Paul Forrest is one of those people who become more fascinating the more you learn about him. For many years I knew him only as the man that fronts a band called The Dayglo' Pirates, "Britain's premier (and I suspect only) Jethro Tull tribute act." Donning a wig and resplendent in troubadour outfit, including codpiece and tights, would be excitement enough for most people, but with my attention drawn to his solo release "Music of the Trees" I realised that there is much more to the aptly named Mr Forrest than that. Having been in a range of bands that musically embraced folk, rock and even classical genres and playing a range of instruments, there is obviously a large creative streak in his make up. What this CD does however is mixes that musically creative ability with Paul's other love, Trees. As he is at pains to point out, he is not a tree hugging, eco warrior, hippie and having briefly met the man, I can vouch for that. His arboreal interests first came to light when studying for a Psychology degree at the University of Sussex, where he was lucky enough to find himself under the tutorage of Dr Brian Bates, author of The Way of Wyrd and The Real Middle Earth. Courses in humanistic psychology, shamanistic consciousness and the like helped sparked an interest in indigenous religious practices, leading to a final dissertation on the affects of shamanic drumming, an honours degree and no doubt a heightened appreciation of the natural world.
Many reviewers at this point would be content to pick up on the obvious connection between the artists surname and the subject matter at hand and run out a string of, so say, humorous takes on the irony of the situation. All I will say on the matter is that someone with such a prestigious name, educational background and musical heritage was almost destined to make an album such as this. So what is this album all about, you may have guessed by now that it's not going to be as straight forward as most things in your collection. The brief is quite simple, having discussed with friends the concept of the natural world and specifically trees giving off energy and sound to those with the patience and ability to be sensitive to it, Paul set about trying to write in musical form what various trees "suggested" to him when in their presence. Whether you take this as being merely inspiration or something more cerebral or even spiritual is down to the individual, but what he has ended up with here is a collection of musical pieces inspired by the trees that he has spent time next too. Some poets are inspired to wander lonely as a cloud, other artists dip sheep in formaldehyde, this one was content to sit quietly in woodland and pick up on the pulse and rhythms of the natural world, and the result is this CD. Paul plays all the instruments here himself, a collection of 100% organic (his words) acoustic instruments that include guitars, flute, recorder, mandolin, zither, and percussion.
Due to the instruments involved and to some degree the nature of the man behind them, much of the music has a very medieval feel to it but in no way seems twee or contrived, the subject mater and the music seem to complement each other. Other songs seem to capture a more oriental theme and the more flute orientated tunes such as that inspired by the Aspen have a dreamy fantasy quality, the common theme is that they feel timeless, beautiful and inspired. Guitars are lightly picked, mandolins brush past and flutes whisper in the background, all is very understated and undemanding. It is probably the natural sounds and under produced finish that makes this work sound as if you are sat next to the player in some secluded glade, and image I'm sure Paul would approve of. It is not necessary to describe each track as they are all of a similar nature, but there is enough originality and individual spirit to each as to make them all stand on their own. In the background are other woodland sounds, birds and wind noises, which help to carry you back to the place where the music was made. These inspirational passages seem to take music in a full circle back to its original function, as a devotional offering to the earth itself. Whether you see this music as just some sort of relaxation music or something more ingrained in the soul is again down to the individual listener, but in a world that is moving ever from green to concrete grey in colour just keeping the image of the wild places alive is reason enough for making an album such as this. In keeping with the spirit of the whole concept of the project 10% of the profit will be donated to The International Tree Foundation.
Obviously the laid back and relaxing nature of the music makes it anything but a "getting ready for a Friday night out" sort of record, but neither is it lacking in energy and light, but it is in a form that you don't often find in our urban lives. It is music that is best appreciated whilst sat in the greenery itself, either whilst lounging in the back garden, wandering through the park, or better still walking through the open woods. It may even inspire like-minded people to try and find their own sounds from the natural world, interpret and document their own feelings for such a concept. Now that would be something.