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Friday, 19 August 2016

Corfu, Greece: Plous Bookshop, Tο Βιβλιοπωλείο Πλους φιλοξενεί ενα αφιέρωμα για τον μουσικό, συγγραφέα Raul Scacchi; MINIMANIMALIA

Παρουσίαση Βιβλίου του Raul Scacchi 

Tο Βιβλιοπωλείο Πλους φιλοξενεί ενα αφιέρωμα για τον μουσικό, συγγραφέα Raul Scacchi και το τελευταιο του βιβλίο "MINIMANIMALIA". Για το βιβλίο και τον συγγραφέα θα μιλήσουν ο Θεοτόκης Ζερβός, η Τζόια Μαέστρο και η Medora Davison θα διαβάσει επιστολή του Jim Potts.

I wish I could be there. I contributed the following piece, to be drawn upon as appropriate. I hope it may be of interest to others who cannot be present at the book launches in Corfu or Pisa.

A personal account of collaboration, based on an email exchange between December 8, 2006 and 31 May, 2014.

I’ve already written my personal tribute to Raul (16 June, 2014), who died on June 9, 2014, so I will try not to repeat myself here. It has been published on several web-sites, including (in Italian translation) on

Raul and I first met at the Christmas Arts and Craft Fair at Dassia, Corfu, in November 2005. Raul had copies of his CD “Emails to Emily” for sale. We must have exchanged CDs - it seems I gave him a copy of my blues CD, “On the Memphis Road!” recorded at the Sun Studios in Memphis.

The first email I received from Raul was on 8th December 2006. “I have listened to your disc, which is really well done, considering it’s live and in single takes. I hope you had an opportunity to listen to the one I gave you, I really would like to have your opinion about it. I hope we could work together in the future…”

Raul was not the type to give false praise or compliments. And, to be frank, at the time I wasn’t into his kind of synthesised computer-composed music either, so my initial response to “Emails to Emily” wasn’t much more enthusiastic than his about my CD, but I certainly saw possibilities for future creative collaboration. I soon became a great admirer of his musicianship and all his albums and compositions.

Over the years my role and input to Raul’s projects would be in the form of editorial assistance, making suggestions, fixing faulty English language grammar, word order, and choice of words, making modest improvements to song-lyrics, but it would also extend to sending him some of my own previously published and unpublished poems for possible setting to music or for professional arrangement and orchestration. He always brought fresh and innovative ideas to the sound and structure of a song.

We would also gig together on a number of occasions, at small festivals or fund-raising events, after rehearsing in his studio at Sinarades. Raul was always generous with his time, supportive and tolerant of musicians with relatively limited musical know-how or technique.

Although Raul was incredibly versatile, and could play almost anything I asked for on his guitar, we had very different approaches to song-writing. My approach began with words: “words before music” – metrical adjustments later, once a suitable melody had emerged. Raul’s approach was definitely “music before words”, with metrics being of paramount importance. He began with the music. He was quite strict about that, although at other times he did his best (ie very successfully) to create interesting music for my poems and lyrics. His first album, Emails to Emily, we should not forget, consisted of adventurous settings and arrangements of poems by Emily Dickinson.

I could also be (diplomatically) critical at times, if for instance he overused the electronic wah-wah guitar pedal effect, or if he overlooked the need for studio-coaching of his selected vocalists (nearly always non-native-English-language speakers), who could have easily been helped to correct their stress-patterns, pronunciation, clarity and intonation, to enhance the listener’s interpretation and appreciation of the words of the song.

Apart from our regular get-togethers in Sinarades or Kefalomandouko (Corfu Town) – many meetings, working on a sustained and fully collaborative basis on all the songs for “Neuromantics” (see the CD sleeve-notes), we had a frequent exchange of emails from the end of 2006 until 31 May, 2014.

I supplied some of own poems and song-lyrics for the album “Cooking Friends” ("The Nomad”, “Where’s that Good Samaritan Gone?”, “The Nights Are Drawing In”); for “Failed Expectations “(“The World’s Her Oyster”- a lyric I had originally written about the death of Amy Winehouse); for “Minimanimalia, Canzoniere Animinimalista”(“The First Lyre””, “21 Dolphins”, “Confessions of a Wanton Boy”- I also had some input to other songs); Raul also did me the honour and great favour of agreeing to my request for him to try setting, orchestrating or re-arranging other poems and songs I had composed in the past for my own simple folk guitar accompaniment, eg “Thirty-One”,“Cowrie Shell”, “Martial Law”, “Greek Girl”, “Taking Care of Business” and “The Song of the Shoulder-Shrugger”.

Apart from these, we collaborated, mostly by email, on polishing various songs included in “Necromantics – Beyond” (eg “Backstage”,” Psychopomp Lullaby”, “The Monk”, “The Soul Collector”- my input being mostly in the form of small fixes or minor additions to the lyrics, but Raul would write on 11 June, 2010, in response to my suggested tweaks or fixes to The Soul Collector, “Thank you, I will remember you in my prayers”). Klaus Knopp was apparently also happy with the small changes made to some of his excellent if stylistically challenging lyrics. See also the sleeve notes of the album, with my introduction.

I was often away from Corfu, in the UK, Australia or Zagori (Epirus). I have only recently been reading through our old emails, but I think some exchanges are quite revealing.

One translation I attempted for Raul was not very satisfactory, I admit. I was visiting Australia, trying, in some haste, to make a little sense of the lyric about a small fish, a silver-sided sand smelt (Atherina in Greek), rather than worrying about the metrics at that stage. I sent my hasty rough draft to Raul on 5th November, 2011:


On the rock where I sat, idly fishing one day,
I heard a sweet voice from not far away,
Very softly it sang – the sea was not deep-
Of the sweetness of life, but I started to weep.
Leave it frayed, full of holes, the torn fishing net,
To let the silversides swim (through) without having to fret,
To dart to and fro, vagabonds in the sea,
To feed in the shallows, little rascals like me!

Raul replied the same day that it was “ok as a first draft, the metrics though have to be completely arranged. Maybe it would be better for you not to stick so much to the original version, there’s no need to do it. Feel free to write about anything else, if it feels better. Just try to write something about some kind of love, with some sort of an optimistic view, so we can use it as the last song, sort of hope message”.

I wasn’t very good at getting to grips with Raul’s subtle metrics, unless he provided me with a template. Maybe his arrangements were too sophisticated for someone who liked a solid r ‘n’ b or rock ‘n’ roll beat. I had no problem with metrics when writing my own poems. And as I’ve said, for me the words come first!

Raul’s interpretation of “Atherina”, in the Greek version which he sings himself, is included on the Minimanimalia CD, and is beautiful as it is. There is also a much better English translation than my own included in the book.

On 25 March 2012, Raul wrote, about “The Black Swan”, “I’m not sure where to put it, because it fits both Failed Expectations AND the Animinimalistic Songbook which will follow…Maybe you want to write something for this future project?”

On most occasions Raul was happy with my emailed contributions, encouraging comments, suggestions, and occasional input of ideas, often fairly minimal, but he would respond that ‘they made things sound better’ - for instance in relation to songs like “Pâté de Foie Gras”, which I believe I may have first suggested or even drafted in part, and “The Hermit Crab and the Stray Cat”, “Hedgehog on the Edge of the Road”, “Criminal Monkeys”.

Raul would often write: “Thanks a lot for your (as usual) precious suggestions”.

I was critical of the wah-wah effect in “A Dog Waiting”:

Jim: “Is the wah wah a woof woof? If not, a slightly lower mix for the wah wah?” (2.11.2012)

Raul: “You’re right about the wah wah (woof woof), but tell me something…what’s wrong between you and the wah wah?” (2.11.2012)

Jim: “The wah wah tends to date the composer…a touch of the late 60s?”

I sent Raul some of my own poems on related topics, for possible inclusion in the Animinimalistic Songbook album, such as “Confessions of a Wanton Boy”. Raul used the concept, title and the first half from my poem (up to “God forgive my genocide”), but added some additional material of his own for the final song version.

My main contribution to Raul’s important posthumous concept album about animals came in the form of other poems originally published in my collection “Corfu Blues” (Ars Interpres, 2006), which Raul later set to music and orchestrated for his unfinished demos of “The First Lyre” and “21 Dolphins”.

On 25 October 2012, I sent the following email to Raul:

“Are you interested in a song about dolphins? This is based on a haiku (the chorus) I wrote in Corfu in 1967, and a draft poem, much changed, that I wrote in Halkidiki in 1983 when the Ministry of Agriculture, in order to protect the fishing industry and the nation's nets, declared dolphins as pests.
They paid out 600 drachmas then for every dolphin nose (or beak), that was cut off and presented to the officials.


Twenty one dolphins danced in the harbour.
The teacher kept on talking.

But the Minister says that dolphins are pests.
The Minister says they're no longer our friends.

Dolphins are outlawed, they're not welcome guests
They're no longer allowed near the ships or the shore.

They may have their own language
But they damage our nets.

The fishermen kill them,
But don't get upset.

Any dolphin brought ashore
Will have its nose (beak) chopped off with a slice,

So no fisherman can be paid
For the same (dead) dolphin twice.

There's a fair fixed amount
For each dolphin nose.

We need such a proof, to prevent all abuse-
And please remember, that dolphins are foes.

They're foes to all fishermen,
So don't be a fool.

The Minister says
We should teach it in school.


Twenty one dolphins danced in the harbour.
The teacher kept on talking.”

As I said, it all began with my little “Corfu Haiku”, written when I was a teacher on Corfu in 1967 and later selected by Iron Press and the British Haiku Society for inclusion in “The Haiku Hundred”, Iron Press, 1992 (new edition, The Haiku 100, The Historic Collection, Iron Press, 2015:

“Twenty-one dolphins
danced in the harbour
the teacher kept on talking”.

I had little idea how far Raul had progressed on setting the dolphin poems/song of mine to music. I only found out when I called on Gioia in Sinarades on 25 July, 2016 and received a copy of the book and CD. The last time I had heard from Raul on the subject was in October 2012: “The dolphins are waiting for the right inspiration”.

Raul consulted his friend Stephanie in Canada (who sang “Man Friday” in “Neuromantics”) about my poem “The First Lyre”; she thought the lyrics were “incredible”. She wanted to know about the inspiration for the song. I replied to Raul on 10th October, 2012:

“Thanks! That raises my spirits, I think it is quite a good poem (it was broadcast on the BBC). I think I was inspired by the thought or image of an ancient Greek lyre, and the tortoise shell, which got me thinking about all the other animals who suffered to contribute to the cause and creation of music and the fame of Orpheus. The thought that suffering and even cruelty can lie behind much artistic creation, including lyric poetry”.

Again, I only heard Raul’s setting of my poem for the first time after Gioia gave me the book and CD in Corfu in July 2016.

I was very glad that Raul took up my suggestion of setting Francesco Petrarch’s wonderful sonnet, Una Candida Cerva (my email of 30/1/2013); on 22 February 2013, after he sent me some (flawed) English translations he’d found, I wrote “I thought you would set the original Italian (more beautiful!)…Can you find some other translations… or even try the Italian original?”

Raul was so modest, perhaps he thought it might be considered presumptuous of him to set a sonnet by Petrarch in Italian. I am so glad that he did follow my suggestion. The words came first on some occasions! (See also this posting).

I am thrilled with the book and CD, “Minimanimalia”, a true labour of love and enduring tribute to Raul. I congratulate Gioia and all her collaborators, technical and artistic, for achieving something I had imagined could never be achieved. The illustrations are superb. The animals will be eternally grateful. I hope these extracts from email exchanges between Raul and Jim will shed extra light on the genesis and development of some of the songs.

Extracts from more of Raul’s emails:

On The Hermit Crab and the Stray Cat:

“I’m thinking of a new song, maybe you can help. It’s about a hermit crab…I’d like to make a parallel between the hermit crab and the words of a poet. They look for the same thing after all: a place to stay. The hermit needs a shell for shelter, the poet’s words look for a different place, the heart of a man, where they can settle to give new life to a (sometimes) dead thing”.

“I will have to find some music, it’s getting more and more difficult, I don’t know if I can reach the Beatles White Album (20 songs!)”

On Robin’s Nest:

“The second one is just an idea for a song about bird’s nests. In reality it is one of those naughty songs with a double meaning. Basically it’s about a friend of ours, Robin, who runs a bar called Robin’s in Agios Gordios”.

On Guinea Pigs:

“I’m thinking about a new song about guinea pigs. The general idea is that mankind should build a monument to all the simple lives that are sacrificed for our benefit, to show respect and compassion”.

On Hedgehog on the Edge of the Road :

“The idea of the song is now: very melodical from the beginning to the end of the first verse. Then it moves up a bit in the second verse, with an odd rhythm. From the third verse on it becomes a sort of soul acid song”.

On Prayer:

Prelude: Invocation.

It should go something like: Is there anybody going to listen to my prayer for the ones who cannot speak their mind? This is just the idea

Second part: Complaint.

Reporting of animal abuse (whether for their meat, fur, experiments in labs, hard work carrying stuff or attached to a chain, somebody even enjoys their suffering)

Third part: Confession.

Denounces the most evil of all animals: MAN!?

Conclusion: Invocation reprise.

On Pâté de Foie Gras

From Raul:

“To make a good use of the spirit of the mountain, you think you could work on Foie gras a bit? Maybe you could point out the fact that geese are kept with their feet nailed to the ground, so they won’t move! Man is capable of incredibly disgusting things, and he’s not ashamed of it. “

From Jim:

“Are they really kept with their feet nailed to the ground? That's horrific. I didn't know that. Can you double check that before I work on the verse?”

From Raul:

“You’re right, there’s no real evidence, maybe it’s something which was done by individual peasants, rather than the industrial standard procedure”.

From Jim:

“You are a militant animal activist. The French will be after you with a long tube”.

From Raul:

“If they catch me I will tell them that YOU wrote the lyrics…. Eh eh ….”

Email from Raul, 25 March 2012:

“I didn’t pay attention to the parade in the village, I’m allergic to national pride, religion and families, like in the good old times. I prefer to write songs, so I don’t have to think about it”.

On Atherina: From Raul, 9 November 2007

“I really start missing our meetings in Kefalomandouko, where we could work together, exchange opinions and laugh. It was fun, for me at least. For the moment, don’t worry about this last song, just keep doing your things. If you wish, you could send me some of your poems, so I can see whether I can put some music to them. I can’t promise anything though, I’ve never worked this way. I’m slowly turning into an animal, because I’m spending most of the time with my dogs and cats and we don’t have much to say to one another because we’ve been together too long now, and we don’t have the same interests anyhow.”

Minimanimalia, una festa per gli animali e l'ambiente Eventi a Pisa
Minimanimalia, una festa per gli animali e l'ambiente

Bipolar Bear

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