18 November 2018


10 of my favourite tracks from Europe:

A few months ago I did a Blog Post about 10 records which had influenced me as a musician. They were a mixture of all kinds of genres from my teenage forays into pop and blues through folk revivalists and a sprinkling of what could be called ’World Music’.  It was a very popular post with a lot of readers and some good comments. It inspired me to follow it up with this one. FIND IT HERE

Although most of what l actually perform myself is traditional English folk songs I don’t listen to a lot of that on recordings—I prefer it live. But I do listen to a lot of folk music from other parts of the world, particularly from Europe. I find much of it very exciting and it has influenced my playing.

So this is a selection of some favourite recordings from Europe—some are tracks I’ve known for decades, others are recent discoveries.



from the album Live at Olympia.

This is one of my favourite albums of all time. It must have been an amazing concert. Through most of the 1980s I ran a local radio folk programme (Chiltern Radio from Dunstable) and whenever I played a track by Stivell I had requests for more. He bridged the gap between a folk singer and a pop star. At that time there was a huge upsurge in Breton identity—moves for independence and language teaching, in much the same way as happened in Scotland and even Cornwall! I love the way the bombards, the Breton national instrument, are greeted with a huge cheer. It still makes me come out in goose pimples. Unfortunately the movement seems to have faded away and I read recently that the Breton language is in danger of dying out. LISTEN HERE

 KARIKAS EGYUTTES Hová mész, hová mész

Back in the early 1990s my daughter Lucy made several trips to Hungary and Romania to research traditional music for her university degrees. This eventually led to our Anglo-Romanian band Popeluc. This album by Karikas was one she brought back from her travels. I don't think Karikas were known outside of Hungary but I really rated them highly. Although they are Hungarian and Popeluc’s music was Romanian it all comes from Transylvania and is very similar. The Hungarian folklorist Karoly Kos said words to the effect of: 'In Transylvania the Hungarians, the Romanians and the Gypsies all play the same music, but they each play it with their own particular accent.’ (Pre WW2 he could have added the Jews but they are almost non-existent in the area now.) LISTEN HERE

HEIEMO OG NYKKJEN: Kirsten Braten Berg

This is an ancient Norwegian ballad. It was on a 4CD World Music sampler set which Sue and I bought ourselves for Christmas. We played it on Christmas Day and I liked this track so much I listened to it a couple more times. In the night I dreamed words to it and scribbled them down. Much to my surprise they still made sense in the morning! It became The Lads They’d Been a-Drinking which I recorded on my False Waters CD in 1995. I had no idea what the Norwegian song was about but my subconscious’ ‘translation’ was not too far from it—at least in mood. It’s about a young girl abducted by an evil spirit.  Even more oddly, a couple of years later events almost identical to the plot of my song were in the news and people assumed I’d written the song about them! LISTEN HERE


From Album Lost Soul

I bought this album on the strength of a couple of tracks played on Radio 3’s Late Junction and it instantly became a favourite. Spaccanopoli started life as a community group in Naples—particularly a band for parades and festivals. Much of their music shows this community input. There are influences from all over the Mediterranean region—Italy, Spain, N.Africa, the Middle East…  Their other claim to fame is that they and their music featured regularly in the TV series The Sopranos, which I have never seen! LISTEN HERE


A more recent find: I came across this band by accident when I was doing some research into Klezmer music. As their name suggests they play a unique fusion of Gypsy, Klezmer and Jazz. I very often don’t like fusions—they aren’t one thing or another—but I do like this band. Their singer seems to have it all – technical ability, soul and the ability to put over a song. Djelem Djelem is one of the standards of the Gypsy/Rom repertoire and has also been done by Goran Bregovic (see below). It tells of the trials and tribulations of an oppressed people and calls for them to stand up and be proud. LISTEN HERE

LEILIA: Piedras Contra Tanques (Stones Against Tanks) 

LEILIA are a 6 piece female group from Galicia in NW Spain. They describe their music as ‘tambourine music’ and they do use tambourines  alot but on their albums they have some really good backing musicians using clarinets, pipes, accordion, guitars etc. Galicia is the tip of Spain which pokes out into the Atlantic (Finisterre and St James of Compostella etc) and it has always had many maritime links with the ‘Celtic’ fringes of Britain. This shows in the music. They are a recent discovery of mine and I love their sound. They started by researching the almost forgotten traditional music of their region but, I think, much of their work is now reworkings or new compositions in the traditional style. LISTEN HERE

KAYAH & BREGOVIC:  Jesli Bog Istnieje

 Goran Bregovic is ‘The Man from Sarajevo’ - born in what was then Yugoslavia but playing music from all across the Balkans and beyond he is a World Music superstar and has appeared at WOMAD several times. I included him in my previous Post. For this CD he has teamed up with Polish superstar Kayah. Of the 10 tracks on the album I have 8 of them on other Bregovic albums but they are very different arrangements and they come over as fresh and new. I can’t say which arrangement I prefer. The lyrics are credited to Kayah and I am not sure whether she has written entirely new words to the tunes or has translated them. LISTEN HERE

Crni Voz by Boban Markovic Orkestrar featuring Felix Lajko

I don’t know where I got this sampler from the Hungarian record label Fono from, but I’m glad it came my way. There is hardly a dud track amongst the 15 very varied pieces of traditional music from Hungary and its neighbours. This is the opening track. Boban Markovic is a superstar in Eastern Europe and Felix Lajko, who is from a younger generation, is also huge. I described this piece as being like a very ’high’ Jimmy Hendrix getting hold of a fiddle and doing his thing. The You Tube video here is a whole performance (46 minutes) The track I would pick out starts at about 13 minutes in.  LISTEN HERE




FC come from the Constanta region of Romania which is a very different place to Maramures in the mountains of northern Romania which I have visited and played the music of with Popeluc. The brass band tradition was introduced to the area by the Ottomans who ruled the area for centuries. FC boast of being the ’fastest band in the world’ which is not something I’d usually approve of but it works for them. I had the pleasure of working with them at a concert in Tenterden, kent some years ago and they know how to work an audience (and get every penny they can out of them! Their encore went on for ages while a man with a hat went round collecting paper money from everyone!) A friend who plays brass said that they must be really highly qualified,  musicians from top academies because ‘they do things you can’t do on brass instruments’… They’re not, they are self taught from a tiny village with no mod cons and most have probably never even been to school! (This is not my favourite track but I can’t find that!)


Still from the Balkans:
I had this track on a sampler LP back in the 1980s. I found it fascinating, very different to anything I’d heard before. I particularly liked the rather ‘primitive’ accompaniment. Over the years we have become much more accustomed to Bulgarian music. LISTEN HERE

And I've got all this way without mentioning Brexit! Whoops!

To finish off I thought I should include a bit of Popeluc who I've mentioned a couple of times: LISTEN TO POPELUC
For my web site with links to You Tube, other Blog posts, and to buy books and CDs, and everything else you need to know go to: https://petecastle.co.uk

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