Chris posted on Tuesday, 08 November, 2005 - 04:36 pm
Was just taking a look at the excellent Brian Bennett Appreciation Site, Brians Drums (which I'm sure will be of interest to at least a couple of forum visitors), and noticed that Phil (the webmaster) has added an interview with Brian from Music Week (April 1978) to promote his then-current solo album Voyage. Well, when I say solo, Brian composed and arranged and played drums and percussion, but Alan Jones took care of the bass duties and Francis Monkman programmed and played all the keyboards.
There's a nice photo of Brian in his studio, along with a Polymoog synth which it is revealed cost £4,000! Francis gets a mention (saying something like he is renowned for his keyboard work in Curved Air) and it is revealed that the album was recorded in December 1977. This is interesting as this is six or seven months after Francis requested to be released from his contract during his stint as the Shadows keyboard player during their 20 Golden Dates tour of that year. So clearly there were no hard feelings and both Brian and Francis were happy to work together again.
The album, in case anyone hasn't heard it, is a funky mix of drum and bass and incredibly atmospheric synth sounds. It is regularly sampled, so I believe, and often fetches quite high prices on eBay. It's definitely up there alongside Francis's library albums such as Energism and Dynamism. In my opinion.
Interesting that the Music Week article must have come out at about the same time as Francis, John and Tristan were putting the band together that would become sky.
For anyone who's got the Survivors album (although this is quite different in many ways) I would recommend this, either on vinyl or LP.
Chris posted on Tuesday, 08 November, 2005 - 05:37 pm
Although it's not that clear (and I've only just noticed this), if you look at the photo that accompanies the article, there's a single manual harpsichord standing behind Brian to his left. Now, as I happen to know that Brian doesn't really like the sound of a harpsichord, I wonder if this particular instrument belonged to Francis? The photo is reproduced (larger and clearer) elsewhere on the site. I've always been intrigued, by the way, how some harpsichords have the colours of the keys swapped, so that the naturals are black and the sharps are white. I wonder if there is any reason for this or if it is just purely cosmetic?
Bill D posted on Wednesday, 09 November, 2005 - 01:03 pm
I didn't realise that (because harpsichord strings are plucked) that you cannot play it quietly...
...until I visited the V&A Museum. A musician friend spied spied a beautiful old harpsichord behinds a rope barrier. Place was empty, so he ducked under the rope and had a go.
Baroque-sounding music echoed around the place and we raced for the door before they chucked us out!
Chris posted on Wednesday, 09 November, 2005 - 04:50 pm
Bill, I had to smile when I read your message.
Quite a few years ago (maybe around 1981), we (the family) were visiting a museum of some kind - I have a feeling it was in Hull. Anyway, like you, I spotted a harpsichord positioned behind a rope barrier (are they all?). Having proudly taught myself to play the opening few notes of Toccata (probably in the wrong key, etc...) I stepped over the rope to have a go. And promptly set the alarm off!!! I made a hasty departure in the opposite direction with a look of pure innocence on my face. I seem to remember that my mum scowled! At least your friend got to show off his virtuosity!
It's a small world, ain't it?
I imagine that because, as you say, harpsichord strings are plucked as opposed to struck, that you have to have an enormous amount of skill to produce areas of light and shade. Not saying that pianists aren't equally skilled, of course, but I imagine that the harpsichord must be a difficult instrument to really master. Lucky for us, and for them I suppose (!), that both Francis and Steve seemed to be just as adept on both. I have particularly enjoyed listening to Francis's harpsichord sampler and it seems to me that different moods seem to be produced by varying the speed and key of the notes being played. It certainly is an intriguing instrument with a unique sound, although I know that it's not to everyone's taste.
When I win the lottery (or write that best selling novel) I'll buy a harpsichord, stick in in my 'music room' and proudly play those first nine notes of Toccata. Over and over and over again... Well, we all need something to aim for, don't we....?!!!!
Chris posted on Thursday, 17 November, 2005 - 09:50 pm
I was just reading Brian Bennett's 2005 tour diary (which is on his official website) and he states that during the rehearsal period (back in March), Peter Lyster-Todd dropped into his hotel for a drink and to talk about 'future projects'. Now as The Shadows have almost certainly called it a day following their recent European tour, I can only assume that Brian means his own 'solo' projects. Interesting, though, that sky's former manager is now involved, in one way or another, with The Shads! Let's hope that these 'future projects', whatever they may be, will see fruition and prove successful.
Tim posted on Thursday, 17 November, 2005 - 11:53 pm
A couple of posts back you mention harpsichords. 17th and 18th century keyboards commonly had the colours reversed with dark naturals and light accidentals. This is because the keys were wooden, and colour was influenced by the availability of suitable woods. Keys were not black and white but dark and light (yellowy) brown.
From the late 18th century on European colonisation made ivory and ebony easily available for contrasting white and black keys. Perhaps Macca should have sung "ebony and ivory / threaten extinction on elephants and trees..."
Not that players of other instruments should feel smug. The fashion for Hawaian guitars and ukuleles led to the near extinction of koa.
As to the ability to play loud and soft on a harpsichord. Piano is short for pianoforte, literally a keyboard that could play loud and soft. Ask most people if they've ever heard a harpsichord and the only thing they can think of is 'In My Life'. Not a harpsichord at all.
Chris posted on Friday, 18 November, 2005 - 01:57 am
Thanks, that was interesting.
Now that we have modern digital pianos and keyboards that can reproduce virtually any sound, I wonder if it would be possible for someone using one of these (with velocity sensitive keys, etc...) to do the impossible and actually play a harpsichord at varying volumes? Would this sound 'wrong' if they could? Or perhaps by selecting the harpsichord sound, you would automatically disengage the sensitivity of the keys so that the keyboard couldn't do anything that was strictly speaking not possible if attempted on the real thing? Sorry, just putting voice to my wandering thoughts...
Chris posted on Friday, 18 November, 2005 - 02:04 am
P.S. Tim. I suppose the most recognisable harpsichord in a piece of Pop music (aside from Toccata) has to be that in Golden Brown by The Stranglers. I can't think of any others offhand, although there must be. I love that record and I seem to remember that he is seen playing a beautiful, ornately decorated instrument in the video. Also, the theme from Dangerman (from the mid 60s) had a very prominent harpsichord, I think. Although I suppose it could have been an electric harpsichord - if there is such a thing.
What would the instrument be in 'In My Life'? Not that familiar with it, I'm afraid...
Tim posted on Friday, 18 November, 2005 - 07:33 am
A piano. Recorded an octave down and the tape played double speed. Another of George Martin's good ideas.
Tim posted on Friday, 18 November, 2005 - 08:28 am
PS Which gets me thinking (shouldn't get up in the morning) about Golden Brown. A harpsichord in the video, but not necessarily in the studio?
Apparently you can get electric harpsichords, including solid body ones - used by the Beatles on 'Because'.
Chris posted on Friday, 18 November, 2005 - 11:54 am
There is also a harpsichord, I think, on Wuthering Heights by Kate Bush. I know that Francis plays on at least one of her albums, is it Lion Heart?, but couldn't say whether or not he is on the aforementioned single.
Bill D posted on Friday, 18 November, 2005 - 12:43 pm
The theme from Dangerman is called 'High Wire'. Interestingly (well, I think so), the original, unused version of the final theme (still with me?) of The Prisoner (another Patrick McGoohan series) was played on an electric harpsichord.
There's a harpsichord solo on The Strawb's 'Tear and Pavan' on the 'Burstin' at the Seams' album.
Mike posted on Friday, 18 November, 2005 - 07:29 pm
Please advise website URL page so I can take a look at the correct one
Bill D posted on Friday, 18 November, 2005 - 08:57 pm
According to the sleeve notes, there is no harpsichord on 'Wuthering Heights'.
Closest thing I could find was a Clavinet on 'Kite', from the same album ('The Kick Inside', her debut).
But, yes, FM did play harpsichord and Hammnd organ on Lionheart.
Chris posted on Saturday, 19 November, 2005 - 12:15 am
Bill, Danger Man, of course, had two different theme tunes (three if you include Secret Agent Man from the US version). It must have run for at least five years, maybe more. High Wire, the better of the two, was on the later episodes, I think. It was a great series and led, directly or indirectly to The Prisoner. Incidentally, I was ALMOST named John, until mum and dad realised that this might result in several instances if mistaken identity or p*ss taking at school. If you're familiar with Danger Man, you'll know what I mean!
I have a feeling that the 'unused' theme to The Prisoner did make it onto the alternative version of the episode 'The Chimes of Big Ben'. I have a feeling it was by Edwin Astley, whereas the Prisoner theme with which we are all familiar is, of course, by Ron Grainer.
Must be my hearing, which I will blame for thinking that there was a harpsichord on Wuthering Heights. Maybe it's a piano, speeded up?!!! (again)
Mike, go to www.brianbennettmusic.co.uk for the 2005 tour diary in which he mentions Peter Lyster-Todd. And go to www.briansdrums.co.uk for the articles and interviews that I have mentioned elsewhere. They should all be fairly easy to find. There's also a review of the Survivors album on there somewhere...
Chris posted on Sunday, 20 November, 2005 - 04:28 pm
A 'so near yet so far' story...
Remember earlier in this thread I related a tale of how, in the early 80s, I had set off an alarm whilst trying to reach a harpsichord behind a rope in a museum that I thought had been in Hull.
Well, Friday, Phil, a friend of mine, said he was going over to Hull on Saturday for the day and did I want to go with him. With nothing much better to do, I said yes. Anyway, once we were there, I decided to try and find the aforementioned museum that I had last visited in the early 80s. Having consulted a 'Visit Hull' tourist leaflet, I realised that the museum in question had to have been Wilberforce House, which is in the Museums Quarter near the river. It's the birthplace of William Wilberforce, known worldwide for his fight to abolish slavery. Anyway, with this information and my returning memory, we set off to find it. I told Phil about my previous visit and how, this time, I was going to go all the way, so to speak, and try to play the thing. And so, with visions of myself vaulting the rope, playing the beginning of Toccata and then legging it in the direction of the nearest exit, we found the place...
...Only to discover that it was closed. It was shut for renovations and, to make matters worse, had only closed in August. So, foiled again! It's due to reopen in 2007. So, watch this space...
Bill D posted on Sunday, 20 November, 2005 - 10:59 pm
The very first (unused) theme for 'The Prisoner' was used in the episode 'Chimes of Big Ben' but it was by Wilfred Josephs.
I was referring to the original version of Ron Grainer's eventual theme, called 'Age of Elegance', played on a harpsichord (not electric as I wrote earlier). It was re-arranged and beefed up (with the aid of suggestions from Patrick McGoohan) to create the final version.
Now, if I wanted to sell on eBay, I have a real collectible, the Six of One club record (7" single) of the theme!
Tim posted on Monday, 21 November, 2005 - 12:26 am
Actually the very first electric instrument was a harpsichord. Not using electro-magnetic pickups (or piezo transducers for that matter) but to overcome the problem of low volume by powering the plucking mechanism. I don't think you could tell by recorded sound if it was that sort of harpsichord or not.
Chris, if the museum doesn't re-open till 2007 at least you won't need to go to Hull for another two years. Perhaps rather than play Toccata you'll try 'Oh Lucky Man!'
Chris posted on Monday, 21 November, 2005 - 12:30 pm
Ha, ha! Good point! Actually, the centre of Hull isn't too bad, (reasonably good shops and amenities) - just the rest of it that's best avoided. But, you're very astute, I don't have any plans to go back again for the foreseeable future!!!
Chris posted on Monday, 21 November, 2005 - 04:16 pm
Must confess, I had no idea about the original 'original' theme to The Prisoner - but then, I was never in 6 of 1. I am led to believe that their merchandise is pretty good. Fanderson, incidentally, produce some amazing merchandise relating to the various Gerry Anderson shows, including DVDs of otherwise unavailable programmes, books and CDs of previously unreleased music. It can be a bit pricey, but then there's always the option to sell it on eBay to recoup your losses (once you've copied or got tired of it, that is). Not that I'd ever do that, of course...
Chris posted on Monday, 20 March, 2006 - 11:27 pm
Just managed to get (off eBay) a copy of Brian Bennett's album 'Voyage' on CD. Sounds amazing and much of its atmosphere is obviously down to FM's amazing synth playing. If you haven't heard it, it's a nice, simple drums/bass/keyboards affair that manages not to stray into ELP territory. Very straight forward but very complex in places - the synth patterns are quite intricate, as is the percussion in places. There are some pretty serious drum and bass grooves going on there as well, and it's not really surprising that this album has become quite 'legendary' and sought after by modern DJ's and the like in its original vinyl form. I would recommend it to anyone who likes ambient, atmospheric music.
I also got (again on CD) Bennett's 1969 album 'The Illustrated London Noise'. Again, an album that now fetches very high prices in vinyl. Plenty of funky hammond organ (courtesy of Alan 'the Hawk' Hawkshaw) and some incredible bass playing from a certain Mr Herbie Flowers. In fact, I don't think I've ever heard a better sounding bass anywhere. Check it out if you get the chance...