by Ivan Kocmarek

beltane.jpg (3080 bytes)I approached the CD "Beltane: A Musical Fantasy" (ATMA Records XXI CD 22153) with great anticipation--having heard clips of it when Michel Laverdière, the Executive Producer, and I first met-anticipation of the use of the instruments that would be used to interpret Marc Bolan's music.  It made me recall the anticipation I felt when I first read the list of unusual instruments given on the back of "Unicorn".  What strange sound was on the inside? How would cello, recorder, harpsichord, organ, and classical guitar breathe additional spirit (prana) into some of Marc's highest work?  How would an infusion of Baroque stylizations colour Marc's music?

My knowledge of Baroque music is that of a dilettente and does not go beyond a smattering of Bach, Handel, and Vivaldi and my appreciation of it is just as shallow, but may be summed up in a few impressions: it is a music of exuberance, vitality, grandeur, and above all… clarity (precision).  Now, "clarity" is not an image one would associate with "Unicorn" or "Beard of Stars" at all.  Whenever I played these albums for friends nobody could understand the slightest word.  Marc's voice and intonation precluded this.
To my mind this enhanced Marc's music.  Marc sang in runes-not in English. His muse had blessed him with an ability to sing in tongues. Once the lyrics were uncovered, however, their stamp made his songs even more fascinating.

But back to "Beltane: A Musical Fantasy".  The cover illustration is a detail from a wonderful Victorian fairy painting by John Atkinson Grimshaw
called "Spirit of the Night". It immediately evokes Marc's Beltane/Rarn kingdoms and opens the whole endeavour with a blessing from a golden fairy's outstretched wand.   On the back is a portrait of the vocalist, Catherine Lambert, that oddly reminds me of a younger Geneviève Bujold.  The chief
musical realization for the project comes from producer and arranger Robert Lafond who, among other things,  has writer credits for Celine Dion ("T. miroir" on her "Indigo" CD). Besides Marc Bolan, the name of most significance on the CD jacket is that of Michel Laverdière whose vision, energy, and love for Marc Bolan's music conceived this project, supported
and nourished it in potentiality inside his head for years, and finally made it manifest with this CD.
The CD starts off with a wonderful cascading organ intro into "The Children of Rarn" and Catherine Lambert voice drifts in with a silky wistfulness and a slight touch of accent that makes the whole thing appropriately exotic. The organ and Ms. Lambert's voice pull open the door ("Overture") to Rarn/Beltane and we can imagine wisps of fairies leaking out, here and there, with the warm wafts of Beltane breeze.

From organ overture we move on to a layered  classical guitar, recorder, cello, and later on harpsichord and voice, in a hallmark  baroque introduction to "Pavillions of Sun".  The "Pavillions" melody itself is taken over by a recorder, then Ms. Lambert's vocals playing against classical guitar.  The most wonderful part of this Marc Bolan song for me has always been the chorus "Come within my garden, Lady Love…".  Robert Lafond has created an evocative interpretation, Ms. Lambert's vocals harmonies shining especially, followed by a wonderful contrapuntal passage involving all the instruments in concert.  The song lays before us the grandeur of Rarn/Beltane… a vista of golden meadows and deep green glades where humans, fairies, and gods mix to celebrate the sun on the Day of Beltane inside and outside expansive, luminous white tents that shiver in the first breezes of summer.

The next track, "The Sea Beasts," introduces us to some of the mythical beasts that populate Marc's Beltane: horned dogs, golden bulls, glistening sea beasts to which man is a at best a stranger and at worst bores them with his claws ("We make feasties of the beasties…" from "Organ Blues").  This ominous and sometimes cruel nature of man is reinforced in the music by a dirge-like male dominated backing  that fades in and out.  The creatures sparkle with the sound of the harpsichord , classical guitar and recorder, while man broods underneath.  Perhaps an anomaly to the Baroque styling is Marc's reference to UFOs in the lyrics, but his Beltane was a timeless mythical world either eons in the future or recessed in the past somewhere before our history began. But, why not?

With "Dragon's Ear" the organ prelude signals drama and tension.  All is not perfect in Beltane.  Dragons, Dworns and mysterious Druids swirl and lash out in the mists.  Again Catherine Lambert shines on the beautiful harmonies of the chorus.   But over the top of the dark organ come a buoyant, graceful recorder that signals hope for the forces of light and the Sun (The "Fire of Bel").

Next is one of Marc's most sensitive and lyrical pieces, "A Day Laye".  For me this is the most beautiful piece on a very beautiful CD.  Carried mainly by a counterpoint between classical guitar and cello, it drifts along to its conclusion.   The second part of the song is particularly effective with Ms.Lambert's voice playing off against itself with such delicate grace and sensitivity.  The sentiment of Marc's words and music are captured perfectly. On this selection , the artists respect and affection for Marc's music show through at the highest levels.

The next track, "Rarn, Rarn" is phrasing taken from Marc's "Children of Rarn Suite" which exists as a solo demo recording as well as enhanced by Tony Visconti's string arrangements on the "MARC: 1947-77" LP. This an extremely successful rendering, employing and highlighting all the Baroque instruments and Ms. Lambert's voice to great effect. I've always had difficulty distinguishing whether "Rarn, Rarn," was a lament or a song of hope… maybe it is both. Perhaps the tension between these two emotions is intended here with Ms. Lambert's voice suggesting a more wistful lament, while the
instrumental arrangement tugs more towards exuberance. This and the later track "Beltane" make you think how Mr. Lafond would have arranged the whole "Children of Rarn Suite" itself.

A hearty harpsichord introduction to "Organ Blues" gives way to the titled instrument and Ms. Lambert's voice… then all the instruments in concert. This track and "Beltane" seem to be the only ones I can detect on the CD that have any percussion. It keeps up the standard of the whole CD.

"Great Horse" has always been a song of immense vitality and movement to me, and these emotions are offered up and maintained here by an insistent harpsichord that impels the track along without losing it's poise.

The next track, "Wind Cheetah" is striking because Marc and Tony Visconti's arrangement of it is very heavy and murky on "Beard of Stars", but here it comes off as very rich, clear , and sensuous.  Perhaps there is an intentional nod that echoes the sound of the original in the use of the cello during the lengthy break.

The second track from Marc's "Children of Rarn Suite" is Beltane which was chosen as the title to the whole CD. Here we get the feeling of a medieval fairground or festival with liberal use of tambourine-like, percussion, classical guitar, and recorders.   The Beltane festival was a traditional May Day celebration welcoming the beginning of the coming of the summer sun and this track happily captures just such a joyful exuberance.

"Stones for Avalon" is Marc's oldest composition on this CD. Use of the word "Avalon", of course, conjures up Arthurian legend and the main refrain of this song has always evoked the sound of a bell-tower carillon and the harpsichord and organ seem to mimic this here… very effective.

The CD closes with a finale of "The Children of Rarn" with a slightly different introduction from the overture.  Here the introduction uses bells to ring in an upbeat feeling of optimism-perhaps a paean of victory and
thanksgiving. Beltane has arrived and the forces of light have triumphed over the forces of darkness.  Michel has informed me that the brief echo of voices after the track ends was purely serendipitous. A discovery of
underlay from a previous session.  A wonderful final garnish of fairies circling in the sunset marshes as the curtain closes.

I find that this CD is more of a spiritual gift from its creators than just a musical exercise.  The players and producers demonstrate  a love and respect for the music and an enjoyment in its performance. Try and find this CD when it comes out… it is a singularly special experience.


Link for information on ordering the CD

"Beltane , A Musical Fantasy"