Michael NYMAN (b.1944)
Bird Anthem [2:37]
In Re Don Giovanni [2:28]
Initial Treat/Secondary Treat [4:29]
Waltz [5:55]
Bird List Song [4:19]
M-Work [21:09]
Michael Nyman Band
rec. The Music Works, 1981
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 pastoral industrialism.
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.
Dominy Clements
Compulsive listening.