Caamora with Clive Nolan & Agnieszka Swita

(By Jukka Paananen)


Clive Nolan is a man of many hats: an esteemed musician, arranger, songwriter and producer for bands such as Arena, Pendragon, Neo, Strangers on a Train, Shadowland, Casino, as well as provider of solos for Dutch concept-album masters Ayreon and britmetallers DragonForce. But his pet-headgear since February 2005 is a rock-opera project called Caamora. Aided by friends from his extensive register of friends in the British neo-prog world and a brand new song-bird from Poland, Nolan has created an adventurous musical journey. The concept is an adaptation of a book by the name of “She”, written by Victorian adventure writer Henry Rider Haggard. Here´s a brief summary of the plot:

Two voyagers, Holly and Leo, travel to Eastern Africa in search of a mysterious legend of which Leo was told by his father. During a heavy storm they are washed up on the shore, soon to be found by a small group of natives led by an attractive woman whose name is Ustane. They are brought to the queen, Ayesha, who has made herself immortal by bathing in fire. She becomes the omnipotent female figure. She is to be both desired and feared. She is a breathtakingly beautiful being who will not hesitate to kill any one who displeases her or stands in her way. The travellers discover that Ayesha has been waiting for 2000 years for the reincarnation of her lover Kallicrates, whom she had slain in a burst of jealous rage. She believes that Leo is the reincarnation of Kallicrates. In the culmination of the story, Ayesha takes the two men to see the volcano. She wants Leo to bathe in its flames as she did so that he can become immortal and remain with her forever. His doubts about its safety lead her to step into the blaze once more. However, with this second get-together with the flames she reverts to her true age and immediately withers and dies. Before dying she tells Leo, "Wait for me, I shall return again for you Kallicrates."

The following conversation came to pass in an exciting half-hour call with the creative nucleus of Caamora, Clive Nolan and Agnieszka Swita.

You´re a man full of activity and creative ability Mr Nolan. Keyboardplayer in Arena and Pendragon, a hired hand for Ayreon and Dragonforce, yet you find time to open up new projects every now and then. How come you don´t release these projects under the Arena-banner?

Clive: Well, since this is an opera it obviously doesn´t fit within the Arena framework. It´s a matter of wearing different hats for different occasions really.

What is Caamora and what is the origin of the word?

Clive: Caamora is a project of which Agnieszka Swita and I are the core. The word refers to a ritual that certain characters perform in a series of novels called The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant. Within these books it means ‘to cleanse by fire’.

It´s quite a departure from your work with Arena and Pendragon. But you´ve been involved in comparable projects before, haven´t you?

Clive: Such as?

I´m referring to the albums “Jabberwocky” and “The Hound of the Baskervilles” you did with Oliver Wakeman.

Clive: Okay, but here we have the rock opera concept complete with orchestrations and a choir, so this takes the idea even further.

The book on which your opera is based was written by Victorian adventure writer H. Rider Haggard. How did you come across that story?

Clive: I saw a version of the film “She” when I was a child and I’ve been carrying the story with me ever since. You can imagine how strongly such subjects as immortality, death and the afterlife might get stuck in the mind of a ten-year-old.

So is Caamora conceptually tied to the rockopera “She”, or is it possible that Caamora could perform other projects as well?

Clive: Since Agnieszka and I are the core of it, sure.

You´ve been preparing “She” in a rather different way compared to regular album releases. Could you fill me in please?

Clive: Well it´s been a big part of our lives for three years now. We´ve been writing and making demos as well as doing what we call two-man shows.

Agnieszka: That way we could try out the material on audiences in Europe and South America. This was very important for us so we could pick the bits that people liked and build the compositions from there. Especially the vocal-parts and my singing grew and developed during this time on the road.

Clive: In the end we had so much material that we had problems cutting it down to two hours.

The choise of instruments really make a significant impact. Was it an original idea of yours or did the thought of adding classical instruments appear later on in the production, and how did you decide what direction the music should take?

Clive: It was all very natural because the plan always was to create an opera with orchestrations and a choir. The classical instruments add a different coloring and textures to the music, and we´re happy that we got these talented musicians to this project.

It must have been a really difficult task to mix the classical parts with the rock parts. What were your biggest challenges in trying to capture the musical vision of yours?

Clive: The biggest challenge was to make it sound as one integrated work; the rock band and the orchestra together in unison. It was a great challenge for Karl Groom (Threshold), who mixed it.

You seem to have a thorough understanding of classical music. Tell me about your influences and training.

Clive: I have two university degrees, in orchestration and in conducting. I was always surrounded by classical music at home, so my musical roots are really classical. I also play the violin. I didn´t really get into rock music until much later.

As I listened to the singing performed and fitted it to the characters of the story, it struck me how well the voices harmonized with what I imagined. What did you look for as you casted vocalists?  Did you have any particular ideal you were aiming for?

Clive: It was Agnieszka. It all builds around her, and it was a natural process to find what was needed to complement her. For the part of Holly, I wanted a gruff dramatic voice. That part was performed by Alan Reed (Pallas).

Agnieszka: It took a long time to find what we wanted for Ustane though. It had to have certain qualites, like in the song “Confrontation” where the Queen, Ayesha, sings together with Ustane. In the end we found Christina Booth from Magneta, and she´s perfect.

Agnieszka Swita performs the part of the mysterious queen Ayesha, and passes with flying colors. Did you find her in some hidden city on the eastern shores of Africa, Mr Nolan?

Clive: On my doorstep, actually.

Agnieszka: We have a mutual friend, Magda, from Poland, who introduced us as I was visiting her in England. She brought me to Clives house.

What are your previous experiences from the music scene Ms Swita?

Agnieszka: None really, at least not professional. I´ve sung in different talent competitions and as a student I sang in pubs and clubs.

I think it´s quite incredible that such a talent, that nobody has ever heard of, can appear from out of nowhere, and pull off a job like this.

Agnieszka: There is lots of talent out there, lots of really gifted people.

And you decided to carry the part of Leo yourself Mr Nolan. Could it be that you have a certain sympathy for his personality?

Clive: I´m no fan of Leos actually. I think he is a rather spineless person. As a matter of fact I rewrote some of his lines to make him more likeable, to make him look better than he does in the original book. I did the part myself because I really wanted to sing, and this being partly my project, I felt that I could (laughs).

In “The sands of time”, 3rd scene in the 2nd act, Leo sings: “For me the choise has long been made – my future has been written – I cannot turn away from this – when such a chance is given”. Does this apply to your personal view of life as well?

Clive: I think it´s relevant to me. The lyrics are about destiny – it´s the point of the book.

Well, since Ayesha is immortal and Leo steps into the flames, there ought to be clues for a sequel, right?

Clive: Well, we don´t really know about Leo do we?.

Agnieszka: It´s up to everybody to interpret the story. And right now we are in the middle of “She” and happy with it. Who knows what will happen?.

Clive: There is a sequel to the book, and a prequel as well. But we don´t think about this as a part of that series. This is just an adaptation of one of them.

“She” is already tried and tested in it´s entirety at Katowice, Poland. Are you happy with the results?

Agnieszka: It went really well considering that we didn´t even have time for a full dress rehearsal. As a matter of fact the entire 2nd act was performed with a lot of ad-libing.

Clive: Very happy! Everybody involved was very talented and dedicated.

Was it your debut as an actor or do you have any previous experiences from the theatre?

Clive: I have two or three films under my belt (laughs), no we were all beginners.

So, if someone was to approach you with an offer to star in a play or even a movie perhaps. How would you respond?

Clive: How much? (laughs)

Any further performances booked yet? You know we have some really nice theatres in Sweden as well.

Clive: Oh great, ha ha…If you could get any promoter interested in booking us, of course. But it´s a large scale production involving 25 persons on stage.

Agnieszka: But we might do it in the intimate two-man show setting as well.

What´s in store for the rest of this year if everything goes according to your hopes and wishes?

Clive: We are bringing Caamora to South America at the end of April. And then we´ll do more two-man shows.

So, finally, “She” is going to be released in different packages.

Clive: Yes, lot of different formats. There´s the regular double CD which we call the “vanilla version”, a double digipack CD with a bonus track, a double dvd plus package and a triple vinyl with a bonus track. The deluxe box set edition will feature the double studio CD, a double live CD, the DVD, a bonus DVD featuring six acoustic tracks and couple of nice postcards you can attach to your bedroom wall. Try downloading that one (laughs).

Who? Me? Ha ha ha…I´m not going to try that one. Well thank you for your time Ms Swita and Mr Nolan, and the best of luck to you and the Caamora-project.

Agnieszka and Clive: Thank you and bye-bye!

By: Jukka Paananen