Apr 222022
 

Under the Radar shines a light on lesser-known cover artists. If you’re not listening to these folks, you should. Catch up on past installments here.

Last year, a study by Fender and YouGov of Americans between 16-34 revealed that 16 million people had taken up the guitar since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. Speaking to Insider about the study, Fender CEO Andy Mooney estimated that “as many as 72 million people are playing the guitar right now.” These are impressive statistics, and something to be celebrated. However, it’s hard not to wonder if the prominence of instruments like the guitar might be pushing other, less-well known instruments to the sidelines.

One person doing a lot to change this is London-based percussionist Rosie Bergonzi. Rosie has a YouTube channel dedicated to the handpan, a unique flying-saucer shaped instrument that can trace its roots back to the Trinidadian steel drum. The channel is a goldmine of information, featuring lessons, interactive livestreams, and an eclectic selection of covers arranged especially for the handpan.

“I first started playing the handpan in 2015,” Rosie tells Cover Me. “A few years before, I heard a busker playing in the street, and I thought it was the most amazing thing I’d ever heard–I was determined to have one! So after a lot for searching I found my own handpan and have kept up with it from there.”

The handpan itself was created in Switzerland in 2001 by steel drum makers Sabrina Scharer and Felix Rohner of Pan Art, based on a suggestion by hand percussionist Reto Weber. For its first twelve years of existence the instrument – originally known as the Hang drum – was extremely hard to come by, available only by sending a special request directly to Pan Art. However, once Pan Art ceased production of Hang drums in 2013, the instrument became widely available from other makers, soon becoming known as the handpan.

How does Rosie go about choosing songs to cover?

“I’ve found that the tunes have to be very melodic for an instrumental cover, so rap, for example, is really hard to make effective as it’s all about the words. It’s always surprising ones that work well, so I ask around a lot for song suggestions – any genre!”

And what about arranging the songs for the handpan?

“I get the chords down, normally while singing the tune. Then I work out the melody. The harder job is working out how to play the two at the same time. My handpans have limited amounts of notes (9-17) so getting the melody to sing clearly is an interesting challenge. My favorite part is working out the arrangement, sometimes playing with the speeds to make it feel really different to the original.”

To demonstrate this process, Rosie started a series called Covers Done Quick, where she selects a song a random and adapts it for the handpan in just one hour.

Let’s look at some of Rosie’s other handpan covers…
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Oct 052021
 

I am uncertain how much traction the Specials had outside the UK, where they are rightly considered national treasures, riding a wave of energy since their most recent regrouping and reiteration. Now down to the core trio of Terry Hall on vocals, Lynval Golding on guitar and vocals, and Horace Panting on bass, here they are again aided and abetted by much the same cast who crewed 2019’s Encore, the touring of which had been rudely interrupted by Covid. Rather than sitting home and ruing, the band fired up their default setting of righteous indignation.

As a multiracial band in the English midlands city of Coventry, on the cusp of the 1980s, the Specials became famous, not just for their infectious bluebeat, but also as bastions in the burgeoning fight against racism, generally and in music, appearing, on occasion, on the Rock Against Racism platform. Their response to the George Floyd case last year, was to utilize lockdown and raid their record collections, putting together Protest Songs 1924-2012, a collection of covers which, in some way or form, cast a reflection on the circumstances that could allow such a thing to happen. Protest songs, one and all, if sometimes not necessarily appreciated as so, with about as eclectic a selection as could be, with source material including the unlikely triad of the Staples Singers, Frank Zappa and Leonard Cohen. The one style absent is of ska, the band’s erstwhile calling card and M.O., with any number other of genres embraced in its wake. If nothing else, this displays the broad grasp of musical strengths available within the Specials, yet without losing the strident declaratory croon of Hall, or, indeed, the collective identity. Ska or not, this could be no other band.
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Apr 212021
 

Welcome to Cover Me Q&A, where we take your questions about cover songs and answer them to the best of our ability.

a cappella cover

Here at Cover Me Q&A, we’ll be taking questions about cover songs and giving as many different answers as we can. This will give us a chance to hold forth on covers we might not otherwise get to talk about, to give Cover Me readers a chance to learn more about individual staffers’ tastes and writing styles, and to provide an opportunity for some back-and-forth, as we’ll be taking requests (learn how to do so at feature’s end).

Today’s question, suggested by staffer Jordan Becker: What’s your favorite cover song based on a relative’s original?
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Nov 302020
 

Dan Mangan is one busy guy. He’s a member of an increasingly large community north of the border, right at the front end of, if you will, Canadiana, a redoubtable second or third wave of artists following on from Cohen, Young and Mitchell. Hallowed company? Yes, but Mangan is worth the compliment. He’s put together a solid body of work, well worth checking out, since starting out in the mid-noughties. Whether his solo acoustica or his more experimental ensemble work, where he finds the join between avant-garde and electronica, he has also found time to write soundtrack music and to be a contributing arts editor to the Canadian version of UK newspaper the Guardian.

An accomplished songwriter himself, he has an interesting take on cover versions: “It’s a matter of sanity. I get sick of the same taste in my mouth and I need to sing someone else’s song to cleanse my palate.” And glad we are he does, as it means the release of Thief. This is a collection of palate cleansers he has slipped out over the past few years, together with some new.
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Sep 252020
 

In the Spotlight showcases a cross-section of an artist’s cover work. View past installments, then post suggestions for future picks in the comments!

When I first saw the guitarist Charlie Hunter, it was accidental. I was only interested in seeing the sax player and the drummer—two legends—not the guitarist playing with them. If I’d never heard of him, how good could he be? Hunter was in mid-solo when I walked in. Within seconds I was sold—loved the scalding tone, the unhurried feel, the unexpected chords. Then the music shifted gears and the bass line grabbed my attention. I turned to check out the bassist–but no bassist stood on stage. It took some time to figure it out: the bass player was also Charlie Hunter.

On closer inspection, Hunter wasn’t playing a 6-string, but a 7- or 8-string beast—the “extras” were bass strings. The song’s latin-jazz groove pulsed from the bottom set of strings, the leads and melodies spidered out from the top few strings. On top of that Hunter was clearly improvising all of it, working out the bones of the song blow-by-blow with the drummer. The sax player I came to hear stepped up to solo, but by then I was mostly there to see Charlie Hunter.
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Aug 192020
 

It isn’t any longer a surprise when avowed adherents of one tradition tackle another, and folk singers tackling the pop charts is one of the staples of current expectation. And it can be a mixed blessing.

Kate Rusby has one of the purest and most distinctive of voices that grace the UK folk circuit, and has been one of the most successful, her career stretching back over three-plus decades. Firmly associated with the trad. arr. firmament, her voice, with acoustic guitar, fiddles, and squeezeboxes reaping the songs of old England, she also writes material that can fit into that style seamlessly. An unmistakably Yorkshire presence, her accent unadorned by any need to adopt the faux-ploughboy (or -girl) many folkies seem to adopt, her whole persona seems inhabited by the tradition. There are no messages, she has no soapbox–just the singing. Continue reading »