Marcus Corbett is a talented singer/songwriter from the UK. He has just released a new album titled "Every Little Spirit". It features mature songwriting with a unique blend of British folk music mixed with traditional Indian influences. The melding of these different cultures is a result of him taking numerous trips to India to study the music. Once you've heard the new album you will definitely feel enlightened and relaxed. Marcus explains the meaning behind the title of the new album; "Every Little Spirit’ refers to all of us who are standing there, teetering at the edge, on the point of an imaginative leap into the unknown." I recently asked Marcus a few questions about the making of his new album and his career.
R.V.B. - Congratulations on your new album release "Every Little Spirit". What is the story behind the title?
M.C. - Thank you… the words come from lyric written by Patrick Anderson and I can only write of the resonance they have with me. Others may react differently. The song came to life in Pune, India. An act of faith in itself as I involved violinists and allowed myself the creative space to dream. The phrase occurs in the middle of Track 4 and is followed immediately by the idea of being set free — ‘For every little spirit that gets set free, this could be you, this could be me’. I am thanking my fellow travellers in this life for ‘having the time of day’… for connecting with me while on this roller coaster… for thinking life to be ‘a miracle’ and not just ‘as plain as day’. The song seems to be about breaking the ties that limit consciousness; the inevitable bind and constriction of physical existence. It speaks of gratitude for the opportunity of life, and perhaps of both the longing for and the dread of change. ‘Every Little Spirit’ refers to all of us who are standing there, teetering at the edge, on the point of an imaginative leap into the unknown….
R.V.B. - The sound of your music is very distinctive. How do you go about writing material? Do you start with the Acoustic guitar and gradually add what you've learned through the years in an overlay fashion?
M.C. - Yes, I start with the Acoustic guitar. In general it is best if I am deeply in a routine of practise, whether that be one of my own tunes or not. A musical phrase with some sort of potential may more easily be revealed. This is the seed to be worked upon. Something may come of this in 2 mins or it may take years of returning again and again to the phrase and thinking what I want to say or suddenly finding a fit with someone else’s lyric before expansion is possible. The layers you refer to I think go both ways - laid over the seed material in the form of embellishment and variations, as you suggest but also I think they get inside the phrasing and expand the scope from within. ‘What you've learned through the years’ is an impossibly large idea for all of us and the feeling of being on ‘the thin ice of the new day’ (Ian Anderson) when on occasion I approach the guitar, leaving space for something new, carries with it the weight of the years you refer to.
R.V.B. - What were your early influences and how did you get started in music?
M.C. - Ha. My grandfather’s wind up music box with ‘Uncle Tom Cobley an all’ - ‘Widdecombe Fair’ - on it, and which, strangely through it’s mechanical evocation of timeless times past, induced internal emotional warp in a very young person. Mainly Western Classical. A familiar story - piano, but by a teacher who had an affair with, and was dumped by a headmaster, and so left me also - a promising start derailed. Trumpet..then guitar. First records bought were Jerry Lee Lewis, Fats Domino…then Best of Cream. Heard Indian classical music in enlightened teacher’s musical appreciation class along with much else, aged 14. Blues figured large during adolescence though I never learned the licks. A track on ‘School Days’ by Stanley Clarke called ‘Desert Song’ by John MacLaughlin haunted me and I thought I sensed a direction I might like to travel. I traveled overland to India before going to University…on the road I and others suddenly realized I could play.
R.V.B. - When were you first exposed to the Indian musical culture? What was it about this culture that intrigued you enough to make it part or your art ?
M.C. - Though I first seriously heard Indian music at the age of 14 in the UK it was this first visit to India 4 years later that exposed me to the dimensions explored and vistas revealed by the untempered musical scale in India. It intrigued me by way of fear and fatal attraction in equal measure. Once infected, the strain would not fade away, and the desire to understand it remained as I struggled to understand my desire to make music. What music? What was it in Indian music that both drew me in and repelled. It seemed to ask and contain the answer to so many questions that could not be formulated in any other way. No chordal structure but abundant in harmony. A storyline that one could create for oneself without program notes. The extraction of meaning and creation of cinema through a focus on one note and it’s supporting harmonics and the unknown suggestion of where it might lead accompanied by the slowly evolving spell of the tabla was a heady mix for an eighteen year old. A concoction i could never forget and would later want to incorporate in my own music to some degree.
M.C. - Perhaps none are unique to India but…… To remind oneself of the luxury of a longer attention span. It’s not that it’s more difficult, it’s simply finding the mental space. The power of a single note held in the palm of one’s hand…. That a percussion instrument (Tabla) can have harmony within it and make music just as it’s percussive potential can be exploited. To remain open while striving to adapt to what is foreign.
R.V.B - Are the different regions you visited in India, noticeably different in musical approaches?
M.C. - I have briefly visited the far south of India and Carnatic composition is obviously more strictly organised with less opportunity for improvisation compared to N. Indian music. The rhythm sections are also tightly organised. The areas I know in N. Karnataka, around Dharwad and Hubli have produced some of the most famous, stalwart Hindustani (N.Indian classical) vocal singers of the last 70 years, yet it is broadly speaking in the southern part of India. There is a noticeable stylistic exuberance - the cause being, I would say, the strength of the ‘local’ Kannada musical culture which has great depth. There is less of a rush in daily life than there is in Pune and still some way to go to catch up (thank goodness?). Pune, in Maharashtra is altogether more cosmopolitan. However the support and love for N. Indian Classical music very strong. The way of teaching is similar in both places. Pune has an excess of fine tabla players.
M.C. - I wanted to invite the listener in to another world…to make it happen without turning on the electricity, to make the acoustic guitar speak…to wrench, twist and coax a delicacy of sound out of an acoustic guitar… to make magic with skin and bone, the close proximity of human touch. Also I want the Tabla to be able to speak with full tonal character. It is a powerful instrument with several faces… this is not possible with too much volume in presentation.
R.V.B. Who are some of the folks who helped out with the new album? Can you describe how they helped with the project ?
M.C. - A few friends in the UK who put me up while I amassed the necessary funds to keep afloat and moving. Sound studio owner Abijit Saraf of Melody Makers studio in Pune - over the years he has become a friend and acts as a great ‘interface’ between me and musicians in Pune. Dinesh Bhadwal for making the video of ‘Loving Kind’. Sanjay Padhye, Anjali Singde-Rao and Sachin Ingale on violins. They have added another dimension to the music. Milind Date for his encouragement and Bansuri flute. Nitin Gaikwad and Sharanappa Guttaragi for great tabla playing and patience in dealing with the ‘ghora’ (white man). All of the musicians have helped in that they have had to adjust the ear and sensibility while creating compatibility between their classical musical upbringing and my tunes. Sometimes I have had to find a seed phrase which then they have then improved and run with..opening doors for their own creativity. It is important that the living tradition of ‘Shastria sangeet’, which can be translated as ‘knowledge music’, is by default treated as disguised treasure in my songs, thereby creating a respectful fusion in which the bell rings true.
R.V.B. - Can you reproduce your music live as it appeared on the record or is it a dynamic changing environment?
M.C. - The key flavours of the songs as they have been recorded are essential. These do not change. Once this is established I also like to reproduce certain key moments, phrases and timing but after that no two performances are the same. These act as a springboard for, in your words, ‘a dynamic changing environment’. There lies the risk, sense of adventure and real involvement of the audience.
R.V.B. - What are some of your favorite live performances up to this point?
M.C. - Any of them may contain, at different moments that X factor of, as you put it, ‘a dynamic changing environment’ where no one present is sure how they are going to feel in the next moment ‘as the axe is about to fall’, so to speak. It is when these magical atmospheres combine with highly proficient performance that my favourite concerts have occurred.
R.V.B. - Thank you for considering answering these questions.
M.C. - Thank you for your interest…
Interview was conducted by Robert von Bernewitz
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For more information on Marcus Corbett visit his website www.marcuscorbett.com
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