Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Buddhist Rain, Bill Manhire and Dr Feelgood

As previewed on this blog in January 2010, jazz pianist/composer Norman Meehan last year released Buddhist Rain, a CD of settings of poems by the retiring Bill Manhire. It’s on the Rattle label, RAT-D020.

In November I promised that soon I would blog on:
Bill Manhire and Dr Feelgood – the missing link.
In February I blogged:
I promise I will resume proper blogging to reveal the secret connection between Bill Manhire and Dr Feelgood, as previously advertised.
It was all a pack of lies. Nothing was delivered.

Is it too late? No? Good.

The CD is excellent, warm late-night listening with the lovely voice of Hannah Griffin accompanied by Meehan on piano, and on some tracks the great sax player Colin Hemmingsen joins them. The songs are extremely sympathetic settings of the poems – three, including the title track, are settings of new lyrics written specially for the project that are included in last year’s poetry collection The Victims of Lightning. I can’t imagine this sort of project being done better.

Now, about Dr Feelgood. Bill was never the singer in the band, as you might have supposed, but he and original guitarist Wilko Johnson do have something unusual in common.

Bill Manhire, in an interview with Iain Sharp:
I came straight to Wellington from London, where I’d been doing post-graduate work on Old Icelandic.
Wilko Johnson, an interview with Uncut magazine (Oct 2010, not online), says of studying medieval literature at Newcastle University:
I was the only one in the English department who opted to learn Old Icelandic: just me and Professor Frankiss doing the Sagas.
Julien Temple, director of the 2009 documentary on the band Oil City Confidential, interviewed by The Arts Desk:
He is interested in William Blake, Milton, Marlowe. He can quote endless speeches from Tamburlaine. He’s one of the six Old Icelandic speakers in England. He learnt it so he could read the Sagas in the original.
And here is Wilko Johnson in performance with Dr Feelgood:

Here is a video lesson on how to play like Wilko, with the great man himself. There is no video lesson available on how to write like Bill.


Fergus said...

The second book of Norman Meehan's Manhire settings will be performed in the Council Chamber of Victoria University's Hunter Building at 7.30pm on Friday 14 April, again with Hannah Griffin and Colin Hemmingsen, plus additional musicians and a choir. Rattle will be recording it for a DVD, and now that this is out all eyes will be on Bill's stage moves...

Stephanie said...

Love the post but a small quibble: is knowledge of Icelandic, old or otherwise, a link or a connection or ....?

I was expecting the 'missing link' to be something a bit more than a shared knowledge of a language. I could say my daughter, who learnt Latin at school, is linked to Anthony Powell who did likewise. Am I being a touch too pedantic? Quite happy to be told off. Maybe I'm just a bit underwhelmed.

Still, great researching as usual.

Fergus said...

Bookings are now open: http://bit.ly/fLQpa8

Stephen Stratford said...

Stephanie - I apologise if I have disappointed you. This may be no consolation, but you are not the first woman I have disappointed. You are in good company.

Paul said...

I saw Wilko Johnson's Solid Senders play Maidstone College of Art in 1979; just thought you should know.

Stephanie said...

No disappointment at all. Always a treat to read your posts.