|By Craig Harris |
Special to Reminder Publications
Gandalf Murphy & Slambovian Circus of Dreams
Northampton Center For the Arts, 17 N. South Street, Northampton
For further information, call 413-584-8912
With an original repertoire that spans everything from traditional Mummers tunes and Dylan-esque folk-rock to Pink Floyd-ish experimentation, Gandalf Murphy & The Slambovian Circus of Dreams may be one of contemporary music's most eclectic bands.
"We try not to limits ourselves," said lead singer, songwriter and guitarist Josiah Longo, who shares the band with his wife, Tink Lloyd (accordion, cello, theramin), Sharky McEwan (guitar) and Tony Zuzulo (percussion), from his home/studio in Sleepy Hollow, New York. "We're never going to be creating world peace if we're busy creating genres of music.
Gandalf Murphy & The Slambovian Circus of Dreams will be bringing their traveling ensemble to the Pioneer Valley when they host the first, of what's hoped to become annual, Grand Slambovian Hillbilly Pirate Ball, at the Center for the Arts in Northampton on, on Oct. 28.
"This is not just a regular concert,' said Longo. "We're going to have people who can instruct on how to do the Slambovian waltz, a little bit of hillbilly dancing and a little bit of Mummer's strut. Then, when people get tired, we'll sit them down and do a concert. It's going to be a lot of fun."
Since forming in 1998, Gandalf Murphy & the Slambovian Circus of Dreams has maintained its independence with a passion. "This band came out of a desire to escape the music industry," explained Longo. "We were playing in an earlier band in New York City and had a very famous manager. Every major label was looking at us. We were the first band to get into China. We played Carnegie Hall with a seventy-two-piece orchestra."
The band, according to Longo, had no interest in signing with a record label. "It would have been like death to us," he said. "So, we avoided the labels like the plague. We decided to bail out and stop playing for a couple of years."
During a three-year hiatus from music, Longo and Lloyd set out to learn what it took to control their own musical career. "We studied multi-media," he said, "so that we could do our own albums without having a label. We learned how to our own videos, our own graphics. We learned to do it all by ourselves."
Reforming as Gandalf Murphy and the Slambovian Circus of Dreams, a name that Longo believed the "labels wouldn't even touch", the group began to hone its sound in folk music open mikes. "We'd set up, play two songs and break it all down," Longo recalled. "We learned to do it really quick. That's why the drum set is stripped down. We wanted a huge Floyd-ian sound with acoustic instruments."
Despite their rock-influenced approach, Gandalf Murphy and the Slambovian Circus of Dreams has been steadily embraced by the folk music community. "When Dylan plugged in, it was the end of the folk festivals for him," Longo said. "But, everybody has expanded their consciousness to the point where we're playing these Pink Floyd-sounding songs (at folk festivals) and everybody loves it."
Although his role as lead singer and guitarist has occasionally led audiences mistaking Longo for Gandalf Murphy, the band is very much a group effort. "A lot of people have pushed me to be a singer-songwriter," Longo said. "I write all of the songs. But, we learned that a band is the way to go. Sharky (McEwan) has an incredible breath of playing and he's a humble guy. Tony (Zuzulo) is like John Bonham and Keith Moon mixed together. He has that Bonham heavy end and he keeps the groove. But, he does these insane fills. He brings that big bombastic thing."
"Every week, Tink (Lloyd) finds a new instrument that she wants to experiment with," Longo continued. "She studied classical flute. But, when we started this band, she said that she wanted to play accordion and cello. Then, Tony got her a theramin. The first show she brought it to, she played it and everybody flipped out."
The son and grandson of Philadelphia-based amateur musicians, Longo was bred to be a musician. "It was expected of me," he said. "They hung a guitar over my crib, a real nice acoustic guitar. I grew into it."
Running away from home, at the age of sixteen, :Longo moved to a commune in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Although he continued to refine his musical talents, he was petrified by the possibility of fame. "I had a lot of opportunities really early to do things," he recalled. "I was offered record deals when I was eighteen. I was offered lead parts in Broadway shows. I was offered the lead part in 'Pippin' when it was at its height in the 1960s. I turned it all down."
Although he toured with a theatrical company in 1972, it wasn't until he began writing his own songs that Longo felt comfortable with his artistry. "It's my main therapy," he said. "When I write lyrics, it gets me out of whatever hole I find myself in. It's not a writing ability. It's an ability to channel or tune into something. It's the only thing that I can do."
Recent performances by Gandalf Murphy and the Slambovian Circus of Dreams have featured Longo's twenty-two year old son, Chance, on bass. "I don't want to trap him," he said. "He writes and has his own side band. But, he loves playing with the Circus."