A couple of times I’ve come away from Kozfest, that beautifully anachronistic ‘psychedelic dream festival’ in the West Country with Andy Bole’s low-key performances being amongst the highlights. I was somewhat off the scene when his name started appearing on the Planet Gong website in the Noughties as a frequent support act to Gong, and in fact his relationship to Daevid Allen goes back as far as the mid-Seventies. Each time I’ve seen him I’ve marvelled at his dronish, looped soundscapes based around guitar and bouzouki, as things of rare beauty, and many aspects of a complex musical identity are represented by the four albums listed here.
‘The Glorious Event’, released in 2014, is a collection of 6 tracks taken from live performances including one of the Gong Uncons (which I’m still kicking myself for missing) and mixes tracks of pure atmospherics with those of gentle beats. The opener ‘Echolands’ is a dronish piece extending to almost 24 minutes with Hillage-esque licks on a piece which is almost an extension of ‘A Sprinkling of Clouds. This really comes into its own with some wonderful glissando work. ‘Mother Earth’ adds unexpected folk vocals, well versed but slightly incongruous in the overall mix, whilst tracks 3 and 4 return to more familiar bouzouki territory, the first a short beaty piece backed by bass and drums and wailed background vocals, the second ‘Solanum’, a superb lengthier, more reflective piece based initially solely around one instrument but backed by sitarrish sounds. ‘The Cry of the Swan’ continues the subtle plucking at your heart strings, this time on guitar. The album is rounded off by the superb title track where mournful strings are increasingly underpinned by a steady bass line and minimal drum.
‘Of Blue Splendour’ has a more coherent feel, probably as a result of its conception rather it being limited to one style. Shorter purely acoustic pieces such as ‘Hold to my Unchanging Hand’, ‘9/8 Thing’ and ‘Fradley Junction’ or even the crooned campfire closer ‘Flags’ do not compromise an extremely assured identity. The chief element however is a set of extended pieces such as the contemplative opener featuring rich sonorous viola and the glissando of Daevid Allen. The stripped down bouzouki no 3 on ‘As Splendid as the Moon’, which appears as though it could extend through the entire piece eventually melds into gentle beat-backed hypnosis featuring multiple sliding guitars and constitutes the album’s first major highlight. The well-named ‘Gem Palace’, initially building on ethereal gliss work from Andy, extends out into a lovely keyboard loop and eventually the eloquent saxophone of Gong’s of Ian East. The only pricking of the bubble is the strident, angular, almost Miller-esque guitar of ‘Turn Six Degrees’ where top notes cut through a menacing backdrop of guitars and effects, nevertheless a fine moment.
Finally, ‘Rainbow Crow’ was the album I picked up in the aftermath of that Kozfest performance and probably remains my favourite, as it’s closely aligned to the tone of both Andy Bole performances I’ve seen. These are solo, often multi-layered pieces of length and depth – to say they are drones (a la Daevid Allen) is perhaps a one-dimensional description as they contain beautiful soloing as well as a backdrop of a meditative, hypnotic intensity whether using electric guitar, glissando or bouzouki to set out their main themes. Each colour of the rainbow is represented by a ‘crow’, best of which is ‘Green Crow’, a sublime 14-minute opus. I struggle to fully analyse why this album (and indeed Andy Bole’s music in general) is so evocatively beautiful, but ultimately I’m not sure I want to – perhaps it’s best to just pull up a chair and enjoy.
Shankara Andy Bole, Rainbow Crow. Album Review.
Liverpool Sound and Vision
Go forth into the world with utter abandon and spontaneity; relish the prospect of finding love in the most unlikely of places, freedom in the impulsive and sometimes allow yourself to be surrounded by madcap and chaotic; for order and structure are the devils in which many drown in, the spontaneity spark put out and left to be a ghost of the possibility.
It is rare to find the feeling of recorded spontaneity in music, you find the odd chuckle of impetuousness on stage when filling in for the change in tempo or because the vocalist wants to chat above the noise and offhand in the crowd but hardly ever is it framed with the same succinct feeling of passion placed down on paper by the free thinkers such as Jack Kerouac; spontaneity and stream of consciousness hand in hand and composed with terrific, haunting, off the wall persuasive cool. Â
It is a groove to which Shankara Andy Bole offers to the listener in his seven track album, Red Crow, with humble fanfare and a tremendous efficient pulse. The tracks don’t just capture the moment, any moment; they find themselves at the mercy of the instrument used, the bouzouki, and the subtle surrender of love that comes with it.
An instrument to which perhaps not enough praise is exercised by the majority of people more enamoured with the guitar or the sound of battle displayed in a set of drums, but to find the bouzouki being modestly manipulated in such a way is to find a beguiling sense of peace and spirit that might have otherwise found itself more at home in what was once called euphemistically the mystic east.
Too many crows huddled together can be murder, yet as Shankara Andy Bole tantalises the use of the colours of the rainbow to describe each crow he releases into the world, a murder of crows becomes a saviour of thought and in each painted picture of the ill thought bird, red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet, a redemption for the blackness envelopes, the listener finding a way to shine a light on each one and with a smile of the spontaneous from Shankara Andy Bole.
A remarkable album, a musical highlight in the year, natural, free flowing and refreshing, Red Crow is a genuine find.
Ian D. Hall
NORTHERN SKY - REVIEW - RAINBOW CROW
Compulsive scanners of album covers and details, those of us who spend hours hunched over boxes of records and Cds enter a zen like state. Fingers flicking eyes alert for gems. Everyone has their own talismans or touch stones they look for Beacons if you like shining through the unknown. It might be labels, producers, covers. For me anything on Peter Gabriel's Real World label gets checked out, similarly anything recorded at the Real World studios gets a closer look. Both of these things are indications of quality and an inevitable left field approach. The name Shankara Andy Bole, and Taylor Whitham's striking Crow Art cover both grab your attention and the fact that its recorded at Real World draws you in like the slow unwrapping a present.
The music, Bouzouki, Ebow and loops is initially unclassifiable, by turns beautiful and dissonant, serene and savage. After the fleet fingered folk jazz of guitarists like Gordon Giltrap, John James and the pervasive influence of dexterous American players like Michael Hedges, the UK has developed an experimental ‘guitar’ music scene. Dean McPhee, Andy Cartwright's project 'Seabuckthorn', Nick Jonah Davis, James Blackshaw and many others play a music about space and ambience, economy and pared back beauty. To my ears, although with an obvious link to the transcendental 70s guitar flights of Steve Hillage and Daevid Allen, Shankara Andy Bole inhabits this world of shimmering pensive atmospheres with his Bouzouki and Ebow flights of delight. He is a multi instrumentalist and composer who has recorded with artists as musically varied as Gong and the Bushbury Mountain Daredevils. He has recorded a series of solo albums and Rainbow Crow, as Chromatically expansive as the title suggests is his seventh. The album showcases Andy's powerful Bouzouki playing and constantly inventive looping, there are no overdubs on this album, what you hear is what you get from one man. But listen to the what first then go back and marvel at the bow.
Red Crow opens decisively with some big chords and a sense of space. A Bass motif and Bouzouki duet together slowly building a sense of tension and power. The final electric notes, siren screams of stringed who knows what, hypnotically wail and call, suggesting at first that Shankara Andy Bole has completely revealed his hand on the first track. Track two Orange Crow that strangely intoxicating North African tinged world of Dead Can Dance, percussive finger taps and the resonant strings build a strange dance tune Track three, Yellow Crow starts with a dissonant looping and some bouzouki notes that just hang in the air. This is American primitive player John Fahey or improvisational noise merchants The No Neck Blues Band. At time the music sounds almost treated and cut up. Green Crow, track four opens with some Michael Hedges style tapping, the resonance establishing the physicality of the instrument and the space both it and the musician occupy. Some beautiful chords and reverberating notes add a Moroccan or Spanish feel like ECM's Anouar Brahem. The space between the notes and the phrases just add to the beauty. A rising glissando six minutes is sublime, as beautiful as a slowly rising sun cut by heat haze. The slowly picked Bouzouki notes are simply beautiful with all the resonant power of a Malian desert blues guitar. Part Tinariwen part Robby Krieger on The End this is potent music that crackles with energy and potential. Fourteen minutes of transcendental blues and brilliance. Blue Crow carries the musical journey into a more invasive mood with some Flamenco influenced runs. Indigo Crow twists the North African Bouzouki with some hypnotic electronic bubbles making a compelling music of contrasts like the 80s Free Festival favourites The Ozric Tentacles twisting Dance and Prog into something new and strange. Violet Crow, the final track is a slower more hesitant piece like John Renbourn playing a medieval dance piece bringing this stange and compelling dance to a close.
ALSO RADIO PLAYS CAN BE LISTENED TO HERE
BBC RADIO 3 WORLD ON 3 http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b09dyr91
BBC RADIO 3 LATE JUNCTION http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b09c09k9#play
BBC RADIO SHROPSHIRE Genevieve Tudor's Sunday Folk http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p05kxh22