Creating Soul in Wonder
Roots, Wings, Histories, Mysteries, Love, Praise And Thanks
Culturally, one of the most amazing things that happened in the 60’s was that England gave American music back to the Americans.
America was sunk in a mire of lost musical roots. Rock ’n roll was dead, jazz had all but disappeared, the blues were buried and Frank Sinatra had taken white sophisticated pop music just about as far as it could go. Even Elvis had been cleaned up. And if you were too mean to be clean you just weren’t seen (ask Little Richard or Jerry Lee Lewis.) Over in England the weirdest thing was happening - a blues revolution was underway.
The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Van Morrison and all the rest of those badass white boys, who’d grown up on a 50’s musical diet of Elvis, Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters, Ray Charles and Little Richard, were discovering they could actually sing the blues, r n’ b, Motown, rock ’n roll...they were (kind of) re-inventing black music. Nasty black music.
The result was a cultural revolution, exported to the USA. Coals to Newcastle. Suddenly all the great blues singers – forgotten and neglected, working in gas stations and hotel lobbies - were rediscovered, their careers kick started by the hurricane that stormed across the Atlantic. Trust me – I was there. It was 1963. These were my roots. English/American/ English music.
When I came to do Soul in Wonder I threw some ideas around with a few friends. Songs can be interpreted in a million ways and I was wondering how to approach the recording of this new batch. Maneesh de Moor said do the album acoustic. Ravi said record every song as if it were a classic. Martyn said change your guitar sound..! My nephew, Paul, with a wry smile played me Wilco... I listened carefully to all the advice, and went my own way. Right or wrong, what you hear is the result.
Once I decided to base the songs around the acoustic guitar, I knew I had to go ‘home’ to England and reconnect with my roots.
There’s something about the British musical identity that was born in the 60's, the beat boom, and no matter what your influences are – the Sex Pistols, to Joni Mitchell to Ali Farka Toure – the palette is vast - somehow the reference points that the Stones and the Beatles carved deep in our British psyche have remained. There’s something at the heart of rock music that all us Brits all recognise. So I headed for London, to English musicians, to English weather and English humour - and English food (better than you might expect!)
I asked Martyn Phillips to produce the album with me – he’d produced hits for British new wave bands Jesus Jones and London Beat in the 80’s, and since then he’d worked with everyone from The Beloved to Malcolm Mclaren to Barry Manilow...to Deva Premal. But that’s not why he got the job – what tipped the scales was when I noticed his pile of gold discs lying in an untidy heap on the floor of his music room, and him telling me that he and his beautiful Japanese girlfriend, Mika, study Tantra and attend Gabrielle Roth’s Five Rhythm Workshops, that tipped the scales - I felt then, that he was the guy whose expertise would translate into heartfullness and soul.
As for Ravi, well, he’s the kid brother I never had. He knows me well enough to know what I’m thinking, musically and otherwise, and even though he missed the 60’s by about 10 years he loves The Beatles almost as much as I do. He cut his teeth on Deep Purple, later expanding his horizons to include African and Brasilian music. About 20 years ago he disappeared into the heart of Mother Africa where he fell in love with the kora, the traditional harp of West Africa, and came back transformed, and since has become a virtuoso on the instrument. You can find his name on the albums of Dr. John, Nigel Kennedy, John Lord, Pentangle, Marlui Miranda, and of course, under his own name. The kora is, like every harp, an instrument of the heart.
The songs themselves span my life. I included Mississippi Fred McDowell’s You Gotta Move, as homage to my teenage years listening to the Stones, EC, Georgie Fame and Zoot Money in the pubs and clubs of London. Also, I humbly attempted Van Morrison’s Inarticulate Speech of the Heart, which, when I first heard it, became the bridge between those rock ’n roll years and my shift towards Osho and meditation.
Along with the rock music I grew up with, I wanted to include at least one of the sannyas classics that I’d played at Osho’s ashram in India, and Fly High rates just about as high as you can get in that category. Written by Anubhava (now known as Peter Makena), it is one of those honest, simple, mantric songs that transcends mind and time. I dedicate it here to my sweet friend Disha, who left her body tragically and unexpectedly just last year.
The new songs, Awakening, Humaniversal, Mother Inside (iTunes bonus) and Through the Eyes of an Angel and Free Spirit have found their way into our concert set lists of late, and they all have a piece of my heart attached to them. The first three – Awakening, Humaniversal and Mother Inside - were completed by the grace of Amma and Bhagavan, in the Oneness University in India. One night I found myself wordlessly praying for their help in finishing the songs (I’d been struggling with the lyrics), and before I knew it, the verses appeared, the structure was there, and they were done.
As for the contributing musicians, well, mostly British at the core – pianist Spencer Cozens, who plays in Joan Armatrading’s touring band, Arran Ahmun, John Martyn’s drummer, bass player Martin (Happy Martin) Brunsden whose teacher/guru is none other than the great Danny Thompson (who won’t thank me for calling him that – but – well, we are what we are, Danny.)
Then we have the beautiful Wendi Rose guesting on vocals, who grew up listening to the Swan Silvertones and later became a session singer of high esteem, currently on tour with the Gorillaz as I write, and more impressively, a member of the London Community Gospel Choir. Harry Manx (and who knows where Harry hails from?) turned up late in the day, and played something resembling a dranyen (Tibetan 3 string instrument) on Through the Eyes of an Angel. He calls it a ‘hillharp’ - basically, it’s a cigar box connected to two broomsticks, but in Harry’s hands it sings and swings and cries like a nightingale.
Which brings us to our dear friend, Manose, from Nepal on bansuri (bamboo flute), who sprinkles star dust over everyone and everything wherever he goes. The whole album features his amazing heartfelt musicianship. American Kit Walker is so damn good we could send him mp3 files in the evening from London and by the following morning receive his recordings via the internet from his home in San Francisco, all perfectly performed.
And finally to our sweet Deva, who, despite her German birth, grew up from day one with mantras and meditation which brings us full circle, back to The Beatles and meditation, and the 60’s.
Maybe this album should be called Full Circle.
And remember friends, the 60’s aren’t over just because you’re over 60. It was never about politics, it was all about love.
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- Bio - Miten
- Bio - Manose
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