Clype is an exciting and dynamic new duo formed by pianist and singer songwriter Simon Gall and fiddler Johnny Hardie. While Simon is to date better known as a central figure in Salsa Celtica and brings with him a love of jazz and Latin music, Johnny is the ever-present in Old Blind Dogs, a band who have infused their own take on Scottish folk with an eclectic mix of different musical styles and influences.
Their debut album is due for release on July 24th and makes a prominent feature of guest singer Jenny Sturgeon, who appears on three tracks, plays shruti box and also earns a co-writer’s credit for Fair Drawin’ In. Ross Ainslee is the only other guest, playing low whistle on one song, otherwise it’s just down to the minimalist combination of piano, fiddle and voices, which works remarkably well.
The first thing that strikes is how good it all sounds, there’s a fullness partly because of the lush feel of the piano, against which the fiddle cuts and scythes a soul stirring musical course. Vocally too, Simon is a fine singer and combines well with Johnny and particularly Jenny on a great set of songs. And therein lies the album’s ultimate pleasure, the writing is quite outstanding, sharp, thoughtful and politically engaged, yet making its points with gentle, persuasive melody and the quiet logic of lyrical poetry. Even The Internationale gets a makeover that reaches for the romantic heart of the story rather than tub-thumping agitprop.
The song we’re premiering today, however is the opener, The Brush To Paint Us All, which better typifies the original song-craft on offer here. The press release delights in promising an outwardly ambitious mixture of Bill Evans, harmonics, the melodic heritage of Scotland and the ideas of Edward Said. We think you’ll have to agree that it actually proves a highly effective combination, although like me, you may want to research the American intellectual, writer, musician, commentator and activist who forms the pinnacle of that triumvirate.
I manage to get Simon Gall on the line hoping to find out more, but start by congratulating him on winning the unabashed support of Richard Thompson who has said, “I urge you to give a listen to Clype. This is music firmly rooted in the North East of Scotland, but which pulls in influences from all over the world, Simon Gall and Jonny Hardie create music which is eclectic, original, accomplished and challenging.” Simon explains, “I think Richard is a fellow of the University up here, or at least has an honorary degree, and came to Aberdeen to run a songwriting workshop that Jenny and I attended. At the end he gave us all his email address and urged us to stay in touch, so when we’d finally managed to record Done With May and Fair Drawin’ In, the two songs we’d written as part of the course, I sent them to him and that was his response, which is really nice, but also useful.”
I get Simon onto the Bill Evans connection, wondering whether it’s just a pianist’s love of one of the instruments jazz masters, but he reveals, “There are no out and out jazz chord sequences or anything on the record, but Bill Evans invented these ‘So What’ chords, which are based on fourth intervals and I just love the way they sound. That was what I was after, it was more his chordal work that interested me.”
I confess that to my ear it simply sounds lovely and not being particularly musical it’s often hard to express why. Simon is keen to suggest, “A lot of the sound of the record comes about because I’m writing in different modes not just the obvious modes or scales. Also I use pedal notes. “The latter is a technique where a constant bass note is used against a sequence of chords, creating a kind of melodic and harmonic tension. He continues, “A lot of pianists if playing folk, will simply play the standard major and minor chords, whereas guitar players tend to tune their guitars in a certain way that makes the chords far more ambiguous. It’s that element that I’ve tried to use in my playing, I’ve shunned the major and minor triads quite a bit and the chords are more suspended, which when combined with the modes gives a different sound.”
We turn our attention to Edward Said and Simon tells me, “I suppose I should say that first and foremost I’m really interested in taking big intellectual ideas and putting them into music, or art in general and making them more digestible for people, who perhaps don’t have the time to read all of those big long books.” In the context of the album it’s a noble and obviously workable ideal, but I suggest that it also comes with a certain chin-out stance. There’s a slight chuckle as he agrees, “I guess so. All of the songs on the album reflect the fact that I’m quite a political animal, which I find hard to divorce from my work anyway.”
Getting more specific, Simon Explains, “The Brush To Paint Us All came about after I read Said’s major work, Orientalism. I was just interested in his general ideas about how the Middle and Far East are represented and perceived in the West. It’s about who gets to describe their culture and how they get it wrong, yet there is no allowance made for the people themselves to put it right and represent themselves, so untruths are allowed to perpetuate, which served our colonial ambitions. I suppose it started there, but broadened out to encompass anyone who holds power over the means of communication and so can give you the picture they want you to see.”
As the song lyrics say, “Those who chose the colours and the canvass to paint on, chose which way the easel points and the brush to paint us all.” It’s a point well and subtly made that backs up Simon’s assertion that, “The songs are political, but I’m trying to say thing in a way that isn’t about preaching to people.” I mention The Internationale, which gets a surprisingly effective rewrite and Simon admits, “I’d hoped to get that out before the referendum, but it was all about putting that story back on the table. It’s proof that there are other ways of thinking and not everything has to be the same – alternative realities, I suppose. It’s just doing what folk music has always done really in taking a different narrative line.”
There’s certainly an ideology at work here that sits well with folk music, some high ambitions designed to promote the common humanity that binds us. But it’s substance with style too and the eponymous debut finds ways of re-defining pointed political commentary as measured melodic inspiration. With those piano chords and the way they interact with the vibrant fiddle, pulling and prompting the spine-tingling, emotional heartbeat, the effect is properly inspirational. Objective achieved methinks.
Don’t miss their Album Launch on 23 July 7.30pm at The Blue Lamp, Aberdeen (free entry).
Find out more here: http://www.clypemusic.com/