Let the revels begin

There's a particular kind of music that appears in films, a genre all of its own but one that has tended to get overlooked. It's characterised by a folky, medieval or Eastern sound; it's expertly played but always too low in the mix to hear what's going on; and it rarely makes it onto the soundtrack album. I'm talking, of course, about revel music.

I think the first time I became aware of it was while watching Jim Henson's puppet masterpiece, The Dark Crystal (designed, of course, by Brian Froud). 'The Pod Dance' features some virtuosic recorder playing by Richard Harvey, former member of 70s medieval prog-rockers Gryphon. I spent years searching for the soundtrack only to find that Nomi had it - one of the many things that sealed our relationship. Now, of course, youtube saves the shoe-leather.

Things went all Oirish for Bilbo's long-expected party in Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings, with a tune called 'Flaming Red Hair' by Howard Shore.

Naturally they went all Oirish again when Kate Winslet got sweaty in steerage on the doomed ship Titanic. For once the band that actually played the revel music, Gaelic Storm, appeared in front of the camera, and I'm told their thirty seconds of fame propelled them to stardom. Good for them. It's the dream gig.

My old friends Paescod (later Nonimus), with whom I spent many fine weekends donning the codpiece, were not so lucky. Listen carefully in the procession scene of the otherwise execrable remake of The Wicker Man, and you'll just hear one of their shawm tracks (I forget which one but I'm sorry, I simply cannot watch that film a second time). They did get paid, but not quite enough for them to hang up the motley.

I was first turned on to medieval music at university when my friend Dave Brown played me some David Munrow. Munrow did go on to write film music but this first piece is surely crying out to be used for a revel scene (bear in mind it's the sixties, OK?). Munrow was undoubtedly a genius and almost certainly bipolar - tragically he killed himself in his early thirties and who knows what he would have gone on to achieve. But he certainly inspired me to take up the bagpipes.

Just last night we watched the Arnie-free remake of Conan the Barbarian. Beyond dreadful, the sole redeeming feature of this steroid-pumped nonsense was the track, 'Efrooh Badwina' by Egyptian percussionist Hossam Ramzy. Without sleeve notes I'm not sure what the reed pipe is but I'm guessing it's a kind of mijwiz, a double-chantered pipe found across the Eastern mediterranean.

And I very nearly forgot 'Romanian Wind' from Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, which I think is when Watson gets pissed with the gypsies.

Do let me know if you've got any more examples of revel music. Maybe one day someone will release a compilation.


  1. Ahh, I love those 'revel' moments, and you've gathered a group of my favourites. Have to agree about the Wicker Man remake, oh God, I couldn't finish watching it was so bad. And who'd have thought, a 'Conan' who could make Arnie look like...well, an actor...it was truly awful. The soundtrack of the original was really good (I'm very partial to a bit of Basil Poledouris), not sure if there was any revel type music in it though. Loved the music on Sherlock too.

    As for additions to the list, I seem to remember some good music (and I think actually authentic medieval because I recognised the tune) in the forest revel scene in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, with Kevin Costner. Possibly the only authentic medieval thing in the entire movie!

  2. This probably doesn't count cos the music is so central to the film - but I thought you might enjoy it anyway.

  3. Brilliant post!
    Unsurprisingly the revel tracks are often my favourite ones... am now racking brains to augment your list!

    This line made me laugh in its unassuming expertise : "Without sleeve notes I'm not sure what the reed pipe is but I'm guessing it's a kind of mijwiz
    ;)) x



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