Dedicated fans of science fiction will know the title of this piece references two works by the master of lyric science fiction, Ray Bradbury. One is the title of his iconic 1957 novel (which began as a short story in Gourmet magazine, June 1953). It is from those works that the band Dandelion Wine derive their name, most appropriately, as like the novel, their music makes not one prosaic compromise. The other, ‘Just This Side of Byzantium’, is the title of the essay with which Bradbury prefaces his novel – well, it is not really an essay, is it? It is a reverie on the nature of the reverie, on the process and purpose of art in bringing memories to new and ever unexpected life as story.“Thus I fell into surprise. No one told me to surprise myself, I might add. I came on the old and best ways of writing through ignorance and experiment and was startled when truths leaped out of bushes like quail before gunshot. I blundered into creativity as blindly as any child learning to walk and see. I learned to let my senses and my Past tell me all that was somehow true.” (Ray Bradbury, ‘Just This Side of Byzantium: An Introduction’, Summer 1974).
This can happen in musical processes too, but with music the memory can be collective in the truest sense, and the shared past can span centuries. The timbre of memory sleeps in the resonant body of a dulcimer, the aesthetic of memory is embedded firmly into the architecture of a motet, a structure as encompassing as any cathedral made of stone – and so this notion of process in ‘Just This Side of Byzantium’ also forms a perfect introduction to Dandelion Wine, the band. Falling within the broad definitions of both neo-Medieval and electro-acoustic music, what characterises the music of Dandelion Wine is their appropriating the instruments and structures of early music, and combining it with contemporary “bells and whistles”, in the service of falling into surprise. (Why yes, they have fun with it. Oh yes, it shows.)
In the lead-up to an ethereal extravaganza gig occurring at The Old Bar on October 2nd, I caught up with multi-instrumentalist extraordinaire, Nicholas Albanis, to discuss the show and the new album Dandelion Wine are in the throes of recording. “This album has been quite a slow process! The last album, ‘All Becompassed By Stars’ (Ars Musica Diffundere, 2010), was recorded in Berlin and mastered in France; it was done with a really tight deadline, as we had a substantial tour booked and had to have the album ready. This time we decided to take our time… but it’s taken more time than we had planned! So we threw out 80% of what we had done, and started again! We’re really loving how it’s turning out – it’s a bit mellower and darker than the last couple of albums, but still with the hybrid of acoustic, electric and electronic instruments. It also has a lot of guests from all over the world – Melbourne, Adelaide, Ballarat, New Zealand, Belgium, Bulgaria, Hong Kong and possibly Lithuania. And yes, there will definitely be a couple of new songs live at The Old Bar!”
Dandelion Wine will be debuting new material at The Old Bar – but they are also delighted to be presenting a new ensemble member to their Australian audience. “This will our first Australian show with cellist Francesca Mountfort, who is perhaps best known for solo project Nervous Doll Dancing. Our first gig with Francesca on cello was at Rakvere Castle in Estonia! We had one quick rehearsal in a hotel room before the gig, and it just worked beautifully. We agreed that it should be an ongoing thing, but we haven’t been doing any local gigs since then – so we haven’t had a chance to do it again! Her playing really lends itself to Dandelion Wine, and it will be great to have another female voice in the band. Naomi Henderson overdubs a lot of harmonies and counter-melodies when we record, and now we can start bring them into the live show again. Francesca is also the niece of Helen Mountfort (My Friend The Chocolate Cake, Not Drowning Waving) who played on our album ‘Selected Anachronisms’ (Ars Musica Diffundere, 2008), so that’s quite a funny link… There is no doubt that sublime cello talent runs in that family!”
Part of the enigma surrounding Dandelion Wine, is they have a fringe presence locally, and a much bigger presence overseas. There certainly are more opportunities in festivals proliferating for niche styles overseas, to create a more prominent community for music fans and makers. “We definitely have a much bigger profile overseas, particularly in Europe… I think we have given up trying to work out why. On the one hand, it can be frustrating, but on the other hand we get to go and play castles and festivals in Europe with a whole circuit of great bands that have become our friends – so we can’t really complain! Every time we tour there, we come back with new CDs of some really amazing music that we would never have been exposed to otherwise.” The other equally shiny side of the coin might be playing with many different styles of bands, as the various esoteric bands tend to throw genre divisions out the window of necessity to fill venue bookings. “We have always played with a wide variety of bands from different styles and scenes. Because of the diversity of our music, we have been able to dip our toes into a bunch of different scenes without owing allegiance to any of them. We have played with indie bands, goth bands, folk singers, avant garde projects, post rock bands, electronic groups… the works! We even once played a Doom Metal festival in a converted church in Belgium. We were the only band on the bill without a drummer! Let alone dulcimers and flutes!”
This diversity and ability to bridge genres can pay off in unexpected ways. Nicholas recently participated in a street performance for the opening of Melbourne Theatre Company ‘s Australian premiere production of Simon Stephens‘ play ‘Birdland’. “That was a funny one! Standing out on Southbank Boulevard with a cranked amp and shredding at traffic passing by! Strangely enough, it’s not the first time I’ve been asked to a gig like that. I sometimes get asked to come and play lute or dulcimer at various events, theatre productions – but lately I’ve been asked to come and play ridiculously shred guitar solos at absurd volumes in inappropriate places. The last one I did that was at a gourmet food event in Brighton. Yes, I love beautiful ethereal music on gorgeous old string instruments… but I can’t resist the chance to go into full rock idiot mode too!” (You can see an image of this performance at the MTC website.)
If you have never seen Dandelion Wine live – or even if you have – this Friday offers a chance to sample something really special. “We are really looking forward to this night and not just because it’s our first full show in two years and our first with Francesca. There hasn’t really been a night like this in Melbourne for quite a long time – the combination of ethereal, medieval, psychedelic, electronic, acoustic, darkwave sounds is something that just doesn’t happen often here. It’s something that I personally have been craving, both as a musician and as a punter. One of the really appealing things for us, is there is a really tangible thread running between all of the bands – yet they are all very distinct stylistically. None of the bands could ever be mistaken for one of the others, but if you like one, chances are you’ll like the others. Plus, it’s pretty exciting to have Eden back on the scene after a seventeen year hiatus! There’s a definite element of kindred spirits at play. Funnily enough, we first heard of Friends Of Alice Ivy when they were in their previous band Ostia – it was actually a promoter/DJ in Portugal who told us about them when we played in Porto! We were really curious about them and eventually met them through mutual friends here.”
Dandelion Wine will be taking the stage at 11pm on Friday October 2nd at The Old Bar. This will be the first full acoustic/electric/electronic show for Dandelion Wine in two years. An event not to be missed, their last such full ensemble performance was at Festival Mediaval in Germany, the world’s largest medieval festival. They will be joined at The Old Bar by Eden, Friends of Alice Ivy, and Plum Green.
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