Archives for July 2020

Ye Vagabonds, Varo, Landless and the new Irish trad bands

Ye Vagabonds.

The cur­rent wave of new Irish trad bands can be traced back to the form­ing of The Gloam­ing in 2011. Five musi­cians of dif­fer­ent ages and from dif­fer­ent musi­cal back­grounds, The Gloam­ing were deter­mined to look out and around in as many, all encom­pass­ing direc­tions as possible. 

They looked back not just to tra­di­tion­al Irish music, but to clas­si­cal music, both con­tem­po­rary mod­ernism and the clas­si­cal canon. And out, to Irish music in Amer­i­ca, but also to jazz and the blues, and to all man­ner of world music, to Africa, the Amer­i­c­as, Asia and beyond. And they did (and do) so with an unabashed and unapolo­getic seriousness. 

Paving the way, The Gloaming.

To everyone’s slight sur­prise, The Gloaming’s three album and var­i­ous res­i­den­cies proved a huge com­mer­cial suc­cess. Which has opened the door to a num­ber of bands made up of sim­i­lar­ly seri­ous if some­what younger musi­cians, almost all of whom are in their 20s. And each of whom is as keen to broad­en and stretch the scope of ‘trad’ as those 5 stal­warts in The Gloaming.

Lankum were the next to enjoy that sort of rel­a­tive­ly high pro­file suc­cess. Their sec­ond album, Between the Earth and the Sky won the RTE Folk Album of the Year in 2018, and last year’s The Live­long Day was, if any­thing, even more lauded.

Land­less’ Bleach­ing Bones.

And they’re now signed to the mighty Rough Trade, who’ve set up Riv­er Lea, an imprint aimed specif­i­cal­ly at these shores. And the lat­est addi­tion to that ros­trum is Ye Vagabonds.

The Car­low duo who make up Ye Vagabonds had been res­i­dent at Walshe’s in Stoney­bat­ter, before the youknowwhat, where they were often joined by Land­less. Land­less’ debut album, Bleach­ing Bones, was record­ed at Guer­ril­la Stu­dios, in Dublin, which was set up by John ‘spud’ Murphy. 

And Mur­phy was also the pro­duc­er on those Lankum albums, hav­ing pre­vi­ous­ly worked with Katie Kim (reviewed by me ear­li­er here and here), who is also on Riv­er Lea. And more recent­ly, he worked with Varo on their debut album there. 

So to vary­ing degrees, they all move in sim­i­lar orbits but their take on trad is very much their own. Lankum for instance, are invari­ably com­pared to the Pogues. They pro­vide a sim­i­lar­ly punk-infused, in your face assault on the tra­di­tion­al bal­lads and songs they dive into. While Ye Vagabonds pro­duce a much more mea­sured, stu­dious approach, very much in step with that of The Gloaming. 


And all three are huge­ly invest­ed in drone music, which looks on the one hand to indige­nous music from all over the world. And on the oth­er, to the avant-garde of La Monte Young and the Vel­vet Under­ground

And both Land­less and Varo are, if any­thing, even more dis­tinc­tive. Land­less are four female singers who per­form tra­di­tion­al bal­lads from the all around the British Isles unac­com­pa­nied by any instru­ments, sculpt­ing their melodies with extra­or­di­nary four-part har­monies. While Varo are a female duo, one from France and one from Italy, who fil­ter tra­di­tion­al bal­lads through the prism of Euro­pean Baroque music.

You can, and should, lis­ten (for free) and then down­load their albums from Band­camp; Varo’s epony­mous Varo here,

 Ye Vagabond’s The Hare’s Lament here

and Land­less’ Bleach­ing Bones here

And you can see Land­less on Blue of the Night

this Varo video

and Ye Vagabonds below.

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A Special Day”, “ Padre Padrone” and the 1977 Cannes Film Festival

Una Gior­na­ta Particolare

The Palme d’Or for Best Film at Cannes in 1977 was fought out between two rel­a­tive­ly low-key Ital­ian films, Una Gior­na­ta Par­ti­co­lare and Padre Padrone. So it was up to that year’s jury head, the revered Ital­ian neo­re­al­ist Rober­to Rosselli­ni, to reach a deci­sion. His ver­dict proved con­tro­ver­sial on two counts. 

Una Gior­na­ta Par­ti­co­lare, clum­si­ly trans­lat­ed as A Spe­cial Day (though I can’t, I have to con­fess, think of an improve­ment), is set on May 6th, 1938 and is par­ti­co­lare for a num­ber of rea­sons. It was on this day that the Führer arrived in Rome from Nazi Ger­many to pay an offi­cial state vis­it to his good friend and fel­low dic­ta­tor Mussolini.

The dra­ma unfolds over a sin­gle day and takes place entire­ly in a now emp­ty block of flats, as prac­ti­cal­ly all the res­i­dents have flocked to pay trib­ute to the vis­it­ing dig­ni­taries. The only two peo­ple left are Sophia Loren, the down-trod­den, stay at home moth­er of six, and Mar­cel­lo Mas­troian­ni, an urbane and secret­ly gay radio announcer.

Loren and Mas­troian­ni as they are more tra­di­tion­al­ly imagined.

It’s par­ti­co­lare for him, because this is the day that he, like so many oth­er gay men in 30s Rome, is due to be exiled to the island of Sar­dinia. That being the not quite final solu­tion employed by the peren­ni­al­ly inept fas­cists that Italy laboured under. And it’s par­ti­co­lare for her, in that she ends up spend­ing it almost entire­ly in his company.

Rather like Demy’s The Umbrel­las of Cher­bourg, if in a some­what less oper­at­ic man­ner, what’s so engag­ing about Ettore Sco­la’s film is the way he trans­forms what could have been a drab, kitchen sink dra­ma and ele­vates it into some­thing else entire­ly. Rather than under­mine the dra­ma, the pres­ence of Italy’s two most glam­orous movie stars, play­ing glo­ri­ous­ly against type, lifts the film from what could have been a very grim affair. As does the way the film is shot and so care­ful­ly chore­o­graphed. The result is not at all what you’d expect giv­en the sub­ject mat­ter. And is all the more mov­ing thereafter.

Padre Padrone.

Padre Padrone, by Pao­lo and Vit­to­rio Taviani, offers a dif­fer­ent kind of grim. Set in what feels like anoth­er cen­tu­ry but is in fact the remote rur­al moun­tains of Sar­dinia in the 1950s, it’s about the effec­tive impris­on­ment of the young Gavi­no, who is bound by the cen­turies-old tra­di­tion that he serve his father on the bar­ren fam­i­ly farm. And his deter­mi­na­tion to some­how escape, which he does ulti­mate­ly through the por­tal of education.

But it too is mould­ed into a sur­pris­ing form. It begins and ends as if it were a doc­u­men­tary, which, far from giv­ing you any sense of actu­al­i­ty, mere­ly serves to height­en the sense of arti­fice. As does the fact that, once we embark on the film prop­er, we are con­stant­ly privy to the inner thoughts of the dif­fer­ent char­ac­ters. Includ­ing, even, the farm ani­mals that they come into con­tact with.

One of the great, icon­ic scenes in Ital­ian cin­e­ma, Rossellini’s Rome, Open City.

That reg­u­lar intru­sion of those voice overs, as we eaves­drop on what they are think­ing, is used by the Taviani broth­ers to con­scious­ly dis­tance the view­er from what feels oth­er­wise like an inti­mate por­trait of real peo­ple liv­ing their actu­al lives. 

You can see what a film mak­er like Rosselli­ni would have been drawn to in each of these two films. But it’s equal­ly obvi­ous how far film had moved since his hey day, even with films that were deal­ing with exact­ly the kinds of top­ics that he had once been drawn to.

Ulti­mate­ly, it seems that the pres­ence of two titans like Loren and Mas­troian­ni, and those elab­o­rate­ly orches­trat­ed shots of Scola’s, proved too much for him, and he cam­paigned vig­or­ous­ly for Padre Padrone, which duly took the prize. The con­tro­ver­sy that fol­lowed was twofold.

Mas­troian­ni and Sco­la teamed up again for what is one of the very few films that gets Naples.

On the one hand, the oth­er mem­bers of the jury let it be known that they had very much not appre­ci­at­ed his 12-Angry-Men like deter­mi­na­tion to con­vert them to his choice – if indeed that waswhat actu­al­ly hap­pened. And on the oth­er, rather more sur­pris­ing­ly, the Fes­ti­val com­mit­tee announced that they too were unhap­py with the deci­sion. Their rea­son though was on the grounds that Padre Padrone was in fact a made for tele­vi­sion “film”, and Cannes was a cel­e­bra­tion of cin­e­ma with a cap­i­tal C.

They rang Rosselli­ni up a few weeks lat­er to smooth things over, and to invite him on to the fol­low­ing year’s jury. But a week after he returned to Rome, he died of a heart attack.

Truth be told, watch­ing them both today, it’s dif­fi­cult to say which of the two is the bet­ter film. They are both, in their very dif­fer­ent ways, won­der­ful. But ulti­mate­ly, you would have to side with the rest of the jury. There’s a clas­si­cism and bal­ance to Una Gior­na­ta Par­ti­co­lare and a uni­ver­sal­i­ty to its themes which, nec­es­sar­i­ly, isn’t there for the very par­tic­u­lar and specif­i­cal­ly local sto­ry that Padre Padrone tells.

You can see the trail­er for A Spe­cial Day here

And the trail­er to Padre Padrone here

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