Both fans of the great Robert Wyatt, the latter his biographer with the recent 'Different Every Time', also name of a double album of Wyatt collaborations, solo performances and band appearances ( Soft Machine & Matching Mole).
Based in Brighton, but with strong Welsh connections.
Their poignant and subtle song 'Richardson Road' a high-point of that album : sad scat and cornet-playing from Wyatt.....a memory-voyage to a suburban scene.
I fell in love with the latest album. It possessed my days and I woke up nights singing melodies in my mind.
What genre?.......classical/ folk/jazz/ rock/ electronica.
The best music defies categories.
Here are the tracks, in order and in impressions :
ISLANDER - begins whispering....Ynys Enlli or coast off Alba?
Rhythm of oars splashing, of hands in sea, swimming.
Diving down like Rob Wyatt's 'Rock Bottom'.
Later, ocean to land.
Strings - surface of sea left behind.
RADAR - night lights and a jagged beat.
Stars and signs.
Awareness through cosmos - keyboards signalling.
'Not a symbol but the scene'
Echoes of Eno.
Glimmers of dawn from island.
Light notes of violin.
CURLEWS (latest single) - birdsong and piano.
Tenor tones echoing calls. Cello flow of river.
'Flickering harbour light'
Layers of music - air/ water/ bird-sound.
' All but lost to me now'
High , innocent, choirboy-like ( Wyatting).
Calls drift away into a clockwork day.
FALLSWATER - Halls resound with ancient chanting, like Gaelic bard.
Wind harsh - 'bones' & 'moans'
Visceral vocabulary - 'drip drip drip ' .....word-play.
A ghost place, another dimension.
Repeated phrases in crescendo. Music is waterfall.
High to low and a final droplet cascade.
HALF-LIFE - of Trawsfynydd nuclear power station, of reactors by the lake.
Memories of the place...'By concrete towers he disappears'.
Distant descriptions of younger self.
Cans of coke in the cafe - half full. Reactors still a threat.
Spoken voice - only the imagination perfect. A building cannot be built without faults.
SNOWDOWN - reminders of Thea Gilmore covering Yoko Ono's 'Listen, the snow is falling'.
Delicate 'silent white' of woman's vocals.
Depths of drifts, of cello and bass clarinet which is like the voice of winter itself......common & unique.
Rhythm of flakes falling.
A stranger on the snow.
THE FIELD - Winter scene before dawn.
'All along the fallow field'
A mysterious presence accompanying. Who is the other?
Think of Hardy, of chalklands.
RED KITE - Currents' airflow.
Poet's voice - 'Everyone was a bird'.....'The song was wordless....wordless'
Gentle, yet rough-edged.
Rising, red kite above scene.
Constant movement and flow-flight.
Still here - copper / slate / towers.
Call of past, of Wales.
Sassoon's words deny words can be everything.
This is an interview with half of the band, Andrew Phillips, who sings and plays keyboards and guitar.
Firstly, a big llongyfarchiadau to you both on the album, which is magnificent.
Had much critical response yet?
Well thanks! Yes we've had some amazing reviews, from The Wire, Q, Mojo, Uncut, The Quietus, Irish Times, mostly around when the album came out in May
I love the layers of sound which keep merging, submerging and emerging. Does your experience in classical & film music influence this?
Yes I think so. It's how I've always worked. There's a scene in my head, and I'm thinking 'what does it sound like?' What forces does this need, and how can I make it really sound like it feels. And I hope the interplay of live strings and electronic textures on this album reflect the places themselves.
Lyrically it's like folk, but your sound is very different....how would you describe it?
Lyrically I'm most influenced by American poets like George Oppen and Robert Creeley, as well as British poets and writers. I think for this album I would describe it as a bit chamber, a bit electronica, a bit folk, mainly because of the song structures, the blend of strings and electronics, where the vocals sit in the songs, and the themes.
Although not a strict concept album, it's tied together by meditations on natural landscapes and birds and , of course, the man - made intrusions. Did you set out to do this?
Yes, absolutely. I wanted to make the musical equivalent of a series of woodcuts - scenes that hopefully the music would etch out. And I'm always interested in landscapes that are partial - neither pastoral nor urban, shaped perhaps by incongruous elements. But then, only incongruous because you have some kind of ideal in your head - but what is that, why do you have it, and where does it come from?
I'm very interested in the Welsh connections. Can you explain them?
My Mum's family are from Arthog in Gwynedd, and my Dad's parents lived in Fairbourne down the road from there. So though I grew up in Jersey, I spent every summer in Wales, and it always felt like long term home. You know, ardal, hiraeth, etc! A side of my wife's family comes from Dyffryn Ardudwy, and now my family spends a lot of time in the Rhinogs. So the idea of being drawn to a place in terms of where you draw your identity from is very much at play on this record. Robert Macfarlane writes beautifully about this on his liner notes for the album, which you can read on the Grasscut website.
'Half-life' seems an oblique criticism of nuclear power....or do you see it as a straight description of reality?
For me, it's exploring that powerful scene, both from how it feels to be there, and a bit of poking about talking to people and researching Trawsfynydd. I can't look look at those towers againast the backdrop of the mountains without thinking about the white heat of mid 20th Century hubris in architecture and technology. So Traws architect Sir Basil Spence's voice is at the end of the song. But then I'm also thinking about the poet Hedd Wyn, from Trawsfynydd, killed in World War 1, and posthumously winning best poet at the Eisteddfod: the song is written in iambic couplets as a tribute to him. And thinking about how Wales has been used as a resource - slate mining, flooding to make reservoirs like Lake Vyrnwy - and how that has transformed the landscape. So the ‘halflife’ is also the slow changing of a landscape over the decades from mining to power to tourism - the workers canteen at Traws is now a very nice cafe.
As a poet, I'm very conscious of lyrics. I may be wrong but a lot reminded me of the sparseness of R.S.Thomas, the bleak landscapes. Is there particular poetry which influences the album?
Yes. Definitely RS. And George Oppen as I mentioned before. Similarly sparse. Geoffrey Hill. And Harriet Tarlo, a contemporary British poet. Also prose writers like JA Baker, and WH Hudson. I was trying to avoid too much description lyrically (or adjectivally) - I wanted to present things, and let the music give it tone and colour (or black and white).
Who is the spoken voice on 'Red Kite?'It's so in keeping with the music's motion?
It's Siegfried Sassoon, reading ‘Everyone Sang’, where the line’ Everyone Was A Bird’ comes from. I found it quite late in the process and the tone of his reading, and the incredible sense of lift in the poem was perfect for the lift I was trying to get in Red Kite.
I know Marcus is a massive Wyatt fan....does he impact on the music and, perhaps, word play?
We're both fans! I can't say he's a conscious influence on my lyrics, but he's on my shoulder every time I sing, and for both of us I think he is the perfect role model for how to conduct yourself as an artist.
What was it like collaborating with him on’ Richardson Road’?
It was an amazing day. One of the best of my musical life. Not easy getting from Brighton to Louth, but his generosity musically and personally, and his and Alfie's as hosts were overwhelming. I had no idea he was going to do the singing/piano thing, as we'd agreed before that he'd play a bit of cornet, but his contribution makes the song.
Do you find live performances tricky, as there's so much instrumentation and I'm assuming it's just you and Marcus on stage?
No we love it! And we play with a drummer , and violinist/harmony singer so the arrangements translate well. Come and see us at Festival No 6 and see what you think.
Your last album ‘Unearth’ seems largely electronica based while this one is predominantly acoustic. Do you see future albums as other departures?
I see them as steps forward. I think there's continuity from Reservoir, Lights and We Fold Ourselves to Radar, Curlews, and Red Kite. I agree the sound is different, but this record is about different things. But you're right, the electronic elements take a back on seat on EWAB. I'll certainly continue to explore those liminal areas between the textures and tones of live instruments and electronically generated sounds. Certainly more strings, and maybe a small choir. You heard it here first!
Y BARCUD COCH
for Andrew & Marcus
Our bird, our emblem -
once near extinction
V for victory
C a country
far as border and Valleys
over crenellations of conifers,
Norman castles, empty summer houses
high mewling cry,
eyes for the kill
over slate-fall hills
and isolated farms
red is rising,
proud white feathers
saved and saving -
'Yma o hyd!'
beyond all speech,
yet a sign.