Track By Track : Albion - Lakesongs Of Elbid

By John A. Wilcox

Last year when I interviewed Joe Parrish-James he was still the current guitarist in Jethro Tull. In the course of our conversation, Parrish-James talked a bit about his other band - Albion. Albion is an eltectric folk rock band with a heavy Celtic influence. Parrish-James departed Tull to work full-time on Albion. Lakesongs Of Elbid is the result. Parrish-James takes us through the album track-by-track...

Track 1: Lake Isle Of Innisfree
JPJ: I was familiar with this poem but I had forgotten about it until a question about Yeats came up on University Challenge while I was watching. I re-read the poem and immediately had the melody and chords you hear in the song come to mind, so the time taken to write it was almost nothing as it was just the way I read it to myself as I viewed the text.

It is the ultimate escapist nature poem and concerns a lake, so it seemed a perfectly honest and nostalgic introduction to the album. I resisted the urge to add more layers and parts to the arrangement in order to keep it as straightforward as possible in contrast to all the layered complexity that follows in the other songs.

Track 2: Arthurian Overture
JPJ: As I have mentioned in many places before, one of my favourite pieces of music is the soundtrack to the miniseries Merlin from 1998 starring Sam Neill which I first heard at the tender age of three. The score was written by a guy called Trevor Janes who has a great number of wonderful soundtracks to his name but isn’t really a huge name in the film world (although he should be).

The Merlin soundtrack has many brilliant themes that perfectly represent all the adventure, romance, melancholy and Celtic mystery of the Arthurian legend, so I took just a few and made this instrumental out of them as a dramatic, dynamic, up and down overture to not just this album, but all the ones to follow. There are some battle themes, some heroic themes and some of the love themes in the more intimate moments.

It was written with the intent to open our live shows with it and the working title was actually Opener since it feels like a beginning and something that encapsulates a lot of what we do (vocals aside) within one song..

Track 3: Pagan Spirit
JPJ: This was an idea I had had for a long time, in particular the chorus which I knew was going to be an anthemic chorus for a sort of ‘catchy’ song for want of a better word, but for a while I didn’t have the rest of a song to put around it. Eventually the verses and instrumental parts came to me quite easily as the spirit of the chorus helped fuel how the other parts should go.

As I predicted, it seems to be a lot of people’s favourite song on the album, but I think it’s because it’s arguably the most accessible so it sticks in peoples’ memories more if they’ve only heard the album once or twice. It probably also has one of the starkest dynamic changes where the heavy riff breaks in after two or so minutes of purely acoustic music at the start. It jolts a listener awake there, so that probably sticks with them too!

Lyrically the song deals with the split cultural heritage of Britain, and how it is very much part Pagan and part Christian, and how the two halves are personified in the character of King Arthur himself who on the one hand was a Christian king, and yet was born of magic (in some versions) and consulted in a pagan sorcerer as his main advisor, yet also searched for the holy grail. All the many retellings of the Arthur myth are steeped in a tradition that is on the one hand very Christian and yet on the other hand totally pre-Christian Celtic culture.

I sort of envisioned it as being our Run To The Hills or Enter Sandman, but without the sales to compare with either of those!

Track 4: The Dream of Rhonabwy
JPJ: It’s interesting how old unused musical ideas you’ve had for sometimes years come back to you just when you need them. The catchy, groove based verse chords and rhythm for this song were something I’d had probably since about age 17 but never used in anything, but they just worked as the verse of this one. I like it when that happens as it feels like you’re honouring your past self by using some of those adolescent ideas.

I’m really happy with how the recording of this one turned out, and it has a really tight, punchy rhythmic feel, but still with a lot of folkiness. There is also a wordless chorus where I just sing a melody without lyrics which was something I liked the idea of and is present in other songs too.

The instrumental section is full of heroic, almost Maiden-esque but still folkbased guitar harmonies I really like.

Lyrically the song talks about an episode in the Welsh mythological collection The Mabinogion which was also the inspiration for our 2021 EP Pryderi. In this story in particular, Rhonabwy has a dream in around the 13th century of an even more ancient time where he meets King Arthur and witnesses a highly symbolic game of chess played by the King.

The things he witnesses are interesting in that they are portrayed in a dream state, or vision-like state, so they take on a surreal quality not uncommon to myth but also a satirical one.

Track 5: Llyn Cwm Llwch
JPJ: I like the idea of having fully acoustic, traditional sounding folk pieces interspersed between the heavier full-band arrangements, if this is truly to be a group concerned with marrying folk and rock. Sometimes you want just the rock, sometimes just the folk.

The arrangement of this ending up being very glossy and twee, but intentionally so. It is a short, sweet nostalgic song, but still in keeping with the atmosphere of the album I think. There is also another wordless chorus where I only sing the notes with no lyrics. It brings more focus to a strong melody when there are no words to distract from the tune itself.

Lyrically this about a specific lake in Wales that has a lot of folklore attached to it. One of the stories is of an island that becomes accessible in the middle of the lake but only on the Mayday each year, and the fairy folk allow mortals to enter the island on the condition that they agree not to try to take anything from the island back with them to the mortal world. Well, as you can probably guess, one guy goes to the island and ruins it for everyone.

I think this links in with a theme in a lot of these sorts of stories that depicts humans losing contact with nature and the natural world as time progresses. Fairy folk, or Tylwyth Teg as they are in Welsh, or Aos si in Irish, all personify nature in some regard, so an island populated by them that then disappears forever because of mankind ignoring their advice is surely symbolic of that ever-growing gap if nothing else.

Track 6: Finding Avalon
JPJ: Another heavier one kicks in after its soft predecessor. This and Pagan Spirit were the first two songs recorded on the album, from when there was a bit more emphasis on the ‘metal’ element of the band, although I still think the melodies and atmosphere in this song are folk-based.

There are some heavier riffs, but always accompanied by melodic lines, and then another big anthemic sort of chorus. The guitar solo that follows is probably some of the most technical guitar playing on the album, but again, always with a focus on melody. I’m not that into guitar solos, and I usually like to treat a solo as an opportunity to get more tunes into a song rather than shred, but this solo is a little bit of both as opposed to the solos in Pagan Spirit and Dream Of Rhonabwy which are really just slightly busier melodies as opposed to ‘guitar solos’ in the classic sense.

The soft acoustic section in the middle of the song is my favourite part, and one of the most reflective, melancholic moments on the album before it all kicks off again and goes heavy.

Lyrically the song talks about the possible locations for the mythical Isle of Avalon, of which there are many potentials in Britain, including Glastonbury Tor, various Welsh lakes and several coastal locations. The song concludes that they all lead to the same place and that the real key to finding the island is ‘within the one who seeks’.

Track 7: Canens (Maya)
JPJ: Another short acoustic one after the heaviness of the previous track, this song has acts as an Irish jig, or in one review I read ‘a dance around the Maypole’ which I like.

The name in brackets is the dedicatee, and the main title is the name of a Roman nymph who embodied song and the dedicatee’s ‘other’ name. Both names seemed appropriate as she inspired this song in me.

Track 8: Barrett’s Privateers
JPJ: The only true ‘cover’ on the album, although Arthurian Overture is comprised of someone else’s tunes. This one kicks in with a nice transition straight after Canens with them both being in D major.

We love Stan Rogers’ music and as soon as I heard this song I knew I had to do a cover. Some people think it seems misplaced on the album, but naturally I disagree. It may be a sea shanty by a Canadian, but a lot of Stan’s stuff is very Celtic in origin, and in fact the original album this song is on features his versions of various traditional Celtic songs (such as Maid on the Shore) and makes mention of legends such as Fingal, so I see it all as very much operating within the same musical and lyrical sphere.

The contour of the melody in Barrett’s Privateers and the chords themselves are very much in a traditional folk vein, even if the lyrics are of a more wordy, tavern-style storytelling than any of my own lyrics on the album.

The other reason it’s on there is because we love it! Sometimes that’s reason enough.

The arrangement took a while as I didn’t want to invent anything new for our version, but just develop what was already there, so even the busy guitar harmonies you hear later on and the flute solo are all played over Stan’s original verse and chorus structures.

Altogether there are nine verses and about as many choruses, which for an A cappella sea shanty is the whole point, since the verses are there for the main singer to propel the narrative bit by bit, and then everyone joins in on the choruses in-between that summarise the whole story, but for our version I wanted to make each verse and chorus slightly different so as not to sound too repetitive when played as a band. I spent a long time trying out different textures and rhythmic feels for the verses and choruses and putting them into a sensible order.

I’m particularly happy with the big ‘Maestoso’ final chorus and ending that I slowed down a lot to really bring out the majesty of Stan’s melody and harmony.

Track 9: Black Lake (Llyn y Fan Fach)
JPJ: Another song concerned with a specific Welsh lake, and actually a song we had originally recorded back in 2020 but rerecorded for the album since it fit the theme of lakes so well. The original recording sounds fine but the one on the album is much bigger and better.

This one also has the melancholic feel of some of the other songs with that sense of folky yearning that we love.

It acts well as a single because I really struggle to write songs for the full band (not just acoustic ditties) that are less than five minutes long, as I always hear too much room for developing all my ideas, but I managed to say all I needed to say in less time with this one.

It has a powerful chorus and another melodic guitar solo, and with the sombre intro and outro it feels like a complete song despite the shorter running time. Lyrically this folk tale is concerned with a mortal man falling in love with a woman from the lake itself, or the ‘Otherworld’. Eventually they marry and have sons but he messes the whole thing up and she returns to the lake (not dissimilar to the theme of Llyn Cwm Llwch).

The story goes that their sons became the ‘Physicians of Myddfai’ who had learnt great healing techniques from their otherworldly mother, and so this one has a bit of a silver lining.

The lady in the lake thing comes back again and again in Welsh and Arthurian myth, and I like to think of this as the same lake in the Arthurian legend where Excalibur emerged from the beneath the water’s surface and where Merlin spoke with said lady, sometimes called Nimue or Viviane in various versions.

Track 10: Llyn y Fan Fawr (Sister Lake)
JPJ: All of the Welsh lakes mentioned in the lyrics of these songs are actually places I’ve been to many times and this one is no exception. If you walk several miles along the windy mountain top that overlooks the lake in the previous song you get to its sister lake which is a bit bigger (as the Welsh name will tell you), but also quieter as it is less accessible.

I’m not aware of specific folklore attached to this lake although I’m sure it must have some, but it gets a bit forgotten about despite being an incredibly beautiful place due to its more famous sister.

Musically this was an interesting one as I decided to try something different, so I just asked the drummer at the time to write a drum part with no music that was in a tempo and time signature he particularly likes playing in, the idea being that I would then write music to his already written drum part.

He did a good job of structuring something sensibly so there are dips and troughs, and certain beats come back at various points, but the time signature also changes a fair bit so there is interest there too.

Bizarrely it ended up being one of my favourites on the album, and I didn’t have to do anything to his drum part to make the song work, I just wrote the music to follow his existing structure.

It works well as an instrumental and there are a lot of different melodies and sections to the music. It seems apt that there are no words with the lake lacking a specific folk tale attached to it, so pure music without text is the best way to convey the beauty of this place that must have a thousand stories but none to speak of. It is the silent sister of the two, but is no less poignant for it.

Track 11: Silvaplana Rock
JPJ: Most of our music (as you will have picked up from reading the rest of my commentary on these songs) is based around melodic ideas that are then harmonised in some way or embellished with countermelodies, so we don’t really have that many ‘riffs’ as such. I’m not so interested in ‘riffs’ as I don’t think of them as melodies with potential for development, more short repeated phrases usually lower down on a guitar, though not always of course. But for this song I wanted there to be a big riff that drives it, something memorable and guitar-based, and a bit more hard rock. Naturally as the song progresses we bring the folk flavour to it anyway, and the shape of the riff ends up becoming more of a melody later that we explore in different ways. It’s another one of the more accessible songs with a big chorus and ‘catchy’ verses dare I say.

Lyrically it is tied in with the theme of lakes as Lake Silvaplana in Switzerland is allegedly where Nietzsche had an epiphany concerning his concept of ‘eternal recurrence’ or the cyclical nature of living and dying and how you can reconcile yourself to it. This idea wasn’t his but his approach to it was unique. I felt it was interesting as most of the great myths and legends have a recurring quality to them, in fact we often refer to them as ‘cycles’, and the Arthurian myth is no different. It doesn’t have a clear beginning and ending, it just keeps recurring throughout time and being retold but wearing different clothes in each period. Even in the legend itself Arthur is mortally wounded at Camlann but is taken to Avalon to recover his wounds and one day return, so it’s there isn’t that finality to it. Which leads us to the final song…

Track 12: Camlann
JPJ: I think a lot of people assumed the album would end with a big bang, but this song felt the most like an ending both musically and lyrically since it is the final battle in the Arthurian legend. Despite this (as I said in the previous song), it sows the seed of what is to come rather than having a true finality to it, so it is sombre and mournful but there is a hopefulness to it as well.

I also like the fact that the album is bookended by two purely acoustic songs, which is pretty unusual for a rock/metal album, especially one that does have a good amount of heavier music on it.

The jig-like flute tune that comes in after each ‘on and on’ in the choruses was one of the first things I ever wrote on the flute, although I couldn’t play it very well at first.

The intro and verse ideas on acoustic guitar were sorrowful C minor shapes that I’d also had for a long time, but never found the right place to put them in a song.

So there you have it - 12 songs, 70 minutes, and our debut full length album! I am pleased with it in retrospect, but there is a great deal more to come from us.


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