BLUES Taj Mahal
Glasgow: Royal Concert Hall, Tue 30
Jun. No, we haven’t slipped in a travel
piece in by mistake - as any self- respecting blues fan will know, when the name Taj Mahal comes up in a musical context, it doesn't refer to an Indian palace, but to an extraordinary singer, guitarist, boogie-woogie pianist and songwriter whose welding together of many diverse strands of the Afro- American musical heritage has made him one of the most idiosyncratically enjoyable of modern bluesmen.
Placing him in even that category begs more questions than it answers, though. The young Henry St Claire Fredericks grew up under the spell of a polyglot musical culture even in his own home (he was born in New York in 1940, but left for New England as ’a babe-in-arms’). Both parents were musicians, and he imbibed not only strong doses of ’the popular music of the day, which meant Duke Ellington and the great swing bands, and later bebop, and of course blues,’ but also a well-honed awareness of his deep musical and cultural roots.
‘Because my father was from the Caribbean theatre, where there was a tremendous influence of the African aesthetic within the culture, I grew up with a very positive feeling about my past as an Afro-American,’ explains Taj. ’It’s much less of a problem for young kids to relate to their African background now. Twenty or thirty years ago, you could tell someone who was as black as the ace of spades that they were from Africa, and they might get insulted, which was real stupid, because what else could they be?’
That background has always been strongly reflected in
Taj Mahal: a palace among the usual blues shacks
his music. He adopted the name Taj Mahal at the start of his career in the early 605 as ’a way of making people stop and think that maybe I had something different going on in my music.’ Some 35 albums later, he is still going strong, and his voice - deep, rich, and with just a hint of a growl in the lowest register — remains instantly recognisable in any context.
‘Even as a kid I could see a connection between melodies and folk forms from Europe and from the Caribbean or Central and South America, and they seemed to me like huge building blocks for the music that was going to come. I believe that music crosses language barriers. You might speak French, for example, but that doesn’t matter when you listen to John Lee Hooker, because what matters is that his soul is connected to you and you are feeling good.’
Volley: fortunately realised the folly of being a metal covers band
’Costumes, dance moves The Monkees is a fair comparison,’ says bass player Reno. ’Hanson is a fair comparison for the musrc.’
’Apart from the fact that all our vorces have broken,’ says drummer Stu,
Three-quarters of the band met at school in Bridge Of Weir, and three- quarters are currently at university in Glasgow, 'reading' economics and management, English and film and TV, and physics and maths, which is a pretty good University Challenge team when you think abOLit it. Stu dropped out, thereby supplying rock 'n’ roll credentials. They used to be a heavy
Edinburgh: Cas Rock, Fri 26 Jun; Glasgow: King Tut's, Sat 27 Jun.
‘We’re trying to set up this launchpad so we can literally launch our single into the crowd,’ says Volley vocalist Mike. Well, it’s an idea, which is a start. Most bands can’t even muster half an idea.
’We've got loads of good ideas but we can’t do them because we’ve only got half an hour on stage,’ he continues. 'A bouncy castle on stage
44 TIIEIJS'I' 25 Jun—9 Jul 1998
would be good. A bouncy castle in the crowd would be really really good.‘ Right, that's enough good ideas to be gorng on with. A year ago, when Volley first emerged as The List/Bacardi Unsigned Band finalists, they had just hit on the showbiz notion of choreography. Matching t-shirts and some rudimentary dance steps elevated their set to the realms of the genuinely entertaining and inspired their current soundbite description: ’With our funky melodeez, you'd think that we’d be older/We look like Monkees and dance like John Travolta.’
metal covers band. Then they drafted in Reno from a Metallica tribute. act, and transformed into the chirpy pop band we know today.
'We’re as commerCial as they come,’ says Reno. 'You could sell us. We could be sponsored by Burger King'
Glasgow's Flotsam & Jetsam Records will have to do for now though, releasing the band’s first Single 'Volley Play Foxy Music’, featuring the perky ’Cookie Monster' and the rockier ’Glam Frock’, a double-Sided introduction to these self-styled ’Pan's People with guitars'. (Fiona Shepherd)
Hullet and Swarbrick Glasgow: New Dawn Folk Club, Thu 25; Edinburgh: Tron Folk Club, Sun 28.
Singer Alistair Hullet may he a relative unknown in Scotland, but his fiddling partner Dave Swarbrick has been central to the British folk revival more or less from its lli(t‘l)ll()ll. He played on the famOus Radio Ballads 'with Ewan McColl, powered the lan Campbell Folk Group, toured endlessly ‘.'.llll l.lartiri Carthy and belted out prototype folk/rock with Richard Thompson in Fairport Convention.
Hullet explains the background to their meeting in, of all places, Australia. ’I'd moved first to New Zealand from Scotland when l was sixteen. I’d been going to the Attic Fo:k Club in Parsley — just listening r- hearing people like Danny Kyle and Josh MacRae and especially Owen Hand (composer of 'l/ly Donald', and one of Scotland's great traditional singers‘i lt \MiS seeing l:irn that made me want to play. At that time Owen was
advertised as Scotland's foremost blues
guitarist, but he also played some wonderful Scottish modal songs that really got to me.’
Hullet started performing in New Zealand folk clulzs, spent some. years in South East Asia on the hippy trail, and later -- inspired by the Rogues — formed Roaring Jack, a band that went on to make three albums,
'After all that l real.sed that l wanted to perform my own songs and concentrate on a solo career,’ recalls Hullet. ’That's when Suarb heard an early recording and got interested. He'd conze Over to Australia with Carthy and Kirkpatrick in the Band Of Hope and had stayed on We eventually met up when I asked him to record on a new album I was putting together. He heard the demos and suggested a partnership and so it continues.’
A second album has JllSi been recorded, marrying Hullet's empathy for working class history and folk for'riis, with carefully arranged duets for guitar and fiddle.
Reports of the fiddler’s hearing problems are much exaggerated (Fairport were rurrioured to be considering an on- stage booth, a la Spina/ Tap), Hullet insisting that Swarbrick 'still plays fiddle like a man possessedl’
Hullet’and Swarbrick: dynamic duo