Tag Archives: Salisbury (England)

August-December 2018 – upcoming British and Irish rock gigs – Kiran Leonard on tour (26th August to 5th December, various)

20 Aug

Between late August and early December, the unsettlingly-talented Kiran Leonard will be making his way through England, Ireland and Scotland on a sporadic but wide-ranging tour; preparing for and celebrating the mid-October release of his new album, ‘Western Culture‘.

The first of Kiran’s albums to be recorded in a professional studio with a full band, ‘Western Culture’ comes at the tail-end of a comet-spray of home-made releases. Over the course of these, he’s leapt stylistically between the vigorous home-made eclectic pop of ‘Grapefruit’ and ‘Bowler Hat Soup’, sundry pop and rock songs (including twenty-plus-minute science fiction doom epics and explosive three-minute celebrations), the yearning piano-strings-and-yelp literary explorations of ‘Derevaun Seraun’ and the lo-fi live-and-bedroom song/improv captures of ‘Monarchs Of The Crescent Pail’ and ‘A Bit of Violence With These Old Engines’ (all of this punctuated, too, by the scrabbling electronica paste he releases as Pend Oreille and the prolonged experimental piano/oddments/electronics pieces he puts out as Akrotiri Poacher).

As much at home with kitchen metals as with a ukelele, a piano, or a fuzzy wasp-toned guitar solo, Kiran’s cut-up titles and his wild and indulgent genre-busting complexities are reminiscent of Zappa or The Mars Volta, while his budget ingenuity and fearless/compulsive pursuit of thoughts and his occasional psychic nakedness recall outsider bard Daniel Johnston. On top of that, he’s got the multi-instrumental verve of Roy Wood, Prince or Todd Rundgren; and his stock of bubbling energy and eccentric pop bliss means you can toss Mike Scott, Fyffe Dangerfield or Trevor Wilson into the basket of comparisons, though you’ll never quite get the recipe right.



 

As before, Kiran’s out with his usual band (Dan Bridgewood-Hill on guitar, violin and keyboards, Andrew Cheetham on drums, Dave Rowe on bass), which propels him into something nominally simpler – a ranting, explosive, incantatory mesh of art punk and garage-guitar rock which might lose many of the timbral trimmings of the records, but which is riddled with plenty of rhythmic and lyrical time bombs to compensate; a kind of punky outreach. Most of the dates appear to be Kiran and band alone, though supports are promised (but not yet confirmed or revealed) for Dublin, Brighton, Birmingham, Newcastle and Norwich; and his festival appearances at This Must Be The Place, End of the Road and Ritual Union will be shared with other acts aplenty. No doubt all details will surface over time.


 
What we do know is that the August date in London will also feature Stef Ketteringham, the former Shield Your Eyes guitarist who now performs splintered experimental blues: previewing his appearance in Margate last month, I described his playing as being “like an instinctive discovery: more punk than professorial, bursting from his gut via his heart to tell its shattered, hollered, mostly wordless stories and personal bulletins without the constraint of manners or moderation. For all that, it’s still got the skeleton of blues rules – the existential moan, the bent pitches and percussive protest that demand attention and serve notice of presence.” Judge for yourselves below.


 

The first Manchester date – in September – will be shared with Cult Party and The Birthmarks. The former’s the brainchild of Leo Robinson: multi-disciplinary artist, Kiran associate and songwriter; a cut-back Cohen or Redbone with a couple of string players to hand, delivering dry understated daydream folk songs (from the Americana mumble of Rabbit Dog to the twenty-minute meander of Hurricane Girl, which goes from afternoon murmur to chopping squall mantra and back again). The latter are long-running Manchester cult indie rock in the classic mold – over the years they seem to have been a clearing house or drop-in band for “people that are or have been involved with Sex Hands, Irma Vep, Klaus Kinski, Aldous RH, Egyptian Hip Hip, Human Hair, Sydney, lovvers, TDA, Wait Loss and many more.”



 
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Dates as follows:

(August 2018)

  • This Must Be The Place @ Belgrave Music Hall & Canteen, 1-1A Cross Belgrave Street, Leeds, Yorkshire, LS2 8JP, England, Sunday 26th August 2018, 1.00 pm (full event start time) – information here and here
  • The Victoria, 451 Queensbridge Road, Hackney, London, E8 3AS, England, Wednesday 29th August 2018, 7.30pm (with Steff Kettering) – information here and here
  • End Of The Road Festival (Tipi Stage) @ Larmer Tree Gardens Tollard Royal, Salisbury, Wiltshire, SP5 5PY, England, Thursday 30th August 2018, 9.45 pm – information here and here

(September 2018)

  • Partisan, 19 Cheetham Hill Road, Strangeways, Manchester, M4 4FY, England, Saturday 8th September 2018, 7.30pm (with Cult Party + The Birthmarks) – information here and here

(October 2018)

  • Ritual Union festival @ The Bullingdon, 162 Cowley Rd, Oxford, OX4 1UE, Saturday 20th October 2018, 11.00am (full event start time) – information here, here and here
  • The Cookie, 68 High Street, Leicester, Leicestershire, LE1 5YP, England, Monday 22nd October 2018, 7.30pm – information here and here
  • The Portland Arms, 129 Chesterton Road, Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, CB4 3BA, England, Tuesday 23rd October 2018, 7.00pm – information here
  • The Boileroom, 13 Stokefields, Guildford, Surrey, GU1 4LS, England, Wednesday 24th October 2018, 7.00pm – information here, here and here
  • The Crescent Working Men’s Club, 8 The Crescent, York, Yorkshire, YO24 1AW, England, Thursday 25th October 2018, 7.30pm – information here and here
  • The Parish, 28 Kirkgate, Huddersfield, Yorkshire, HD1 1QQ, England, Friday 26th October 2018, 7.30pm – information here and here
  • The Green Room, Green Dragon Yard, Stockton-on-Tees, County Durham, TS18 1AT, England, Saturday 27th October 2018, 8.00pm – information here and here

(November 2018)

  • The Roisin Dubh, Dominic Street, Galway, Ireland, Wednesday 21st November 2018, 8.00pm – information here and here
  • Whelan’s, 25 Wexford Street, Dublin 2, Ireland, Thursday 22nd November 2018, 8.00pm (with support t.b.c.) – information here and here
  • Kasbah Social Club, 5 Dock Road, Limerick, Ireland, Friday 23rd November 2018, 9.00pm – information here, here and here
  • Cyprus Avenue, Caroline Street, Cork, T12 PY8A, Ireland, Saturday 24th November 2018, 7.30pm – information here and here
  • The Green Door Store, 2-4 Trafalgar Arches, Lower Goods Yard, Brighton Train Station, Brighton BN1 4FQ, England, Monday 26th November 2018, 7.00pm (+ support t.b.c.) – information here and here
  • Soup Kitchen, 31-33 Spear Street, Northern Quarter, Manchester, M1 1DF, England, Wednesday 28th November 2018, 7.00pm – information here, here and here
  • The Hare & Hounds, 106 High Street, Kings Heath, Birmingham, B14 7JZ, England, Thursday 29th November 2018, 7.30pm (+ support t.b.c.) – information here and here
  • The Hug & Pint, 171 Great Western Road, Glasgow, G4 9AW, Scotland, Friday 30th November 2018, 7.30pm – information here and here

(December 2018)

  • The Cumberland Arms, James Place Street, Byker, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Tyne & Wear, NE6 1LD, England, Saturday 1st December 2018, 7.30pm (+ support t.b.c.) – information here and here
  • Norwich Arts Centre, St. Benedict’s Street, Norwich, Norfolk, NR2 4PG, England, Monday 3rd December 2018, 8.00pm (+ support t.b.c.) – information here and here
  • Rough Trade, Unit 3 Bridewell Street, Bristol, BS1 2QD, England, Tuesday 4th December 2018, 7.30pm – information here and here
  • Clwb Ifor Bach, 11 Womanby Street, Cardiff, CF10 1BR, Wales, Wednesday 5th December 2018, 7.30pm – information here and here

 

August 2017 – Rob Crow’s Gloomy Place UK tour (22nd-26th August)

11 Aug

Rob Crow's Gloomy Place UK tour, 22-26 August 2017Rob Crow was once the man who seemed to do everything all the time. Best known as one of the two multi-instrumental frontmen for American cult rockers Pinback, he’s also been the driving force behind a host of projects. To the uninitiated, you could describe him as an kind of unfettered one-man Pavement – he does, after all, write long and delightfully noodly songs which build up like mushrooming musical favelas – but without Malkmus and co’s detached preppiness and their relatively narrow college-rock framing.

Instead, Rob voyages off into odd avenues of punkified folk-naive, semi-sloppy wandering garage meditations, stream-of-chat lyrics, and omnivorous lo-fi post-Sonic Youth psychedelia punctuated by dirty guitar blasts. For a while, it seemed as if every other convoluted mid-paced meander spilling from American underground rock had a Crow fingerprint on it somewhere. Listening across his catalogue, you can find slippery reincorporations of math rock and pop into each other’s spheres (on Other Men’s ‘Wake Up Swimming‘), apparent mixtures of thrash metal, grunge and line-dancing (viz the opening songs on his Ladies album ‘They Mean Us‘) or pretty much everything that flashes across his mind and memory (most Heavy Vegetable and Thingy records) – and that’s before you get to the toy-play of Optiganally Yours and the parody doom/drone/pop culture metal of Goblin Cock. In general, Rob treats genres as if they’re all bedrooms in one single-floor dormitory block and all he has to do is amble up in a friendly way and knock on the door.

A couple of years ago, Rob downed tools and walked away. Burnt out, broke and unhealthy, for a while it seemed as if he’d become an unwilling example of the costs and practical futility of doing committed but marginalised DIY quirk-rock for too long without proper support. Actually, the way it’s turned out has been less pathetic and more sensible: all Rob needed were better plans in which to cradle his existing energies. With his dark patch behind him, and his home life and lifestyle repaired, he’s back in business with a number of new projects.

Prime amongst these is the relatively new Rob Crow’s Gloomy Place, a shifting collective based around him and his guitar. Rather than tote an expensive band around full time, he’s now (like a strapped but shrewd jazzman) in the position of being able to assemble one around whichever sympathetic souls are available wherever he happens to touch down. For his upcoming British tour, he’s been able to mine a particular strand of DIY musical gold thanks to a cluster of particularly talented Crow enthusiasts – Kavus Torabi on second guitar, Craig Fortnam on bass, Rhodri Marsden on keyboards, and the mysterious “Loz Bozenge” (apparently current Gong drummer Cheb Nettles, shuffling his Chinese box of pseudonyms). Expect further but wiser wrangles on the expansive Rob template, as laid out on the Gloomy Place debut ‘You’re Doomed. Be Nice‘.


 
The London gig also sports the sly, tremendous heavy-art-rock of Thumpermonkey – long-running nice-boy brainiacs who bring to the table deft slabs of intricate stunt-riffing, grand lyrical puzzles and intimidating songwriter wit (like the geek who can also and effortlessly beat all comers at arm-wrestling). In Glasgow, the support slot’s filled by Herbert Powell (described as an “amazing hi-NRG needling jogathon for fans of This Heat and Povlo”). It’s been a bit trickier finding out who’d be along for the ride in Manchester, but it turns out to be sarcastic Mancunian noise-poppers Sweet Deals On Surgery, who offer “short, snappy, stupidly-titled insights into Jeremy Kyle Britain, social decline, alcohol, drug abuse, sour family histories, serial killers and an ungrounded dislike for Elvis Costello.” Fine as these gigs promise to be, in Salisbury Rob and co. will be headlining something much bigger – a cavalcade of bands honouring and emulating the peculiarly rich musical vision of Cardiacs’ Tim Smith as part of the biennial Alphabet Business Convention. More on that next time – in many respects, it’s a natural home for Crowery.


 
The full set of dates:

  • The Deaf Institute, 135 Grosvenor Street, Manchester, M1 7HE, England, Tuesday 22nd August 2017, 8.00pm (+ Sweet Deals On Surgery) – information here and here
  • Stereo, 22-28 Renfield Lane, Glasgow, G2 6PH, Scotland, Wednesday 23rd August 2017, 7.30pm (+ Herbert Powell & guests) – information
  • Hoxton Square Bar & Kitchen, 2-4 Hoxton Square, Hoxton, London, N1 6NU, London, England, Thursday 24th August 2017, 8.00pm (+ Thumpermonkey) – information
  • Alphabet Business Convention @ Salisbury Arts Centre, Bedwin Street, Salisbury, Wiltshire, SP1 3UT, England, Saturday 26th August 2017, 5.30pm – information here and here

 

June 2016 – upcoming gigs – North Sea Radio Orchestra play London and Salisbury (12th, 26th) with Daisy Chute and William D. Drake (and maybe some other people…)

30 May

After a four-year hiatus (punctuated only by a brief 2014 showing at a Robert Wyatt tribute evening in France) North Sea Radio Orchestra – the pocket alt.chamber ensemble formed by husband-and-wife art-rock refugees Craig and Sharron Fortnam – are returning to action with a couple of warm, low-key English shows in London and Salisbury during June.

North Sea Radio Orchestra, 2016

North Sea Radio Orchestra, 2016

Based around Craig’s aerial compositions (propelled by a fine lattice of nylon-string guitar or gestural piano) and fronted by Sharron’s grand, pealing mezzo-soprano, NSRO emerged fifteen years ago via a series of church concerts in the City of London. A familial, twenty-strong English-gala-on-legs, sporting a rugged/ragged choral section, they blended the feel of a market-town classical festival with the more omnivorous preoccupations of world-city musicians flitting between concert halls, experimental rock clubs and eclectic podcasts.

Notoriously, Craig’s tune-sense drew on a romantic-futurist melding of Britten, Zappa, Vaughan Williams, Peter Warlock, traditional and psychedelic folk, Victorian poetry and the bassoon-laden locomotional soundtracks of Smallfilms’ Vernon Elliott: while the musician-and-singer pool drew not only on moonlighting classical and film-score people, but also on London art-rockers with broad skills and wide-open ears. In retrospect, there are some superficial similarities not just between the NSRO and one of their clearest equivalents – the Penguin Cafe Orchestra, who enjoyed a comparable tidy balance between cosmopolitan genres and methods – but also between the NSRO and that ongoing wave of enjoyable pop-up community choirs who roll around with Beach Boys, Bjork and Pulp songs stuffed in their pockets. Certainly both of the latter share a “get-up-and-do-it” communal warmth which endear them to audience, plus a pleasing lack of collegiate polish (the NSRO’s choral parts managed to be disciplined and soaring and loveably rough’n’baggy, while Sharon’s lead singing has muscled in on uncolonized areas between classical diva, ’60s coffee-house folk and Yorkshire punk).

Having said that, the NSRO have always been a more serious endeavour, treating their inspirations and ongoing creative paths with a discreet and earnest gravity; something typified by their third album’s pre-hiatus digression into a more compacted style, in which minimalist and Krautrock influences subsumed their initial romanticism (and in which self-penned lyrics of connection, loss and retreat replaced their earlier settings of Tennyson and Blake).

Today’s NSRO are a more streamlined affair than they once were: a compact mostly-instrumental nonet with Sharron’s voice still to the fore. Many members may have gently fallen away (if not too far away), but most of the original players remain in place alongside the Fortnams. Percussionist Hugh Wilkinson, organist/monosynther James Larcombe, string players Harry Escott and Brian Wright, and Luke Crooks and Nicola Baigent on reeds are still all on board, Despite being absent for these shows (he’ll be back in the autumn) the ensemble’s newest recruit, percussionist and viola player Stephen Gilchrist, fulfils the usual NSRO criteria of strolling or scrambling across genre lines: as “Stuffy” Gilchrist, he’s best known for thrashing the drums behind Graham Coxon or Art Brut, or for doling out his pop-eyed alt.rock as Stuffy/the fuses or Stephen Evens.)

These new shows should contain material from the NSRO’s upcoming fourth album ‘Dronne’, due out in early September. The first signs of the album came from a minute-and-a-half of dreamy domestic phase music uploaded to their Facebook page back in January (see above). Various other hints which have seeped out suggest a further change of course, perhaps influenced by the inspired psychedelic folk course which Craig and James Larcombe have been following with their parallel project Arch Garrison . In James’ words: “the new NSRO album’s amazing – in my opinion rather further down the psychedelic avenue, particularly the long instrumental title track. The song we’ve recently done a video for (‘Vishnu Schist’) is without a doubt my new favourite NSRO song… I’ve been listening to it loads. There’s a Robert Wyatt cover on it too, which is lovely.”

Regarding the gigs…

Tigmus presents
North Sea Radio Orchestra + Daisy Chute
The Forge, 3-7 Delancey Street, Camden Town, London, NW1 7NL, England
Sunday 12th June 2016, 1.30pm
– more information here and here

In support at the Forge is Daisy Chute. Though she’s undoubtedly best known as one-quarter of glossy-teen pop/classical fusion queens All Angels, Daisy vigorously and actively pursues a broad sweep of additional music including theatre, education and modern folk. In addition to her frontline work as a singer, she’s an accomplished composer, arranger, orchestrator and multi-instrumentalist (guitar, piano, ukelele, banjo and pixiphone), and a member of varied other bands including Camberwell folk-pop quartet threeandme. On this occasion she’s going out under her own name, singing a set of self-penned folk-and-jazz inspired songs and fronting a quartet of Tristan Horne (cello), Will Collier (double bass) and Zara Tobias (harmonium and backing vocals).


 

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Salisbury Arts Centre presents:
Transplant Music Night: North Sea Radio Orchestra + William D. Drake + special guests
Salisbury Arts Centre, Bedwin Street, Salisbury, SP1 3UT, England
Sunday 26th Jun 2016, 8.00pm
more information

This one’s billed as “a special night of music to accompany Salisbury Arts Centre’s ‘Transplant’ exhibition” (more on that in a moment…) For this show, the support act is onetime Cardiacs member William D. Drake, who forged his own belated solo career alongside NSRO’s (simultaneously putting in time in the latter as both choir singer and occasional composer/pianist). Building on from his interest in Early Music, his stint as the classically-inspired keyboard wildcard amongst Cardiacs’ polystylistic punk tumult and his subsequent immersion in rootsier work, Bill has developed his own idiosyncratic approach to songwriting: baroque, playful and soulful. It’s culminated in his latest – and greatest – album, ‘Revere Reach’, which lovingly threads folk, rock, classical and mythic elements together in a compelling and timeless act of musical bridging.

 

There are also additional “special guests” mentioned on the bill. This could mean anything; but it’s worth speculating on location, on confirmed attendees and on similar associations including the ‘Transplant’ exhibition itself:

promo-mattcuttssculpture2016“Celebrating the interconnectedness between art forms emerging from the festival scene and the joy of being outdoors in nature, ‘Transplant’ brings together sculpture, image, music, poetry and living plants. Forming the heart of the exhibition, Matt Cutts’ wooden sculptures sit in ‘fields’ of wild flowers and trees. Accompanying them are huge batik paintings by Sarah Jones reflecting the beauty of trees. A soundtrack for the exhibition has been created from new music and field recordings by Sarah Jones and William D. Drake. The exhibition opens on Midsummers Eve (Tuesday 21st June) for a 6-8pm viewing, prior to the exhibition proper running from the 22nd to the 25th.”

Citing the fond connections between the world of Cardiacs and that of Salisbury is a pretty easy game. Not only have many former Cardiacs members and affiliates (the Fortnams included) ended up living around Salisbury, but the band recorded their reknowned ‘All That Glitters Is A Mare’s Nest’ concert film in the Arts Centre itself seventeen years ago. Bill Drake’s contributions to both Transplant concert and exhibition further binds the worlds together, but a closer look reveals yet more links. A long time ago (before the batiks), Sarah Jones was Sarah Smith, blowing a puckish saxophone and frail silvery backing vocals in Cardiacs. Before that, she was Sarah Cutts; born into an artistic Forest of Dean family and sister to Matthew Cutts, who himself put in a long stint as a Cardiacs roadie before returning to his sculpting work.

Sarah Jones

Sarah Jones

Whatever the main intentions, it’s clear that a nodding, benevolent Cardiacs spectre looms over the whole event, sealed by the nature-saturated green-fuse inspirations which collectively permeate the artworks of Transplant, North Sea Radio Orchestra’s pastoral heart, and the undergrowth of Cardiacs songs (with their fascination with life and damp and greenery). It could, in fact, be part of one of the ever-more regular waves of Cardiacs-related activity which ripple through English crannies and corners each year in the band’s absence, keeping alive their loving and cheerfully prickly approach to music, friendship and existence (see also the upcoming ‘Whole World Window’ benefit gig in Preston next month, which I’ll flag up again later in the summer). It may give some clues as to who else might turn up; or it might not.

However, I’ll leave any speculation there. Moving back to certainties, here are a few video clips of NSRO in the past – from their choral triumphs to their airborne or churchbound meditations – to pave the way for whatever they’ve got ready for us now.





 

Album reviews – Arch Garrison: ‘I Will Be A Pilgrim’ album, 2014 (“lay out its gears and bones”)

25 May

Arch Garrison: 'I Will Be A Pilgrim'

Arch Garrison: ‘I Will Be A Pilgrim’

Crest the ridge, now. Slow down at the sitting-stone, park your bones and aching muscles there, and take stock. Look at the way the landscape spreads out from up here – all of the fields and rills and, beneath, the skeleton of the land, the rocks and water, the things which give it shape. Moving back up a few layers, there’s the earth and grass and moving animals; the places lived in; the crows’ feet, the salt-and-pepper…

First, let’s look at the shapes which are closest to hand. Pick them up; have a squint.

On his second album of latter-day folk-baroque at the head of Arch Garrison, Craig Fortnam moulds and reworks diverse old and new traditions to delightful effect. His dexterous fingers strip webworks of notes from his acoustic guitars – nylon and steel, telegraph and gut. Within these, home-grown (or at least home-brewed) elements travel from song to song in a loose continuum, stretching from Elizabethan lute ballads through Celtic-American folk to Davey Graham’s flowing Anglo-Arab fingerstyle and the febrile reinventions of John Fahey. Elsewhere, the slides and clinks of change-ringing rows are smuggled from English church bells onto keys and strings.

Other specks and strains within the music seem to have been picked up from other parts of the world. A vellum-dry recording and a staccato attack nod to Ali Farka Touré’s Malian folk-blues, with the debt explicit on two lilting instrumental vamps. That elegant lilting baroque figure which opens the record initially steps out like something broader (a koto flourish, or a banjo beginning) and is returned to for the coda; this time built upon by bobbing, sliding, Cluster-esque layers of electronic organ, the drift of stained-glass shadows on flagstones. Across the album, while Craig sings the songs into life in his thin hopeful straw of a voice, a feathering of psychedelic burr hangs in the air like the faint memory of a benign, long-ago acid trip – a touch of the Barretts.

While Arch Garrison aren’t quite as numerous as they once were, Craig isn’t alone on his voyage. Over at his right hand, James Larcombe plays buzzing monosynths and gently teetering Philicorda, fusing the meticulous discipline of a classical organ scholar with a blend of Krautrock tangents. His playing can carry hints of wilful trance and of conscious airy detachment, but he also has the focus to draw an assured bead on what the moment requires and to nail it. On ‘I Will Be A Pilgrim’s title track, the duo reach a pinnacle of mutual intricacy and involvement. James builds up a musing Philicorda fanfare (part kosmische, part chapel) amongst strands of piano, synth and swirling cymbal. Craig’s screw-threaded clawhammer guitar bursts through this massing kaleidoscope of psychedelic refractions to launch the song proper, whereupon Arch Garrison twirl deftly through knotwork prog breaks, rough-dancing harmonised vocals and capering mediaeval percussion (constantly pinned to a kind of Gothic lysergia via glimmering, echoed guitar counter-melodies).

The business of unpicking this intricate little treasure-box of an album can be fascinating: you can lay out its gears and bones, and marvel at how Appalachia, Forst, Tombouctou and Wiltshire can be encouraged to dance together. But getting distracted by the spread of ingredients on show would be missing the deeper points. On this set of songs, skilled fingerwork and compositional complexity sit in support of finer gravities of heart and of belonging. On Arch Garrison’s previous album, ‘King Of The Down’, Craig sketched the opening lines of a personal landscape – stretches and twinges, journeys and feelings, embraces and aches. It was even there in the album title, which encompassed Craig’s beloved southern English hills and his own wounded doubts. But it’s only now, with ‘I Will Be A Pilgrim’, that he’s fully realised the craft of mapping these outer and inner geographies together, growing deeper into his own voice as he does so.

Craig has spent much of his musical history in the charismatic, ever-present shadow of his wife and bandmate Sharron. In their teamwork within The Shrubbies and North Sea Radio Orchestra (as with briefer work with the fFortingtons and Lake of Puppies), his writing set out most of the musical substance, but it was her striking vocal and personal anneal of post-punk bounce, classical soprano and folk chirp which set the tone. Voluntary as all of this was, in recent years the balance has shifted, with Craig singing several NSRO pieces in a smaller version of the band. While Sharron initially came along for Arch Garrison on bass guitar and harmonies, it was Craig who took the vocal lead. Now the Garrison trio’s reduced to a duo, and the older alliance is temporarily severed. Sharron is on leave-of-absence, away on the same maternity break that has currently put NSRO into mothballs. Although James provides conversational hums of backup vocal as well as his multi-jointed keyboards, Craig’s singing alone as he never has before.

Serendipitously, this has happened at the perfect time. ‘I Will Be A Pilgrim’ is the album on which both Craig’s songwriting and his growing hunger (after NSRO’s sculpted Edwardianisms) for direct expression fully mature. Fragile tones notwithstanding, you can’t imagine anyone else singing these songs, let alone singing them better. Just as Craig’s voice has come into focus, so too have his lyrics, with every song now an open, expanding kernel of idea and a signpost for an open road. The picture that emerges is of the restlessness that beats and tugs at men in the middle passage of life, turning them into helpless sails for every fearful yaw or sneaking gust of emotion.

Over the course of eight songs and three instrumentals, ‘I Will Be A Pilgrim’ explores parenthood, competition, faith, engagement with art and the ambivalence of loneliness. Its core – both symptoms and solutions – is centred round the act of walking. Propelled by his sinewy melodies and striding harmonic progressions, which roll across the album the way old wire fences roll across hills, Craig is constantly journeying, pressing currents of angst and uncertainty underfoot. From being a fragmented and distracted modern man, he strides back into connection, rediscovering himself in subconscious acceptance of history and place. Here and there, from song to song, a line recurs – “chalk under the bone” – as Craig acknowledges and encourages this strata of belonging. When he sings “never more known” he’s talking about both the hidden and the savoured.

Two river songs roll the point home. On The Oldest Road Craig has a full-on metaphysical vision of the Downs hills in a state of historical flux, and explores them in tones that echo William Blake and Edward Thomas as well as his old mentor Tim Smith. “Chalk arises overhead, up above alluvial. / Is it true what you said, chalk springs the fluvial? – / flows into town, / scatters people all around. / Do they feel it, do they know / chalk under the bone?” While landscape offers him escapism (“disappear into the haze – / happy days,”) he also greets the growing sense of heritage that it brings to him (“I was born with flint in hand, / write my name upon the land,”) and ends up celebratory, an open-ended bounds-walker freed from linear time altogether. “It only takes an hour, / even in an hour / feel the time unwind, boy… / I have walked the open road, made ten thousand years ago. / And when the earth explodes, / atomise the oldest road, never more known.”

On the title track (amidst James’ stitchwork of keyboards and the rattling percussion) Craig begins another journey – this time in London, tracing his beloved River Thames outwards “from the Cheap to the Fleet to the Strand, / then up to the fields, / then over the land, the grey-green and brown. / Oh the city, city wide, / beautiful river rolling by.” A former Londoner himself, perhaps he starts off by retracing his own path; but as soon as the city falls behind him the song opens out into more universal territories. Specific details and place-names dissolve; the journey becomes as permeable as dreams and as material as aching feet. Sadness and inspiration, solitude and engagement alternate and counterbalance each other. “In the morning, don’t be low. / There’s a ribbon of road. / Early morning – the giant stride. / The steeper the hill, then the faster walk I. / I will never, never tire.”

Eventually, Craig’s progress becomes open-ended; a pick-up-the-pace walk song in which he threads in and out of other people’s lives – ever the visitant. “I spring out of the sun, feel sigh. / Oh, people ringing… / In a pilgrim’s high… / oh pilgrim, wander by… / Oh, the lonely, lonely road. / Chalk under the bone.” Running alongside this wandering engagement is a sense of displacement; of letting oneself fall loose from the world of family and neighbours, tugging at the lead, tempted to drift away under a vague compulsion and never knowing whether it’s the right thing to do. “By the evening, don’t be low, there’s a light in a window,” Craig sings softly, grasping after a sense of home and fulfilment in the midst of wandering.

In contrast, the album’s opening song – Where The Green Lane Runs – sees him preparing to set it all aside. It’s more than a little unsettling to open your record with a vision of your own death, but that’s what this is. In a careful picking-out of parts and purposes (part march, part folk dance, meticulously lined on nylon-string guitar and a thin wheedle of organ) Craig sets out his exit. “I’ll make my own bed when the time comes / under a tree where the green lane runs. / You’ll never find me, I hope you wouldn’t look. / I’ll leave our home without a jacket on, / head to the west and the setting sun… / I’ll do a Captain Oates and step outside, / checking out the great divide.” If the river songs placed him on the landscape, this one sees him finally merging with it, plotting out a resting place which echoes his own increasingly blurred position between modernity and antiquity: “where the green lane divides… / between the A road and the river that flows.” There’s much to mull over here, not least the uneasy mixture of feelings – defiance (with a flicker of warrior spirit in the pledge to “look for high ground, / there I’ll make my stand,”), self-sacrifice (the evocation of the wounded Oates, wandering away to die alone rather than bring others down with him) and the underlying course of loneliness; the hooded, blurred reason for the walking-away and that final solitary end.

Meanwhile, while still earthbound, there’s still the business of living and of making day-to-day sense. Three songs deal with the frustrations of making art and the fluctuations of faith. On Everything All (a flourishing blues-y hop, with James blending in crayon synth and cheerful monkey-bar clamberings of piano) Craig’s reflections are weary, beaten by the grind and by other people’s indifference. They tend towards sadness and hints of retirement. “Sometimes it’s everything all / moving the air in a room or a hall / Trying to explain what I don’t understand, / The song is a mirror / I’m taking it down.” Other People, a tickling float of flamenco plucking resolving into a more classical structure, casts an uneasier look at competition and the perils of letting life slip out of your grasp. “You’re not other people – / if you were, they’d look you in the eye, / but they’re active, pushing along the road, / and you’re passive with the flow… / We used to live together, but they’re active – up the ladder, watch them go.”

As with the rest of the record, Craig keeps us guessing as to where he’s aiming his reflections. His gentle chiding could be a nudge at a torpid friend, or a dialogue with himself – a dose of pragmatism while stuck somewhere along the road. “You’re not undeserving of course, but there’s something you should know. / Life’s out selling, and you’re passive with the flow – / you go, go, go – / and the world is active – look, the spinning globe.” By the time he gets to Six Feet Under Yeah, he’s cemented some resolution. Accompanied by beautiful Tudoresque chording (festooned with joyfully quilled keyboard lines and fugues atop a sliding bass) he prods and encourages, and finally celebrates the struggle in a rousing gain-in-spite-of-pain anthem. “You don’t appreciate / the beauty of what you make… / Don’t be dissatisfied / keep your eye on the prize / Create it, then get it out – / yeah, get it out. / It ain’t over / ‘til it’s over.”

In spite of the darker veins that cross its vision (those vagabond drifts away from home, the spectre of lonely death, the cracks which erode confidence), ‘I Will Be A Pilgrim’ ultimately emerges onto the uplands of optimism. It’s not just about Six Feet Under Yeah’s concluding reclamations of course and momentum: in Bubble, Craig sets aside solitary thoughts and immerses himself in a simple celebration of parenthood. A squiggled bass riff boinks, a busy trio of guitars stand for family, and while James floats streamers of monosynth over everything (like a playful uncle) Craig sings unguardedly of little hats and tiny hands, chuckling over the chaos of cheerful, burgeoning family life – “we’ve skidded again… Blessed are we now, we’ll never be the same.”

All of this is capped, as it should be, by Craig’s reunion with Sharron on So Sweet Tomorrow; an old fFortingtons country tune turned nursery-rhyme on which the two harmonise, take turns and all but curtsey to each other. A soft mule-trudge rhythm, dappled with deceptively Christmassy bells, it has some of their old wide-eyed Shrubbies feel to it (“after today / we’ll ring a true bell, / when all is well”), but its heady couple-sung doggerel taps into older rituals of season and celebrations of survival. “Oh come along you, to light a spire, / wash out the mire, and raise the shadow, / dig under belly-o.” Spectres still flit around the edges, but the overall flavour is one of resilience. “Bring out your dying, and near-to-dead, / but still the final breath is left.”

Pull back and reflect. If there’s a final form to that psychic landscape – the one which we were scouting out from that hill-brow, back then when we first sat down, and the one which Craig’s been limning throughout the record – it’s here. Ghost-thoughts and dark loomings might protrude through the weak points, but the weak points aren’t everything; nor are they the defining features, just as a walk isn’t entirely defined by the blisters it raises. Walks are terrain, no less. Smoothnesses disrupted; routes which are more difficult and more revealing than the maps which you started with; stumbles leading to unexpected vistas. ‘I Will Be A Pilgrim’ is a record which (in its soft-spoken revealings and sway-back moods) ultimately embraces those stones in the shoes, the crows-feet and skiddings and the salt-and-pepper, the simple actions which maybe ache a little more than they used to. While it doesn’t make a meal of the fact, it’s also a record which absorbs something important – the point that pilgrimage isn’t just the journey or the destination, it’s the chance to discover yourself along the way.

All right, now. Rest-time is over, and there are roads to tread. Come on – ease yourself up. Put your pack back on; check your shoes. Comfortable enough. You’ll make it. Go.

Arch Garrison: ‘I Will Be A Pilgrim’
The Household Mark, THM003
CD/download album
Released: 19th May 2014

Get it from:
Amazon or iTunes or Wayside Music.

Arch Garrison online:
Homepage MySpace

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