One of my favourite albums of 2014 was ‘Songs From the Portal’ by Dundee multi-instrumentalist and sitar player Paul Lefty Wright. That album was as sprawling and wide-eyed as it was unexpected in its treatment of pop music. Playing it today, it still feels incredibly fresh in its unconventional use of conventional building blocks.
After five long years, Paul is back again, this time with The 3rd Eye Flute Band. And musically, there are very few connections. For starters, it is all instrumental. I must say that I miss the vocals, since the lyrics on ‘Songs From the Portal’ were great, and had some truly amazing stories to tell.
But luckily, the band name happens to be such a story in itself. It seems that Paul wanted to learn playing the metal flute, and a friend told him he should buy a Yamaha SL2 for £800. As Paul was sitting in his sofa dosing off in the evening, he thought the price was totally out of his budget. But just as his eyelids got heavy, he saw an image of the flute in the window of a local thrift shop in his mind’s eye. The next morning, he went there and of course it was there. It was in fact an LS2, for only £90.
He started playing and was an unusually quick learner, to the point that he is now participating on demos for Paul Weller’s next album both on flute and sitar.
With anyone else, I might scoff at a band called the 3rd Eye Flute Band for the above reasons – especially if the album title is ‘Music from An Eastern Western’ and the band leader calls himself Lefty Wright. But with Paul, I’m all OK with that. Once you have heard this guy’s music, you will know why.
When I saw the album sleeve, which lists all the different ragas that the songs are based on, I was fully expecting this to be a very Indian affair, not least since Paul is a sitar player as already mentioned.
And when the needle hit the first groove, it did indeed sound very Indian. Not that my judgment means much in this case. My experience barely extends beyond Ravi Shankar’s guest appearances on Beatles albums. To put it bluntly, although I do know what a sitar sounds like, I wouldn’t be able to tell a raga from a muffin even if you were to hit me on the head with them.
But after the short intro track, the music quickly changes character. ‘The Left of Spring’ is a flute led number, allegedly based on a theme from Stravinsky’s ‘The Rites of Spring’, with a thumpy bass to the fore and Mellotron in the back. It has a bluesy feel and I couldn’t help but think of Jethro Tull, although this doesn’t sound anything like them. ‘Hoedown’ comes across almost like a jig, albeit with different instrumentation, and ‘Paxploitation’ takes us on a jazzy flute fantasy trip.
Side two starts with a key track, ‘Theme from an Eastern Wester’, the title them to an imaginary Bollywood Western. If anything, it reminds me vaguely of mid 70s prog rock although again it doesn’t sound at all like that. The soundtrack theme returns towards the end of the album with ‘Theme, variations 1 and 2’ in a similar but different vein: first it gallops away but then stops and breaks into a forlorn Mellotron voice reminiscent of Bo Hansson’s ‘Music Inspired by Lord of the Rings’. Except there’s lots of sitar so the comparison falters yet again.
While struggling to come to grips with the music here, I gradually realise that Paul’s strength is that although nothing he does is conventional, neither is it contrived. While the music on this album is definitely experimental, importantly, it doesn’t try to be different, or even difficult. When I asked Paul what kind of music it is, he answered: “I don’t really know what it is, it just appeared in my head like that.”
This music doesn’t try to fit into a certain genre, but at the same time it doesn’t consciously try to break genre rules either. It is innocent in a way, and as such it is a very liberating listen.
You really need to hear it.