CULTS PERCUSSION ENSEMBLE
The Cults Percussion Ensemble must have one of the best group names of all time. To many it will immediately come across as something sinister, a touch spooky and possibly a bit dramatic too. They are certainly two of those but the use of the word “Cults” here is easily misinterpreted. Cults, in this case, is the suburb of Aberdeen. I’m going there next week in fact, with a strange costume.
This is the only album by the group. Assembled by percussion teacher Ron Forbes in 1976, the average age of the students was just 14. They came from a few of the schools in the area, including the Cults Academy, Ellon Academy, Aboyne Academy, Inverurie Academy and Powis.
My copy of the album came from Spitalfields market in London. I loved the music the second it started, because it reminded me of Carl Orff and peculiar library. So I started to investigate it further, and eventually, thanks to the highly tuned world of percussion, was given the address of Ron Forbes. I got in touch with him and now we have this, a formal release of something quite lovely that was only previously available very briefly in 1979 at concerts when the young girls performed.
Over the years the original privately pressed album has achieved a little notoriety, not just because of the very beautiful music, but also because of the notable presence of one future star, but more of that later on.
In that last paragraph I say “little notoriety”, but when I investigated the album, there was scant information about anywhere. Nothing on line, and very few people had even heard of it. It seemed very much below the musical radar of just about everyone. However three people I knew of had come across it: one was a record dealer from France and I realized that the LP had been taken to France by the ensemble when they played there. The other two – 1) Mr Young from the very fine Sound Awareness blog and 2) the well respected music geek Andrew Symington, are both from Scotland. Yes, of course they are. So I got Andrew to write a few words, which freaked him out a bit, but then he got on with it. He even went and found some pictures. I also asked Ron Forbes if he had any recollections and he wrote a short piece for the sleevenotes too.
The original 1970s artwork for the album is all brown and beige, and I thought for something so musically beautiful a little more colour was in order. Whether this was a good idea or not is down to personal preferences but I quite like the new sleeve. And I’ll always love the music no matter what’s on the front.
Thanks for listening
I decided to form a percussion group to provide an outlet for my percussion pupils to play music specially written for them. The group soon became well known in the region and as a result of winning the outstanding award at the National Festival of Music for youth on three occasions, they were invited to play at other festivals within Europe, one being in Erlangen in Germany - hence the Erlangen Polka - and Autun in France - hence the Autun Carillon. During these visits we were often asked if we had any recordings and so it was decided to make an LP.
Ron Forbes 2011
I first became aware of the Cults Percussion Ensemble through a fellow Scottish vinyl archaeologist who knows I'm always on the lookout for obscure private pressings from north of the border. This one is from pretty far north, featuring a group of young female percussionists from various Aberdeenshire secondary schools, under the tutelage of music director Ron Forbes. He established the Cults Music Centre in 1972, where his protégées practiced on Saturday mornings in order to perform concerts both locally and further afield. Indeed, they were invited to perform at The School Proms at The Royal Albert Hall in 1976 (and subsequent years) and concerts around Europe in their trademark long tartan skirts.
The music here is really quite unique, with a celestial swirling hypnotic quality. The blend of glockenspiels, xylophones, vibraphones, marimba and timpani drums is quite intoxicating and can recall the shimmering warmth of the desert sun one minute (“Baia”) or freezing glacial icecaps the next (“Circles”). The Ensemble perform with an effortless tightness and deftness of touch, building textured layers with recurring percussive motives which appear simultaneously dense and yet sparse, almost sounding like modern sampling. In fact, while struggling to find a musical comparison, during the pulsating introduction to "Percussion Suite" I found myself recalling "Gamma Player", a piece of soulful Detroit techno minimalism from Jeff Mills (Millsart - “Humana” EP 1995) with its rhythmic percussion layered with complex emotion. Weirdly enough, other tracks on that EP also prominently feature xylophone and tuned percussion, although obviously synthesised and programmed, a good 20 years after the CPE first recorded...
The dream-like sounds of the Cults Percussion Ensemble are all the more extraordinary, considering they were made by a group of school-girls (well, one boy plays on one track). The album is also of significant historical interest, as it features the recorded debut of Scottish percussionist extraordinaire Dame Evelyn Glennie, here aged only 14. Although not all of the members went on to achieve world stardom, their performances on here are still exceptionally accomplished. After Ron Forbes retired from teaching at Cults Academy, The Cults Percussion Ensemble evolved into Grampian Schools Percussion Ensemble and then the Aberdeen City Percussion Ensemble, who continue to perform to this day using many of the same instruments Dame Glennie and her contemporaries performed on nearly 35 years ago. Hopefully, the Cults Ensemble will remain a cult no longer.
Andrew Symington Divine, Glasgow 2012
My Love She’s But A Lassie Yet
Percussion Suite (3rd Movement)
The Little Dancer
Two Jubilee Pieces
Surrey With The Fringe On Top