An Outcast of the Islands

Or, Finding Colin

castaway

This week Burning Shed is inviting pre-orders for an album called Still. This new release appears to be by a fish called Colin (Bass) and a pen called Daniel (Biro). Crotchety Man recognised the pen as a writer of ambient aural pieces but the fish was hidden in the aquatic weeds of the murky memory lagoon. Donning his wetsuit and snorkel the forgetful explorer went in search of Colin the Bass.

The wise words of the ocean Wiki say this about Colin:

  • He was born in London in 1951.
  • He started playing guitar as a professional in 1968.
  • In 1970 he switched to bass guitar and joined Elmer Gantry’s Velvet Opera.
  • After a spell with The Foundations he formed the pub-rock band, Clancy, in 1971.
  • When Clancy split in 1976 Colin joined Steve Hillage for a 6-month tour of Europe and the U.S.
  • In 1977 he was a member of The Casual Band project which, for a time, included the Back Door drummer, Tony Hicks.
  • He became the bass player for the progressive rock band, Camel, in 1979 and has played with them ever since.
  • During Camel‘s extended fallow periods Colin was involved with the world music groups Orchestra Jazira and 3 Mustaphas 3.
  • In 1991 he began making solo records with Indonesian musicians using his world music moniker of Sabah Habas Mustapha and in 1998 he released the first of three studio albums under his own name.
  • As well as playing bass guitar, Colin is an award-winning producer and songwriter.

So, the Camel‘s bass player is a fish called Colin.

The first Colin Bass solo album is called An Outcast of the Islands. The title comes from a novel by Joseph Conrad which was made into a film in the year our Colin was born. The story tells of one Peter Willems, a corrupt trader in the small Indonesian town of Makassar. Dismissed by his employer for embezzlement, Willems takes refuge in an obscure village where he tries to steal from a boyhood friend and seduces Aïssa, the daughter of the local chieftain. When he is found out Willems is exiled from the village to become an outcast in those far off Asian islands.

Given C.B.’s history you have to wonder if he suffered from the same sense of isolation that the fictional Willems must have felt at the end of the novel. Certainly, that first album of Colin’s takes the Joseph Conrad story as its inspiration. Just ponder a few of the track titles:

  • Macassar
  • Goodbye to Albion¹
  • Aïssa
  • No Way Back
  • The Outcast
  • Reap What You Sow²

So, is An Outcast of the Islands a soundtrack album? Let’s spin it and find out.

The opening two tracks could easily have come from Camel‘s mellow prog rock catalogue – they both feature Andy Latimer’s lyrical guitar work. This is followed by a short piece unimaginatively called First Quartet, which (as you’d expect) plonks us into classical chamber music territory, changing the mood completely. We are then given an unexciting 7 minute pop song (if there is such a thing) before we get back to some guitar-based rock (albeit with a light sprinkling of marimba notes).

Although, by now, we have been primed for a variety of musical styles, when Aïssa makes her entrance she takes us by surprise. Her theme is a rather lovely fretless bass concerto; it’s my favourite track on this album.

The allure of the lovely Aïssa sparks an urge to dance in the moonlight to the strains of Bryan Ferry backed by The Shadows. At least, that’s what the hit single, Denpasar Moon, sounds like. I’ll sit this one out but it will accompany my idle thoughts very nicely as I sit sipping a long fruit-topped cocktail on an Indonesian beach.

At the half way point of the album there’s a 31 second breather in the form of the Second Quartet before two more songs from the Camel‘s desert island stable. Then Colin shows us his classical credentials with a three-and-a-half minute symphony as The Outcast shuffles dejectedly towards the setting sun and slowly shrinks to a smudge on the tarnished silver screen. Perhaps this is a film score, after all.

With the outcast gone the audience gets back to normal life with another one of those Bryan Ferry/Camel songs, a country music track and a short folk song. It leaves me feeling as though the songwriter wanted to demonstrate the full range of his art and just tagged these last three pieces onto the end of the album because they didn’t fit anywhere else. Well, fair enough. It makes for a slightly disjointed C.V. but it does highlight the song writing talents of a musician with a fishy name quite well.


Footnotes

  1. Spotify has this as Gooobye to Albion.
  2. Or, as discogs has it, “Reap What You Sew”.

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