Left, Norwegian band leader Lief Sorbye on one of the four instruments he played during the evening.
I wandered up to Vermont Friday night before a Saturday teaching gig to see a performance of California band Tempest on their 20th Anniversary tour. They were performing at an interesting little hobbit-hole called Middle Earth, in Bradford Vermont. Middle Earth is closing in a couple months, unfortunately. It was a great little basement club with an entertainingly Tolkienesque ambiance - trees "growing" along the walls, a trellis of branches over the stage, etc. There was also very inconsistent wireless internet access; everything the modern
hobbit concertgoer could want. The only problems were the lack of a dance floor (criminal for a concert that included enough reels and jigs to get a corpse on its feet) and the overpriced nachos. The lighting was fine for a performance and dreadful for an inexperienced photographer - mostly dark, with lighting on the stage being white in some areas and red in others. I'm sure there's some way to compensate to for this if you actually know what you're doing, but even with Lief's okay to use the flash, my pictures are sort of dark and demonic looking (click the pictures for larger views). Fortunately I have no pride or illusions about my ability with a camera! More important than the lighting, though, Middle Earth either has fabulous acoustics or a genius of a sound guy. The band was appropriately loud but not deafening, and the balance between the vocals and the instruments was perfect. This has occasionally been a problem for me at Tempest concerts, since I like to hear the lyrics clearly, and with Lief's Norwegian accent this can be difficult if the balance is off.
Right, Cuban drummer Adolfo Lazo, the other original band member, hard at work
I've been following Tempest since I picked up two of their very early CDs around 1993 (maybe at a Westercon?), but I generally only get to see them once a year, since they don't spend nearly enough time in New York or New England. Being a long-time fan occasionally has its perks; Lief knows me by sight, and more or less remembers that I'm from Connecticut (or New York, or somewhere around there). So I walked in and got a hug from Lief and a chance to chat with his lovely wife Patricia, who's always stuck patiently minding the CD and t-shirt sales. The only two new CDs were mostly mixes of old stuff with a couple of new tracks - a "best of" compilation for the 20th anniversary and a CD of Lief's 50th birthday jam with a bunch of other musicians. (What a fabulous way to celebrate a birthday! I want Tempest to come and jam for my birthday!) I picked up both CDs and a new t-shirt.
I always expect Tempest to deliver a high-powered set of traditional and traditional-style tunes put across with electronic instruments and enough amplification to make my whole body vibrate, beautiful ballads and high-powered rock rolled up in one international package. I was not disappointed. After an opening instrumental number the first set moved right along with alternately swashbuckling and melancholy pirate song "Captain Morgan" (full lyrics here):
The bottle became my last company
I never again heard the song of the sea
Tempest has quite a repertoire of pirate songs; I'm also fond of "Captain Kidd" and (especially) "Captain Ward", but I suppose they can't do all of them in one evening. Other standouts in the first set:
- the new "Moving On Song" about British tinkers
And the dark road leads me onward
And the highway is my code,
And that lonesome voice that I heard in my head said,
"Never tire of the road".
- "Whoever You Are" and the "Black Eddy" medley from The Double Cross, with that Finnish polka ("our new direction...") at the end of "Black Eddy"
and finally the wonderful "Eppy Moray", also from The Double Cross. The pounding drums and initial loooooong stroke of Mullen's bow on that first fiddle note gave me fabulous chills. The song always makes me smile - it concerns an arranged/forced marriage with a most unwilling bride, but for once doesn't have a "happily"-ever-after ending to what is essentially a rape story. Instead she wrestles the guy to a standstill all night long, then demands a horse and returns home to her mother, still a maiden.
There's not a man in all this land
Shall married be with me, with me
Shall married be with me.
Left, Michael Mullen, fiddler extraordinaire, in Utilikilt and matching lavender-patterned Tempest shirt and do-rag.
During the break, in between trying to get a consistent enough wireless connection to find out if my next night's hostess had actually received my email and was expecting two houseguests, I chatted with Adolfo and got a preview CD of three tunes off his upcoming solo album. We listened to these in the car on the way to Boston the next day; I especially liked "Rey de España". Unfortunately I didn't get details about the CD, so I've no idea of its name or when it will be out.
I also asked Lief if there was any chance they might do either "Broken Ring" (no) or "Queen of Argyll" (yes) in their encores, and whether they minded if I took photos and used the flash (no). Yeah, leaning on the long-time fan thing, but it was a 3.5-hour drive to this concert and it's nice to have dedication acknowledged! "Queen of Argyll" was probably a happier song for me to hear anyway; "Broken Ring" is depressing (friendship shattered for no obvious reason), and it says bad things about where my mind is that I even asked for it.
The second set opened with a highly danceable set of jigs that kept the chills coming. The last high note from the fiddle seemed to hang in the air for a moment after they finished, going right down my spine. While I've enjoyed the other fiddlers Tempest has had over the years, especially Sue Draheim, Mullen really tops them all. The only other fiddler I've enjoyed as much, ever, was the late and much-missed Leigh Ann Hussey of Annwn/Daoine Sidhe.
Other songs in the set included "Handsome Molly", "The Serb", "Lady Howard's Walk", and eerie waltz-time "The House Carpenter". Lief picked up a small pipe (recorder?) for a ghostly intro to that one, his fourth instrument of the night (there was also the guitar pictured above, a harmonica, and the usual double-necked electric mandolin, along with lead vocals). I was pleased and stunned when halfway through the set they announced they'd had a request from me and changed their play list.
"Queen of Argyll" was surprisingly gently rendered (for relative values of gentle that include electric guitar and mad fiddling, of course). The lyrics always remind me of my lovely long-ago ex, N., no longer in my life but always a warm, happy memory in my heart:
And if you could have seen her there,
Boys, if you had just been there.
The swan was in her movement
And the morning in her smile.
A few of us were up and dancing by the end of the set in the 18" space between the last tables and the stage, and we called them back for an encore - the Robert Burns version of "Ye Jacobites by Name" and "Dance of the Sand Witches". The latter is so compellingly danceable that I was unable to resist pulling my companion into a wild polka between the tables for a breathless finish to the evening.