The Painted Caravan by The Peter Ulrich Collaboration is painted using a palette loaded with all kinds of instrumental colors ranging from conventional rock instruments to instruments more commonly found in a symphonic setting to instruments with an ethnic or even esoteric pigment.  It is no wonder that one reviewer described the album as “a wonderful piece of work with the depth of a beautiful painting.”


According to former Dead Can Dance percussionist Peter Ulrich, this extensive palette is a function of the storytelling that is integral to The Painted Caravan.


“I have a fascination with folk tales, myths and legends that inspire in me a musical interpretation that has a kind of sweeping cinematic feel.  I love collecting instruments and discovering new sounds – continuously adding to the range at my disposal to bring the colours and flavours to my music which bring the stories to life.  I never use an instrument for the sake of being able to say “Oh, we used such-and-such in that song” or to deliberately have an instrument list as long as my arm on completing recording of an album – that would be detrimental to the creative process.  Each instrument is used to bring another dimension to the picture being painted and must suitably embellish the story being told.


“Sometimes the reason for using a particular instrument will be quite apparent.  For example, in the album’s opening track “In This or Other Skin”, a yuet ch’in (Chinese moon guitar) plays behind a section of the lyric relating an actual incident in China involving the death of young freedom fighters, while elsewhere in the same song, bagpipes give a Scottish flavour, colliery band-style brass an English slant, and Mariarchi trumpet a feel of Mexico to relevant verses.  The trumpet used here is a piccolo trumpet – a favourite of producer Trebor Lloyd’s because it is not just higher pitched than a standard trumpet, but possesses a quality which T calls an “heroic clarity.”  Just as an aside – apparently Paul McCartney was also smitten by the piccolo trumpet and insisted on its use in “Penny Lane.


“There are other instrumental voices which clearly fit the nature of the particular songs, such as the Indian harmonium used in “The Desert” which has a raga flavour, and didgeridoo and that ancient instrument the bullroarer which are used to create atmospherics in “Children of the Rain” whose setting is the world’s diminishing rain forests.


“On the other hand, there are examples of less obvious instrument selections.  “Starship (Golden Eye)” – a story of a galactic search for eternal love – uses a Native American flute which, although not naturally the first thing that springs to mind when visualising a rocket ship hurtling through space, has the ability to convey the feel of great empty spaces and of loneliness and longing.  In “Fanfare for the Lost Tribe” – a song with a Native American theme – while I went for a traditional sound with the percussion, our instrumentation included the rather rare and perhaps somewhat unlikely Wagner tuba (something of a misnomer as it’s closer to a French horn) because of its distant, pensive quality.


“In the album’s closing track “Tempest,” cymbal washes and crashes are clearly used to portray the storm and waves, while the extensive use of hammered dulcimer in this track is perhaps a less obvious selection.  The purpose is to create a contrast, to allude to how love might have been had it not been dashed on the rocks.


Another feature of our selection of instrumental voices for the album has been to create some unusual juxtapositions.  Banjos sit alongside Balkan Orkestar-style brass in “Dark Lover” – a re-telling of an old folk tale – and English horns combine with electric guitars in “Drug of War” which references the old Irish folk ballad “Johnny We Hardly Knew Ye”.  In “Love’s Skeleton” marimba is used to represent the bones and create the bedrock of the track, over which various orchestral and rock instruments combine to stretch the song to all points of the compass.   We are actively interested in combining sounds that breathe extra life into our songs rather than following convention.


“So, while a cursory glance at the album sleeve notes might note that a lot of instruments have been used, we hope that our audience might be drawn further in to enjoy the soundscapes we’ve created, to appreciate how we’ve tried to craft our stories, and to see that extra dimension in the pictures we’ve painted on our caravan.”