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Texts and translations from the album can be found at the end of this post

Both our Spanish launch gigs have been incredibly exciting. The second was at the Festival Via Stellae Santiago de Compostela, in the exquisite church of San Domingos de Bonaval and the first was in the spectacular royal palace at Aranjuez. Both chapels had perfect acoustics for us and the audiences loved the programme (which includes some Dowland, Quilter, Warlock, Banks and Holst not on the album). The response to the new songs has  been very touching, and interestingly the buzz afterwards was about which were pop songs and which weren’t – which kind of proved our point that Campion, Dowland, Tony Banks, Peter Warlock, John Paul Jones, Roger Quilter, Vaughan Williams and Sting are all great song writers: sing them with lutes and you enter a magical world that transcends time and genre. We’re continually adding new material, and the plan is to perform all songs on the album and rotate a selection of new ones that we hope to record later.


P1070578aphoto Maria Silvera

There’s been a lot of action in the Twittersphere, and there are details of the CD on the ECM e-player here and it’s now out in the UK (Amazon UK have it on special offer). It’s released in the US on July 10th. The booklet has photos and an explanatory note but no texts and translations, and as we always get complaints if the record company doesn’t include them I’ve tacked them on to the end off this post. It seems hardly any time at all since we recorded the album at Rainbow in Oslo back in November. It was an extraordinarily intense time, none of us knowing quite how the songs would work. The first reviews have begun to appear and I’ll put up a page of quotes in due course.

ECM 169 - B&W Amores Pasados project WEB (2)photo CF Wesenberg

The Genesis of the project

The album is a result of several musical strands coming together. As some readers of these pages will know, I’ve been a fan of Genesis since the seventies, when I was introduced to their music by my Swingle & Electric Phoenix mate Simon Grant. We had a Phoenix expedition to one of the first post-Gabriel gigs at Earl’s Court and I was totally hooked. The two albums from this period, Wind and Wuthering and Trick of the Tail, opened my eyes to the extraordinary musicianship of Tony Banks who was then becoming the compositional engine room of the band (and those two albums are still among the small number I’d rescue if all my CDs went up in smoke).

John Paul Jones and 17th century song

In the 1980s Richard Wistreich and I had the idea that there might be rock musicians who could write for our fledgling ensemble Red Byrd, and we asked some ridiculously famous ones including Tony Banks and the Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones. At the time I was also a member of the Hilliard Ensemble, and it was during one Hilliard Passio gig that I mentioned our ideas to the organist Chris Bowers-Broadbent and he told me that John Paul was an admirer of Arvo Pärt and had already written classical pieces (including an organ piece for Chris). That eventually led to John Paul’s wonderful Amores Pasados set (it’s on the Red Byrd Factory album Songs of Love & Death), using 17th century continuo instruments.
Genesis were by then the most successful band on earth and we drew a blank there, but a couple of years ago Ariel Abramovich and I were planning a lutesong album and decided to try again, and to our great delight Tony Banks agreed. By then Ariel and I had begun working with Anna Maria Friman and Jacob Heringman, and it occurred to me that John Paul’s Amores Pasados songs could work for the four of us with Anna doubling on Hardanger fiddle.

ECM 301 - Colour Amores Pasados project WEB (2)photo CF Wesenberg

Sting and lute song

Sting is perhaps the most sophisticated song writer of the early 21st century, and in my first book, Vocal Authority (CUP, 1988), I’d suggested that if he ever sang early music (a rather remote prospect at the time) we’d have a much better idea of what a 17th century singer might have sounded like. A decade or so later he did indeed record an album of Dowland, and it emerged that he’d listened to my Dowland album while researching his own project. As it happened, Ariel Abramovich had shared a flat with Sting’s lutenist Edin Karamazov while they were both students at Basel. With some trepidation I approached Sting, and to my great surprise and delight he sent us a very moving ballad he’d originally intended for the movie Robin Hood. In the end the song wasn’t used in the film (perhaps not quite Russell Crowe’s cup of mead) and it sat in a drawer until we recorded it.

Tony Banks and lute song

I’d thought a lot about how a ‘trained singer’ sings a song written by pop musician without sounding naff (think of all those dire operatic ‘crossover’ albums). The difficulty is partly to do with singing vernacular texts as opposed to the formal poetic language and structure usually found in artsong: ‘formal’ vocal technique goes with formal verse. That’s why it wouldn’t work just to arrange existing pop songs. If we were going to perform the new songs in programmes of 17th century lute song it seemed like a good idea to ask the rock musicians to set some 17th century poetry. So I sent Tony Banks Campion’s poem Follow thy fair sun, with links to Campion’s complete verse in case he didn’t like it. I deliberately didn’t point him in the direction of Campion’s songs, and I had no idea how he would respond – would he prefer to write his own lyrics as he would normally do? Would he send a score (as John Paul Jones had done with Amores Pasados)? Some weeks later Tony was back in touch with what he modestly described as a first attempt. I played the soundfiles – and by the end I could hardly breathe: I’d waited for this moment for more than twenty years and there it finally was – an exquisite piece with all the melodic contour and colour of his best Genesis songs. Two more songs followed, both to Campion poems: The Cypress Curtain of the Night and Rose cheeked Laura (one that Campion didn’t actually set to music). They’re fabulous pieces.

The lost English lutenists of the early 20th century

The final element of the project was early 20th century English song. This is a repertoire that I was brought up on, and which, sadly, has almost vanished from today’s concert scene. But it occurred to me that many of the most inspired song writers of the period were hugely influenced by their 17th century predecessors and if there’d been lutes and lutenists around in the 1920s they surely would have written lute songs. With the two lutes of Ariel and Jake, Anna and I are able to perform almost anything composed before about 1620, and if that, why not the early 20th century. It took a lot of hard work on the part of Jake and Ariel, but we’ve now got a completely new repertoire for voice and two lutes. The album contains songs by Peter Warlock and E J Moeran, and we’re working on songs by Finzi, Holst,  Vaughan Williams and Quilter among others. These will appear in our upcoming gigs and hopefully on a future album.

AP cover

The dates in the diary so far this year are these:

June 13 Festival Música Antigua Aranjuez
July 2 Festival Via Stellae Santiago de Compostela
September 5 46 Semana de Música Antigua de Estella
September 20 Gliwice (Poland)
November 27 Triskell Arts Centre Cork
with dates in Germany and Slovakia in the pipeline.

Ariel and I will also be performing the Sting and Tony Banks songs (together with Campion and Dowland) in Havana on October 8th.

Texts and translations:

Al son de los arroyuelos (Lope de Vega Carpio 1562-1613)

Al son de los arroyuelos

cantan las aves de flor en flor,
que no hay más gloria que amor
ni mayor pena que celos.
Por estas selvas amenas
al son de arroyos sonoros
cantan las aves a coros
de celos y amor las penas.
Suenan del agua las venas,
instrumento natural,
y como el dulce cristal
va desatando los yelos,
al son de los arroyuelos
cantan las aves de flor en flor,
que no hay más gloria que amor
ni mayor pena que celos.
De amor las glorias celebran
los narcisos y claveles;
las violetas y penseles
de celos no se requiebran.
Unas en otras se quiebran
las ondas por las orillas,
y como las arenillas
ven por cristalinos velos,
al son de los arroyuelos
cantan las aves de flor en flor,
que no hay más gloria que amor
ni mayor pena que celos.
Arroyos murmuradores
de la fe de amor perjura,
por hilos de plata pura
ensartan perlas en flores.
Todo es celos, todo amores;
y mientras que lloro yo
las penas que Amor me dio
con sus celosos desvelos,
al son de los arroyuelos
cantan las aves de flor en flor,
que no hay más gloria que amor
ni mayor pena que celos.

To the sound of the brooks
birds sing, from flower to flower,
that there is no greater glory than love,
No greater pain than jealousy

throughout the gentle woods
to the sound of sonorous streams
the birds sing in chorus
of jealousy and the pain of love.
Streams of water play
nature’s instrument
and like the sweet crystal
the ice begins to melt
to the sound of the brooks…

Daffodils and pinks
celebrate the glories of love,
the violets and pansies
do not woo each other for jealousy.
One after another
the waves break on the banks,
and as they see the shingle
through the crystalline veils,
to the sound of the brooks…

Streams that murmur
of love’s faith foresworn,
string pearls on flowers
with threads of silver.
All is jealousy, all is love,
while I weep or the pains
that love has dealt me
with its jealous anxieties,
to the sound of the brooks
birds sing, from flower to flower,
that there is no greater glory than love,
No greater pain than jealousy

No dormía (Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer 1836-1870)

No dormía; vagaba en ese limbo
en que cambian de forma los objetos,
misteriosos espacios que separan
la vigilia del sueño.
Las ideas que en ronda silenciosa
daban vueltas en torno a mi cerebro,
poco a poco en su danza se movían
con un compás más lento.
De la luz que entra al alma por los ojos
los párpados velaban el reflejo;
mas otra luz el mundo de visiones
alumbraba por dentro.
En este punto resonó en mi oído
un rumor semejante al que en el templo
vaga confuso al terminar los fieles
con un Amén sus rezos.
Y oí como una voz delgada y triste
que por mi nombre me llamó a lo lejos,
¡y sentí olor de cirios apagados,
de humedad y de incienso!
Entró la noche y del olvido en brazos
caí cual piedra en su profundo seno.
Dormí y al despertar exclamé: «¡Alguno
que yo quería ha muerto!».

I did not sleep, but wandered in that limbo
where all objects lose their shapes,
mysterious spaces that separate
waking from sleep.

Thoughts that silently revolved
in a wheeling dance about my brain
gradually reduced their pace
to a slower time.

The reflection of the light that comes to the soul
through the eyes was veiled by my eyelids;
but the world of vision was lit from within
by another light.

At this point there echoed in my ears
a wavering sound, confused like that
in a church when the faithful are ending their prayers
with an ‘Amen’.

And I seemed to hear a delicate, sad
voice that called me by name from far off
and I smelt the smell of snuffed-out candles,
of dampness and incense

Night came, and in the arms
of oblivion I fell like a stone
into her deep breast, and waking cried:
‘Someone I loved has died…’.

So ell encina (Anon, C15)

So ell encina, encina,
so ell encina, encina
so ell encina, encina,
so ell encina, encina.
Yo me iba, mi madre,
a la romería;
por ir más devota
fui sin compañía;
so ell encina.
Por ir más devota
fin sin compañía;
tomé otro camino,
dejé el que tenía;
so el encina.
Halléme perdida
en una montiña,
echéme a dormir
al pie del encina,
so ell encina.
A la media noche
recordé, mezquina;
halléme en los brazos
del que más quería,
so ell encina.
Pesóme, cuitada
de que amanecía
porque yo gozaba
del que más quería,
so ell encina.
Muy biendita sía
la tal romería;
so ell encina.

Beneath the ilex, the ilex
beneath the ilex
I was going, Mother,
on a pilgrimage
so as to be more devout
I was without companions.
So as to be more devout
I was without companions
I took another road
I left the one I was on
under the ilex.
I found myself lost
on a mountain
I prepared to sleep
at the foot of the ilex
At midnight
I remember – woe is me –
I found myself in the arms
of the one I love best
under the ilex
Sadly, I was left
at the break of dawn,
for I had been enjoying
the one I love best
under the ilex

Most blessed be
such a pilgrimage
Beneath the ilex, the ilex
beneath the ilex

Sleep (John Fletcher 1579–1625)

Come sleep, and with thy sweet deceiving,
Lock me in delight awhile;
Let some pleasing dreams beguile all my fancies
That from thence there may steal an influence
All my powers of care bereaving.

Though but a shadow, but a sliding,
Let me know some little joy.
We that suffer long annoy are contented with a thought
Through an idle fancy wrought:
Oh let my joys have some abiding.

Follow thy fair sun (Thomas Campion 1567-1620)

Follow thy fair sun, unhappy shadow
Though thou be black as night
And she made all of light,
Yet follow thy fair sun, unhappy shadow.
Follow her, whose light thy light depriveth,
Though here thou liv’st disgraced,
And she in heaven is placed,
Yet follow her whose light the world reviveth.

Follow those pure beams whose beauty burneth,
That so have scorched thee,
As thou still black must be,
Till her kind beams thy black to brightness turneth.

Follow her till yet her glory shineth:
There comes a luckless night,
That will dim all her light,
And this the black unhappy night divineth.

Follow still since so thy fates ordained:
The sun must have his shade,
Till both at once do fade,
The sun still proud, the shadow still disdained.

Oft have I sighed (Thomas Campion)

Oft have I sighed for him that hears me not:
Who absent hath both love and me forgot.
Oh yet I languish still through this delay.
Days seem as years when wished friends break their day.

Had he but loved as common lovers use,
His faithless stay some kindness would excuse:
Oh yet I languish still, still constant mourn
For him that can break vows but not return.

The cypress curtain of the night (Thomas Campion)

The cypress curtain of the night is spread,
And over all a silent dew is cast.
The weaker cares by sleep are conquered.
But I alone, with hideous grief aghast,
In spite of Morpheus’ charms, a watch do keep
Over mine eyes , to banish careless sleep.

Yet oft my trembling eyes through faintness close;
And then the map of hell before me stands,
Which ghosts do see, and I am one of those
Ordained to pine in sorrow’s endless bands,
Since from my wretched soul all hopes are reft,
And now no cause of life to me is left.

Grief, seize my soul, for that will still endure
When my crazed body is consumed and gone;
Bear it to thy black den, there keep it sure,
Where thou ten thousand souls dost tire upon;
Yet all do not afford such food to thee
As this poor one, the worser part of me.

Oh fair enough are sky and plain (A E Housman 1859-1936)

Oh fair enough re sky and plain,
But I know fairer far:
Those are as beautiful again
That in the water are.

The pools and rivers wash so clear
The trees and clouds and air,
The like on earth was never seen,
And oh that I were there.

These are the thoughts I often think
As I stand gazing down
In act upon the cressy brink
To strip and dive and drown.

But in the golden sanded brooks
And azure meres, I spy
A silly lad that longs and looks,
And wishes he were I.

Bury me deep in the greenwood (Sting b1951)

Lay me down
By yonder tree.
And dress my wounds in moss and yarrow.
An elder branch shall mark my grave,
And bury me deep in the greenwood.

So bend the yew
To make my bow,
And fledge the ash
To speed the arrow,
And where that arc
Doth pierce the ground,
There bury me deep,
Bury me deep,
Bury me deep in the greenwood.

And if in battle
I should fall,
Then dress my wounds
In moss and yarrow,
And in my mouth
A lilac seed,
And bury me deep,
Bury me deep,
Bury me deep in the greenwood.

Ten winters pass
And twenty more
And England’s sons
Will bow no more,
Lo how there grows
A lilac tree
We buried so deep
Buried so deep
Buried so deep in the greenwood.

A life is but an arrow’s flight,
So dress my wounds
In moss and yarrow
Mark well thee where
Ye laid this knight
And bury me deep.
Bury me deep
Bury me deep in the greenwood.

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