Friday, 19 December 2014

We are album of 2014 for Californian music journalist Thomas Cooney.

My choice for Album of the Year in 2014 was the hardest choice I've had to make in 30 years. This was a meh year for music, and none of the finalists (Leonard Cohen, Bryan Ferry, Ilya) were at their height with their entries; no matter how good those albums are, none represented the artist's career-best. So, without further ado...... My choice for 2014 Album of the Year goes to: "Blind as Hope," by Ilya. Here is an excerpt of what I wrote about the British duo's album this spring:
“Call My Name,” returns us to the brooding minstrel terrain. The vocals here reach new heights (or depths in this case) for [Joanna] Swan; her voice achieves such astonishing reach that one senses she’d be pleased to no end if people at times mistake her voice for that of a man’s when she reaches as deep as she does in the first minute of this lush ballad. Once she untethers her voice, the listener feels afloat, riding as high as Swan invites. And then things get crazy. Stupid crazy. Unfair.
It seems every time a review is written for an Ilya project, one is proclaiming a song as their new unheralded masterpiece. Track 6, “The Memory,” is so possessed and terrifyingly sublime that Swan seems otherworldly herself. I once wrote that Swan’s “vocals are thoroughly enmeshed with the narrative of the song, her movements inhabit the song the way only the ghost of the architect can haunt a mansion.” When I wrote that over six months ago, I had no way of knowing that a song would come forth as a perfect illustration of exactly that. If you are a fan of ethereal power vocals, then “The Memory” is the drug that is waiting to meet you for the first—but never the last—time."
Here's where you can find Ilya, they are career musicians who have worked with the likes of Peter Gabriel and Tears for Fears:

Thomas Cooney

Friday, 14 November 2014

A new EP - from oven to table in 2 days!

Jim throwing a few moves to Nicks playing.

Love the retro elements in the studio.

This selfie makes it look like Jim has a massive poster of me in the control room :~)

Yesterday morning we had an intensive session in Jim Barrs' studio recording 10 of our new songs (well 9 actually - as 1 of them is years old). Last night we had a gig out of Bristol then today we had to upgrade our computer to Logic 10 and Yosemite (I ask you! ... these names! ... I hope it's Gigantor next!) so that it was compatible with Jims files. Now within 2 days it's all ready for blast off and after taking 2 years with Blind As Hope I love this speediness! With completely live performances you can hear creaking from Nicks elbows (actually his stool and a creaking radiator  :~P) and some wee dodgy bits but we hope the overall performance wins the day :~P Please go and have a listen on Bandcamp.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

In Timeless Light

I made a selfie video all by my selfieness! Please watch and selflessly share. Thank you X

Saturday, 2 August 2014

I once made crazy noises into Peter Gabriel's Fairlight CMI

My mum got some old photo albums out of the loft the other day and a receipt for a session I did at Peter Gabriel's Studio fell out of one of them. In 1982 Peter Gabriel had heard me making a torrent of crazy noises at an Electric Guitars gig in Bath and asked if I would come and repeat them into his machine. I wasn't in the band - I was such a mad fan of theirs that I was yodelling like a banshee at the end of every song ... (and I was LOUD!) I don't know whether anything I did ever got used but it was such a fun day and Peter Gabriel such a lovely, lovely chap :~)

Me in 1982

Receipt for session .. so lo-fi!

Friday, 1 August 2014

ILYA + 'PROJECT JAZZ' = The Jo Swan Duo & Quartet

ILYA + PROJECT JAZZ = The Jo Swan Quartet

Recipe - some good popular songs written between the 1930's and the present day.
Chuck 'em in a big old cast iron skillet and turn up the heat for maximun SMOOCH factor.
Pretend you are on warm white sands, gazing into the turquoise azure of the Caribbean sea, a potent fruity, cocktail clinking in your hand (note 'tail' on the end of that :~P) Now "Stir it up little darlin" and see what musical alchemy transpires!

That's kind of what we did in this scorching June but in Jim Barrs Studio in Easton, Bristol :~P
Here's a song and you can hear the rest on Ilyas new DONATION'S page on our website!

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Lounge Blues and Balkan Jazz ... You know it makes sense!

An inimitable set of covers from Doris Day to Jim Morrison - injected with African, Balkan, Reggae and Highlife, Lounge Blues.

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Want to know who are my top 10 favourite singers and get a free download at the same time?

Vocal Genius Jo Swan’s Favorite Singers

Written by:

Please let me say that I am embarrassed to be called 'a vocal genius' I do not consider myself that :~P I just do my thang and hope people like it :~)

Time and time again I’m reminded of Picasso’s quote about his contemporary:  “In the end, there will only be Matisse.”  That, of course, hasn’t proved to be the case, but then again, we’re not at the end….yet.  Anyone who’s read my work knows that I’m often fascinated by what the masters themselves read, listen to, become supplicants of. Earlier this year I listed Jo Swan as the greatest living singer. Fresh on the heels of the new Ilya album Blind As Hope Jo Swan, one half of the British duo, has shared with CITC and our readers, her list.

When I asked her for a recent publicity pic to go along with this article, she sent along a photo that was used as part of a No Make-Up Breast Cancer Awareness Campaign in the UK.  For a singer who clearly doesn’t need studio help with her voice, it’s a perfect match for the gorgeous vulnerability that one can best hear in the second free song Ilya has graciously given away to our readers.  “All I Got” is from the duo’s previous album Fathoms Deep.
Jo Swan’s Ten Favorite Singers
Blimey 10 singers is sooo difficult.
Some singers I love but their repertoire makes me not put them on the list.
Easy for the likes of Ella and Dusty when they have Cole Porter and Bacharach to show case their talents.

Anyway – in no particular order as I am incapable of doing a 1 to 10 as it will change with my mood.

David Bowie: I think the moment Bowie heard Scott Walker it enabled his true voice to come forth unto the world! To me Bowies voice is the essence of the 1970′s and he spoke to my tender young heart and told it not to be afraid to stand out from the crowd.

Ella Fitzgerald:  She nudges above the likes of Sarah Vaughan, Billie Holiday and Anita O’Day, because—apart from the obvious perfection in her flutey voice—within the core there is a joyousness, like a bubbling brook in the bright sunshine.

Dusty Springfield:  Dusty is perfection to me; her tone and phrasing are (almost) unequalled.

Yma Sumac:  Her voice is a phenomenal instrument. Uma was a raw, untouched, powerful and sensual force of nature, and with the enormous highs and lows of her range I feel like I am being bathed in the song of the Peruvian Forest. I happen to be a sucker for lounge style albums from the 1950s and Yma adds such exotic and fearless experimentalism to this easy-listening genre.

Stevie Wonder:  I feel nauseous choosing Stevie over the likes of Marvin Gaye, Ray Charles and Al Green etc. What can I say? His voice sings its way deep into my gut and makes me happy to be alive!

Elizabeth Fraser:  I hope the best is yet to come with Elizabeth as an album has been in the making for many years and I await with baited ears for its release. Elizabeth has a voice whose unique style, crystal clear purity and beautiful soft Scottish diction has the power to heal the world.

Guy Garvey:  I could listen to Guy’s voice all day and not tire of it. His authentic and perfect singing is so full of romance and I love that he sings with his natural northern accent as it only serves to enrich his lyrics, which in themselves are sublime poems.

Caetano Veloso:  This Brazilian singer, guitarist, composer (and political activist) has a voice of an angel; if I were dying his is the voice that could be my lift music to heaven!

Nat King Cole:  I am a sentimental fool!  Is there any voice that tells you they love you and only you with such divine believability?

Lennon & McCartney – Can I add them as a team? Because I ask myself: Without the Beatles, would I have ever chosen to sing?

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Caught In The Carousel - Fantastic review of Blind As Hope

 Caught In The Carousel - Review by Thomas Cooney April 15th 2014

From the very first note Joanna Swan sings on the title track to Ilya’s latest album, Blind As Hope, it’s clear that she is intent on redefining the word “sumptuous.”  Ilya—basically Joanna Swan and her husband Nick Pullin—hails from Bristol, England.  After reaching worldwide fame with their 2004 single “Bellissimo” and album, They Died for Beauty, Ilya has pushed the boundaries on three follow up albums and one ep, all to varying degrees of success (2006’s Somerset rivals They Died for Beauty in its cinematic sweep, where 2012’s Fathoms Deep felt as if the duo’s anchor had broken free and there was panic at sea).
In the hands and minds (and hearts) of less-determined artists, Fathoms Deep might have been the wreckage of what once was.  But Ilya dove into the burgeoning ocean of crowd-sourcing and have breached to surface with their finest album in almost a decade.  Halfway into the title track, the song is handed over as a kind and gentle nod to their backers—the Ilya Worldwide Congregation—who sing as an assembled chorus and in so doing take the song to a finale suited for a Sunday gospel.  This building of a song to an emotional chorus always strikes me as a bit facile: one is easily moved by a voice of many.  But at the last minute Swan comes in and ties the bow on the song as only she can do, and what might have been a platitude is instead a moving statement of optimism.  (Caughtinthecarousel is honored that Ilya has offered to give the song as a free download to our readers.)
Swan’s voice rushes into the second song:  “Come now/Call me by name” she sings on “Tapestry.”  The song is at the will of her multi-octave voice, a voice from the heavens.  As with several of the songs on this album, there is a minstrel-meets- Game of Thrones aura to it; do not confuse this with Renaissance Faire pabulum.  This is music that seems to genuinely traverse a dark and haunting landscape.  The success is finalized with Pullin’s biting and insistent guitar; from 3:00 to 3:30 is some of Pullin’s finest work to date.
That attention to musicalities (beyond the obvious towering achievement of Swan’s vocals) is immediately apparent at the very beginning of the next song, “Lacrimosa.”  The wonderfully soft tribal tom-tom drum-meets-tiki is directly descendent from Peter Gabriel’s 1980 studio version of “No Self Control” (a song that, by the way, had the great Kate Bush on backing vocals).  Where two songs earlier Swan handed part of the vocals to a choir (of sorts), this time she shares the vocals first with the angelic voice of Henry Duckett and then the youthful tenor of George McCarthy.  Again, as with the title track, Swan comes in at song’s end, this time aching as she twice sings the words “If you go away,” before her voice drifts into a gorgeous collapsing mumble.  The result is a holy trinity in and of itself; a gorgeous requiem for our age.
“Endgame,” follows with a John Barry-esque opening and then harmonizes in a manner reminiscent of The Hollies’ “The Air That I Breathe.”  The arrangement is more complex in Pullin’s blueprint than that 60s classic, however, and the song stands on its own as a remnant cinematic echo of 2004’s They Died for Beauty.
“Call My Name,” returns us to the brooding minstrel terrain. The vocals here reach new heights (or depths in this case) for Swan; her voice achieves such astonishing reach that one senses she’d be pleased to no end if people at times take her voice as that of a man’s when she reaches as deep as she does in the first minute of this lush ballad.  Once she untethers her voice, the listener feels afloat, riding as high as Swan invites. And then things get crazy.  Stupid crazy.  Unfair.
It seems every time a review is written for an Ilya project, one is proclaiming a song as their new unheralded masterpiece.  Track 6, “The Memory,” is so possessed and terrifyingly sublime that Swan seems otherworldly herself.  I once wrote that Swan’s “vocals are thoroughly enmeshed with the narrative of the song, her movements inhabit the song the way only the ghost of the architect can haunt a mansion.”  When I wrote that over six months ago, I had no way of knowing that a song would come forth as a perfect illustration of that.  If you are a fan of ethereal power vocals, then “The Memory” is the drug that is waiting to meet you for the first—but never the last—time.
Pete Judge’s sensuous flugelhorn invites us to land softly on the gorgeous next song. “Longest Day.”  This could have been a track on the duo’s brilliant Somerset album.  It is a song that is a chaise longue underneath a soft marine layer forcing the summer sun to simmer down a bit.  It’s the tastiest Kir cocktail you’ve ever tasted, with one lonely cube of ice clinking the glass in a rhythm all its own.  As they say in France: formidable!
A listener wouldn’t be wrong to perhaps want a bit more air and light into the songs, especially with Swan’s voice that is a seven-course meal compared to the mass produced appetizer voices out there.  There’s a famous quote by Noel Coward about another genius vocalist: “Piaf in her dusty black dress is still singing sad songs about bereft tarts longing for their lovers to come back and still, we must face it, singing them beautifully, but I do so wish she would pop in a couple cheerful ones just for the hell of it.”   And also—there’s no way to put this other than the truth (as I hear it)—the album’s final three songs are the step-children of the brood.  “Timeless Light” is Ilya doing Ilya; “A Little Misadventure” once again recalls Peter Gabriel III (melting face) album, only this time Kate Bush is replaced with Swan’s best operatic intimations of Klaus Nomi.
“Mystery and Wonder” is a perfectly-titled song to close out the albumAs with so much of Ilya’s best work, Swan’s voice—and let’s give credit where it is also due, because Pullin knows exactly how to write for her—guides the listener across a lush canvas.  Towards the very end of the song, there is a definite African influence; for a brief moment I worried that this was headed in Lion King soundtrack territory.  That it veered away from any sort of cloying sentimentality is one of a thousand reasons why Blind As Hope is a clear and early front runner for 2014’s Album of the Year.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

IMMACULATE - Bespoke Wedding Song.

One of the pledges on our Kickstarter last year was to write be-spoke songs and we want to share this finished song called Immaculate with you. It was written for a lovely and brilliant theatrical costume designer called Nicholas Immaculate to give to his partner. Using the word 'Immaculate' was a request of his and we love it as a chorus. I became cyberly acquainted with Nicholas back in the days of My Space yore, but have only discovered today that he has worked on costumes for Madonna and Take That as well as for films like the Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy - (starring Martin Freeman and Sam Rockwell). A good friend of his (their best woman in fact) had pledged for us to be the surprise live music at his wedding and I was attempting to keep that secret whilst Nicholas was going to keep secret the song for his partner. It was getting a bit complicated, so in the end the cats had to be let out of the bags! This is a wedding we are VERY much looking forward to playing and Immaculate will be the song for the first dance at the wedding! We are honoured :~)

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Blind As Hope album cover and The Ilya Worldwide Congregation.

Today our album is mastered. Today the fabulous Ian Hazeldine has finished re-designing our website and album cover. Ian is a multi-talented individual as he is not only a designer and photographer but also a musician and our music and his photos/design are a match made in heaven :~)

As from today the next part our world domination starteth and that is the wee beastie known as MARKETING!
I have my sleeves rolled up ready for action but meanwhile I just want to tell you about our ILYA WORLDWIDE CONGREGATION.
When the recording of our album was almost finished it occurred to us that it would be a great idea to ask all those who supported us on kickstarter if they would like to not only be producers but also singers on the album. The response was brilliant, even though many sent such funny emails about the quality of their singing! We assured them it was not about perfection of voice, we just wanted them to go for it and sing their hearts out :~) We chose our big ballad - Blind As Hope - to have it's final choruses sung on mass. Around 40 singers, from all around the world (some of who sent multiple tracks of harmonies) are in our choir and it lifts my heart when I hear them all singing with me! But with over a hundred voices in there no one will be able to pick themselves out so I would love you to hear to our youngest - and most angelic of singers - called Nina. Nina is Polish and 5 years old. She does not speak or understand a word of English but one day she heard her father practicing the chorus along to my guide vocal. Later that day her father heard her singing the song as she was going about her business. She had it nailed - so he recorded her! We have just Nina's voice here for you to hear as it is SO lovely and her copying of the English language almost perfect!
Photo of Nina.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

On Crowd Funding, Pain And Passion.

I caught our neighbour and his burly accomplice at 11pm last night coming home with rifles over their shoulders. I asked what they were doing at night with guns and he flashed a lamp in my face and said "lamping for foxes." I said "What do you mean?". He answered "You flash a bright light into the darkness until you hit upon the shining eyes of a fox, the light stops the fox in it's tracks and you kill it". I felt utterly sickened at the thought of what they had been doing. They had taken it upon themselves to "cull' the foxes around us!

This reminded me of last Spring when we were millimetres away from moving lock, stock and kitchen sink to Ireland. We had landed a job working for a Lord and Lady near Belfast. Tending to the running of their mansion during the pheasant shooting season. Serving pie and mash to paying guests who had come to slaughter beautiful birds for sport. The job in Ireland might have come with a wee cottage on the top of a hill with stunning views but I reckon I would have been caught artfully modifying the pies with dog shit and spitting in the mash!

It seems that sometimes you have to be at the point of signing the contract when a mallet of nonsensical sense hits you hard on the head. Whack! Take that Joanna - you are not ready to give up music for a life of pie revamping servitude!

Last Spring (2013) after my experience on The Voice I decided it was now time to give up music, as attempting to run the business of Ilya as an independent company was getting the better of me. We were in financial difficulty and being a Busking Diva was not quite what I had in mind for a continued career in music.

(See post below about this and further down for The Voice)

Nick and I feel that our vocation as a musical partnership has been in apprenticeship up until now. Massively late developers, we now feel we our craft is about to really blossom! No matter how many obstacles life can put in your path, we are on a road that goes on, regardless. I've said it before and I will say it again; I believe Nick and I came together to make music together. After decades of music making addiction and the belief that soon you will be able to make a living from it, it is not an easy thing to stop. Even when those 50 ft high flashing neon lights are reasoning with you to do so.

In 2011 I had embarked on a crowd funding campaign. I did all the necessary bits but when it got to the filming of myself asking for money I just couldn't do it. I made excuses but I was basically fearful and ashamed.

Then I put myself through the experience of The Voice. The Voice is something I would never have entered in a million years but in the Autumn of 2011 I came perilously close to death from a severe anaphylactic shock due to a build up of wasp stings. I felt like if I didn't grab life by the horns I might regret it later. I hoped The Voice would be good publicity, a sure fire way for our music to reach a wider audience! The experience dragged me so far out of my comfort zone and it was so utterly terrifying for me that for the first time ever I was having intensive hypnotherapy to deal with stage fright. But it did a really good thing for me; it made me stronger and more resolved not to fail in music. Feeling more emboldened and single minded I set up a Kickstarter campaign, complete with a one take only - embarrassing video of myself (I reasoned that at least I don't have to watch it!) I set our target at what I thought was a do-able amount to raise, which was £3,000 over 30 days.

Those 30 days I went for - it hassling everybody I knew - especially friends and acquaintances on facebook. I acted in ways that were out of character by repeatedly pushing our campaign on facebook. Some people found this distasteful and I was embarrassed when they told me so - but I was not going to be defeated. We were hugely relieved and over the moon, when by the end of the month we received over £4,000.

Kickstarter also got the attention of a German fan of ours who became our 'patron of the arts' by adding more money to the project. This album may have been made for 20% of the cost of our first album but it is 99% more than some of our albums since TDFB. (One album was made for £50 for some drums and Nicks Roland Amp in exchange for some mixing help on two tracks. It was not mastered). Having decent finances has enabled us to spread our musical wings. It has been a creative godsend!

So, this month sees the completion of our 6th album. An album that has been a huge challenge for us. An exciting and exhausting journey. If it is a commercial failure at least it will not be a personal one to us. We will have delivered something we are proud of to all the wonderful people that supported us on Kickstarter. Although of course; we blindly hope that this album leads to even greater albums from us. The opening song on the album is called Blind As Hope, (it is also the name of the album). It sums up our life in music. We may get to 90 and still be attempting to earn a living from it but as they say down yer in the West Country - "yer tis an' can't get no tizzer!"

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Big swan is one down from little sparrow!

I was so thrilled about being voted Thomas Cooneys number 2 favourite singer in Caught In The Carousel. That is the kind of poll position that makes this bird chirrup!