> CHANGES/ANDREW KING – Untitled Split Review (Compulsion Online)
Changes was formed in 1969 by cousins Robert Nicholas Taylor and Nicholas Tesluk yet it wasn’t until the mid-nineties that their first material was released. At the behest of Michael Moynihan (of Blood Axis) the vintage tapes were dusted down and digitized unearthing folk music whose themes and sentiments predated “apocalyptic folk” by over two decades. Following the release of Fire of Life, the duo returned to the studio resulting in the albums Legends and Orphan In The Storm, and a couple of singles, numerous compilaton tracks and a live recording Hero Takes His Stand, featuring members of Waldteufel and In Gowan Ring.
And while they’ve sought influence from the British folk groups their output is characterised by a darker strain – their first shows were at coffeehouses operated by the notorious British cult The Process Church of the Final Judgement. Changes alternate between gentle ballads and songs championing the heroic and chronicling the impending apocalypse, often involving legendary and mythical figures. A key track is ‘Twilight of the West’ which echoed Spengler in its fatalistic vision and proved prophetic and more apt to todays cultural and spiritual malaise than to when it was orignally penned in 1969-70.
On this Terra Fria release the elder statesmen of the “apocalyptic folk” genre deliver two fine examples of the heroic and the apocalyptic. Over ringing acoustic guitars, the cousins melodic voices entwine to deliver ‘Mahabharata of the Soul’ using Hindu imagery to convey the conflict within the soul of Western man. ‘Anthem To Freedom’ is a simple but effective rendering of a heroic ballad. Military snare and poised acoustic guitars combine with beautiful vocal melodies in this tribute to the warriors of the world who have fought and died for freedom. The other two tracks are gentle ballads. ‘Flame’ is an evocative love song with Taylor’s deep voice over 12-string acoustic guitar. ‘Shenandoah’, meanwhile, swaps the acoustic for electric guitar with Taylor, once again, providing a rich melody for the poetic lyrics. The final track is a reading of R.N. Taylors poem ‘…And Finally’, that tells of ragnarok. I’ve longed to hear a verbal rendering of this poem ever since Taylor gifted me an inscribed printed edition. And it does not disappoint. There’s a subtle interplay between ice cold drones and spartan drumbeats as Taylor delivers this passionate reading of this polemical poem in parody, whose narrative draws upon T.S. Eliot (and particularly The Wasteland), Spengler before finishing on the cryptic whispering of Odin delivered to his son Balder as he lay dead on a funeral pyre. It’s an effective reading of this evocative poem that will appeal to those with a penchant for the mythic and the experimental.
The music of Andrew King is fiercely traditional, partly due to his (former) role at the British Library where he was solely responsible for preserving vernacular culture in the form of folk song. His contributions to the Terra Fria release are drawn from these scholarly pursuits.
On ‘Two Brothers’ King delivers an impassioned performance concerning the accidental death of one of the siblings as a result of a playful tussle. As the song progresses from the almost unaccompanied first verse through harmonium drone to ponderous death beats the music becomes richly evocative to the point where the verse relating the child’s death to the parents, family and loved ones is set to an angelic accompaniment. The use of vocal performances from a live performance ensure a natural and captivating delivery of this fatal tale.
‘Dives and Lazarus’ has more minimal backing with just a lilting keyboard ensuring King’s voice remains the focal point, as he delivers this 19th Century song about Diverus’s feast who denies the (fateful) starving Lazurus. On ‘Kommer I snart, I Husmænd’ King delivers this folk song – a battlecry for smallholders everywhere – in its original Danish tongue. Timpani drums and piano set the scene to which King lends an earnest and valiant vocal. King’s assured tones actually remind of Lord Summerisle’s contribution to The Wicker Man soundtrack.
The standout track of King’s contributions is ‘What Is The Life of a Man’ his largely unaccompanied vocal relating the impermanence of life and man’s place in the natural order. The massed accompaniment by his “chorus of farmers and fatalists” is moving in its simplicity. A fine example of traditional song, direct and emotive which effortlessly pulls on the heart strings. ‘The Farmer’s Toast’ adopts a similar approach with the massed backing of the farmers and fatalists, gentle organ drone and violin score. The congregation of voices is effective. There’s a roughness here, a sense of humanity that is strangely affecting as they drink to the health of the farmer.
Although Andrew King is a regular at folk clubs, he’s closely affiliated to post-industrial and experimental circles. KnifeLadder the London based polyrhythmic industrialists are responsible for the musical setting of King’s interpretations of these traditional folk songs, while Andrew Liles collaborated with King on The Harbinger of the Decaying Mind, a 10-inch on the Old Europa Cafe label. And while I’ve yet to hear that record this collection compares favourably with his Athanor release, The Amfortas Wound. Andrew King, along with the Scottish singer Alasdair Roberts, are currently taking traditional song to contemporary music audiences.
The Changes / Andrew King release is deleted at source but you’d be a fool not to track this down via the varied online retailers as this is a great CD from both acts. Changes have copies for sale from www.highfiber.com/~thermite/ Fantastic stuff, and probably the finest release from Terra Fria yet. For more information go towww.terra-fria.com