Hello world! It’s been a while since my last post, but I’ve been keeping myself busy. Along with gigs in forests, my improvised comedy debut, and being an extra in a popular period drama, I’ve also got an exciting new project in the offing… a CONCEPT ALBUM based on the Italian epic poem Orlando Furioso!
But what is Orlando Furioso, I hear you say? Well, apart from every Italian person I’ve ever spoken to, who learned it at school, it’s surprisingly little-known – despite having inspired a huge amount of modern literature, including Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings. It was written by Ludovico Ariosto in the 16th century, but is set in the medieval era, covering the battle between king Charlemagne’s paladins and the invading Saracen army. It’s about knights, love, chivalry, battles and all the other things you might expect from an epic poem.
So far, so highbrow, right? Well, not quite. When Cambridge storyteller Marion Leeper contacted me last summer, inviting me to collaborate on a show based on the poem, I had no idea how hilarious, ridiculous and oddly modern it is. It turns out the poem was basically joke fan-ficiton for an earlier epic poem, Orlando Innamorato, written by a different author who died before he could finish it. Ludovico Ariosto took it upon himself to complete the tale and, just as Fifty Shades of Grey originally started out as fanfiction for Twilight, it became just as popular in its own right. Highlights of the madness include:
A trip to the moon (the place where all the lost things go)
An evil necromancer with a steel castle
A magic ring that makes you invisible (sounds familiar?)
A talking myrtle bush
The Hippogriff Song!
It’s also surprising how progressive and feminist the story is in places. Probably because he wanted to attract the patronage of noblewoman Isabella d’Este, Ariosto put in loads of amazing female characters including:
Bradamante, a badass female knight who is constantly rescuing her boyfriend from peril
Alcina, a sorceress who turns irksome men into garden shrubbery
Marfisa, the formidable warrior woman who wears a belt made out of the foreskins of eight lecherous kings
For the past year, Marion and I have been performing a live storytelling show around the UK based on these excellent and ridiculous characters, focusing on the star-crossed romance between paladin knight Bradamante and saracen warrior Ruggiero. Marion’s silver-tongued story-spinning brings out the humanity and humour of the story, interspersed with songs which are in turn hilarious, tragic, melodramatic, romantic, and all incredibly fun to perform.
The next step was, naturally, an album – but we agreed that we didn’t want to do a straight-up recording of the full show, because we’ve often found that recordings of storytelling shows don’t seem to capture the magic of the live experience. Instead, we’ve distilled the show into a tight 40-minute concept album. The songs are interspersed with very short sections of narrative, backed by music throughout – sort of like a calmer version of War of the Worlds, or the kind of thing I did with my Steampunk space pirate storytelling band, The Mechanisms.
Like my previous albums, it will have the full-band sound that can only be provided by my amazing producer Nick Siepmann, who has been tirelessly recording us over the past couple of weeks.
The recording sessions were challenging, exhausting and incredibly fun. We’re all really proud of the result, and we think you’ll enjoy it too. So watch this space!
(And it you’d like to book us for the live show, just drop me a line!)