy, or, more likely, suffered in the  bowels of an unforgiving galleon, gnawing on rancid ship's biscuit. In another twist of fate, such songs of self-encouragement to lighten the curse of a sailor's life are now sung by choirs of earnest townsfolk in striped pullovers, a glee club for the vocally seasick. But, again trying to stick to the point, has this song ever been sung in an american tradition or do the US maritime corps sing of Old York girls? In the absence of me providing you with an answer, can any of my reader supply the answer?

Let's have a version:

I hope you stuck with that, if only to read the lyrics, as it saves me cutting and pasting elsewhere, itself no mean challenge, as, similar to most songs in any folk tradition, there are as many versions as, um, versions. I accept it hasn't aged well, as in from 1975 to the present, rather than the 200 odd years of the song being known, but, back then, this toothsome band were almost quite the big thing in one of the regular sightings of a predicted folk music revival, vying with the better known Fairport Convention to be at the forefront. (And, actually, still are, as seems compulsory for all bands of that decade. 'Commoner's Crown', the LP from which it came was their big budget breaker, or would be breaker, reaching 21 in the album chart.) The song is actually far from typical of their style, perhaps trying a introduce a levity into their otherwise very serious and strait-laced fusion of traditional folk with electric rock instrumentation, and features no less than Peter Sellers on ukelele and vocal asides. Again, hard to believe now, but he was the only uke player anyone could think of at the time. No such shortage now, eh, and more's the pity.

Fast forward to 1989 and it is (the) Oysterband, featured here by august sometime colleague Boyhowdy in 2008, who are having jolly japes with the tune. I like to think it has a little more muscle than Steeleye, but it is still a fairly overt bid for crossover commercialism. Failed, of course, but still, to this day, a staple of their live show, they too still plugging away valiantly.

As a bit of a diversion, even if not answering the question of my first paragraph, with Finbar Furey being irish through and through, but, for the purpose of its place in Martin Scorsese's 2003 film, 'The Gangs of New York', this is defined as close an imagining of how the native New Yorkers of 1863 caroused. (Come to think of it, most native New Yorkers of 1863 were probably irish through and through too.) I guess you had to be there?

My final offering is from only just recently defunct folk big band Bellowhead, darlings of the last predicted folk revival. Somehow this grabs bits from all the 3 earlier examples, filtering them through a venn diagram of weird versus trad, with a side order of shake vigorously.

So, me Santys, New York girls or Tarrytown men, can YOU dance the polka?

SteeleyeBellowhead I can point you to, but for Oysterband get this, even if the song isn't included, and for Finbar, get the film.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Girl: Girl of My Dreams

Bram Tchaikovsky: Girl of My Dreams
[purchase, if you have lots of money to burn, or a turntable]

One of the true joys of being a music fan is hearing something wonderful and totally unexpected for the first time. Back in the 1970s, particularly in the heyday of WNEW-FM and WLIR/WDRE, the DJs, who had access to new music before any of us listeners, would spin something new, maybe by a brand new band, or even by a known artist, and you would get that feeling in your gut, or the hair would stand up on the back of your neck.

I was lucky to be in that situation myself for the 3 and a half years that I worked at WPRB while in college. As a DJ, and then, even better, as assistant program director and program director, I often got to hear records immediately after they were taken out of the boxes they were shipped in. And before the Internet, it was much rarer to hear music before it was released.

I can’t remember exactly the first time I heard Bram Tchaikovsky’s album Strange Man, Changed Man, but it grabbed me immediately, and became something that I played on the air regularly. It was a record that came directly out of left field. Tchaikovsky (It took a little while to determine that, in fact, Bram wasn’t related to Pyotr Ilyich, although it wasn’t until many years later that I learned that his real name is Peter Bramall) was a member of The Motors, an English band that I was aware of, but he, personally, had not made any impression on me.  The incredible power pop of SM,CM was a revelation, even overlooking the fact that Bram’s voice wasn’t great, or that the sound on the album was kind of muddy. It is one of those albums that I will always love, even if I rarely play it anymore.

Although SM, CM is strong from start to finish, the standout track, which was a minor hit, was “Girl of My Dreams,” a pretty love song to an inflatable sex doll. It is one of the great songs of that oft-maligned genre, right up there with, if not quite equal to, The Records “Starry Eyes.”

Bram and his band, with a revolving door of members, put out two more good records, but never quite hit the heights of the debut. By all reports, he retired from the music business in 1981, possibly opening up a recording studio. Lately, though, it appears that he may be gigging in England again.