Michael NYMAN (b.1944)
Bird Anthem [2:37]
In Re Don Giovanni [2:28]
Initial Treat/Secondary Treat [4:29]
Bird List Song [4:19]
Michael Nyman Band
rec. The Music Works, 1981
MN RECORDS MNRCD123 [41:49]
Re-mastered by its original co-producer David Cunningham and presented with
a worn-looking LP cover look which will be familiar to collectors, this is a
30th anniversary release of the first ever Michael Nyman Band album.
Nyman has become a household name through his film scores, and the energy in
some of these tracks shows how attractive such a style would have been to a
director with the kinds of idea Peter Greenaway was coming up with in the 1980s.
Nyman himself concisely sums up the genesis of the Michael Nyman Band in the
booklet, defining their first release as crossover point between his former
group the Campiello Band, earlier scores such as ‘1-100’ which was
taken up by Brian Eno and released on his Editions EG/Obscure Label as the A
side to another piece of ‘Decay Music’ Bell Set No. 1. This
album has since been released on CD by EMI/Virgin. Nyman’s background
in experimental 1970s phenomena such as the Scratch Orchestra and the Portsmouth
Sinfonia are to a certain extent echoed in the improvisatory sounds on Waltz,
the overdubbed saxophones on which flock around Nyman’s intensely banal
waltz like a mob of manic seagulls.
Nyman fans will be familiar with In Re Don Giovanni, which is still very
much a part of the band’s repertoire. It hasn’t changed much over
the years and the driving keyboard ostinato and punchy bass is, as described
in the booklet, “the instant Nyman paradigm.” The recorders in this
version do sound a bit twee now, but this remains a grandly compact classic
and the forerunner of Nyman’s work for ‘The Draughtsman’s
Contract’. The rockin’ Bird Anthem complete with hairy electric
guitar, is described as “A choral ‘pomp’ relative of Bird
List Song and was Nyman’s contribution to a Peter Greenaway documentary.
Classical buffs may know the name Lucie Skeaping from BBC Radio 3’s Early
Music Show, but her past as a still very much active singer is revealed in Bird
List Song with vocals which strike out like a wild helium-inhalation fantasy
over another rocking Nyman backing. This reminds me of another ‘list’
piece with a monotone vocal line, the Nose List Song, to be found on
the 1985 album ‘The Kiss and other movements’.
Taking up almost half the entire duration of the album, M-Work is summed
up as “a virtuosic, multi-variation, ‘digested’ version”
of a much more extensive film score, ‘The Masterwork/Award-Winning Fishknife’.
A doom-laden passacaglia opens, and disparately textured but related and eminently
Nymanesque sections are dropped in to create a quaint procession of English
It’s great to have this record back on our shelves. Sound quality is as
good as might be expected from the period, which means good enough, but not
so very H-Fi. While the ‘sound’ of ‘the Michael Nyman Band
hasn’t changed a great deal it is fascinating to hear which elements have
become reinforced, and which allowed to fall by the wayside. Musicians such
as violinist Alexander Balanescu and saxophonist John Harle have remained keystone
Nyman Band members and become stars in their own right, but the collective nature
of the band has been one of its strengths from the beginning as can be heard
from this album, and the sheer force and commitment to Nyman’s infectious
music plonks itself on your living room carpet with a sometimes rough but always
ruggedly peppy edge which is compulsive listening.