maandag 6 december 2021

Louis Armstrong, the Wonosobo, Portland, Oregon, my father

Launch Wonosobo, photo: Joop van Bilsen 
Believe it or not but my father sailed on the WoNosobo as second mate in 1957. Now the name is a nice coincidence with this blog's name and one I had not thought of until today. Besides, it is far from the reason why I am writing. No, that reason is the meeting my dad and others on board had with a musical legend in the port of Portland, Oregon.

My dad has told me about it multiple times. As he died over six years ago, it's time to write it down before everyone has forgotten about it. There may be no one left alive to tell it first hand. So here I go at the best of my recollection.

The Wonosobo was not, as I remembered, a Liberty ship bought by Rotterdamsche Lloyd and turned into a regular freighter after the war. No, it was launched in the fall of 1954 in Krimpen aan den IJssel, not far from Rotterdam. (Thank you, Wikimedia Commons.) It was part of a series "W boats". When my father sailed on it, it was a fairly new ship and I'm almost certain that I saw it as a small kid in the 1960s.

You have to consider that a sailor in those days was away for months on end, even easily over a year, sailing wherever the freight available took it. Flying was extremely expensive, so relief of duty came only in the home port of Rotterdam. After a few weeks the next boat came in and off my dad went again, well into the 1960s this was standard practice.

In 1957 he sailed up and down the U.S. and Canadian west coast a few times. A life changing experience as he met my, Australian, mother in Vancouver, British Columbia, who had washed up there during a world trip taking many years and started to work there to save up for the rest of the trip. None of the three young women travelling together made it home.

Sailing to Vancouver he sailed the Juan de Foca Strait and had told about sailing between two islands, so close to the shore it was as if you could shake hands with people standing in their front gardens. In 2003 I sailed on a ferry from Sidney on Vancouver Island to Anacortes in the U.S. "We are going to do something special", it was announced, to overtake another ferry in front of us, so we would dock earlier. The ship turned to port and not much later it was as if I could shake hands with people sitting at their pools on the closest island. Some things had changed in 30 plus years. Looking at the map, it must be the strait between Orcas Island and Shaw Island.

Looking at the pictures, the weather must have been nice in Portland, but I can't give you a date. My then, not yet, dad in the top right picture is standing behind Satchmo. This is what I recall.

Photo's from family album.
Some officers of the Wonosobo had gone into town and either ran into a Louis Armstrong concert or into the man at a hotel bar. They accosted him and invited him to come visit on board. He said that sounded very interesting and would do so. The two came back on board and shared the news. No one either believed them or thought that the man would show up at all.

The next day the local agent called on board, saying that he had been contacted by someone in Louis Armstrong's entourage and that the whole band, including singer Velma Middleton, would come by in the afternoon. They did and were welcomed by the officers and crew. No, they did not play, just relaxed, conversed and enjoyed a free afternoon, sitting on deck, before going back on stage later that day. Who the colleagues in the picture are I do not know. Velma Middleton most likely is the lady on the left. The lady in white could be Mrs. Armstrong, Lucille Wilson.

It's not an exciting story but a nice footnote to Armstrong's career. The more exiting stories were always about harbours and sailing, like between the two islands.

The funny thing is, my dad had absolutely nothing with music and couldn't care less about it. Perhaps oddly enough he did like to sing for us when we were young. He didn't read to us, but sang us songs, before he fell asleep first on the bed of one of us. Songs from his boy scouts' songbook. He had a strong voice and certainly could hold his tunes.

The only artists he seemed to like were Doris Day and Louis Armstrong. I can't even be really sure if he truly liked the music. Whether the latter came through the meeting or stems from before it, I have no way of telling. I now own three singles by Satchmo. One is from 1955, so who knows? It would have made the meeting more special for him, so lets hope it was.

My mother did own an album by Doris Day and one by Armstrong with Ella Fitzgerald, that she brought with her from Vancouver. All in characteristic cardboard sleeves. I have never encountered an album covered by cardboard, except all the albums she brought with her of which I have several, or broke as a small kid, if I do not.

Fact is that he didn't really care about music. Choosing music for his funeral was not that difficult. One Louis Armstrong song, 'What A Wonderful World', as that he thought it was and 'Che Sera' by Doris Day. The final song was a tribute to his working years and the reason that we children exist in the first place and to "sail" him off to his final resting place, reunited with the love of his life. Rod Stewart's 'Sailing' was chosen so right by my brother. I can't really listen to it any more because of it.

All protagonists in this story no longer exist. The Wonosobo is long out of action. Louis Armstrong died in 1971, my dad in 2015.

If there's anyone who knows more about this story, recognises someone in the pictures or knows who made them, get into contact and we'll build the story together from here.

Wout de Natris

zondag 5 december 2021

Could You Lend Me Your Eyes. Camille Camille

De Belgische muzikante Camille Willemart levert als Camille Camille een fraai en vaak fluisterzacht folkalbum af, dat opvalt door mooie klanken en imponeert door wonderschone zang.

De Belgische muzikante Camille Willemart toog vorig jaar naar Zweden voor het opnemen van haar debuutalbum, maar corona gooide roet in het eten, waardoor ze het album moest afmaken op haar slaapkamer in Leipzig. Het heeft geen gevolgen gehad voor de kwaliteit van het album, want de sober ingekleurde songs op de tweede helft van het album bevallen me misschien nog wel beter dan de net wat voller klinkende songs op de eerste helft. Camille Camille laat horen dat fluisterfolk niet saai hoeft te zijn en laat bovendien horen dat je op vele manieren fluisterzacht kunt zingen. Daar moet je natuurlijk wel de stem voor hebben en die heeft Camille Willemart. Wonderschoon debuut.

Ik had recent veel verwacht van het nieuwe album van José González, dat hier en daar wordt beloond met een 5-sterren recensie, maar ik hoor persoonlijk maar weinig nieuws op het album van de Zweedse muzikant. Veel interessanter is wat mij betreft het debuutalbum van de uit België afkomstige Camille Camille. 

Dat ik het debuutalbum van het alter ego van Camille Willemart in één adem noem met de muziek van José González is niet zo gek, want ze maken allebei intieme en vaak fluisterzachte folk, waarin een akoestische gitaar en een stem meestal voldoende zijn. Dat klinkt op het nieuwe album van de Zweedse muzikant wat mij betreft wat vlak en inspiratieloos, maar dat ingetogen fluisterfolk wel degelijk spannend kan zijn laat Camille Camille horen op Could You Lend Me Your Eyes. 

De Belgische muzikante trok een paar jaar geleden de aandacht tijdens de Belgische talentenjacht De Nieuwe Lichting van Studio Brussel en toog vorig jaar naar Zweden om daar samen met producer Anders Lagerfors haar debuutalbum op te nemen. Helaas gooide de coronapandemie roet in het eten, waardoor Camille Willemart met een half album terugkeerde naar haar nieuwe thuisbasis Leipzig. 

Ze besloot het album met minimale middelen af te maken op haar slaapkamer in de Duitse stad. Het werkt uitstekend voor de intieme luisterliedjes, die ook in de studio in Zweden over het algemeen niet al te veel werden opgepoetst. 

In de meeste tracks op het album horen we alleen of vooral de akoestische gitaar en de stem van Camille Willemart. Haar gitaarspel is betrekkelijk sober, maar er zit wel vaart en dynamiek in. Hier en daar zijn wat atmosferische klanken en elementaire percussie toegevoegd aan de songs, waardoor Could You Lend Me Your Eyes niet zo eenvormig klinkt als veel andere albums in het genre. 

Zeker wanneer klanken worden toegevoegd aan het gitaarspel van de Belgische muzikante, ontstijgt Camille Willemart het hokje fluisterfolk en manifesteert ze zich als een bezwerende Scandinavische ijsprinses. Waar de in Zweden opgenomen tracks goed zijn voor beelden van uitgestrekte Zweedse bossen, klinken de thuis in de slaapkamer opgenomen songs een stuk ingetogener en intiemer. 

In alle songs op het album is de instrumentatie mooi, sfeervol en doeltreffend, maar het debuutalbum van Camille Camille wordt gedragen door de geweldige stem van Camille Willemart. Het is een stem die prachtig kan fluisteren, maar die ook vol passie en emotie kan zingen en verrassend veelzijdig blijkt. Het tilt het album op tot flinke hoogten.

Het soort akoestische folk dat is te horen op Could You Lend Me Your Eyes heeft de neiging om snel wat fantasieloos voort te kabbelen, maar het debuut van Camille Camille krijgt hier de kans niet voor. Steeds weer dringt de heldere stem van Camille Willemart zich genadeloos op en voorziet ze haar songs met prachtige zang van een kloppend hart. 

Door de redelijk sobere instrumentatie is Could You Lend Me Your Eyes vooral een album voor de vroege ochtend of late avond, maar door de emotievolle zang is dit zeker geen album om bij weg te dromen. Camille Willemart sleurt je met haar mooie en krachtige stem met steeds meer overtuiging haar muzikale universum in, waardoor het debuut van Camille Camille steeds mooier en indrukwekkender wordt.

Erwin Zijleman


zaterdag 4 december 2021

The Spirit Of Age. The Visual

More and more bands come out of Amsterdam it seems and there is a clear link with the conservatory there as well. The Visual's two founding members studied and met each other there, to decide that collaborating was the future. This resulted in an EP in 2019, 'Moments of Being' and this October in the second album, The Spirit Of Age.

Last weekend I wrote on 'Older', the debut EP of Loupe, formerly Dakota. Something I would not have mentioned, had The Spirit Of Age not have that same sort of dreamy quality. The songs of the album also go beyond Loupe's songs. It's not often that a song brings me back to 'Grace', Jeff Buckley's only album. But if I ever heard a song that could have been an integral part of 'Grace' without sticking out, it is 'I Want You'. The song has it all and not just a little. That mystery, the extra emphasis on a bass note melody during a chord change, the floating way of singing. All except the vocal range of Saint Jeff.

It took me exactly two listen sessions to get hooked on The Spirit Of Age. I stand corrected, as I didn't hear anything in the first. Yes, this may sound familiar, but here the music didn't reach me in any way. The second time it did. What caught me first, was the mystery surrounding the music. The tones that have this floating quality, as if a fog was hanging between me and the source of the music. If only I would listen harder it would get to me better and more audible.

The mystery remains up to today though. It is an important quality of The Visual's music. The synth sounds underneath it all are like a soft, high rug to lay on, while the guitar is able to underscore these mythical experiences and stand out. I can't help thinking that Anna van Rij studied with the same teacher as Loupe's Jasmine van der Waals. Both excel at ethereal sounds coming from guitar, fingers, effect pedal(s) and amp. The main difference is that Van Rij is fully supported by keyboardist Timon Persoon, who adds all these atmospherics. Someone is playing bass as well and let me not forget drummer Mischa Porte, who contributes in two ways. The first the obvious one for a drummer, the second by being totally absent when the music demands it.

The Visual does not shy away from expanding its songs. The shortest song clocks in at 3'33, the longest a little over 7 minutes. Adventure is sought and found. Huge expansions of a song like 'Offering Shadows' propels it into the stratosphere, to be taken back to a bare minimum immediately when 'Hanging On' starts. Here's another example of Van Oosten's impact on a song. Believe me, the effect is great.

Listening to the final song, 'Faces', I can't help but thinking of Led Zeppelin. Not the bluesrock monster, no, the mystical songs the band was so good at as well, with 'Kashmir' on top of that mountain. The Visual is able to create this kind of atmosphere on its album and if you can do that successfully, you're a great band. Things can be this simple sometimes.

Let me end by mentioning the impressive voice of Anna van Rij. She has a few shades to her voice and she uses them optimally, creating enormous warmth and detachment, intimacy and aloofness, emotions and coolness. You will find it all on The Spirit Of Age. I can not exclude that this is an album that, given half the chance, will grow and grow.

Wout de Natris

vrijdag 3 december 2021

Kids Of The Estate. The Reytons

Yes, folks, what a load of energy comes tumbling out of my speakers. The Reytons surely found the well where it all comes dripping from, in abundance. Without a doubt, this is the giant upside to Kids Of The Estate, the debut album of Sheffield's latest musical sensation, The Reytons. The songs come hurtling out off the album as if there was no yesterday. I'll come back to that later.

The Reytons started releasing its songs in 2017 and by playing far and wide through the UK, slowly but surely expanded its fan base, including airplay. EPs and singles slowly built its reputation and now its time for more, a whole album.

Start it and you will know immediately from where the wind blows. Sheffield, yes, but of course more specifically the city's best known band of the past 16 years and possibly ever, Arctic Monkeys. I could have been fooled if someone had told me to be listening to an outtake, to be released on the 15th anniversary edition of 'Whatever'.. etc. The Reytons must be the best Arctic Monkeys cover band playing originals. Even in the lyrics there are references to lyrics on Arctic Monkeys' debut album. And there is the local dialect. So much for that other side to Kids Of The Estate.

I notice that I'm in a bind. On the one side I am certainly tickled because this is good. The Reytons do everything right. The fierce tempo, the melodies, the self-assured level of playing. The opening of the album truly has it all. On the other side I notice that I am not listening to the real thing, Perhaps I truly have enough songs in this style with the first two album of the Sheffield original?

Promo photo
It was in 'Oor' that I first learned of the album. In the review the writer stated that Kids Of The Estate is a fine album but there already is an Arctic Monkeys. The conclusion sounds as right as logical. When I want to listen to the best songs ever written in this style, I will always turn to 'Whatever People Say I Am, That Is What I Am Not'. 100% certain and otherwise 'Favourite Worst Nightmare'.

Does this leave room for Kids Of The Estate? Only time will tell. Fact is, for kids who are turning to music today for the first time, do they exist?, The Reytons may provide total excitement and all they need in 20s rock and roll. Let's face it, The Reytons do provide exciting rock and roll in abundance.

So, allow me to conclude that I will give Kids Of The Estate the benefit of the doubt. O.k., towards the end the band shows that it likes a 00s band like The Kooks as well, when the energy goes down a little. A bit inconsistent but I can live with it. The Reytons know how to write a good rock and roll songs and create some stark riffs for them. All bands have a starting point, so let us wait and see where that point takes them in the coming years.

Wout de Natris