Two weeks before I built it, I said for the benefit of everyone else in the room as they unpacked their effects pedalboards, that I’d never use one. I thought of myself as some sort of guitar purist. I was into my guitar, it’s pickups, and a cord plugged straight into a tube amp. At the same time I was playing bass in another band and in order to have more colors in my pallette, I’d started to bring the analog delay and tremelo pedals, and of course all the wall warts, patch cords, and irritating set-up that go with them. It flew in the face of my of my plan to keep things as simple as possible. Also we moved from one rehearsal room into another and in the process, I found, in a milk crate full of unloved pedals, a Electro Harmonix Micro Synthesizer.
That night I was playing synthetic beats and thought it would be interesting to hear them squashed through it (true). It was these and other convergences that inspired me to build my pedal board which I no longer know how I lived without. I run everything through it. It’s great, it fits in a hard shell case. I pull it out, plug it in, and I’m ready to go, tuner on and everything. The hard shell case had been in my basement storing a discarded cassette machine, next to an old suitcase filled with tapes I’d often thought of getting rid of as I had no plans of going back to them, except occasionally to archive something I couldn’t find anywhere else. A few of my posts feature these digitized recordings.
So the cassette machine, naked, went back down to the basement and my painting studio, where I have a pretty awesome stereo. I had been listening to NPR or my mp3 player. I got the bright idea of hooking up the tape machine. I opened the suitcase which held almost 300 tapes, some dating back to the late ’70’s, and others as recent as 2001.
It turned out to be a great idea, the cassettes sound good , and a reminder that the mp3’s we all listen to are not better, necessarily, just convenient. In fact an mp3 ripped from an audio cd is a rough equivalent to a song a taped off an lp. I became reacquainted with my mixtapes from the mid to late ’80’s. The most exciting discoveries being found in the space at the end where the 45 minute side was longer than the vinyl album and the dead space filled with the random odd thing. I have about 3,000 cd’s representing most of the music I need to have at my fingertips. I’d long ago foolishly discarded almost all my lp’s, and most of it has been replaced digitally, but there were a few long lost gems I began to realize I might find in the cassettes. The lp’s have been gone for decades but here were copies pickled back in the day, all the wondrous surface noise which had sent me over to cd’s in the first place now a charming reminder of how music used to sound.
I became obsessed with one recording in particular. Out of all the music I’d ever heard, there was one astonishing bit of recorded music I’d never been able to replace on cd. I knew it would turn up somewhere, unless it was something I’d taped over, which unfortunately happened pretty often. At least a quarter of them had been sacrificed for car tapes from cd’s I still have. The lp in question was David Bedford’s Nurse’s Song With Elephants from 1972.
David Bedford had been involved with the british art rock scene in the late ’60’s and ’70’s as a string arranger for the likes of Roy Harper, and Kevin Ayers. He orchestrated and conducted Mike Oldfield’s The Orchestral Tubular Bells album (1975).
The first album to consist entirely of David Bedford compositions was Nurses Song With Elephants, recorded at the Marquee Studios, and released in 1972 on John Peel’s Dandelion label. On this album, Bedford mixed classical ensemble with poems and voices. “Some Bright Stars for Queen’s College” uses twenty-seven plastic pipe twirlers, John Peel himself being among the pipe twirler players. There are five tracks on the album: “It’s Easier Than It Looks”, “Nurses Song With Elephants”, “Some Bright Stars for Queen’s College”, “Trona” (1967), and “Sad and Lonely Faces”. Bass guitar on the title song is played by Mike Oldfield and the final track features a poem by Kenneth Patchen that is sung by Kevin Ayers.
After about a month of searching, I’d already found Sad And Lonely Faces, so I knew I was on the trail and success was possible. I found a cassette simply labelled “ex Albums ll”, which I sussed was made of choice cuts just before selling the records to buy my first cd’s back in 1991. I’m a painter and all this time I’m listening, I’m painting pictures, sometimes not paying real close attention, but this time I was standing there, waiting to see what came next. About 3/4 of the way through, and after Johnny “Guitar” Watson’s amazing Space Guitar, and Magic Sam’s 21 Days in Jail, there it was, I’d found my holy grail.
I’m not sure why I picked this out of everything to obsess over, except that it’s one of the most oddly compelling pieces I’ve ever heard. There is a lot of air moving from acoustic sources, always a powerful experience. All those girls voices make my hair stand on end in a good way. Anyway I was very happy to hear it again, and wanted to share it this holiday season. Enjoy!!!!!