Andy Bole: photo Harry Collison
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.
Bonfire Radicals are an entirely different kettle of fish. In blending double bass, whistle, clarinet , fiddle and three female voices in a predominantly acoustic mix this is upbeat rousing music undoubtedly seen at its finest in a packed pub room or festival tent. Along the way it combines elements of Celtic jiggery and Balkan buffoonery, alongside folky balladeering such as ‘Lucy Hampton’s Wedding Day’ . Best here is ‘Fizzle Sticker’, with its brooding bowed bass before extending out into a fine jig. Author as on many tracks is Trevor Lines, who may be familiar to Facelift readers as bandleader of various jazz outfits in the Midlands. Andy Bole’s role within the band is on 12 string guitar and he also composes ‘Malo’ an almost mediaevallish romp, but overall this is very much a different string to his bow. Well worth catching live, I suspect.
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.
Andy’s latest album Inner Temple, featuring Brian Abbott of the Invisible Opera Company of Tibet, and violinist Sally Minchin, is available here https://andybole.bandcamp.com/album/inner-temple