Monday, May 18, 2020

Unearthing Heron, pt.7



A traditional song that Moore had heard from Woody Guthrie, but one that feels right being sung in an English pasture. I associate gooseberries with England, but apparently they are eaten in parts of the United States too. Covering this song was the idea of Moore, who also arranged it (he told me the rest of the band wasn’t that into the idea at the time). On its surface, the song is about a lost love who you'll give everything up for, even a tasty dessert. In the Guthrie version below you’ll hear this version is very similar, though noticeably Guthrie sing “had a piece of pie/had a piece of pudding” while Heron sings “had a peach pie/had a peach pudding.”  This is a perfect illustration of how folk music lyrics change over time.



You do wonder if the reason they recorded it twice was just because they had done two usable takes and they needed more content for a otherwise short album, but the song does bookend the album nicely. This version would’ve been at the end of Side 1 of the original LP. It’s only about 23 seconds long, but made longer to allow the first side of the album to fade out on only sounds of outdoors.

The song starts with Moore playing and singing, then Apps joins on the right, and Pook on the left. I thought that maybe this would’ve been the track where Jones actually sings too, but it’s just the three main singers, so I’ll have to be baffled over why Jones has a vocal credit on the album for a little longer.

Hank Williams also sang this song as a farewell song, as did Doc Watson. It’s also often known as a fiddle tune. But the exact story of what the song is about is a bit of a mystery. I found a person on ancestry.com trying to figure out if Sally Goodin was a real person (perhaps with the last name Goodwin). Another person responded that Sally was a very real person, a slave who had many children with her owner and was subsequently sold, the song being from the point of view of a daughter who never got to see her mom.
The Bluegrass Picker’s Tune Book says that the song was originally called “Boatin’ Up Sandy,” referring to the Big Sandy River, and that Civil War confederates had renamed it after a Sally Goodin who ran a boarding house on the river. But again, you can find all sorts of theories on the Internet, and these are just a few.

Sources agree however, that the fiddle player Eck Robertson popularized the song in 1922 and its sort of known as a rite of passage for fiddle players to be able to play the song. Eck Robertson would say that the song was about a girl named Sally who had a fiddle contest to see which boyfriend to marry. She also was said to have many children, Eck would joke that she had 14 children, so he learned to play the song 14 different ways. 

Here's fiddle-player Daniel Carwile playing the song and talking a little bit about it.



Look down the road, who was a-comin
I thought to my soul I’d kill myself a-runnin
Strawberry pie, gooseberry puddin
But I’d give it all away to see my Sally Goodin
Had a peach pie, had a peach puddin
But I’d give it all away to see my Sally Goodin
Strawberry pie, gooseberry puddin
But I’d give it all away to see my Sally Goodin

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Unearthing Heron, pt. 6


A Moore song that Pook liked, so it was given to him to sing. Now that I’m able to pick out their voices, I feel like each one subtly reveals a personality. I feel like in a more regular band, Pook could’ve been the solo singer and maybe even a bit of a pop idol. But on the other hand, it seems to be his personality which influenced the band to leave the studio for the field outside Pook's parent's farm.

This song seems to be about a young friend who’s having difficulties with growing up and interacting with the world around him. I often picture the character Phil Daniels played in “Raven,” a boy released from a juvenile detention center who struggles to fit into with his foster family. Someone who has tried to do their best but ended up shunned by society. In hearing the song a few time I wondered if the song is a bit of a "telling off" in the same vein as Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone."



Not Parklife. Daniels in Raven.
There’s a certain awkwardness to the “please don’t hit” line, but it also seems authentic – like the writer is a little afraid of this “one time singer, one time loser” and has to insist that he staggers off and helps himself somehow. Or if you think of the song a different way . . . the “Little Boy” could be the writer himself, saying the immature parts of himself need to go away.

Musically the song starts with Pook hitting the harmonica note played by Moore, with dual guitars on the left and right and Jones’ piano in the left. After a little bit of looking online I believe that what Jones is actually playing is an electro-acoustic instrument called a "pianet." The Hohner-Pianet N, to be more precise, as featured in their field photo and in this video:





Apps joins on the left singing, and Moore, who sings on the right on the second verse, also adds harmonica. The song seems to fade out into what sounds like, let’s be honest, the perfect afternoon.

Here's Heron doing "Little Boy" with Gerry Power. Interesting because it's one of the only Moore compositions they're filmed doing in this concert, I believe. Perhaps still a favorite of Pook?


I'm a little unsure about some of the lyrics here. The above video helped, but they seemed to have sang it out of order anyway:

Little boy you must be honest
You are all alone tonight
Run your fingers along the railing
Where all the ladies made you sly
Though the whole world betray thee
As you stretch your neck to kiss
Let your arms hang by you easy
Please don’t hit.

Little boy you must be unhappy
There is no one that you love
There is no one here to help you
If you will not help yourself
Though the whole world betray thee
As you stretch your neck to kiss
Let your arms hang beside you easy
Please don’t hit.

In the street and down the arcade

Where all the flowers will drip

One time singer, one time loser,
One time lover, one time kid
Far away from me you stagger

There must be no other way

But let there be no doubt about it
You cannot stay.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Unearthing Heron, pt. 5



I’ve been really trying to hone my ears on picking out their individual voices but it is tough sometimes. But what I think we have here is a duet between Moore and Apps, with Moore at the left with his mandolin and Apps at the right with his guitar. So nice to hear a collaboration of the two main songwriters in the group.

This is an Apps song. I get the feeling that Apps has some particular love for the Incredible String Band and Donovan in addition to the almighty Dylan who seems to be a love of all the group. They reunited to do a Dylan tribute album entitled Jokerman in 2016.

The track “Rosalind” which was recorded at these field sessions, was left off the album and I wonder if it had a lyric that was a little too close to Donovan. “Rosalind says catch the wind and put it in a bag/Made of sea shore sand.” (The song also includes a mention of herons.)

“Smiling Ladies” includes lines daringly close to Dylan and Incredible String Band. “Turning back my paces” in reminiscent of Dylan’s “My Back Pages.” “The music has no edges” is reminiscent of ISB’s “the song has no ending.” I am not suggesting anything other that if you were writing in the same vein of some of these songwriters, you can’t help but stumble over similar sounds and symbols. Think about how many folk singers had songs about “jokers” (or “harlequins” for that matter) after Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower.”

Nature imagery and stillness are the themes again, which seem central to Apps songs. Definitely a sadness to this musing about the human struggle of immobility vs. action. It seems like other people are starting the day, while this young daydreamer just wants to think about the beautiful women he’s met

There’s a long pause at the end with just natural sounds. Interesting to note that the nature sounds were recorded later because they just didn’t get picked up with the microphones enough the first time. But I don’t fault them that, I’m sure it’s roughly the same sounds.

Here's a great version of "Smiling Ladies," without Moore, with Gerry Power. Lovely accordion from Jones:

 

Breath on breath of morning wind
Stirs the curtain laces
You may go to chase the sun
Or vanish in its changes
I will stay to gaze upon 
The sweetly smiling ladies
Yes I will be turning back my paces

Touch the earth and breathe the spring
And walk along the river
So if I have to see you go
It doesn’t seem to matter
Maybe I will sing until the music has no edges
To say will be turning back my faces

Breath on breath of morning wind
Stirs the curtain laces
You may go to chase the sun
Or vanish in its changes
I will stay to gaze upon
Sweetly smiling ladies
Yes I will be turning back my paces.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Unearthing Heron, pt. 4

Hard to say exactly if I got the above order correct. There’s clearly organ that comes in on the right, and piano that comes in on the left. Apps is credited with piano on the album, as is G.T. Moore. When I inquired from Moore if there had been any overdubs that may have disturbed the perfectness of an album seemingly recorded live in nature, he replied, “I think we/I added a few overdubs in Pye studios that were very minimal. Some Hammond organ and maybe a bit of guitar but almost nothing.”

The famous picture of the band that graces Electric Eden, shows Jones playing some sort of portable piano, but the piano playing on this track is minimal in the album version and starts with a sort of standard glissando, so I wouldn’t be surprised if it was done by another member of the band instead of Jones. This is a Moore track, but one that he gave over to Pook to do main vocals. He (and later) Apps come in with enthusiastic, almost Dylan-esque backing vocals on the left where Moore’s mandolin resides. “But then the sun comes shining through!”

This song is like an ambitious mini prog-folk epic, and I’ll say right off the bat that I much prefer the unedited version that was released of this track (also mixed differently). Apparently there was a musical flub in the recording, which I can’t really discern – this is a band which at times can be a bit shambolic – though there does seem to be the sound of a distant plane right after the point where they cut it. And while the album version ends with the band singing loudly “could it be that I’ll never forget her” (which then goes straight into the next song on the album) the full version has much more of a musical journey, with its lengthy instrumental bit and a much more subdued, repeated, fading, “it’s been so long now, I can’t quite remember.” This lyrically fits into a common theme on the album: a comparison of the passing of time vs. the appreciation of a moment.

There are three “Harlequin” songs in the Heron repertoire, which also includes Harlequin 5 and Winter Harlequin from their second album. I had wondered if it was the less used meaning of the word harlequin as something phantasmagorical or psychedelic, but Moore responded that the use was in reference to the colorful character made popular via Commedia dell’arte, “I’m not only a musician but a painter and it was a tradition Harlequin and Pierrot. Basically it’s a bit stupid but if I had a song that I couldn’t think or didn’t want to think of a name for I just called it Harlequin and I think there was something like five harlequin songs, maybe six. Heron laughed at it but it became a bit of a joke. They were just a bunch of different songs.”

"Pierrot and Harlequin," by Paul Cezanne, 1888
It may be wrongheaded to look to into the lyrics of some of these songs, when clearly many artists of the time were jotting down hippy stream-of-consciousness lyrics and calling it a day. However, I find that the band’s lyrics of the time remarkably sincere and well-crafted, avoiding obvious rhymes and lyrical pitfalls other bands fall into.

So what is this song about? I think it’s about how you can live in a fantasy world like a young child, but inevitably you have to face the world. And when moving on from a relationship, is my new reality going to be that I’ll never forget this person, or will it just fade away as a distant memory. The first verse does make me think of Dungeons and Dragons or Minecraft though.

Once upon a time children played with fantasy
All in the land of the season
When children play it’s a world of reality
With no apparent reason.

But then the sun comes shining through.
And there’s nothing that you can do.

It’s been so long now I don’t quite remember
Could it be that I’ll never forget her.

Or maybe I could come round this winter
But if you could only hear me
You’d know that winter is a season
Not necessarily near me.

But then the sun comes shining through
And there’s nothing that you can do

It’s been so long now I don’t quite remember
Could it be that I’ll never forget her.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Unearthing Heron, pt. 3

So a little bit of a different mixing – Moore’s guitar comes in the middle at the beginning and then pans over to the left; it seems to sort of pan around during the song. It’s an evocative song, arranged in parts as a round, much like Sally Goodin. With three voices that can sound very similar, a round is an interesting choice for exploiting these similarities.

Moore explains, “Both Roy and Tony had mid-range voices, singing mainly in unison with Roy singing some lines in harmony then returning to the melody and unison. This with the mid or slow tempos created a thick, almost carpet of sound. When I joined I added harmonies above them to add more color. In those days my voice had a higher tone and we got a blend easily and naturally.”

Credited to Pook and Apps, the title and subject seem strange for a pastoral setting. Pook particularly had said he didn’t like the initial recording sessions in the studio, and knowing that the album was recorded near the farmhouse where Pook’s family lived, you can hear the rural/urban divide in the lyrics and tone. We go straight from the farm of “Yellow Roses” to “city is all wet again/footsteps in the driving rain,” and the juxtaposition makes me think of a country boy recalling what he saw that day when he visited the nearby metropolis. There is rain, an attractive woman, and a car crash: melancholy, beauty, and (potentially) tragedy. This song also makes me think of Fairport Convention’s tragic 1969 bus crash.

Music wise, the song starts with bird call, and gentle picked guitar – presumably Apps, then joined by Moore picking a different pattern. When they both come in together, Pook sing in the left and Apps the right. Eventually Apps, then Pook, then Moore perform the song as a round on “Goodbye for now be yesterday/tomorrow will be Saturday.” Jones does not appear to be on the song. The song finishes off with silence and (I believe) Pook saying “there’s little black things all over the place,” to words of agreement by Moore and Apps.

Here’s Heron playing Car Crash in Bridport in 2009 without Moore, but with Jones, new member Gerry Power, and a violinist:



City is all wet again
And footsteps in the driving rain
Strike shadows in the dancing, glancing, taunting pain that frees the air
And your eyes take in the ensuing fun and I’ve seen the eyes of the only one for me.


Seen her eyes, been in her mind,
I’ve seen the face I know I’ll find
In a tiny room of yesterday, car crash in the street that day out in the city
Yes your smile was one that people saw in the garden place I’ve been before with you.

Goodbye for now will be yesterday
Tomorrow will be Saturday
Running damp of raindrops is as water paint to wash away thoughts of you
As your fingers play the gentle string that floats on air blown by the wind from sea.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Unearthing Heron, pt. 2

Yes, I got an email from G.T. Moore which was so cool. It really felt like a connection with a puzzle that you’re not going to be able to solve by yourself. And he helped me with those few nagging questions I had about figuring out these tracks. So here’s the beginning of the breakdown of Heron (1971).
There is faint birdsong from the beginning. Steve Jones’ delicate piano is on the right of the stereo mix, with Apps’ gentle guitar strumming central, and Moore’s ringing mandolin on the left. The combined fade-in effect is that of walking over a grassy hillock and discovering the band playing in a sun-lit field.

In delineating their voices, I would characterize Apps’ voice as the smoothest, which comes in central with his guitar. Peter Eden seems to have produced this with a live concert feeling – letting the stereo mix audibly dictate where each band member is, and what they are doing. However, he does not keep the same mix for each song – the band member who is singing lead vocals is usually front and center for the track.

This song presumably existed when Apps and Pook were a two-member band (before Moore and Jones joined), as it begins with a nice vocal interplay between those two bandmates. Pook joins on the first chorus on the right. His voice can be characterized as occasionally more nasal than the other two singers, though it's actually quite versatile -- I only recently learned that he was the singer on Moore song "The Devil" on their second album.

G.T. starts humming under the chorus, and then takes the next verse alone, on the left. I’ve had trouble characterizing Moore’s voice on the records – it can be perfectly complimentary and mild when he’s providing backing vocals, or have a freewheeling nature to it when he’s on lead. Mercurial then? Eventually on “Yellow Roses” they all sing together, in a very clever arrangement. The song fades out ending with Jones’ piano and wind and birdsong raising in volume.

Lyrically, the song seems to be a plea to a woman to accept a man who cannot offer as much as is expected from him. And it’s a rural setting (“there he stands on the farm”) and features the folk music archetype of the poor young dreamer boy, transfixed by windmills and only able to offer yellow (not red) roses – which traditionally means friendship more than romantic love. But his music is what makes him special (“no night bird will sing the songs he’ll sing you), and I wonder if this song originated with “I” instead of “he” as a more personal song from Apps, before it became a band song – it might’ve been odd for Pook to harmonize and say “I” instead of “he.” To tie this into our folk horror podcast, the main character is reminiscent of young, fragile Tom from Tam Lin or Red Shift – someone who needs to be held, because “it’s the only way.”

Here’s a video of the band performing the song in (I think) 2016. You’ll see that the division of work is similar, definitely an Apps-led piece. Right to left the band is Apps, Pook, Moore, Jones:


There he stands on the farm
With his eyes on the windmill
And his head goes round and round
Like the hours of the night will.

Yellow roses may be all he can bring you
But no night bird can sing the songs he'll sing you
So when he wants you, you have to stay
You have to hold him, it's the only way.
It's the only way.

And who knows where he hides
Only somewhere inside him
It's the only place he's found
Where no fences surround him
You might find him in the darkness kneeling
He's found no reason for this love he's feeling
So when he wants you now and again
Don't let the time slip past you all in vain
All in vain.

There he goes through hollow halls
Catch him now before he falls
As he tries to break the chains
That bind what’s gone to what remains

Yellow roses may be all he can bring you
But no night bird can sing the songs he'll sing you
So when he wants you, you just have to stay
You just have to hold him, it's the only way.
It's the only way.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Unearthing Heron, pt. 1

I went down a rabbit hole with the band Heron, like many people did I assume, after reading Electric Eden by Rob Young. I had been familiar with the book for awhile but hadn't really gotten down to reading it, because I assumed, incorrectly, it would contain the same stories about Nick Drake and Sandy Denny that I already knew. And I had thought that beautiful, sun-lit cover photo of a band playing in a field was of the Incredible String Band. Which it was not.

Miked Heron, not Mike Heron
The band was Heron, which though a majestic and evocative name for a British folk-rock band, was a name too similar in my mind to the name of Mike Heron of the Incredible String Band. I believe I had previously seen the band name and just assumed it was what Mike Heron called his solo project. (Even more unfortunate is that there's a new band named Heron, who released their first album in 2017. Sorry guys, we have the Internet now, couldn't you have Googled available names?)

But all that aside, when I finally listened to Heron's self-titled first album from 1970, the one they recorded in the field pictured above, I was entranced. The album opens with "Yellow Roses," a track which makes me feel like I had been hiking the National Trails and come upon a gathering of bards. Key to the album is the allowance (by producer Peter Eden) to include natural sounds from the British countryside: birds, insects, an airplane, the casual banter of band mates between songs. I just wanted to sit with them and listen, which is why Heron became my go-to walking and sitting in parks album.

Parklife. View from my favorite sitting spot.
This bucolic feeling, combined with lyrics that tied in synchronistically to the book I had been working on (The Druid of Royal Oak), meant that quickly I became hooked on Heron. And particularly the first album. Once I learned that they used bass and drums on their second (double!) album, and it wasn't recorded in the same field (unfair because it was also recorded outside) I wasn't ready for it. I had purchased the entirety of Heron's Dawn Anthology on iTunes which includes both albums plus bonus tracks, but I used the playlist function to ensure that I would only be listening to the original 13 songs. (As an aside, the bonus tracks and 1971's Twice As Nice & Half the Price are excellent too, and it was a nice treat when I finally decided to listen to them.)

But after listening to the album for weeks, I realized that I still didn't even know who I was listening to. The Discogs listing credits G.T. (Gerald) Moore as "Guitar, Mandolin, Harmonica, Piano, Vocals," Roy Apps as "Guitar, Piano, Vocals," Stephen Jones as "Piano, Organ, Electric Piano, Accordion, Vocals," and Tony Pook as "Vocals." And clearly there were several songwriters in the band as there were different people credited with each song. But still on each individual song I didn't knew who was singing. They all had very similar voices. I also realized I didn't even know who was who in the cover photo.

Took me awhile to figure out that left to right is Moore, Apps, Pook, and Jones. 
And much like that feeling you may have gotten when you first listen to the Beatles and maybe initially don't know who's who, I enjoyed the puzzle of trying to discern the differences in their voices. Producer Eden seemed to have assisted a little by separating the musicians left to right in the stereo mix with their instruments, which I also think is part of the reason you get that feeling of being in the middle of a performance when you listen to the album.

I started to assume that the lead singer for each song (and to be clear, multiple singers chime in on most songs) was the author listed for the song. But did that really make sense? And as I listened, other questions came up as well -- such as when I finally discerned that there were female voices on "Lord and Master." And when I discovered Heron's third album from 1983, I felt like the lead vocalist on two of my favorite songs "Open up the Road" and "Traveller's Song" seemed like a completely different singer than had appeared on Heron. Eventually I realized in order to really figure out the puzzle I would have to seek help online.

And eventually help arrived, in the form of an e-mail from G.T. Moore!

(to be continued)