Clive Nolan: “Song of the Wildlands” - What’s Not to Like?,
Magdalena Grabias: In your latest project you reached for another masterpiece of literature. How important is literature for you and why did you choose Beowulf?
Clive Nolan: When I decided I wanted to write what I was calling a ‘Viking Album’, I was aware that I didn’t want to just storm in and grab some piece of Norse mythology or Viking history. It would be too easy for me to be accused of ‘cultural appropriation’! However, it occurred to me that England has one of its own great Viking tales… ‘The Beowulf Saga’. This is the oldest known written poem from English history, and provides and epic tale of heroes and villains, angels and monsters, battles and journeys. It seemed to me to be the perfect piece of literature: I have always had a love of classic literature, and this is a true classic.
The story is set in Scandinavia. Beowulf, a hero of the Geats (Geatland is now a part of Sweden) comes to the aid of Hrothgar, the King of the Danes. His hall in Heorot had been under attack by a monster called Grendel. Beowulf slays Grendel and later has to defeat the creature’s mother as well. Later still, he becomes King of the Geats, and eventually he ends his life defeating a Dragon in battle, with his burning funeral pyre as a fitting finale to this epic saga.
What’s not to like? 😊
MG: In early stages of work on “Song of the Wildlands”, you often referred to it as a Viking project? What is your connection to the Viking culture and Norway?
Clive Nolan: I still do actually. I think of “Song of the Wildalnds” as my ‘Viking album’. I suppose this all came about thanks to the musicals I had been writing. I started putting on theatrical performances in the English town of Cheltenham, and a bunch of Norwegians were regularly coming over to the UK to see these performances. A nice chap called Morten Clason introduced himself once morning as we sat in a hotel breakfast room (near the theatre). He asked if there was a chance we could bring the “Alchemy” show over to Norway. I pointed out the high cost of such an operation and suggested they put the show on themselves. I didn’t think Morten would take that idea seriously, but within a few weeks ‘Caamora Norway’ was born, and my involvement with Norway began. We have gone on to perform my musical “Alchemy” in Norway in 2017, and I have been over many times to take part in a variety of other events.
“Alchemy” is the first of three musicals all set in the same ‘universe’ and concerning the adventures of a group of characters. I had decided to set part of my third ‘Alchemy’ musical in Norway.
I thought it would be great to give some of the music a bit of a ‘Viking feel’, so I went online to discover what that really meant, in terms of instruments and approach to sound. I discovered groups like Wardruna and Danheim which I really enjoyed. No one really knows what Viking music actually sounded like, so it was a question of ‘re-interpreting’ which I found an inspiring challenge. I wrote one song intended for my musical called “Makaria”, and really enjoyed the energy from all the percussion, and the rawness of instruments like the nyckelharpa. Thanks to this, I took a detour away from the musical and decided to write “Song of the Wildlands”.
MG: How did you choose the singers?
Clive Nolan: Choosing the singers was an easy task, because I could almost hear in my head how they would sound in this album.
Ryan Morgan was probably the first name I had in my head. The voice of Beowulf. I have been trying to coax him into performing my music for a while, but he has remained rather wary of the theatrical events. However, I think this project suits him perfectly. The bass baritone voice is always how I imagined it should be!
Gemma Ashley is a superb soprano, who I have worked with for some years now. She is the leading lady in the Caamora theatre group, and an obvious choice for this project.
Christina Booth is the singer from Magenta, and again a terrific voice. She has a totally individual tone which works so well in many different styles. Again, I have worked with Christina for many years, and she was an obvious choice.
Natalie Barnett is a relative newcomer to such things. I have watched her developing her abilities within the Caamora group, and it was clearly time to let the world hear what she can do.
Ross Andrews is the ideal narrator, with the big booming voice we would want from a fireside story teller, passing his tales from village to village. He really helps to bring this story to life.
MG: There are many interesting instruments on this album. What sound were you looking for and what kind of a listener is it going to appeal to?
Clive Nolan: The first interesting ‘instrument’ on this album is the chorus. I had decided very early on that I wanted the chorus to sing in ‘Anglo Saxon’ or ‘Old English’ (same thing): the same language it was originally written in. This presented its own set of problems. I managed to track down an expert in Old English, Dr Christopher Monk. There are not many experts in this language around, so this was good fortune for me. He was able to translate what I wanted back and forth from English into Old English, and he also provided me with phonetic versions which, of course, was essential if a chorus was going to sing it. I was convinced this would make a fantastic landscape to this epic tale!
Nevertheless, It is those ancient and folk instruments that really give this album its identity. An instrument such as the nyckelharpa is a stringed instrument with button keys. It is indeed quite a specialised folk instrument which originated in Sweden at least 600 years ago. Although it is not strictly ‘Viking’, it does add a wonderfully organic flavour to the sound. I asked around for players and managed to persuade a lady called Vicki Swann to record for me. By coincidence, she actually lives in the UK not so far from me.
There is also the lur, which is a long blowing horn - this was probably Viking. Then there is the psalmodikon which is a kind of drone stringed instrument. This almost sounds like a chanting voice. On top of that I used a whole host of frame drums and shaman drums and sieves and bead shakers etc. All of this helped me to find the unique sound I wanted for this album.
Strangely, I never really gave much thought to the target audience, or even to what genre of music this would be. I was happy making my own interpretation of what Viking music could be, and then giving it what I consider to be a somewhat cinematic filter. I think it should appeal to rock fans, but also folk fans. Frankly, I think this could appeal to just about anyone… so give it a go!
MG: What musicians will we hear on the album?
Clive Nolan: The making of ‘Wildlands’ has been an excellent collaboration between Norway and the UK. Both countries are well represented in both the chorus and the instrumental side of things.
there is Arnfinn Isaksen (from the Norwegian prog band The Windmill) on bass, staying solid with Scott Higham (UK) on drums. Added percussion from Geir Johansen (NO), along with the lur and post horn from Birgitte Njå (NO) and flute form Morten L Clason (NO) help to keep the ‘Viking flavour’ going. This is enhanced further by Vicki Swann (UK) and her nyckelharpa. Meanwhile the electric guitars of Mark Westwood (UK) and the acoustic guitars of Stig Andre Clason (NO) help to keep the music grounded.
The chorus is made up of singers from literally around the world. Naturally, we have singers from the UK and from Norway, but many other countries are represented too. This was quite a collaboration!
MG: What formats of the album can we expect?
Clive Nolan: We had a terrific team who helped to put the finishing touched to this album. The original artwork came from David Wyatt (UK), known from my previous projects, with photography from Ron Milsom (UK) and digital imaging and postproduction from Kristine Clason (NO). Costumes for the photographs were specially made by one of the main singers on this album, Natalie Barnett (UK). Magdalena Grabias (Poland) was responsible for proofreading, text editing and the book content co-ordination, while the guitarist Stig Andre Clason (NO) put it all together with his graphic design work. Award winning director Neil, Monaghan (UK) made the superb “Making of” documentary.
This whole project was picked up and supported by Crime Records (NO) in partnership with We Låve Rock Music (NO), and it was all co-ordinated by the The Windmill’s founder and flutist Morten L Clason (NO). As I said… quite a team!
“Song of the Wildlands” will be available in various formats. The ‘jewel in the crown’ will be the sumptuous earbook version, containing the main album, a special instrumental version of the album, the 75 minute documentary and an impressive booklet with lost of artwork, photos and details inside. There is also to be a straightforward single disk CD of the album. Vinyl is also available in both black disks and coloured disks, nestling in some impressive gatefold packaging. Personally, I want them all!
MG: Are there any further plans for “Song of the Wildlands”?
Clive Nolan: We actually have every intention of performing “Song of the Wildlands” live once we can be free of the pandemic. I’m not yet sure how, but we will find a way. I certainly think we can do some kind of cut down acoustic version as a taster, but I do hope, in time, we will perform a much fuller version. We have our eyes on a Viking mead hall in Norway that might host our first performance. That would be quite an adventure!
MG: What are your future plans regarding other projects? And Is there any chance of the “Frankenstein” album you and Oliver Wakeman mentioned when “Tales By Gaslight” were out?
Clive Nolan: “Tales by Gaslight” really came out of nowhere. Oliver contacted me and said we had the chance to bring out this special box set. It would contain remastered versions of the two albums we did together, “Jabberwocky” and “The Hound of the Baskervilles” plus a third disk which would feature previously unreleased material.
Back when we were working together, we had planned a third album called “Frankenstein”, and we had already started to put a few ideas together. This disk contains come of that material, as well as a few bits and pieces that didn’t go on the first two albums. I only wish it could have been a proper finished album, but circumstances were against us.
Arena, just like every other band, have been constantly re-organising their tour. We have been victims of the pandemic, and thus have been forced to re-schedule our gig dates several times. The latest plan is for us to do our new album tour in October next year. I am optimistic that this will happen. Next year will also see our new album, “The Theory of Molecular Inheritance”. We are recording it as I write this.
Pendragon, like Arena have been re-scheduling gigs, and at the moment, we have a load of concerts in April and May next year. I hope they can happen!
My new musical, “The Mortal Light” is the third of the “Alchemy” series. I finished writing it about a month ago. It was a real writing frenzy and I write the whole thing in about four months… but I did nothing else, every hour and every day! I am very happy with the result, and we begin to record that in September. It will take a while due to so many performers, but I’m hoping it will be out in a year.
I am also involved in the Medici project with Italian singer Laura Piazzai. This is a project run by Nine Skies French multi-instrumentalist Eric Bouillette. This album will be out next year too.
Lot’s to look forward to!