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sn't it typical! You pay your hard earned money for a domain name or two. You spend hundreds of hours putting together a web site. You give it the name of your favourite album of all time; the album that has been at the top of your tree for over fifteen years. Then what happens?

You go out and find an album that's better!

As that bloke from the Fast Show would say. Oh, bugger!

So what is this CD that has toppled the mighty Godbluff from its perch? Let me tell you about Curly's Airships...

On the face of it, you wouldn't think that a piece of music based on the tragedy of an airship disaster would amount to much, but you'd be wrong. Such is the talent of composer/lyricist/performer Judge Smith that even such an unlikely and potentially tragic subject comes across superbly.

Now, if you've already been to the pages dedicated to VdGG then you might have noticed the name Chris Judge Smith as being one of the founder members of the group. Not surprisingly, this is the same person. After his exit from the early incarnation of the group at his own insistence, he flitted around the edges of the arts business, writing music but recording very little. He wrote songs for Not The Nine o' Clock News, wrote and directed an award winning film about a brass band and even found time to design public lavatories for an architects firm that he was working for!

Quite bizarrely, this is only his third ever album release, but then it's quality not quantity that counts and the previous two are excellent. For the record they are:

  • Democrazy. A rag-bag collection of various demo tapes he made between 1967 and 1977. There are some real gems here including a number of tunes subsequently recorded by Peter Hammill.
  • Dome of Discovery. His first CD proper. Containing all the hallmarks of Judge's work, notably excellent arrangements, fine percussion and that dry sense of humour in a number of tunes.

Curly's Airships is a whole new business, 'though. Judge uses the term 'songstory' (first thought up by John Ellis) to describe the concept of the album. The music tells the story of the first full flight of the British Airship, R101 through the eyes of one person, George 'Curly' MacLeod. From his first flight in an R33 up to the time when the doomed airship glides gently into a hillside in France while on its way to India we follow the tale of this fictional yet totally authentic character.

So what makes is so special?

  • The Music. The music is composed of a number of recurring themes that mark specific episodes within the narrative. Throughout the whole of the piece, every theme exactly conveys the feel of the particular portion of the story. So for example when we first encounter Curly it is via a medium, so the music is ethereal and spooky. When the R33 is being hauled out of its hanger there is very heroic anthem, when the air ministry speak then the music borders on absurdity. There are sea shanties, tangos, authentic Asian music and a whole lot more.
  • The Libretto. This is Judge's strong point (not to say the other areas are weak). The libretto perfectly captures the whole myth that surrounds the R101 in addition to recreating the feel of the 'Roaring 20s'. Though the story is told through Curly's eyes, there are plenty of places where the significant players get their turn. So people such as Lord Thompson (the Air Minister) and several members of the fated crew all have their say.
    The quality within the words means that Judge can incorporate humour and pathos, all without appearing laboured, sentimental or flippant.
  • The players. All of this effort on Judge's part could have been wasted is the quality of the players was not up to the task. As usual, the majority of the artists are culled from friends or friends of friends. Among the eighteen, there are three ex-VdGG members, two Stranglers (one ex) and Arthur Brown. The majority of the music is recorded by Judge, Hugh Banton, John Ellis and David Shaw-Parker although eight others contribute. The vocals are handled by Judge, Peter Hammill, Arthur Brown, Paul Roberts, Pete Brown and Paul Thompson while there are parts as voice actors.
    The make up of the music is simple, drums, bass, organ and guitar so the sound is very clean. Here and there other instruments accompany particular themes e.g. accordion for the shanties and sitars for the Indian pieces. Naturally the playing of the music is exemplary.

I could go on about it for ages, but you would be more usefully served by going to the official web site located at www.curlysairships.com where you will find an absolute mine of information, not only about the CD, but the history of the Imperial Airship Scheme. It's a great site.

You can also buy a copy of the CD there, of course!

I will close this page by saying that never have I come across such an instantly and totally engrossing piece of music in my life. When I first listened to it, I was doing some web pages at home. Within about ten minutes, I realised that I was no longer sat at the PC working, I had become totally immersed within the story...

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