From Them to Hymn - The Ultramarine Connection

by Simon Scott

Ultramarine's 2003 Website

"Everything you do is true, as long as you believe it...". Certainly a philosophy that Ultramarine have adhered to in their various incarnations, despite the vagaries of fashion. Also the first chronological reference point between the band and Kevin Ayers that the general public were likely to come across. This line and others, taken from Kevin's 1970 single "Butterfly Dance" and it's reprised version "There Is Loving/ Among Us/ There Is Loving", appeared on Ultramarine's 1991 12" single "Weird Gear". Listen carefully to the wonderful "Every Man And Woman Is A Star" album from which the single was taken and you'll swear you hear the ghost of "May I". In fact the album as a whole is a veritable feast for Canterbury Scene trainspotters with sprinklings of Wyatt and Gong too. The majority of these snippets are exquisitely blended samples, however the vocals on "Weird Gear" were performed by one of their associates called Brendan Staunton. Despite being relative newcomers to Canterbury music, having by their own admission only discovered it by accident by picking up a copy of "Whatevershebringwesing" in a secondhand shop, they had obviously become serious converts!

At this point the band had reduced to the still surviving duo of Ian Cooper and Paul Hammond following the previous year's debut album "Folk". This pair then gathered around them a loose group of musicians to flesh out both the studio and live sound. The next logical step was to approach some of those artists that had so inspired them, with hope of some productive collaborations. The result was the appearance of Robert Wyatt on vocals, songwriting credits and videos (!) for their third album "United Kingdoms". Caravan's saxophonist, Jimmy Hastings, also made a showing both on the record and in subsequent live performances playing a variety of woodwind instruments. In fact this album as a whole has a very English, pastoral though distinctly jazzy feel. And notably, Kevin Ayers appears in the credits for both albums...

In May 1994, following a series of telephone calls to Barcelona and a listen to a demo tape on which Brendan again sang, Kevin flew to the U.K. to meet the band. On the 10th, Ian, Paul, Kevin and a whole host of other musicians, including the Whole World band member and long-time collaborator Lol Coxhill, gathered in London's Berwick St. Studios as the Ultramarine Big Band.

The resultant recording, a dreamy and mesmeric version of Ayers' "Bananamour" track "Hymn", has finally been released after an epic saga of stalling, withdrawl and near abandonment. Originally scheduled for release in the autumn of 1994, and indeed favourably reviewed by the likes of Q magazine, it eventually emerged this April. Fortunately, as planned from the beginning, it is available as two separate CD singles entitled "Hymn" and "Hymn remixes". Both have Ultramarine's distinctive "Offshore" wave symbol prominently on the front. The former is a four track e.p. kicking off with the duo's upbeat "Hymn" backing complemented by the angelic vocals of David McAlmont (of McAlmont & Butler fame). A video of this version was featured on The Chart Show. McAlmont also appeared live with the band to sing "Hymn" as an encore at some of their recent shows supporting Everything But The Girl. The other three tracks are quirky and intriguing instrumentals reminiscent of the material on their most recent album "Bel Air". These have replaced three other instrumentals that were to appear on the e.p. in 1994, and which had a more "United Kingdoms" feel. Hopefully these will also see the light of day sometime, as they certainly warrant public hearing. In addition, Paul tells me that another as yet unreleased track entitled "After" was recorded with Lol at the same session.

The "Hymn remixes" CD contains about forty minutes of music! Track 1 is a so-called "acoustic" version of the McAlmont tune, which has a lovely lilt to it and sublime vocal phrasing. However, as has been par for the course, there has been a misprint on the CD cover and this rendition is not listed. The next four tracks are various mixes of the "Hymn" theme, as interpreted by different artists well known in the dance-music sphere (something Ultramarine have done on previous e.p.'s). Each are very distinct and imaginative, showing that the remix genre can be so much more than adding a repetitive back-beat. Lastly, we get the Big Band gem. Driven by the familiar cascading tune and a superb, fluid bassline, the song weaves along over seven minutes with Kevin's deep, lazy vocals floating above. And then there's Lol's characteristic "strangled goose" sax solo as the final embellishment...Need I convince you more? All we need now is a picnic, bottle of wine and a decent Summer...!

Selected Discography

"Folk" (1990, reissued 1994), "Every Man And Woman Is A Star" (1992), "United Kingdoms" (1993), "Bel Air" (1995), "Hymn" (1996)

And finally a few of Ultramarine's personal Ayer's faves...

Albums: "Whatevershebringwesing", "Joy Of A Toy", "BBC Radio 1 Live"

Tracks: "Whatever..", "Margaret", "Stranger..", "Oh My", "Lady Rachel", "All This Crazy Gift", "Song For Insane Times", "Colores..", "Oyster..", "May I", "Clarence", "Ballad Of A Salesman..", "Shouting.." and, of course... "Hymn".