Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Welcome to the Beehive - My gap year, part 2

As this evening we will be celebrating the Jewish New Year, it seems only fitting to wish all my readers a happy and healthy New Year!!

Going back 40 years: we lived in two rows of huts, where each row had five rooms. Boys were two or three to a room, girls two. Conditions were what might be termed spartan, but somehow it didn't seem to bother us too much. The communal showers unfortunately weren't close to our huts, which would be problematic later on in the winter.

One day in the 'early' period,  I was walking between the two rows when an effervescent guitar riff (as I was later to term it) caught my ear. When I asked what I was hearing, I was given a cassette copy of the 'Poogy Tales' album by the Israeli group Kaveret ('Beehive' in English). I was very impressed by the sound, even though the whole cassette seemed to be one continuous song. Later on, of course, the songs separated into individual units and it became clear which songs were excellent and which were merely very good.

This music was to accompany me for the entire year: at the end of year party, I was to perform one of the songs in front of the entire kibbutz.

The record started with a short introduction which basically was the words 'one can learn from Poogy Tales'. What exactly one could learn was never specified; presumably everyone would learn their own lesson. What I learnt from those songs was the Hebrew language; obviously it took a lot of work, but like a long lost mosaic, bits and pieces of those lyrics were slowly deciphered, assimilated and understood. As it happens, I was listening to this record again the other day and was explaining one of the puns to my wife.

But - initially, at least - the words were not the attraction for me. Even today, whilst I appreciate lyrics to songs, I'm really listening and reacting to the music. There was something very special about the first Kaveret album, something which had yet to be heard in Israeli music. Their sound was built on contrasts or pairs: there was a pair of lead vocalists (one high, one low), there were two lead guitarists (both very good), and there was a keyboardist who could take things in his own direction away from the others. The arrangements were exciting and at times, unexpected, combining disparate elements to forge a unique sound.

Almost all the songs (words and music) for the first album were written by one person, guitarist Danny Sanderson. Their second album also was mainly written by Sanderson, not surprising as it was based on leftovers from the first album. But their third - and final - album featured a wide spread of writing credits and musical styles. This was the beginning of the end: there was a vast explosion of talent which the group structure could not contain and so the best Israeli group ever called it day after only three or four years of activity.

Every ten years or so, they would get together for a reunion, which would mean a few open air concerts and possibly a live album - but always the same songs (this sounds remarkably like Fairport Convention in the 80s). This year (2013), they reunited for what they call the final time; there were five concerts, each attended by 20-30,000 people. Commentators performed cost analyses and reckoned that each member of the group (and they are seven) walked away with anything between one to two million shekels. Not bad for a few weeks' work. This probably was final compensation for the early years.

Unsurprisingly, a box collection has just been released. My initial thought that the box would contain the original albums and one or two reunion concerts, but it transpires that this box set has been two years in the making and almost all of it is unheard material. There are six cds and two dvds; bar one dvd, all the material is from 1971-6. As one might infer, I am listening to one of the discs now.

The first disc contains three rock operas, recorded before the group had only five members; the second disc contains their comedy skits (of which there were a lot). The third and fourth discs document a live performance held in Jerusalem some time in 1974 (I can't find the actual date), which means that this would be very similar to the performance which I saw in May 1974. The fifth is a live in the studio run though the songs on their third album and the sixth is a collection of alternate versions and oddities, like English language versions of a few well known songs, and a few English-only songs which were written at the end of their career and trying to get a recording contract in America.

The first dvd is a television concert performance from 1975 (black and white!) whereas the second is from their first reunion in 1981. The box set is packaged very well and is completed by a one hundred page booklet which contains a large amount of information as well as the texts to some of the skits.

This monster package has a price list of 329 NIS (about $90): expensive, but value for money. I was prepared to pay this amount, but as it happens .... I received as a New Year present, the third book by Dan Arieli which has just been published in its Hebrew translation. As I purchased the book - in its Kindle edition - a year ago, I was able to return the book to the shop from which it was purchased and obtain a credit towards the box set. In the shop, I was told that normally one couldn't credit a returned book towards a cd, but that they would make an exception in this case (maybe because it was a box set? maybe as a gesture towards the New Year?). So strike 96 NIS from the price. The sales girl told me that I would have to pay 153 NIS. As I signed the credit card slip, something about the arithmetic gnawed at me: it turns out that there was an extra 80 NIS credit which they had given, presumably to reduce the expensive 329 NIS price tag down to a more reasonable 249 NIS.

In the past few days, I had been intending to write about New Year in Israel, 1973, but I seem to have been somewhat sidetracked. I'll continue this subject tomorrow.

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