The original calliopes produced music by forcing steam through banks of whistles. They were played by a keyboard or by mechanical means, after the workings of a player piano. Carried on wagons drawn by teams of horses, driven by a teamster, they were a standard feature of circus parades and, because they were extremely loud, would alert people from miles around that the circus was in town. The shining calliope pipes were arranged in rows from tallest to shortest and the wagons were gaudily painted.
In this song, the Kalyope Driver is much more than a teamster. He is a mystical or godlike pied piper who calls all humanity to a better world. As I hear the words:
Kalyope driver guard the train
Ignorance will strike again
As darkness tries to hide the rows
Of rose that bloom among them
Take your time the world is spreading
Heading down toward the answer
Kalyope driver blow your horn
If only for to warn them
For to warn them
For to warn them
This song is in the aeolian mode, and the minor harmonies mingle hope and foreboding. At the heart of the aesthetic ideology of Dando Shaft is a renunciation of electricity. As far as I know, they never used electric instruments. The guitars, the drums, the fiddle, and even the bass are all unamplified, except by studio or stage microphones. The music is structured with layers of texture. Overlaying the ornate tabla beats, the patterns plucked on the mandolin are counterpoised against the picking on the guitar, creating complex polyrhythms.
Dando Shaft, “Kalyope Driver,” No publisher (No date). From Dando Shaft, Dando Shaft, RCA/Neon Records, NE5 (No date). Album design – Not credited.