Brindaband has grown out of the recording relationship between the songwriter John Webster and the musician David Eastoe, begun in the summer of 1975. Beginning with an Akai 4000DS hooked up to a cassette machine to enable stereo overdubbing, progressing to a portastudio, then on to an analogue 8-track and a digital system, it’s a partnership that’s just carried on, as new songs come to John, and Dave continues building up studio capacity.
The name Brindaband was given to us for a concert in 1976 where we supported John Martyn and others. Since then we’ve also been joined on recordings by the vocalist and flautist Ruth Murray, the flamenco guitarist Steve Homes, with Keith Parker guesting on vocals. And the poet Benjamin Zephaniah helped us out narrating our two CDs on Byron and Shelley.
Born in Co. Durham, United Kingdom in 1953, the Oxford-based songwriter and publisher John Webster has been working in the field of music and independent publishing since 1973, when he worked for a community magazine in Brixton, London. In 1975 he began a songwriting and recording partnership with musician Dave Eastoe - in 1976 they supported John Martyn, Kevin Coyne and Bridget St John at a concert in Nottingham for which they were christened Brindaband.
Increasingly interested in putting Romantic lyrics into a contemporary song format, he founded the independent label Pathfinder Audio in 1987, whose first publication was the audio cassette ‘Shelley in Italy’. It included 8 ‘Shelley songs’ and an audio biography of the poet described by the eminent American Shelley scholar Donald Reiman as the best short biography of Shelley he had encountered.
He organized a series of concerts with Brindaband during the anniversary of the poet Shelley's birth in 1992 and published the CDs 'The Shelley Story' and 'Lord Byron and the Greek War' in 2001-2. Described by The Times as 'attractive and engaging' and by the Independent on Sunday as 'intelligent and profound' the CDs included new and augmented song settings of Romantic lyrics originally published in ‘Shelley in Italy’ and also narration voiced by Benjamin Zephaniah.
In 2016 he added images to 'The Shelley Story' to create a DVD version, and since then has been showing it to humanist groups around the country with an introduction highlighting the poet's relevance to contemporary humanism.
Ruth Murray is a singer, flautist and freelance graphic designer and illustrator. She has worked with John and Dave since the 1980s and also illustrates Pathfinder Audio publications. She lives in Norwich. You can see more of her work on www.ruthmurray.net
Bodhi is a percussionist and drum maker. He studied African drum making in West Africa, and is now based in a workshop near the Suffolk coast. Go to: www.african-drumbeat.co.uk.
And, about our collaborator on the Shelley and Byron CDs ..
Benjamin Zephaniah is one of Britain's leading poets in the oral tradition. Born in 1958, he turned his life round after a childhood which included expulsion from school and a spell in Borstal. He published a series of books of poetry in the 1980s and in 1992 participated in the BBC film `Dread Poets Society’, where he appeared alongside Keats, Shelley and Byron who had been mysteriously reincarnated in a train carriage heading for Cambridge. His long-term interest in and commitment to Shelley’s work led to his collaboration with Brindaband. A vegan and a campaigner for many causes, he is a prolific writer - poet, novelist and playwright – while his widespread travelling gives him a global perspective and insight into many different situations. In 2011 he was poet-in-residence at Keats House in London. There is more information about Benjamin at his official site www.benjaminzephaniah.com.
How The Shelley Story came about
The Shelley Story began in Norwich in 1975 when I discovered that Shelley lyrics went well with the kind of guitar music then current. I had grown up going to folk clubs with performers of traditional English songs but increasingly leavened with songs about contemporary situations. The music of the Beatles, Bob Dylan and other British and American bands of late sixties/early seventies were key musical influences which largely superceded the folk influence, but the folk club tradition of absorption in an emotion lingered on.
Anyway, by the time glam rock came along in the early 1970s the time of unconscious influence was past, and I began to start writing my own songs and performing in local clubs. I also worked nights in a bread factory and bought a tape recorder, and in the mid 1970s began learning to record music. I met Dave Eastoe, and we began recording together: I remember on our first session he played a delightfully deft linking melody over a chord sequence. I was hugely impressed and in fact we've never stopped recording things together. We also played live – our finest hour being when we supported John Martyn at a gig in Nottingham in 1976 (when we were given the name Brindaband); we also recorded our own songs, and experimented with the Keats and Shelley lyrics that occasionally had turned into songs.
The number of Shelley songs grew, though they weren't forced. The lyrics could be edited together by theme; through absorption in the original emotion the music would come. I like to think of them somehow as autonomous pieces of work – art or artisanship, it's not for me to say. In 1987 I booked a studio on an industrial estate in Norwich and with Dave and friends – Ruth Murray, Bodhi and Steve Homes – we spent four days recording the eight songs there were. It was great to get them all together, under one roof as it were, and the results were released on cassette as 'Shelley in Italy'.
Over the next ten years three more Shelley songs appeared, Spirit of Delight, The World's Great Age and Immortal Deity - which all added significant aspects of Shelley to what was already there. In addition, technical developments meant that I began to want to re-master the original tapes. The music had sounded so crisp in the studio, but when it had been bounced down onto quarter inch tape – and then transferred to cassette – it had, disappointingly, lost a lot of edge. The development of digital technology meant that it could be retrieved.
It was actually the war over Kosovo and the 'ethnic cleansing' that made me actually begin on this. What was happening seemed so foreign to Shelley's ideal of a world where 'all shall live as equals and as friends'; it seemed his message was as necessary as ever. So re-mastering began, with Dave adding new instrumentation where necessary – particularly to Wild Spirit, where some drama was required. Benjamin arrived for the recording on the anniversary of the writing of the Ode to the West Wind, October 25th 1999. Keith Parker, a fine tenor I'd heard in London – going through his voice warmup routine in the downstairs loo ! – kindly came and sang the narrative song representing Shelley's friend Edward Trelawny.
One last note: now I'm living in Oxford and Dave came to visit when I'd made a rough edit of the whole thing. Later we went to an exhibition of Tibetan sculptures in the Ashmolean Museum, beautifully worked statuettes of deities in silver decorated with turquoise. It struck me that perhaps the work we'd put into The Shelley Story over two decades was on similar lines, somewhere between artisanship and artistry and with a feeling for an inner life.
After 'The Shelley Story':
After 'The Shelley Story' was published in 2001 we produced 'Lord Byron and the Greek War'
the following year, again with narration by Benjamin Zephaniah. Later, with another Shelley song
to add to the collection we recorded the new track ('Many a Green Isle') and put together the
collection 'Percy Bysshe Shelley: Rock Star' which separated out the songs and added
'Green Isle' to create a 12 track music album.
As it makes sense to have music-only releases as well as the CDs, which give context
through the narrations, we then separated out the songs on the Byron CD
and re-worked three of them to create the 18 minute EP
‘Courageous Heart: seven Byronic songs’.
Then we added ‘John Keats’s sublime single’ with the two Keats songs plus an audio biography,
and lastly put together the compilation album ‘The First Fab Four’, with lyrics drawn from all the poets
including their associate Leigh Hunt.