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 by Michael Lohr

Carol Tatum along with cellist Cathy Biagini and flutist Susan Craig Winsberg and a plethora of guest musicians have solidified Angels Of Venice, whose name is derived from a collection of Pre-Raphaelite paintings, as one of the best Neoclassical, Renaissance groups currently touring and recording today.

Angels Of Venice has several records to their credit including “Awake Inside A Dream”, “Music For Harp, Flute and Cello” and “Sanctus” which includes a rendering of the 14th century song, “Polorum Regina” from the Libre Vermell, a medieval collection of song manuscripts. They’ve also performed on several Windham Hill Records ‘Winter Solstice’ and “Summer Solstice” series records. On the Windham Hill “Renaissance” music album they performed the song, “Si Je Perdais Mon Ami”. One of the more interesting projects Angels of Venice contributed to, was the classical rendering of Beatles hits, “Here, There and Everywhere: The Songs of the Beatles”. Angels Of Venice has even played at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC.

I had the great pleasure to sit down with multi-instrumentalist (harpist, mandolin, bouzouki and hammered dulcimer) Carol Tatum and discuss all things musical, Medieval and Angels of Venice.


ML: How did you come to form Angels Of Venice?

CT:  One day, long, long ago in a faraway land called Venice Beach, California, a harpist and a flutist donned flowing white dresses and garlands in their hair and plopped down their instruments to perform for the panopoly of beach goers, street performers, beach front store owners and assorted characters playing beautiful, relaxing original music in the summer sun with much success.  Then one day a gentleman walked by and commented “Oh, it’s the angels again!” and thus was borne the name “Angels Of Venice.”  The name fit perfectly from the moment the comment was made.  


ML: Angels Of Venice make some of the most provocative, mysterious music being made today. What is the group’s essential musical philosophy?

CT:   There is a credo in the CD booklet of our first CD (“Music For Harp, Flute & Cello”) that states:  “The Angels Of Venice are dedicated to expressing through music the beauty and mystery of the human spirit and celebrating the gift of Life.” Because Life is very much a mystery to be fully embraced, and a celebration that should never be taken for granted.


ML: On “Awake Inside A Dream” you had Azam Ali, of Vas and Niyaz fame sing on the song “A Chantar Mer” and Greg Ellis of Vas play percussion on “Lionheart” and “The Sins of Salome”. How did they come about to participate on this record?

CT:  I had met Azam and Sonja Drakulich (of Stellamara), who were friends with each other.  I am a great supporter of women in music so when we all met and discovered we all had a special love of medieval music in common, I was so very happy and thought we would all become great friends.  To this day, I still don’t really know what happened with our friendships.  It became quite strange and tense with unanswered questions and then they simply faded away.  Azam did call me a few years later.  We played phone tag but never connected.  I did, however, speak with Sonja and asked Sonja’s boyfriend, Gari Hegedus, to perform on the Windham Hill CD.  Sonja was with him at the session and I spontaneously asked her to sing on the intro of “Lacrimae Mundi (Tears Of The World)” with me. You can hear Sonja and I in the intro doing the “angel” voices.  After that, I lost touch with them.  It is very hard to find contemporary women musicians who love medieval music as the three of us did.  So I felt sad that our friendships just seemed to become curiously neglected and ended up abandoned.  As far as Greg Ellis, he is such a wonderful percussionist and he and I both have a rock background.  Greg also played on “China Moon.”  I think it would be fun to play with Greg again.  I am currently playing with percussionist Jeramiah Soto (from his tribal fusion belly dance band “Solace”) on my upcoming 2009 CD.  Jeramiah is just incredible, as a musician and as a wonderful, down to earth, loving human being.


ML: On “Awake Inside A Dream” you performed “A Chantar Mer” which was written by 12th century French Noble, Countess Beatriz de Dia, who was a troubairitz, a female form of troubadour. What was it about this song that compelled you to record it?

CT: I love medieval music and the fact that “A Chantar Mer” was written by a female musician from a location and time period in history that I love (around 1175, southern France) - and that her song is the only canso by a trobairitz to survive with it’s music intact – really drew me into the song.  And I love the melody.  Plus, it’s about betrayal in love…juicy stuff!  But, always the optimist, Beatrice sang:  " The joy you give me is such that a thousand doleful people would be made merry by my joy."


ML: How was the experience of performing at the premiere party of the movie “Elizabeth: The Golden Age” at Universal Studios?

CT:  Well, it was divine!  I love Cate Blanchett!  She sat a few tables away from where we were playing.  It was great to see the original costumes and some of the props from the movie up close and personal.  I have photos of the party on my “Angels Of Venice” MySpace page.


ML: You’ve been called a combination of Loreena McKennitt and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. What is it about Renaissance and classical forms of music that drives your muse?

CT:  Thank you.  I just love Loreena McKennitt and even cover her song “La Serenissima” and added a cello part.  My very favorite music, however, is classical.  I love Beethoven, Bach, Grieg.  When I was about 6 years old, my grandmother would play Strauss waltzes and my sister and I would dance together in the living room (and we would charge 25 cents for the performance!).  There is a saying:  “Beethoven is God’s fire, Mozart is God’s laughter and Bach is the Word of God.”  Throughout my life, in my musical discovery process, I found Renaissance music and suddenly felt “at home.”  But something drove me further back in time to the medieval period – specifically around 1180 - and then I had an “ah ha!” moment.  That music deeply touched me.  You could just feel the emotion and pain traveling through time on the thread of the melodies.  I discovered the Cantigas de Santa Maria and the Libre Vermell de Montserrat and checked out recordings from the library by The Martin Best Ensemble, La Nef and, of course, Hildegard von Bingen.  I have had plans to record a medieval CD for about six years now and even have the tracks completely picked out.  It seems to end up on the back burner, though, but I will definitely release this CD and I very much look forward to recording that music.


ML: On your holiday CD, “Sanctus” you perform the song “Pollorum Regina” which originates from the Libra Vermell (Red Book), a 14th century manuscript. How much research do you put into your songwriting development?

CT:  The late medieval song “Pollorum Regina” was such an exquisitely beautiful, melodic yet simple song and, although not a Christmas song per se, I felt it fit very well on “Sanctus.”  The Red Book songs were created to give pilgrims something pious to sing in church and the composers are unknown.  I do a fair amount of research because I have a natural curiosity and love history and I want to know where things originate.  A band I enjoy, Qntal, recorded a modern rendition of a Red Book song “Ad Mortem Festinamus,” which has been a dance club staple for many years.


ML: Your “Music For Harp, Flute and Cello” is a wonderful combination of Early Medieval music and traditional classical faire. Song selection on the record flows from Olde World traditional such as “Pachelbel’s Canon” and “Greensleeves” to wonderfully melodic tunes such as “Luna Mystica”. Tell us about the process for creating this record? Song selection difficulties; recording process?

CT:  “Awake Inside A Dream” was fueled by a lot of ‘positivity’ and inspiration.  I finally had the budget to record a CD the way I had heard it in my head for so many years but could not actualize until I had enough money.  Songs such as “Lionheart,” written about Richard the First of England (Richard the Lionheart), were written quickly and recorded with great inspiration during the session.  Greg Ellis’ playing really propelled the song and while I was recording the octave mandolin part, I actually changed the arrangement right in the middle of a take because it just felt right to do so and that new arrangement done on the fly became the final.  So, a lot of feeling and intuition were infused into that song.  By the way, I don’t demo songs before I record them.  I write them and then go in the studio and that’s it.  So, I knew in advance what songs would go on the CD.  


ML: Your solo harp record, “Music for Harp” is a dazzling, ethereal combination of Neoclassical and world music. “Voyage of the Sea Witch” and “Persentio” are two of my personal favorites, but I was pleasantly surprised by your inclusion of a harp cover of Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters.” Why this song?

CT: It is essentially a tribute to Metallica’s deceased bassist Cliff Burton, who was killed in a bus crash in Belgium in the 1980s. I tried it on harp and it worked beautifully.  So, I wrote an arrangement for harp and cello and added the tolling church bell and people seem to love this new arrangement.  


ML: Please tell me about your new solo project, Ancient Delirium?

CT:  “Ancient Delirium” is my new “Carol Tatum” CD, which will be released this Summer (2009).  It will be quite a departure and a surprise to Angels of Venice fans because this will be a tribal fusion ROCK CD.  I am playing hammered dulcimer, acoustic and electric guitar and there is only one harp song.  I have been searching for an excellent male vocalist for many years and finally found my singer, Charles Edward, from the industrial metal band “Seraphim Shock.”  Charles’ voice is velvety smooth with a beautiful, rich tone like Elvis or David Bowie and with the power of rock singer Geoff Tate (Queensryche).  It will be the first CD I’ve ever done with vocals on it and, although it sounds trite, this IS the best CD I’ve ever released.  Florian Ammon is again mixing and he just finished the latest Rammstein CD.  We were extremely picky about the mixing.  It was a pain staking process of love to get the mixes just right and they sound totally amazing.  Charles’ vocal range is very dynamic and the songs have lots of exotic textures and body conscious rhythms.  My cousin, Gary Myrick (from the 80s band Gary Myrick And The Figures) is playing a wicked slide guitar solo on one song and Tal B, sings on a powerful African/Lebanese inspired song “Ahava.”  I’m also covering a Led Zeppelin song (my favorite band) called “Friends” which makes the hairs on my arms stand up!  I even have a Bernard Herrmann-inspired oboe/violin/French horn/tympani/percussion sound-track-type song closing the CD called “Courtesan Suite” (Bernard Herrmann was the composer for all the Alfred Hitchcock movies).  The CD is be available on Amazon.com, CDBaby.com and Projekt.com.

To learn more about Angels Of Venice, Carol Tatum, cellist Cathy Biagini, the music and the myth, go to their MySpace page or their official website: http://www.angelsofvenice.com/ .