Inquiries into the early years of SJI

Sunday, January 27, 2013

St. James Infirmary - the gypsy version!! MP3

"GIG 365" CD cover by Kate Mayfield
Okay. After that last entry we're back on the SJI track. This one is important.

When I was a young lad, a very young lad, in Belfast, I remember looking out the window of a double-decker bus at the people walking on the sidewalk, and being astonished at the notion that every single one of those people were as aware of their own existence as I was of mine - and yet, none of us could sense or deeply feel each others' realities. This is one of the  memories that has haunted me through my life

Now, here we are in 2013, fifty-five years later. Michael Ward-Bergeman has recorded a selection of songs he performed during a year in which he pledged (to himself) to perform publicly at least once every day. I sit at my desk with headphones on and I feel as if I am listening to those people on the Belfast sidewalk.

In 2011 master accordionist Michael Ward-Bergeman undertook a "GIG 365," in which he vowed to play at least one gig a day for 365 days. He performed throughout North America, in Europe, and in Venezuela, often on the streets. He recorded many of these moments, including conversations with spectators; some of these are available on his blog GIG 365.

Michael has just released a CD of a few of these performances (and conversations). I can say that the first question one might ask oneself after listening is, "What a pity he did not include more selections!" Because this CD is a marvel. AND, to make it even better, it contains a six minute interpretation of "St. James Infirmary," recorded with a gypsy band in Bucharest (cimbalom, violin, clarinet, saxophone, bass, and a second accordion). More about that a little later.

He's a difficult fellow to keep track of, is Michael Ward-Bergeman. While a charter member of the roots music trio Groanbox, he also  performs with symphony orchestras, writes classical compositions, has been contracted to write a piece for the Silk Road Ensemble, and performs wherever the opportunity arises, from the back streets of New Orleans to the concert halls of America and Europe. He wields an accordion like Jimi Hendrix wielded his guitar, like Wilhelm Kempff played his piano. And – as the CD "GIG 365" will attest – he is able to adapt to just about any music genre and make it sound as if he was born to play it. One example from this CD is the song "Mississippi," which he wrote (and sings), but which could belong to a post-Stephen-Foster world of American roots music. This is one song on the album that features the percussionist Jamie Haddad, and Haddad's performances are as much a revelation as are those of Ward-Bergeman's accordion. That is, Ward-Bergeman has teamed up with some remarkable musicians on his travels, and you can hear the sharp focus of their collaborations. This is magical stuff.

But this site's primary concern is "St. James Infirmary," so let me focus my attention there.

Michael wrote to me that "when I started doing 'St. James' I always felt there was a gypsy music connection both spirit and music wise." In earlier postings I have included YouTube videos of the Groanbox trio performing "St. James Infirmary" as well as a song that Ward-Bergeman wrote, based upon SJI, called "Darling Lou." Both are dazzling performances.

And now, on this GIG 365 undertaking, Ward-Bergeman has added another dimension to a song that continues to offer itself to us in surprising ways

I listen to this, and I am back on that Belfast bus, looking out at the people strolling on the sidewalks as we drive past. This time, though, it is different. I can hear them, I can almost touch them, almost understand them. The music on this CD communicates such a sense of collaboration, such a sense of us all that it starts to dissolve the boundaries that separate us. One cannot help but wonder at the mystery of our lives.

Here, then, is a real treat. At 6:38 and 256 kbps (anything of a lower resolution would be sacrilege) is Michael Ward-Bergeman and friends with "St. James Infirmary" MP3 - the gypsy version.

The CD can be purchased here:
As well as on iTunes, and elsewhere.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Look Out Mama - MP3 (Happy New Year)

Illustration by Pam Woodland
Here is an entry entirely divorced from the usual theme of this blog. But I write this in the spirit of the New Year.

Pam and I, since October 2010, live in a fairly remote area of southwest Saskatchewan. The village we live in has a population of under a hundred people. The nearest population centre, of 15,000, is a ninety minute drive away, and the nearest large book store or movie theatre is a four hour drive from here. We have had snow since late October, and the morning temperature this December averages about -20C (or about -5F).

What does one do in these circumstances? Among other things, I belong to a musical trio that practices weekly for about four hours. Our lead guitarist is the noted nature photographer James Page, and our multi-instrumentalist (rhythm guitar, ukelele, accordion, tin whistle, etc.) is the painter Colleen Watson. I play hand percussion (African drum, bongos, sticks, rattles, and so on).

The name of our trio was derived from the opening lines of Neil Young's song "Powderfinger." So, we are known as "Look Out Mama." I have been writing quite a few songs, too, of which we now include three in our regular practices. What I want to do here is include one of those songs.

I wanted, early this summer, to write something that was based both upon our trio's name, and upon  the history of the area we live in. So, the song "Look Out Mama" was born. While I wrote the lyrics and the melody, Page helped me work out the musical structure, and of course "Look Out Mama," the group, worked out an arrangement.  The only similarity with SJI is the fact that the song has no chorus. The link here is to a recent practice, pretty darned crude, with James Page on electric guitar, Colleen Watson on rhythm guitar, and me on percussion and lead vocal. And so, as the clock turns over from 2012 to 2013,  I present it to you with no further ado, "Look Out Mama" by Look Out Mama. Happy New Year.

Look out mama
The sun is sinking low
Look out mama
The sun is sinking low
I can hear Blackfoot calling
And pounding hooves of buffalo

Look out mama
The water is rising fast
Look out mama
You know the water is rising fast
Wolves are in the river
Don't know if they're gonna last

Look out mama
The wind is blowin' strong
Look out mama
The wind is blowin' strong
Hawks circlin' up above
I fear we done something wrong

Look out mama
The moon is high in the sky
Look out mama
The moon is high up in the sky
Y'can see those tepee circles
Remnants from a long lost time

Look out mama
Coyotes are on the prowl
Look out mama
Coyotes are on the prowl
When that evenin' sun goes down
Whoa whoa listen to them howl