Autumn, Ephedrine and Rolling Tape

Recording is complete for Almas Buenas. I know I am a lucky man to have had the idea grow over 5 months and for it to flower like this.

The idea for the record was simple: take songs from my back catalogue that lend themselves to different styles of Latin Arrangements, sing them in Spanish and record acoustic musicians live.

I wanted the recording for Almas Buenas to be completely live with a whole group playing in unison as it is a romantic and dangerous thing to do and if done right then this magic translates into what is recorded. Unless you have top quality musicians this approach can end in chaos and the truth is that most records are made using a sucession of overdubs because it is simply easier to do and runs less risk.

The studio, Moebio, is a mythical place not listed on many maps or findable on the internet due to the slightly eccentric nature of the owner but is a hidden home for acoustic recordings for those in the know. It is one of the finest studio rooms in Argentina specially designed by Carlos Piriz – an acoustic engineer recognized throughout Latin America as one of the best.

Some of the greatest artists of recent times have recorded in this room, including Mercedes Sosa, the guitarist and composer Juan Falu, the guitarist Luis Salinas, the violinist, composer and conductor Antonio Agri, Soda Stereo, Fito Paez, Luis Alberto Spinetta, Charly García, La Camerata Bariloche. The historic album “200 Years of Argentina Music” by the Salta Symphony Orchestra, was also undertaken in Moebio.

The change to Autumn in Buenos Aires caught me by surprise and three days before the recording and I foolishly left a window open at night in my bedroom which saw me waking up with a cold and lots of nose gunk. Thankfully Jorge had a special remedy including Ephedrine which instantly cleared my head but it was strong stuff.

Oscar Magariños, came recommeded as a recording sound engineer for the project, by Jorge, and it was Oscar that suggested Moebio Studios to record. Oscar had prepped the room before with layouts and microphones so when we arrived things were smooth and enginnering effort invisible to the performers which is the way it should be.

The musicians arrived and gelled very quickly. The double bass player had been changed at the last minute and was replaced by the legendary Juan Pablo Navarro who, until the sessions, hadn´t worked with any of the other musicians on the songs. Juan´s calibre was such that this didn´t matter and he anchored the rhythm and the music perfectly. Carlos Corrales on bandoneon proved to be a focal point for the group due to his outstanding musicality and charisma.

Jorge Soldera conducted the arrangements in the centre of the room and for separation I sang from the control booth.

We only had the bandoneon and piano player for one day but we managed to get all six songs they featured on recorded.

As some songs had many mid frequencies to deal with from bandoneon, guitar, piano, voice and percussion it was useful that the piano in the studio had been chosen especially to have a dark tonal quality allowing it so sit alongside some of the brighter instruments. It was a ´tango piano´. Matias Chapiro, a young pianist and composer, played extremely sensitively and framed the songs with an inspired touch.

The day was finished off with an eyeball to eyeball tango performance by Carlos and myself. Jorge and I had reworked the song Blowin´ Up Tryin´ 2B Somebody (Exploto Mientras Trato Ser Alguien) into a completely new tango variant and Carlos had written a new arrangement for it. It was a great honour for me to have Carlos undertake this arrangement as he is one of the most famous bandoneon players working in the world today with performances and credits across the world. The first time I heard the new arrangement was at the session and after a trial run we managed to get synchronicity with an explosive take. One of the tricks of tango is that it is not in strict time and the performers are expected to push and pull the timing to suit the mood. One final thing about Carlos – he used to box in the same club I have been going to in Almagro. Perfecto.

Sergio Carrera the graphic artist also came down to the session to do photo studies of the musicians for his album artwork composition.

Focus was on the guitar led tracks and with only two remaining we manged to get through them fine along with one or two percussion overdubs. The track Don´t Get All Stuck (No Te Dejes Atrapar) was electrifying. There are tonnes of words for this track and during preproduction we had to move the tempo down from 115bpm to 112bpm so I could blurt them all out successfully. However during the recording the flamenco style had the musicians excited and we did a version even higher than 115bpm. Victor Piseta, on spanish guitar, dazzled with his virtuoso playing inspired by Paco de Lucia and Astor Piazzolla. Victor´s current direction is primarily folklorico with Duo Matices although he has also toured with the trio, Guitarras de Fuego, and recorded as a solo guitar artist. There are big things to come for Victor.

Vocals. Ephedrine. Honey. Lemon. Spanish language Gods were looking down on me on this day.

Trumpet track for Let the Credits Roll (Que Pasen los Créditos). This track needed a muted trumpet to give it a New Orleans funeral procession inkeeping with the sentiment of the song. I wrote this song a few years ago after my band The Good Hurt broke up.

Patricia Zania, a BsAs fashionista, took photos and video footage leading up to and during the recording. I hope to get some of it edited and translated back in London.

Thursday night was strange. My whole calendar had been focussed around this record and it was only after finishing at the studio that I realised I would be leaving in a week. The mixing will be done over the next few days and before I know it I´ll be back in London.

At least my girl and the sun will be there 🙂


100 Fields – Each One Was a Jewel

100 Fields

If ever I did a Zeitgeist Orchestra recording without knowing it fully at the time then it was definitely ‘100 Fields’. This record is now available (hear some) but here’s my story of where, who, what and why…

Somehow, somewhere I was drawn to black gospel music as manifest in America during a time where the tension was pulled tightest. I was drawn to the female gospel singers in particular – Mahalia Jackson, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Mavis Staples and Aretha Franklin.

It seemed to me that the solo singing was best done by the women and the harmony singing by the men and I’ve often wondered why that dynamic prevailed. My end thinking was that the women felt the blues double because they had two oppressors (albeit of a different nature) – whites and the chauvinisms of their own black men. When the women screamed about pain I’m guessing the men shut up. It’s how I feel about what I hear. If you listen to some of those recordings by the great women in gospel they carry an authority that is very difficult for the men to match. Sister Rosetta Tharpe, for example, played electric guitar in a wild syncopated style long before Hendrix plugged in and she was Little Richards childhood idol. Not to mention her singing which had the chime of the dawn of time written all over it.

Check out her version of Down By The Riverside

I think I’m in awe of how the souls of black women were stretched during their horrible struggle in America – they sung like broken and beautiful birds and it’s just by luck that recording techniques were around to grasp one aspect of it.

The music in Scottish and Irish churches can be a real dirge…the reasons for this are complicated and possibly something to do with the weather and fields long since being settled but the singing in the Northern churches of the globe doesn’t feel like it’s made from cosmic stuff at all.

I was brought up in one of these kind of churches but because I loved music so much it became more difficult to connect the church with the magical and wonderous when the arts going inside were so leaden. I liked the long quiet bits with no singing where you could just lose yourself in your own thoughts. Church became boring for me and when I could I escaped it. I didn’t give up on it and music though and I looked to gospel music.

I worked back from Arethea Frankin and luckily I could see past the sound quality of some of the earliest works of Mahalia around the 1930’s. I was in a rock band at the time and it felt like no-one was screaming it out like these female gospel singers did way back. I sang along to their songs a lot. I didn’t believe in the church that I’d been to but I believed in Mahalia’s singing 100% and that felt like religion to me.

Since then I have a few other veins of devotional music that really do seem to touch on the sacred or the timeless for me. Mozart’s Requiem Masses, the Bulgarian folk laments, Indian devotional recordings. I often thought that these musics contained more of God than those somber Sunday masses.

Fast forward to my last days in India 2002 and I somehow decide to do some of my favourite gospel songs with a south Indian folk band – as a way to clear my head after the orchestrally demanding Scale. I don’t consider myself to be a Christian or of any religion at this point in my life. In sync with me leaving India more than a year on since the 9/11 tragedies the landscape of the world was teetering with a divisive east west mentality. I still gave a shit about right and wrong however. I had an hours rehearsal with the singers beforehand and then we did the record live in no more than 2 takes for each song.

The recording was a wonderful magical thing and we all felt it in the room. Nearly all the denominations (athiests and ‘music’ists included) were present by accident rather than design and the message is in the act of doing it in the first place. My frantic arrangements the night before worked and the musicians played with such soul that were were blessed no matter which lexicon you use.

I felt lucky that the thing even happened at all.

Now I’m putting it out and want to tour it. So naturally I’ve just had a quick look at the ‘market‘. Here’s an example of one market (US Gospel) that this record will be thrust into and in truth it is in all and none of them. Anyways…

Gospel stations in america fall into three categrories…

  1. southern only i.e. black only,
  2. mixed meaning the country white style and the south style
  3. those that are a little more loose with a definition of Christianity

I read some of the submission guidelines for all of these and it seems the religious sites have went to town on ‘what’s acceptable’ for their gospel music playlist. As a safeguard and not to be swallowed by the madness I intentionally changed some of the songs to include Hindu detities and Buddhist and Muslim rivers – I was feeling more pluralist than simply Chritstian and such statements like my “This is a record that shouldn’t be classified as Christian” will mean that a load of my Cd’s will hit the bin straight away when they reach the US.

I want the debate and I’ll be having it soon. Get on board. John Lennon isn’t around so we need you.

I hope you enjoy it.

We hope to do a live concert in Wales using a Welsh Choir and Indian musicians conducted by Drongomala aka me during Nov 2006 – keep an eye on the website.

100 Fields WebSite on Flying Mountain Records
100 Fields CD Baby Buy Link
100 Fields MySpace Site


p.s. any animators want to have a pop at a video for one of the songs?

VIDEO : Bismillah Khan the great Shennai player dies

I got a phone call yesterday from Greece to tell me that the great Shennai player from India, Ustad Bismillah Khan, had died of a heart attack. His health had been bad for a while and his playing had naturally reached it’s peak a few years ago.

The gentle genius of Bismillah Khan is perhaps single handedly responsible for making Shehnai a famous classical instrument. Traditionally used to play music during marriages, Shehnai is the counterpart of south indian nadaswaram. It is also used to play music in temples.

Born in a small Bihar village in 1917, Ustad Bismillah learned shehnai from his uncle who used to play in the famous Vishwanath temple of Varanasi. He brought Shehnai to the center stage of indian music with his concert in the calcutta All India Music Conference in 1937. There was no looking back.

Ustad Bismillah Khan is the third classical musician after Pt Ravi Shankar and Smt M S Subbulakshmi to be awarded Bharath Rathna, the highest civilian honour in India. However even though he was well respected and used by the government as part of the Indian culture promo list he wasn’t really kept in the manner he should have been and he even threatened to hand the award back if he didn’t get a cheque….he got one eventually. Bismillah had the onus of feeding a hundred persons, ten sons included. He travelled across the world but didn’t like flying. In India he would mostly travel by train.

Bismillah had a retinue of 8-10 accompanists – quite a large number. He would travel to the railway station by cycle rickshaw, heading a caravan of 4 or 5, waving to familiar passersby, no less happy than a prince in a Rolls Royce! He was very well loved by the people and his healthy perspective and example on the overlap of being both Muslim and Hindu was well noted by the people.

I myself was touched by his playing and his rendition of Multani at the banks of the Ganges was what inspired the ElectroRaga Version of Multani recently in Manchester. You can hear me triggering and chopping his Shennai playing.

And here is the original performance that I took it from as hosted on Patrick Moutal’s excellent website on Indian music.

This news of his death didn’t make it to the UK newspapers or websites as far as I could see. Let us not forget this link with the old world of magic as handed to us in the form of Bismillah Khan. His kind are less every year.

Rest ye well.



Newspaper Article: When Hoodies Attack (ElectroRaga)

southmancreporter-electroraga attack
Originally uploaded by drongomala.

One of the local newspapers caught on to our little drama at the ElectroRaga dawn gig in Chorlton, Manchester.

Feel free to leave comments on their site….already the rights and wrongs of what we did is being debated….

The article is replete with misquotes and made up bits – I’m not complaining though as the hit count for the clip has went from 200 to 2000…I love the press – has Indian classical music ever been so rock and roll?!

FRESH NEWS : watch out for a video report of the hiphop gig with HLI in Birmingham this weekend – coming soon – yes it rocked hard.


ElectroRaga VIDEO : Malkauns (midnight) 23/7/06 Red Light Area, Manchester

Malkauns is a dark brooding raga. PLayed late night. (see my article ‘Robert Johnson, The Cross Roads and Malkauns)

This gig like the rest wasn’t agreed…..thing is it wasn’t the authorities we were worried about it was the lawless…..this one was in the red light district of Manchester. Watch out for a cameo by Mick Jagger.

ElectroRaga VIDEO : Yaman-Kalyan (evening) 22/07/06 St Anns Square

Yaman Kalyan is an evening raga. We conspired to slip into St Ann’s square and quickly setup as we didn’t have permission to play. We hadn’t counted on the security guards for the stalls nearby – our generator was freaking them out as a fire hazard and me out becuase it wasn’t in the right shruti. Luckily we kept them at bay and managed to get going. Olly Farshi joins in on e-bow guitar.

Part 1

Part 2


ElectroRaga VIDEO : Multani (afternoon) 22/07/06 Castlefield

The afternoon concert on the banks of a river….well Castlefield canal in this case…

Bismillah Khan and Ravi Shankar were the dons that I took inspiration from in this raga. Make sure you check out the extra cam footage which has better quality sound and some close up views..

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3 – extra cam footage with better sound

or in hyperlinks
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3 (extra-cam better sound)