One day in the early 1980s I was browsing through LPs in one of my favorite record stores, a small boutique shop so popular then, where the owner knew every record in stock and would recommend to you his current favorites. As I was flipping through the records in the various bins, two record sleeves caught my eye. They featured nude pencil drawings and a logo of a band I never heard of. The back cover on both LPs listed the band members and the instruments they played, all acoustic and including guitars, flute, harp, violin, cello, tabla, marimba, banjo and mandolin. That combination sealed the deal. I forked the money to the owner who nodded in approval of my exquisite taste and rushed home to listen to my new yet unknown acquisition. That was my introduction to Flairck, the Dutch ensemble. It is hard to box them inside a single musical category, so I will use the general term folk. However in their case this is universal folk, as they do not limit themselves to music stemming from any single region. Plus they are clearly influenced by classical chamber music and long form compositions.
One of the albums I picked at that store was Variations on a Lady (Variaties Op Een Dame in Dutch). It is Flairck’s first album, released in 1978. Those were the days when an instrumental folk album could find success in the charts. The album went platinum in the Netherlands and won the Edison, the highest recording award in that country. The band went on to release many albums in the decades to come and gained more popularity, mainly in Europe.
For this post I picked the first thing I heard that faithful day, when the needle dropped on the vinyl grooves of the first side of Variations on a Lady. The track is Aoife, written by bandleader and guitar player Eric Visser, who was helping Irish singer Mary Coughlan to record her first album. The song is a lullaby for the birth of Coughlan’s daughter (‘Aoife’ is Gaelic for ‘Eve’). The song begins with two acoustic guitars playing a beautiful intro, until the pastoral and somewhat solemn melody enters, played on violin and pan flute.