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In Gowan Ring

+ {Birch Book}

The brainchild of US-born multi-instrumentalist/singer B’eirth (born Bobin Jon Michael Eirth), this psych-folk pilgrim (Bee to his pals) was the founder of many band projects, including SubCulture (in 1986/87), Mary Throwing Stones (with future IN GOWAN muso, Lincoln Lysager, C. Barry Semple and Brian Castillo); one eponymous limited-edition CD was issued.
In 1992, troubadour Bee based himself in London, England, where he toured and signed to World Serpent Records, home to fellow experimentalists CURRENT 93. After featuring in a number of Various Artists compilations in the early 90s, IN GOWAN RING (complete with various revolving-door musicians), set about creating wyrd-o, medieval folk music with tripped-out, apocalyptic psychedelia – think The INCREDIBLE STRING BAND sharing studio space with The VIRGIN PRUNES!
Recorded the year previously, LOVE CHARMS (1994) {*7} was the low-key debut of the ‘Ring, B’eirth, himself, featuring on a few dozen instruments (and er, water!), while gothic backing stemmed from Amber, Celise, Mary, Cate, Sarah G and old mucker, Lincoln. From dour, lo-fi/folk opener `Listen To Colours’ and `Of Water Wiverings’, to the genius of `Spindle Tree’ and the similar `Dandelion Wine’, the nocturnal-friendly set oozes a sense of mystique that most folk purists will find disturbing. Be warned as it’s hard-listening at times, even second “dreambox” cue, `Within Rings’, belies an undercurrent of subliminal suicidal missives; the lengthy closing piece, `Urn And Water’, could be just the one to get you climbing the walls.
Recorded between 1994 and 1996 (adding various newbie recruits), sophomore set THE TWIN TREES (1997) {*8} abandoned most of the far-flung, off-kilter diversities of the debut, concentrating instead on neo-folk-faerie-like tracks such as the beautiful `One Silver Ring’, the darkly, dream-like `Lady Beyond The River’, opener `Rivertime Tome’ and the jazzy title track. Things do go somewhat awry again by way of `By Moss Strand And Waterspathe’, although B’eirth’s Celtic-folk-iness gets into full retro swing via `Cupped Hands Spell’ and `Our Rainbowed Paradox’.
A second release for BlueSanct Records, ABEND THE KNURLED STITCH O’ER THE GLINTING SPADE (1999) {*7} sadly brought the ‘Ring to an abrupt close; people will look back on their time as essential to evolutionary fabrication of freak-folk. The biggies here – in terms of ritual longevity and track length – stem from the lush `Cipher’s String On The Tree In The Dream Of The Queen’ and `Milk Star’, but its dreamy star opener `Two Wax Dolls’ that succeeds in sending shivers down one’s proverbial spine. R.I.P. was not on the cards though as I.G.R. returned for another series of cd-r’s, obscure and of course hard-to-find.
B’Eirth, meanwhile, moonlighted with BIRCH BOOK, recording the project’s eponymous debut, BIRCH BOOK (2005) {*7}, in New England during the years 2002 through 2004. Spotlighting other members, Seth Eames (Telecaster electric guitar), Annabel Lee (viola), plus Moss and Victoria (chorus), the album was tinged with steely country and blues soundscapes, somewhat akin to PALACE/WILL OLDHAM (best example, `Five Hundred Keys’, the harmonica-driven `Easy To Live’ and the juicy Jews harp of `How The Hours…’). `Coffee Morning’ recalls a certain VELVET UNDERGROUND’s `Pale Blue Eyes’, `Train To Rome’ recalls an acoustic ‘Floyd or ‘Zeppelin, `Leaf Patches On Sidewalks’ probably ROY HARPER or DONOVAN; if The CARPENTERS or BREAD were still around, they’d be swiping `Sleepless Search’.
With a medieval slant (as depicted in another hessian-like cardboard artwork on the plaintive sleeve), sophomore set FORTUNE & FOLLY (2006) {*6}, was a relatively quick BIRCH BOOK follow-up. Opening (and ending) like its predecessor with a light instrumental, B’eirth on vocals and acoustic guitar creates a hypnotic back-to-basics monotone, albeit somewhat sombre and indeed horizontal on choice cuts, `Young Souls’, `New Joy’, `The Carnival Is Empty’ and the 7-minute `The Trip Goes On’.
Taking three years in the recording studio (with the obvious break to host some Mad Hatter’s tea parties one hopes), BIRCH BOOK delivered number three in the voluminous trilogy A HAND FULL OF DAYS (2009) {*6}, a record that veered toward psychedelia rather than folk. To boost an imminent tour, limited-edition covers set (all but bookend titles) TOMORROW’S SUN WILL RISE THE SAME (2010) {*6} is an interesting folk artefact to collect, his re-vamps here come courtesy of GENE CLARK’s `Day For Night’, NICK DRAKE’s `Clothes Of Sand’, VIOLENT FEMMES’ `Good Feeling’, Angelo Branduardi’s `The Stag’, MARC BOLAN’s `Blessed Wild Apple Girl’, ROGER McGUINN’s `Ballad Of Easy Rider’, FRED NEIL’s `A Little Bit Of Rain’, ELYSE’s `Houses’, PARCHMENT’s `Corners Of My Life’ and the traditional `Silver Dagger’.
Absent for several years, IN GOWAN RING were back in circulation as of January 2014 through a limited-edition, German-only CD-r, HEART STAR GIFT {*6}. Bookended by two tracks that accompanied the release on 7-inch format, `Love Is A Rose’ and `Cupped Hands Spell’ were affective enough to spin-out what true-rooted freak-folk fans had come to expect; the remainder within the mp3 included renditions of traditional songs and a cover of The TROGGS’ `Love Is All Around’.
As time passed in relative proxy, B’ee’s IN GOWAN RING were almost in soundtrack/score mode with the PIANO MAGIC-like THE SERPENT AND THE DOVE (2015) {*7}. A demure and transcendental work opened and anchored by eponymous pieces, the moonlit, minstrel-ic vocals of the main man took hold on `Thousand Of Bees’ and `Sial At Play’. For years subjugated to the fringes of their chosen genre like some CURRENT 93 outcast, the spell was again cast by way of the pastel `Julia Willow’ and the 9-minute madrigal, `Field Of Dream’.
Now boasting a full-set of covers in 2016’s VISIONS OF SHADOWS THAT SHINE {*7}, one could pick out the exemplary and chamber-folk of PHIL OCHS’ `Changes I’ and `Changes II’. Squeezed in among ROD McKUEN’s `Blessings Of The Day’, The BEATLES’ `Across The Universe’ and GRATEFUL DEAD’s `Attics Of My Life’ (the latter accompanied by Emma Skemp and Sarah Pakosch), Bee’s band of merry men and women created an album to transcend time immemorial; and that included inspired pieces from obscure names such as Brian O’Reilly, Adrian Freedman, Deva Madhuro and Timothy Renner.
© MC Strong 2011/GFD2 / rev-up MCS Jul2013-Dec2016

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