ENTREVUE / INTERVIEW

OAK

With: Jerry Cutillo

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ALBUM REVIEW HERE

Serge Marcoux - September 2020


Profilprog (PP): Hello Jerry and thank you so much for giving us time to answer our questions.
O.A.K.: My pleasure. I’m happy to be on ProfilProg again and thanks for paying attention to my work.

PP: Can we consider your new record, « Nine witches under a walnut tree », as the conclusion to a trilogy of albums related to the magical world or mysterious world? If so, tell us a bit about that trilogy please.

O.A.K.: When in 2016 we published “Viandanze”, first album of the trilogy, I realized I had found my branch within the “classic prog” genre. My previous attempts have had a greater range of contaminations which made some of the old prog fans confused (I remember when in 2011 I played the Prog Exhibition Festival appearing on stage with balalaika and siberian costume and the audience was shocked). So, recently I turned to my friendly old ghosts and faced my keyboard’s background again (I was born as an organist apprentice in 1973). I do not have any presumption to present a newly born hip sound for a trendy audience and I must admit that what I’ve produced on this trilogy is rather derivative (an adjective that applies to most of Italian prog). On the other hand, I have now the possibility to express the deeper aspects of my music to a sensitive, cult audience (thanks to the web). To me progressive music has always been related to the magical and mysterious world and even if I have never had any conscious relationship with the esoteric world, I can say that I have accumulated some weird anecdotes over the course of my life. Few weeks ago, a well-known English occultist, Mr. Andrew Keeling, asked me the reason of the esoteric presence within prog music and what is the driving force that push some musicians to embrace its initiatory processes. I cannot hide the fact that I was quite flattered to receive such a sign of esteem from the author to whom Robert Fripp had turned up for the writing of the musical guides of his first albums in King Crimson. I did not hesitate to answer him and, if you allow me Serge, here are some fragments of my reply:

“…I believe that music is the quintessence of occultism. Of course, it has gone under some distortions, but its main principle is set a connection with the invisible world. In ’69 Bob Fripp and his band mates had numerous visits by supernatural entities. During the recording of their first album, they felt some guiding presences that seemed to convey their musical efforts…

“…When, at the end of the sixties, Peter Hammill went to meet Graham Bond, the latter understood how that meeting could represent a handover. The founder of the Graham Bond organisation was dealing with serious drugs & alcohol addictions and his days were numbered; so, he passed the magic torch to Peter…”

” …There seem to be a sort of natural identification among individuals with similar sensitivities, perceptive abilities and corresponding predestinations…”

These were sketches from my esoteric prog background which always provides me new ideas and motivations to keep on proggin’ in the new world.

PP: « Giordano Bruno” was very well received inside the progressive community but « Viandanze”, the first of the three is not so well-know. Is it still available? Was it a thematic album? Please give us a little background about it.

O.A.K.: I started to write “Viandanze” in 2013. It actually should have been an audio book about my music experiences, but the songs went on and the pages got stuck empty (laughs). I made some of the album recordings in Switzerland with producer Marco Viale and then I went playing the Cropredy Festival in UK with my other friend Maartin Allcock (Jethro Tull, Fairport Convention). There’s a song on the album called “Holy bells” which tells about three friends living in different places but sharing music experiences because friendship has no borders. “Viandanze” contains seeds of the following two albums because on the opening track “Magico noce” I sing about the magic walnut tree and the ancient samnite traditions and on “Giubileo” I scream about Giordano Bruno to be burned. Thus, a spontaneous cohesion took place among the three works and, when at the end of the last one I eventually raised my head, after a deep breath I exclaimed: But… this is a trilogy! “Viandanze” has been published on cd and digital stores and there are some beautiful videoclips of some of its songs on my YouTube channel.

PP: On « Giordano Bruno » there were four languages used, Italian, English, German, and Latin. This time, there is Italian of course but also German and even French? Those are Interesting but unusual artistic choices. I may add that the story was told even in Japanese on the sleeve of « Giordano Bruno ». What about it and why those choices?

O.A.K.: Through all my music years I’ve been wondering about which language should be the best for my compositions. I made albums English sang, others in Italian and one even in Russian and Siberian but I could not get a clue. This is a much more intrigued matter than someone could think because it has nothing to do with commercial results or what should be the most catchy sound to sing my song but it concerns about who I am and where I come from. I always thought of myself as an Italian with a vast British background. However, my English knowledge isn’t sufficient to compete with products coming from English spoken lands and, at the same time, I don’t feel comfortable to sing my songs with Italian lyrics too. It seems to be such a mess but… year after year and experience after experience I developed a cosmopolitan spirit: My first wife was Dutch and the second Russian (laughs). I have got deep into the multi-ethnic characteristics of my place of origin with people coming from the north (Longobards from Scandinavia and Celts) and south (Byzantine and Greeks) and so, on the album I’ve tried to revive a similar scenario with witches coming from different places to join the sabbath. This enhanced the centrality of the magical walnut tree of Benevento and the cosmopolitanism of the events narrated in the album. "Dame Harvillers" for instance, is a dedication to a French alchemist who was burnt at the stake in Ribemont in 1578 and on this track, I did my first attempt ever in French language and perhaps the last (laughs). And for "Rebecca Lemp", a German woman coming from Nordlingen and burned at the stake on 9 September 1590, I created a role as an astronomer with her leading the final march, showing the others the light of the Tyco supernova from the top of the Janare’s cliff. This song closes the album with a series of sound explosions half cosmic and half laughing, and it is sung by me in German thanks to Gerlinde Roth who wrote the lyrics.

PP: How the situation the world is going through affected the realisation of the new album? For example, is this why there are fewer guests? Did it influence your writing?

O.A.K.: In addition to the ubiquitous David Jackson, to whom I extend all my gratitude for have supported me for all these years, there is the new entry by Jonathan Noyce with whom I shared the 2010 recording sessions at Banbury, UK. Then Daniele Fuligni on the Grand piano, Tetyana Shishkaya soprano voice, Cristiana De Bonis vocals, Gerlinde Roth recited, Marta Perozzi and Eclisse di Luna choirs. The list could have been longer but the attempts to define the song’s rhythmic structures and arrangements, however carried out with leading personalities from the music scene, led to drastic choices on the final step. As already happened with "Giordano Bruno", not all the elements experimented in the working process ended up finding place in the album. I’m a multi-instrumentalist and this fact always helped me a lot to get what I really want to express my music because, as far as I’m concerned, the presence of other musicians must give birth to something very special in the sound of the album. It is certainly not the mention of big names on the list the main purpose. There were also absences dictated by well-known reasons, such as the disappearances of Glenn Cornick, Rodolfo Maltese, Claudio Rocchi and the more recent one of Maartin Allcock. I would have gladly continued to cooperate with them, but it will never be possible again.

PP: Did it influenced your inspiration somehow? For example, we heard of artists inspired and others that literally stopped creating. How did it affect you?

O.A.K.: I dedicate much time to music and when I work, I get into a total concentration status like being on a suspended big bubble full of dreamlike visions and notes floating around. So, within that moments no matter about what’s going on in the outside world. But, for sure, the recent lockdown pushed me further to do something really special as if it were my last chance. Something to leave to the survivors of the catastrophe. Music has always had a magical strength to me: The power to get through the time & space frontiers. Perhaps one day an alien should get in touch with a music message and maybe change his mind for the best. Who knows ?

PP: The new album gave me more a feeling of intimacy, a little more folk and slower paced if I may say. The focus seems to be on the songs, each a little gem, instead of one blending in the other. Would you agree with such a feeling? Or better, what is yours?

O.A.K.: My main aim was to represent nine intriguing portraits of women. Each to be inserted in a kaleidoscope made up of many lights but generated by the same substance. The slower paced is perhaps given by the atmospheres even more filmic then in “Giordano Bruno” and the odd rhythmic signatures within the songs intersects with the folk sounds of the mandolin, the prog of the mellotrons and the psychedelia of the synthesizers in a more concise and effective form.

PP: Now let us explore the theme of the album. Are there some parts of reality with the nine witches evoked on the album and the location of their meeting? Even if it is only the local legends of the countries where they are coming from.

O.A.K.: The opening track "Chlodswinda" has Nordic roots and resonates of ancient Longobard’s rituals. They came from Scandinavia and settled in the Sannio territory for four centuries giving life to the Duchy of Benevento. Together with "Gioconna", descendant of the "Zucculara" a well-known witch of Benevento’s folklore, Chlodswinda is the fruit of my imagination. About “Dame Harvillers” we wrote before and the following "Janet Boyman" traces the profile of a Scottish witch executed in 1572. "Franchetta Borelli" is a noblewoman from Triora accused and tortured for causing famine in the Ligurian area in 1587. "Polissena" comes from Lucca and is affected from epilepsy. For this reason she is considered demonic and condemned to the stake. I have sewn on her the role of a time traveler with her haunted swing. "Donna Prudentia", the lamia of Blera accused of infanticide, sets fire to the pages of the “Malleus Maleficarum”, the cursed book written by the two Dominican friars Kramer and Sprengen that explains how to recognise witches, how to torture them to extort confessions and how to burn them! The penultimate song is "Nadira”, my rendering to the cult of the goddess Isis, very widespread in ancient Sannio. The last song on the album is “Rebecca Lemp” of which we have written before. I would like to add one last thing; unlike the previous album “Giordano Bruno” which ended with the anguished crackle of the stake, this new project has an epilogue of intense joy and vitality.

PP: In your mind, do you consider them making black or white magic or are they just woman who have some deep natural knowledge?

O.A.K.: We all have one side, called appearance, which is visible, and we have black corners that we’d better keep under control. This is common to every human being. I cannot subscribe that the whole 50.000 women condemned to death in more than four centuries were all “normal” but I’m sure the inquisitors had much more sins than the accused. The Middle Ages was a tough, dark period. Ignorance, arrogance and fear led the world into a delirium of violence. Most of the victims of the so called “witch hunt” were healers, women which knew the properties of herbs, midwives, lonely old creatures or extremely charming ladies, all qualities that threatened the ecclesiastical power and its misogynist character.

PP: Have you created the music adapted to their « personality » or where they were coming from? Sometimes I had the impression of being in the woods or under that walnut tree.

O.A.K.: “The legend tells that flying through the gorges of the Monti del Taburno, near the city of Benevento, the witches reached a walnut tree where they celebrated rituals. On 14th November 1572, whilst the earth shone with the light of the Tycho supernova, nine stories merged into one sublimating a bond of deep empathy tightened under the branches of that bewitched tree”. This is the text I’ve written inside the gatefold LP’s artwork. I worked a lot on the elaboration of a date which stood out by a natural event (the supernova explosion) acting as an extraordinary setting for the magical meeting under the branches of the Benevento walnut tree. Then I read many books and every document I might have access to and chose six witches whose dates of birth and death could fit the Sabbath of Nov 14, 1572. The other three were my imaginative creations emerged from historiographical and mythological traces. I adapted my tunes and chord’s progressions to nine sceneries and portraits and I used some extra sound samples as a soundtrack to help the listener to get into the picture of events.

PP: On « Nadira », there are very few words. Am I correct thinking all those words are Egyptian gods and goddesses? Is it a kind of incantation from the Egyptian witch?

O.A.K.: Yes, you are right! I imagined Nadira as a descendant of one priestess of Isis. She dances for the Egyptian goddess re-evoking her desperate attempt to put the torn body of Osiris back together. As in the ancient Samnite rituals dedicated to the cult of the goddess Isis, the hypnotic dance culminates with Nadira spreading her arms in a winged position and falling into a trance led by the flute solos pushing the pathos of the song to its limit. Through this altered state of consciousness, Nadira reunites with divinity. The lyrics of this song are the explicit demonstration of what we were talking about before. The freedom to sing words going beyond any conventional language. Words that have a profound meaning of their own.

PP: Talking about artistic choices, you have chosen vinyl over cd for « Giordano Bruno” and “Nine witches under a walnut tee”? Would you be kind enough to tell us about that?

O.A.K.: Prog rhymes with vinyl and it seems that cd life has its days numbered. Today, listening to music has undergone a doubling. To one extreme we find mobile equipment, and, on the opposite, the old school made up of the traditional stereo record player, armchair and fireplace.

PP: You released a cd version of « Giordano Bruno” afterward. Do you plan the same thing for “Nine witches under a walnut tee”?

O.A.K.: We have some autographed cd copies just for friends (and you are one of them) but there’s no plan at the moment to have an official cd version.

PP: David Jackson of Van Der Graaf Generator is playing again on the new album even if it is only on one song. How have you met him, and do you plan future collaborations with him? He has been collaborating with many Italian artists, do you happen to know why?

O.A.K.: David has always had a deep bond with Italy. In the beginning of the seventies, Van Der Graaf Generator, as much as other Charisma label bands, had a huge success in our country while in UK they were still U.F.O. Manager Tony Stratton Smith was an horse racing gambler and he wasn’t afraid of risking money on unknown bands such as VDGG, Genesis, Lindisfarne. He took the Charisma festival in Italy and distributed their records in every place of the country. When I was a kid, in the early seventies, I could find VDGG albums even in popular department stores besides the other Italian “musica leggera” records! Such was the Charisma’s products distribution in Italy. David has been playing in Italy with VDGG many times (despite the stolen of their gear twice), with Alan Sorrenti, with Hammill as a duo, Osanna, O.A.K. and with other bands too. I met him after a show in 2009 and we got on very well. I played with him great concerts and we joined wonderful recording sessions. I’m sure there’s still a lot to do with him.

PP: OSCILLAZIONI ALCHEMICO KREATIVE have also been known to play JETHRO TULL tributes, in concert and on record. Where is that love for this music coming from? Do you still play some TULL music in concert?

O.A.K.: I think everybody, once in a lifetime, has got the morbid temptation of emulate the one who represents his own model of perfection. To me, it was just a matter of coincidences what led me to believe Ian Anderson such an extraordinary icon of the rock world I was discovering, little by little, in the early seventies. It all began one autumn evening when my friend Claude asked me to go downtown with him. We crossed Campo de fiori square and then stopped in Piazza Farnese. On the benches that surrounded a renaissance palace, home of the French embassy in Rome, there were some young freaks entertained themselves talking and smoking. Soon a hairy fellow came from the mist, sat, and started to sing at the sound of his guitar. Later, when we were on our way home, my friend said to me that were from Aqualung the songs he played. A few days later I was in the record shop to buy the album with the nasty homeless on the front cover and …that was it! I got stuck into Jethro Tull. Then came the punk storm and I was more and more inhibited in revealing my passion for Ian Anderson's music. But after my great solo success with hit singles in the European charts in the mid-eighties, I decided to start playing rock concerts again and I did it with a very young band. So, I gave up all advantages obtained in the music business and took a path against the tide of the trend of the moment. I knew that without a producer, a manager, a record company and a TV Radio promotion (all of which I had previously) the chances of making my music projects on the road again would have been slimmed down. And furthermore, back in the 90s, to play more stages, even the best composers had to adapt to the brutalisation dictated by the music "operators" which only promoted tribute bands. So, my OAK band and I had nothing left but obtain a remarkable resonance in the sphere of Jethro Tull die hard fans. We played gigs with Glenn Cornick, Clive Bunker, Maart Allcock, Dave Pegg, Gerry Conway, we had guests such as Barrie Barlow and Jonathan Noyce. I won flute contests and headlined JT fan Conventions while, on a parallel pattern, I kept writing and performing my own songs that often crept into our tribute set lists. And when members of the audience asked me from which JT album was taken that song, I smiled and replied it was one of mine.

PP: GLENN CORNICK, MAARTIN ALLCOCK and JONATHAN NOYCE have all played with JETHRO TULL and on your records. Have you met them or just ask them to play parts for the records?

O.A.K.: I met Glenn on a Tull Convention in the north of Italy in 1997 and, one year later, we played the best of JT first three albums, including some of the singles appearing on “Living in the past”. We met ten years later in 2008 and it was great. One of the best OAK and Cornick show. Then he played the bass on my rendition of “Fat man” which appears on the album “Shaman feet” and sadly, after a couple of heart surgeries, he left us!

I met Maartin in Barcellona in 2007 and we got on very well. I kept in touch with him and he came to play the 15th anniversary of OAK band. There were dozens of old and new OAK members, and he became one of us. He began to travel up and down from Wales to Italy to join us. At last he started to call me “little bro”. He came to Bunbury for some recordings on the “Shaman feet” album and again in Italy for a handful of gigs as a duo under the name of “Maart & Jerry prog investigations”. It wasn’t always fun, and I cannot tell you why, but in the end, we always got it right! He wrote a song for my daughter Isabel and asked me to play the flute on it and I dedicated him the song “Holy bells”. He died for liver cancer on the 16th sept 2018. I have dozens of funny and tragic anecdotes about the two of us, but I will write them on my next book. Promised!

Jonathan was at the Tullianos Convention in Barcellona in 2008 when OAK was headlining the music evening with our rendition of “A passion play”. Then in 2010 I called him to join the recording sessions of “Shaman feet” in Banbury. He played on “My old man” together with David Jackson (VDGG). I was very much impressed by his touch on the fret, his sensitivity, and his musical accuracy. So, I called him again for the “Nine witches under a walnut tree” and he did a really good job!

PP: I have read that you met IAN ANDERSON? Would you tell us about that occasion please?

O.A.K.: I met the “beast” twice (laughs). He is a clever man and he knows how to deal with most of the people and on those occasions I was lucky enough to have had an impressive introduction from his staff so he didn’t kick me in the ass (laughs). On both meetings he seemed to me like an old rock star slave to his past but what impressed me most was the fact that he spoke to me in a respectful and attentive way (we were backstage and he had just heard me sing “It’s breaking me up”).

When I knew to have a second chance to meet him, I wondered if I’ve should taken one or two OAK cd or just a bottle of red wine from my birthplace (the wine from Solopaca is well known for its special quality). I chose the latter and it was Bingo! He spent much time looking at the label on the bottle making questions about the location, dates, and other curiosities. Of course, I avoid questions such as: “Why do you still sing?” or “Why are you drowning in silly quarrels with your ex band mates?” And so on…

PP: You play many instruments; do you have a favorite one? And what would be your choice for composing?

O.A.K.: When I compose, I don’t have one sound in mind but a whole symphony. So, after paying attention to the timbre and the pitch of each instrument I take care of the balances within the ensemble and when the collage shows one face, my work is done. When you do this for years and years, you discover how much is important the triangle hit played once on the whole song. No, I don’t have a favourite instrument, but I need polyphony to write pieces of music.

PP: Many readers and listeners from ProfilProg are crazy about Italian prog? What are the artists and bands, from yesterday and today, that you love or admire? Did you collaborate with some of them?

O.A.K.: Yes, and I already mentioned Rodolfo Maltese and Claudio Rocchi. I should add Mino Di Martino from “Giganti” and “Albergo Intergalattico Spaziale”, Juri Camisasca and Jenny Sorrenti. I loved the first two albums of her brother Alan Sorrenti and then PFM and BMS. Today we have many bands in our country but most of them play tributes and they belong to a different category. There are just a few “real bands” trying the best to make their own music out and they should deserve some helps. But this means work for producers, managers, recording agents…(sad).

PP: Do you already have plans after the release of « Nine witches under a walnut tree » or will you just take some time off?

O.A.K.: I absolutely must finish writing my audio book. But it is going to be a “truth book” so I won't have to neglect to give myself some appropriate wardship (laughs).

PP: JERRY, take care and thanks again. The last words are for you.

O.A.K.: I’m happy to have found people with true feelings towards art. Someone who still give time to listen, understand and support artistic efforts beyond any belonging. This is an example of passion and professionalism.

Thank you Serge and Profilprog friends!

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