Sunday, September 12, 2021


 Flutes tend to get a lot of stick these days, whether hewn from a stick or crafted in the finest bamboo, brass or even bone. They just aren't seen as cool anymore. Even in folk music, for long the mainstay of this edge blown aerophone(!), there is a danger it is being surreptitiously supplanted by the low whistle, that new usurper on the scene. (The low whistle, whilst based on the simple "penny" instrument, probably only became an entity when Finbar Furey, the Irish Uillean piper asked Brian Overton to fashion a "big" whistle from, legend has it, a piece of surplus plumbing. However, culture vultures, it likely existed before in the format of a fipple flute, an instrument that then later lost favour.)

But the flute isn't yet history and has life beyond ridicule, however hard Ron Burgundy has tried. Jazz flautists have a small yet important page in the history of that music, if often more an extra trick up the sleeve of saxophonists, than necessarily the main deal. Herbie Mann came closest to making the jazz flute cool, if also, by that dreadful album cover, near inventing the parody above. In the 1970s he had even enough crossover appeal to be seen as cool to have a copy of any other of his works under your arm. I especially liked Memphis Underground, from 1969. Other notable jazzers with a taste for tooting, sorry, fluting, as many many jazz musicians allegedly had a penchant for tooting, would include Eric Dolphy and Rahsaan Roland Kirk, who could switch effortlessly between any number of saxes and flute. He could play more than one at a time, but am uncertain if that were ever possible between saxophone and flute. And, yes, that was nose flute at one stage in that clip, sparing having to mention it later.....

Rock flute had a very narrow window, beginning and near ending with Ian Anderson's manic persona in Jethro Tull. But, ahead of their folk-prog prime, they were a more straight ahead blues band, and the blues-rock scene was littered with flute solos. If were a band I was particularly fond of, with their vibe a mix and match of jazz, blues, rock and r'n'b. Both their reedmen, Dick Morrissey and Dave Quincy, were adept on the instrument. Of course, prog rock was awash with flute, much appreciated in whimsical and pastoral interludes in sidelong epics about dragons and princesses. Early Genesis were enthusiasts, as Peter Gabriel could play a bit, something he has kept distinctly quite about since going solo.

Folk flute has had two distinct rotes, in trad. inspired music and in fey singer-songwriter, of which the former has tended to date better. The list of Irish and Scottish bands able to whip out a flute, amongst all the all other panoply of pipes and fiddles are legion, with the name Michael McGoldrick perhaps standing out. Initially with Capercaillie, he has a successful solo career alongside working with and in Mark Knopfler's band, as well as in the house band for Transatlantic Sessions. His name, and that of Brian Finnegan, are two names that can act as a guarantee of classy playing, should you ever spot either on a CD  cover. Before Capercaillie, they actually played together, in the same band, Flook, along with a third flautist, Sarah Allen. Here's an old clip, followed by some early John Martyn, who was certainly anything other than fey, even if this example may be. The flute is by estimable jazz parper Harold McNair, often alongside Donovan in his early recordings also.

Country flute? Blues flute? Well, not a lot. I suppose Marshall Tucker Band might (just) about fulfil the first and Canned Heat, arguably, the latter, but that isn't all there is to this to this piece as I have to include a nod to more modern forms of music. A clip or two, even, from this century might help give some semblance of my not being some ancient dinosaur, even if I am. So, with a leap and a bound it is, oh, still only 1994, but the Prodigy, hey, kids, Granpa's gone all hepcat, daddio. Actually before they hit their chart topping prime, I remember hearing this and being absolutely astonished, and unable to get the ear worm flute melody out my head. I still can't.

Is 2010 near enough for you? Ever heard of Shpongle? I love 'em, that weird hinterland of dance and world musics, bundleed up into a somewhat lysergic trance like state, not that I have any experience of that particular trip, and placed into the somewhat niche genre of psybient: psychedelic ambient. Whilst it is true that one of the duo, flautist Raja Ram, actually kickstarted his career as far back as the late 60s, as a member of Ladbroke Grove raga-rock stoners, Quintessence, his, um, diet, has clearly done little harm, and he continues to ply his chosen path with no little wizardry. Whilst Ram is still upright, flute still has a place.

Too much here to pint you to all their product, so let's just go here, for something completely different. Keep them flutes a tooting!!