From Blues To Rembetika by Mark T.– Sleeve Notes
Blues is a musical form originated by African Americans in the Deep South of the United States around the end of the 19th century. The genre developed from roots in African musical traditions, African-American work songs, spirituals, and folk music. Blues incorporated spirituals, work songs, field hollers, shouts, chants, and rhymed simple narrative ballads. The blues form, very common in jazz, rhythm and blues and rock and roll, is characterized by a call-and-response pattern, the blues scale and specific chord progressions, of which the twelve-bar blues is the most common. Blue notes (or "worried notes"), usually thirds or fifths flattened in pitch, are also an essential part of the sound. Blues shuffles or walking bass reinforce the trance-like rhythm and form a repetitive effect known as the groove.
Rembetiko, plural rembetika, is a term used to designate originally disparate kinds of urban Greek music which have come to be grouped together since the Greek rembetika revival of the 1970’s.
The rembetika, songs that were sung in the poorer quarters of Smyrna, Istanbul and the ports of Greece in the late nineteenth century, later became the popular bouzouki music of the 1930s to 1950s. Rembetika has many social parallels with American blues. Like the blues, rembetika was the modal music of outsiders, who developed their own slang, dress code, recreational drugs and forms of expression.
Taksim (Arabic: taqsīm, Greek: taksimi, Turkish: taksim) is a melodic musical improvisation that usually precedes the performance of a traditional Arabic, Greek, Middle Eastern, or Turkish musical composition.
Taksim traditionally follows a certain melodic progression. Starting from the tonic of a particular Arabic maqam (or a Turkish makam or Greek mode), the first few measures of the improvisation remain in the lower part of the maqam, thereby introducing the maqam to the listener. After this introduction, the performer is free to move anywhere in the maqam, and even to modulate to other maqams, as long as he or she returns to the original one.
Taqsim is either a solo instrument performance, or one that is backed by a percussionist or other instrumentalist playing a drone on the tonic of the maqam.
On this CD I have not attempted to merge blues and rembetika into a fusion music. Despite their social similarities and modal origins I think it serves both music best to keep them apart and link them only via the programming of the CD. Taxims are remarkably flexible and work very well at preparing the listener for ‘what is to come’. Tracks 1 & 2 on the CD reflect this musical ‘companion planting’.
My previous release ‘The Old Roads’,with Charles Spicer, used Taxims to precede a variety of medieval tunes from Italy, France , Spain and England.
01.An Old Road
A Greek style ‘Taksimi’ to start the album off. Bouzouki tuned D,G,D G.
02. Worried Life
Originally from Fred Mc Dowell, this reworking comes from Mike Cooper.
I far prefer Mike’s version with its sparse, almost African, style accompaniment. If you can find a copy, he does a fine version of the song on his ‘Live at Papa Madeo’ solo live album, which I think is a better LP than ‘Oh Really’ which many people cite as one of the best white acoustic blues LP’s ever released by an English artist.
03. Going Down the Road
A traditional blues. I recorded a version of this on my first ‘proper job’ LP ‘Johnny There’ when I played it on slide bouzouki … yes, slide bouzouki…
04. Taxim / Shirts of the Earth
I first recorded this with Tim Hill at the very end of the eighties.
At that time we were playing a lot of Rembetika, Balkan and Breton music.
The second tune was written by me in a Balkan style of five beats to the bar.
The title is a joke – when I first bought a copy of Alan Stivell’s ‘Chemins De Terre’ I told my friends it was called ‘Shirts of the Earth’ of course ‘chemise’ is a loose fitting shirt or gown. ‘Chemins de terre’ means from Celtic roots.
05. Follow the Drinkin’ Gourd
This pre-dates the blues and comes close to the form of a Spiritual song. In the years before the civil war an abolitionist sailor called Peg Leg Joe tramped through Southern Alabama secretly encouraging slaves to run away from their masters. He taught the slaves this song which not only gave them hope, but provided them with secret directions for the route that they should follow. He left a peg leg sign on the dead trees along the river bank leading them to the headwaters of the Tombigbee river. If they crossed the divide to the Ohio river the route would lead them on to the free states.
06. Death Letter
This song by Son House, for me, is the apex of country blues. The stark reality of the lyrics combined with a set of great riffs make it #1 in my personal country blues chart.
From the extremely popular John Lee Hooker. His music easily moved between country blues and urban blues and even in his later years blues-rock. The early 70’s blues – rock band The Groundhogs took their name from this song.
They backed John Lee Hooker regularly when he toured the U.K.
08. Aint Going Down the Well No More
From the singing of Ledbelly (Huddie William Ledbetter) whose singing transcended blues, gospel, folksong & spiritual music.
In September 1948 New York’s municipal radio station. WNYC-FM broadcast a series of 15 minute programmes by Ledbelly. Each programme had a theme and Frederic Ramsey Jr. managed to record four of the programmes: Dance Tunes and Breakdowns, Reels and Hollers, Jail & Songs for Children. The four programmes were later released on LP disc by XTRA (EXTRA 1126). This song was sung by Ledbelly as an unaccompanied field holler in the ‘Reels and Hollers’ programme.
09. Dust Pneumonia Blues
This is one of Woody Guthrie’s many ‘dust bowl’ songs. I first heard it sung by Mungo Jerry on the ‘B’ side of ‘In The Summertime’
From the singing of Robert Johnson, whose rolling boogie rhythm was the link between Country blues and Chicago urban blues.
11. Erinaki Set (Notes by Charles Spicer)
This set comprises of three Greek tunes:
from the Dodecanese in the Phrygian and Aeolian modes
from Epiros in Mixolydian b9 mode
from the Peloponnese in Phrygian dominant mode (the 5th mode of the harmonic minor scale/the harmonic minor scale on the 5th note) or in the Hijaz mode in the Arabic and Turkish maqam system.
In the Kalamatianós dance rhythm (also known as Syrtos o Peloponisios)
Bouzouki tuned: D,G,D,G
7 beats per bar (subdivided into 3+2+2 beats corresponding to 3 steps per bar) in a 4 bar pattern moving anticlockwise with a clockwise movement at the end of the pattern
12. (I Wish I Was in Heaven Sitting Down)
This song comes from Rev. Robert Wilkins. Originally a blues singer touring with medicine shows by 1968 he was refusing to sing the blues in public. I heard him on a recording of the 1968 Memphis Country Blues Festival where he gave a little taste of the music he was now playing for his congregation each and every Sunday at his church in Memphis.
13. A New Road
A Taxim to take us out of the disc. Bouzouki tuned: D,A,D,G
Musicians who played on the recordings:
Fran Wood is a folk and blues singer who regularly performed live with Mark T. throughout the mid 90’s and early 00’s as part of the roots rock and blues group Rootdogs and later on in the community music group Time Spanners.
Fran Wood also appeared on Mark T.’s 2007 CD ‘Where Are You Going?’.
Charles Spicer spent many years as oboist and singer with The Mellstock Band. He has worked for the National Theatre and the RSC as both actor and musician as well as in theatre, film, and television.
He plays a variety of period instruments and wrote the musical arrangements for The Oxford Waits, and played modern oboe and cor anglais with Red Spirit. With The Mellstock Band, Charles played in concert at home and abroad as well as providing music for films including the BBC's Pride and Prejudice, The Woodlanders, and The Return of the Native.
From 2012 – 2016 he played regularly in a duo with Mark T. performing a mixture of English Folk and English and Mediterranean early music. They have one CD currently available ‘The Old Roads’ available from Amazon.
Iqbal Pathan has known Mark T., Charles Spicer and Mysterious Bob since the early 1990’s when all four were regular members of Roger Watson’s community music organisation ‘TAPS’. Together they ran workshops and performed live as part of ‘Roots Orchestral’, ‘Boka Halat’ and the ‘One World Band’ playing festivals, arts centres, theatres and community events.
Mysterious Bob as well as being a member of TAPS and Rootdogs with Fran Wood and Mark T. is also an extremely talented guitarist in his own right playing electric and classical guitar.
Mike Cooper has been a musician since the early to mid 1960’s, constantly touring the world and releasing more than 100 recordings during the intervening years. Ranging freely through free improvisation, his own idiosyncratic original songs, electro-acoustic music, exotica, traditional country blues, folk, pop songs, and ‘sonic gestural’ playing utilising open tunings, extended guitar techniques and electronics he has been an influence on my music since the early 1980’s when he introduced me to steel guitar, rembetika, African music, free improvisation and a lot more.
He directly influenced two of my releases in the 1980’s ‘From Middle East to Midwest’ (recently re-released and available from Amazon) and ‘The Room’ (with Tim Hill who regularly played with Cooper in the 80’s & 90’s).
My performance of Fred McDowell’s ‘Worried Life’ is directly lifted from Mike Cooper’s arrangement.
Gail Holst-Warhaft author of the influential book ‘Road to Rembetika’ was born in Australia but has spent most of her life involved with Greece. She has been, at various times, a journalist, broadcaster, writer, academic, musician, poet, and independent scholar. In the 1970s, while carrying out research for two books about Greek music, she performed as a keyboard-player with Greece’s leading composers, including Mikis Theodorakis and Dionysios Savvopoulos. She is a Professor at Cornell University where she directs a program of Mediterranean Studies. In addition to Road to Rembetika her many publications include Theodorakis: Myth and Politics in Modern Greek Music (1980), Dangerous Voices: Women’s Laments and Greek Literature (1992), The Cue for Passion: Grief and its Political Uses (2000), and I Had Three Lives: Selected Poems of Mikis Theodorakis (2005). She has also published translations of Aeschylus, and of a number of well-known modern Greek poets and prose-writers including Nikos Kavadias, Katerina Anghelaki-Rooke, Iakovos Kambanellis, and Alki Zei. Her poems have appeared in journals in the US, the UK, Australia and Greece. Her first collection of poems, Penelope’s Confession, was published by Cosmos Books in 2007.
Me (Mark T.) Originally from Hereford, but now living near Reading, I have been playing my unique blend of folk, blues and roots music since the mid 1980’s, solo and in the company of esoteric collaborators The Brickbats, Tim Hill, Fran Wood, roots / blues band Rootdogs and more recently with Charles Spicer. Prior to that I played English and Irish folk music, running folk clubs in Hereford and Reading and playing in a duo with Paul Hancock (Uillean pipes and tin whistle). Myself and Paul were south of England Busking champions in 1980 and were catapulted (briefly) into the dizzy heights of newspaper interviews, T.V. radio and touring - doing two tours of Brittany and a tour of the North of England.
Since then high points of my career have included an Arts Council award for my LP ‘The Room’ (with Tim Hill), main stage Saturday night appearances at the Bracknell, Pontardawe and Christchurch festivals as well as sessions for BBC radio 2 live from their Paris theatre London and Pebble Mill in Birmingham + gigs in Denmark & Italy. Also of note was a recent performance in the Salon Noir cave in Niaux, France amongst the 15,000 year old cave paintings.
As a community musician I was MD of Time Spanners who won numerous awards and collaborated with many excellent musicians including David Jackson (Van Der Graaf Generator), Charles Spicer, Fran Wood, Paul Midgely and Richard Westall. I have also been commissioned to write or devise music for a wide range of community events since the mid 1990’s including installations, film soundtracks, multimedia events, shows and web-sites.
In 1999 I won a joint Guardian Newspaper / Ministry of Education sponsored award for my work in assisting children with learning and communication difficulties and disabilities to communicate using music and multimedia as a stimulus.
‘From Blues to Rembetika’ is the tenth recording in my own name. I have also collaborated & contributed to numerous other recordings using a variety of media.
I anticipate releasing my entire back catalogue in DL & CD on demand format over the next few years including experimental, publishing, film soundtracks and community commissioned work.
Mark T. August 2017