Whether its due to shorter attention spans, lack of free time, or the inherent nature of downloading music off the Internet largely by individual songs rather than entire albums of material, the concept of a body of music made up of material grouped together in some artistic way long ago lost its perch at the apex of what defined musical achievement. But one local rock band is fighting back against that trend.
The group, known as The Battenkillers, will be performing an entire album originally recorded in 1979 by The Clash, at the time one of the better known English punk bands. The free concert will be held on July 8 at the Town Green, the first of an annual summer series of concerts hosted by the Manchester and the Mountains Regional Chamber of Commerce.
"London Calling" was the third album effort by The Clash. It produced a hit single by the same name, but also revealed there was more to The Clash than just hard-hitting punk rock. The band unveiled a variety of different styles of music across the 19-song double album, which went on to achieve wide acclaim; Rolling Stone Magazine ranked it eighth on its top 500 albums of all time back in 2003, and more than 5 million copies of it were sold back in the vinyl era.
"We grew up with an album as an entity, with cover art, an order of songs and linking themes," said Geoff Chamberlain, one of the guitarists with The Battenkillers. "They were meant to be consumed in a certain order."
Last year, Chamberlain and the other members of the band - Scott McCampbell, Matt Langan, Dan Scarlotta and Patrick Zilkha - performed "Exile on Main Street," a 1972 recording by The Rolling Stones, from start to finish, in the order the songs appeared on that highly celebrated and influential double album. Previously, they had also performed "Dark Side of The Moon," by Pink Floyd. "London Calling" will be their third effort at reproducing an entire body of work from start to finish.
Why "London Calling?"
It's the result of a very democratic process within the group, Chamberlain said. Each member nominates 3 albums for consideration. They debate, they discuss, they vote. They narrow it down to three finalists. More discussion. More voting. Then, a consensus.
Performing an entire album front-to-back poses an artistic challenge, as well as creating a point of focus, said Scott McCampbell, who will be playing bass on this effort.
"People will be surprised by the variety of styles," he said, adding those attending will hear some rockabilly, some reggae, some ska, and some R&B along with the straight-ahead rock.
"The public perception of The Clash was that they were an angry punk band (but) This is absolutely sophisticated - this is not The Ramones or The Sex Pistols."
There's so much variety that The Battenkillers will be bringing on a sixth musician to help out on six of the songs. Zach Hampton, a music teacher from Maple Street School, will be playing some of the horn parts performed on the original album.
There was a strong socio-political streak to The Clash. Long before concerns about diverging wealth distribution and "one percenters" garnering an outsized proportion of monetary rewards were grist for the pundit mills, The Clash wrote about unemployment, drug use and racial conflict. The title track, "London Calling," was partially inspired by the nuclear accident at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania earlier in 1979. Other songs, like "Lost in the Supermarket," and "Clampdown," speak about alienation and trying to hold on to youthful idealism in the face of "real world" pressures.
The band began rehearsing the material last March and found it a little easier to nail down the tracks than was the case with "Exile" last year, but a double album of 19 songs stretching out over more than an hour is never easy. Still, it was rewarding, both Chamberlain and McCampbell said.
"For me, it was fun to peel it back and see what the songs were about and it made it more interesting," Chamberlain said.
"I had never digested the lyrics; I could sing along with it but I couldn't comprehend what was in the sound," said McCampbell. "The musicianship is way better than I'd given it credit for. The drums and bass playing are really difficult."
The Battenkiller's concert, which opens the summer series of concerts, starts at 6 p.m. on July 8 at the town green adjacent to the Roundabout.
The Bondville Boys, a local bluegrass band, will follow on July 15, and several other local groups will be performing each Tuesday through Aug. 19. Berkshire Bank is the lead sponsor on the series, with the Orvis Corp. and the town of Manchester as supporting sponsors.
The concerts are free and open to the public. For more information, call the chamber of commerce at 802-362-6313.
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