Julian Cope’s Album of the Month

Riharc Smiles - The Last Green Days of Summer

Riharc Smiles
The Last Green Days of Summer

AOTM #97, June 2008ce
Released 2004 on Steinklang
Side One
  1. Ouverture – The End of Winter (2.58)
  2. The Last Green Days of Summer (3.53)
  3. Join Us (4.39)
  4. Armageddon is a Sunny Day (5.24)
Side Two
  1. Magic Circle (3.59)
  2. Crossroads (3.43)
  3. Epilogue (4.32)

For those wishing to buy this Album of the Month, Cold Spring Records still has copies of the original vinyl LP for sale for only £12.00, accessible here.

In the Beginning of the End

If the so-called Dark Folk scene was ever summed up in one single record statement, then it was surely done best by this brief vinyl-only release1 from Austrian songwriter Riharc back in August 2004CE. Coming on like the loner bard of Brittany’s crowded Kevrenn Alré, Riharc’s opening gambit was as shrill and mid-rangey as their massed bombard band, and just as infectious and enthusiastic. Indeed, if ever I picked an Album for the Month purely because of the sheer amount of times I’d spun the disc, then this would be the geezer! Perhaps it’s the brevity of the album – barely a half hour in length – or perhaps it’s Riharc’s smiling vocal delivery; whatever, the sounds contained within THE LAST GREEN DAYS OF SUMMER have always sent my Ever Questing & Lusty Inner Being directly to an imaginary heathen land as gorgeously clichéd as County Meath’s legendary Hill of Tara, and as truly free of Christian piety as Christopher Lee’s Summer Isle in THE WICKER MAN. For the songs barely contained herein are catchy as a bastard, the women’s voices plaintive and urging, the drum-led (and Hurdy gurdy’n’accordion fuelled) instrumentation being both an All Purpose catch-all of Kelto-Viking Enchantedness AND a delightfully inventive potpourri of anti-Popery, while Riharc himself always has more than plenty to say for himself, and always in as charmingly poetic a manner as you could wish for. Does what it says on the tin? U-Betcha! And if the Apocalypse is anything like Riharc says on this album, we heathens are gonna be Ragnarocking into our collective last ditches in a collective state-of-mind near on as happy as ye Christians, but blind drunk and bollock naked! Apparently, while this ensemble was always intended to be Riharc’s positive statement to the world, he also had another neg/nihilist outfit ready in the wings named Riharc Snarls (or something like that). But as I’ve scoured the net in vain for evidence of any such thing, perhaps the poet contented himself with the extreme success of this sole project. And I can’t say I’d be that surprised, as THE LAST GREEN DAYS OF SUMMER reveals a trip as thorough and as charming and as determined as any on the Dark Folk scene. For years, I had no more Riharc in my record library than a single credit-less promo-CD of this album sent back in the day by Steinklang’s label boss Markus, that is until I scored a delightful vinyl copy from Cold Spring’s olde yeBay shoppe barely two months ago, which came complete with colour libretto and list of musicians. Until then, not knowing who had played what and how had always been something of a drag, but it had at least given me a few years in which to let my imagination run riot. And, of all the levels on which this record achieved highly, for myself THE LAST GREEN DAYS OF SUMMER worked best because it seemed to be a journal of this time, ie: it conjured up not hoary and forgotten ancient standing stones trapped behind overgrown yews, festooned with gnarly thorns, tied with wire fences and barely visited, but instead made me think of the freshly mown Eisteddfod fields of NW Wales, their newly-erected Bardic stone circles awash with local village children, or the handsome (though slightly liberty-taking) council-erected neo-Dolmens of the north Netherlands, or even the overly-fastidiously-thatched houses of that same area – in other words, this Riharc Smiles record peddled a completely confident and post-Christian NOW Paganism rather than crouching slightly hangdog in the shadow of some slightly dubious guilty restoration of a wannabe-but-ultimately unreal past, in denial of Wodenist hangings and sacrificial blood-letting (as so much modern neo-paganism chooses to do). Even better, Riharc’s voice throughout this record even exhibits some of that lovely Faust-do-ballads quality, as though the poet had learned his English via a slightly Anglicised American relative (or an aunt’s ex-GI boyfriend), lending his clipped pronunciation and slightly lost-in-translation words an even more mysterious air. Unfortunately, that quality was sadly absent from the sole other track I knew by Riharc Smiles; a spirited but slightly perfunctory electro-performance of ‘Wir Rufen Deine Wolfe’ that appeared on the Ahnstern Records double-LP of the same name. Besides, I’d far preferred Sturmpecht’s own Ultra-Portentous acoustic’n’marching drums version that opened their own release GEISTER IM WALDEBIRG (see Head Heritage Album of the Month January 2007CE). Anyhow, as I’m here this month only to praise the smiling one, let’s take a brief look at THE LAST GREEN DAYS OF SUMMER, and see what pleasures its contents hold…

Imam Schmimman, I want me Mam!

Riharc’s album commences on some gusty Heimdal hilltop, as massed snare drums and braying bombards belch forth life across the hayfields and sheep folds scattered far below, the sacred breath issuing out and onwards to the distant horizon, infused as though by some gigantic, nay, titanic spirit of Mother Urd in possession of a valley-sized comb & paper. Then, we’re whirled out of our senses into the Medieval one-chord death dance of the title track, four minutes of cartwheeling acousto-drone and caterwauling Anglo-Viking jig, replete with enthusiastic yelps and cries of ‘hey’, as the anguished but smiling poet Riharc declaims his intentions as: “The dance goes on forever now … until the morning comes.” With its punishing cries, its persistent percussion and its spangly Spanish guitar, this gem could happily continue for another quarter hour, but we’re immediately cast once again into the cosmick tingle-tangle as the forever waltz of ‘Join Us’ descends, and the female vocals and bagpipes crowd around Riharc and lament for the existence of the great ancestors beneath the earth, then proceed to lament for those still alive but lonely and removed from society, the disparate groups throughout this Mother Earth who – despite their disenchantment – still rail against those who pillage from the Now and leave nothing for what will soon be Becoming. Then Side One concludes too soon with the massed bandoneon march of ‘Armageddon is a Sunny Day’, in which we are informed that Mother Earth’s final hours as a human sanctuary will be spent under bright shining blue, the inevitable and chaotic cacophony of gunfire and explosions overwhelmed by the intensity of this predicted sunshine: “No need for us to cry, Armageddon is a sunny day.” Again, the single minor chord drone throws our heads into a veritable meditative whorl, though the descending notes on the second half of the song tear at our heartstrings and drag us down and down into a prehistoric Underworld vault of overwhelming melancholy. But, like overly-caffeined English city dwellers at a West-of-Ireland wake, our obstinate and kicking defiance persists, so thoroughly has Riharc’s music raised our psychic hackles. Side Two then kicks off with ‘Magic Circle’, the only traditional song on the entire record and a piano-driven minor key ballad at that. At first, belligerent backward troll vocals undermine the niceness of Riharc’s delivery, but this soon gives way to a genuinely beautiful song that points out just what Judgement may entail:

“And what of dreams, my friend?
We think our days will never end,
But in the evening there is still,
A final meeting on that hill,
Where we have to show – where we have to say,
Where we confess and then go away.”

War rears its head next, as the war-drums and then the lyrics of ‘Crossroads’ broadcast the tale of a quarrel at some obscure and lonely forest junction. As the repeated choruses develop over more marching drums, males voice and enormous gongs, the fight gets further out of hand and develops into a fully-fledged battle, Riharc & his conies eventually relieved to have got out of there alive. And so – far too soon – do we come to ‘Epilogue’, the final track of this superb debut LP, and what a song it be. First comes the returning wind, as the hilltop poet is this time accompanied by piping flute and a noisy (Rosedale?) chord organ that brings to mind that epic Kevin Coyne death ballad ‘Are We Dreaming?’2 Again, the lamenting Riharc describes the last day on Mother Earth as viewed from high atop his lofty perch, as the sounds of the landscape are slowly sucked out and over the distant Whore Risin’… If ever a record left the listener demanding more, then this be a true candidate. But I just have to admit that THE LAST GREEN DAYS OF SUMMER, like the Ramones’ debut LP, is as complete in its concept & execution as any of my true favourites, and that it’s only my own greed, nay, need for Riharc’s sound that leaves me gasping for more, more, more.

  1. The record is also now available in a limited wooden box edition.
  2. ‘Are We Dreaming?’ appeared on Kevin Coyne’s 1978 Virgin Records LP DYNAMITE DAZE