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Gareth Koch – Song for George Harrison (Foghorn)

4 July 2024

After seriously enjoying several of Gareth Koch’s recent full-length releases, including ”Ghost Stories” (Foghorn, 2023) (reviewed here) and ”Music in the Afterlife” (with fellow Tasmanian, Martin Kennedy) (also Foghorn, 2023) (reviewed here), I was excited to hear new music, and his plan for more built around his appreciation of various popular contemporary and 20th century artists.

To the uninitiated, Gareth is an ARIA Award winning performer, composer, and songwriter, known for his highly-skilled classical and flamenco guitar work. Definitely check out his bandcamp page for his full discography. The big twist is that he takes traditional music as a jumping off point, eager to tinker, re-invent, and “re-animate”, as he says with another recent release; ”French Medieval Journey” (Foghorn, 2024). Importantly to my ears, he also ventures beyond classical/flamenco into self-described “medieval psychedelic rock” terrain on his own and with musical partners including Kennedy and another mutual colleague, Steve Kilbey of The Church.

With the new single, “Song for George Harrison”, his original piece is approached with three distinct mixes: a 60’s mix using authentic techniques from Abbey Road, a Seattle mix using all contemporary features, and lastly a live Phil Spector -esque “Wall of Sound” mix, using beautiful vintage gear circa George’s ”All Things Must Pass” LP (Apple, 1970).

The song itself is a lustrous jaunt. Clocking in around three and half minutes, the instrumental piece is acoustic, with strumming guitars and lithe bass keeping the beat. The various mixes may seem quite similar at first. Put the single on repeat, moving from one mix to the other, and just sit back. The attentive listener will be rewarded gradually.

Gareth kindly told me more about this release, as well as what’s to come:

David: What inspired this song and why offer it three ways?
Gareth: “I think the inspiration for almost any song owes a partial debt to The Beatles! In this case I really wanted to channel the spirit of George and hopefully infuse some Beatles/George DNA into the song. So, it seemed natural to open the track with the ukulele, supported by a mellotron keyboard sound which subtly references a mid-era Beatles tune. The sitar (I played a vintage Sri Lankan instrument) was also played backwards during the mix, as a hat doff to the spirit of experimentation at Abbey Road studios. The three mixes show the phases of evolution in mixing, beginning with the sixties. The ‘Don River Mix’ uses the reverse sitar and takes a deep dive into 60’s studio aesthetic. The ‘Seattle Mix’ is clean and contemporary sounding. A very different beast. The ‘Spector Mix’ is live and massive sounding, emulating the technical imperfections of earlier recording technology, all brought together in a wall-of-sound approach.”

David: For those like me who are less technically knowledgeable, were there any challenges in recording analog with ukelele, sitar, etc.? Any funny, odd, or esoteric stories to share about such a process?
Gareth: “Well, recording the instruments was relatively straight forward, point the mic at them and don’t go into the red! With the sitar though I soon discovered that sitting cross legged on the floor with it was out of the question. So, I busted out my ironing board for the first time in 15 years and placed the sitar on it and treated it like a lap steel guitar! The sitar playing I would describe as ‘enthusiastic’, along with various other adjectives which are perhaps best left unpublished!”

David: Anything else you’d like the world to know about this piece of music and what it means to you?
Gareth: “The ‘Song for George Harrison’ is one of a series of tributes I’m writing this year. The project is a set of dedications to influential artists of the modern era. Songs for Stevie Nicks, Kate Bush, Sting, Paul Weller, and others will follow.”