A Quietus Feature: On the Beach by Neil Young 40 years later (September 8th, 2014)

In a curious twist of coincidence, I’m writing this anniversary piece not long after the release of a long-awaited live album culled from Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’s legendary 1974 tour, which took place not long after On The Beach was released. Together, they encapsulate the creative and personal whirlwind that was Neil Young’s life as the seventies reached their midway point.

The CSNY tour represented in many ways the apex of Young’s commercial resonance amongst rock’s pantheon of giants. Two years earlier had seen the release of the smash hit Harvest, its delicate country-folk catchiness propelling the enigmatic Canadian to the top of the charts amid a wave of popular acclaim. His decision in 1969 to hook up with former Buffalo Springfield sparring pal Stephen Stills in CSNY, rock’s premier supergroup, had exposed his eccentric take on folk and rock to a wider audience, and Harvest represented an almost inevitable conclusion to that suddenly raised profile. Despite previous alternative success in the form of 1970’s After The Goldrush, Harvest propelled Young to the very top of the singer/songwriter pile, with rewards aplenty to boot.

Almost immediately, however, the dark side of fame took hold of Young’s life with a vice-like grip. As he prepared to embark on his biggest-yet tour in support of Harvest, his alter ego in his garage-rock band Crazy Horse, Danny Whitten, died of a heroin overdose mere hours after being fired from tour rehearsals by Young. The concerts went ahead under a cloud, with an increasingly alcohol-fuelled Neil finding himself at odds with his band and his audience, who couldn’t relate to the unhinged, hard-edged songs he took to hurling at them in lieu of Harvest-esque folk-pop. The tour was captured in all its lo-fi glory on Time Fades Away (still unavailable outside of its original vinyl pressing), which served as the first sign that Young was, in his words, “heading for the ditch”.

In the space of a few months, the sunny* outlook of 1972 was erased completely. After Time Fades Away, Young – still grieving the death of Whitten, which was compounded by the similar demise of roadie Bruce Berry – took the remains of Crazy Horse and old stalwarts Nils Lofgren and Ben Keith into an improvised studio to lay down his first masterpiece of the dark recesses of the soul, Tonight’s The Night. Recording at night in a series of tequila-fueled sessions, TTN is bleary-eyed, barely in tune and totally phenomenal, perhaps all the more so because it can still shock CSNY and Harvest fans to the core. And if TTN was acclaimed by all involved as a cathartic experience, there was enough of its morbid malevolence still lurking in Young’s soul by the time the sessions for On The Beach came along in early 1974. As such, the trio of Time Fades Away, On The Beach and Tonight’s The Night (released tardily in 1975) remains one of the greatest and bleakest sequences of albums ever recorded by a major recording artist.

Just as Tonight’s The Night was guided – for want of a better word – by tequila, so too were the On The Beach sessions dominated by a rather different concoction. Ben Keith had introduced Young to a tubby and wild fiddle player called Rusty Kershaw and, while he only features on two songs, the latter’s influence, notably potent hash cakes named “honey slides”, cast a rather woozy shadow over proceedings. Indeed, one of the producers would report to peering through the glass separating the booth from the recording space in a vain attempt to locate the musicians, such was the pall of smoke and darkness that hung over the protagonists. If the album’s title and gorgeous cover suggested a change from Tonight’s The Night’s blackness, the sessions and what they produced were as gloomy as ever. With his relationship with actress Carrie Snodgress (the mother of his first child) in tatters and his booze and drug consumption increasingly rampant, Young poured out his angst and anger over the roughest, most sparse music in his career to date (yes, even more so than TTN).

Consequently, whilst it’s not as punishing as TTN, sonically, On The Beach is not for the faint of heart. The bouncy opener ‘Walk On’ aside, most of the album is given over to bitter musings on the emptiness of fame and relationship breakdowns. For the latter category, Young resurrected an old unreleased song, ‘See The Sky About To Rain’, recorded at snail’s pace and laced with funereal electric piano. ‘For The Turnstiles’, meanwhile, is just Young and Keith on banjo and dobro respectively, striving to sing in tune a cracked exposé of the stadium rock scene and ‘Vampire Blues’ points to another future favourite of Young’s bugbears: the destruction of the environment. This is Young at his most disillusioned, and his fury is distilled into raw viciousness on the third track of the first side, the apocalyptic ‘Revolution Blues’. Over an almost funky rhythmic backing provided by Rick Danko and Levon Helm of The Band (man I wish he’d played with them more often!), Young channels the spirit of Charles Manson, culminating in a harsh incantation: “I hear that Laurel Canyon/ Is full of famous staaaaaars/ But I hate them worse than lepers/ And I’ll kill them in their caaaaars!!!!” In any decade, even now, this would be seen as dark, even controversial stuff; coming from a huge star at the height of his fame in 1974, it could have been career suicide.

For all the first side’s excellence, though, the three tracks that make up side B of On The Beach, starting with the title track, possibly represent Neil Young at his absolute peak. ‘On The Beach’ is heart-rending blues played with absolute anguish as Young contemplates his collapsing world in unflinching detail: “Though my problems are meaningless/ That don’t make them go away”. ‘Motion Pictures’ is another minimal dirge aimed as a last farewell to Snodgress, with Young’s world-weary voice accompanied simply by hand-patted drums, plonking bass and the occasional wurble from Kershaw’s slide guitar. Finally, the album comes tumbling to a close with exquisite emotional potency with the epic, blearily psychedelic song-poem that is ‘Ambulance Blues’, a strange voyage through Young’s past in Canada to his traumatised presence via a few meanderings into the realms of politics and music criticism.

Of all Young’s albums, On The Beach may be the hardest to describe musically, such is the way it sits between identifiable genres. It seems to have emerged, blinking but oddly full-formed, from the darkest chasms of Neil Young’s heart and mind, with Kershaw, Keith, bassist Tim Drummond, drummer Ralph Molina and the other guest performers layering sounds onto his vision and basic outlines with intuitive ease. Maybe honey slides generate telepathy. On The Beach wasn’t a commercial success, as audiences continued to be baffled by its sombreness, and it suffered the same fate as Time Fades Away until 2003 when it saw a belated CD and vinyl reissue, but it now has deservedly earned a place of true favour with Young aficionados. And to come back to CSNY, when Young brought the likes of ‘Ambulance Blues’ and ‘Revolution Blues’ to the almighty party, his erstwhile colleagues were beyond taken aback, with David Crosby begging off having to play on the latter. Yet, forty years down the line, I will find myself reaching for this unrelenting masterpiece far more often than Déjà Vu.

* For what it’s worth, a closer look at the lyrical content of Harvest shows considerable nuance in its supposed cheeriness. Yes, Young was in love and successful, but from the slightly wistful surrealism of ‘Out On The Weekend’ to the anti-racist rant that is ‘Alabama’, via the cautionary and slightly chilling ‘The Needle And The Damage Done’ and the title track’s Southern Gothic chill, Harvest is actually anything but a simple ray of James Taylor-esque sunshine. How could it be otherwise with Neil Young?

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A Dusted Review: Commune by Goat (September 4, 2014)

Try as I could, I remained singularly unmoved when masked Swedish psych-boppers Goat first sashayed into the world’s collective conscience about two years ago. I didn’t bite, but as a committed fan of psychedelic music since my teenage years (starting with Jefferson Airplane and Amon Düül II), I was more than willing to give them a second chance. After all, I may not have liked the slightly gimmicky nature of the band, but Goat can certainly churn out an infectious beat.

Goat unashamedly looks into the past to fuel its musical synapses, and, more importantly, the band casts its net fearlessly, drawing in African and Asian influences as well as nods to the traditional music of their home nation. If all that sounds insufferably hip, well that’s because it is in a way, but these are talented musicians and their plundering is never anything less than respectful and tasteful. On Commune, the African inspiration is particularly prevalent with jerky polyrhythms popping and fizzing through tracks like “Talk to God” and “The Light Within” with the energy of the Africa 70 circa 1977.

Which is not to say the music sounds like a pastiche, because Goat is canny enough to emphasize other influences (the brief instrumental “To Travel the Path Unknown” sounds positively Brazilian) and veer off into more straight-ahead rock before sounding like a covers band of whichever influence they’re mining. The band also clearly likes a wah-ed out riff and massed vocals; “Goatchild,” for instance, sounds closer to Woodstock than Lagos. To its credit, the band generally maintains a sense of cohesion on Commune, even as the songs fly off in so many directions.

The album’s title, and track titles like “Talk to God”, suggest a certain religionism, but the two female vocalists’ delivery is so blank and impersonal that most of the lyrics are pretty unfathomable.  As a result, Commune’s religious undertones never feel preachy. They do, however, feel contrived, and this is where the band falls down a tad. I just don’t believe them. They claim to build their songs up in lengthy improvisation sessions, but you wouldn’t gather that on listening to them. They wear masks, but it’s not clear what this anonymity achieves, beyond being a good selling point to the gullible and faddish. Commune is imbued with a certain spirituality, but beyond nabbing the musical traditions of faith music in Asia or Africa (chanting, ritual performance, etc.) and throwing in some rock ’n’ roll, I’m not sure what —if any — message is being conveyed on this album.

The best psych music of recent times (Gnod, Acid Mothers Temple, Vibracathedral Orchestra, Sunburned Hand of the Man, to name four) has been defined by slow build-ups and a true sense of individuals coming together, dissolving their egos for the common good and setting the controls for deep space. Hell, it worked for Hawkwind. Goat are a bit too tight and knowing to be transcendental or truly trippy, for now at least, although the Afro-beat leanings that crop up all over Commune point at avenues rich in potential out-of-body experiences.

A Clash Magazine Feature: Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere 45th Anniversary

In 1969, Neil Young was a little-known professional musician eking out a fledgling career in Los Angeles. He had known brief fame as part of Buffalo Springfield, and released a poorly received debut solo album – but success of the kind enjoyed by his former Springfield pal Stephen Stills, flying high as part of supergroup Crosby, Stills & Nash, eluded him.

For most, Young’s rise to significance starts at the time he joined CS&N in the summer of 1969 and culminates with the celebrated albums ‘After The Gold Rush’ (1970) and ‘Harvest’ (1972), the latter achieving mainstream impact with its hit single ‘Heart Of Gold’. But that puts too great a value on commercial success.

Rather, the starting point for Young as visionary rock musician is ‘Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere’, an album that arguably represents the greatest leap forward of his early career. Put simply, ‘Everybody Knows…’ is one of the groundbreaking albums of alternative rock, a blueprint for so much of what has followed over the last 45 years, and deserves to be revered in the same manner as The Stooges’ eponymous debut or ‘The Velvet Underground & Nico’. It’s punk before punk, grunge before the term had been thought up.

Bumming around LA’s underground in search of inspiration, Young stumbled upon a local garage rock band called The Rockets, with whom he jammed a bit, literally in their garage. He quickly developed a rapport with their rhythm section: Billy Talbot (bass), Ralph Molina (drums) and Danny Whitten (rhythm guitar). Hijacking the trio, he renamed them Crazy Horse and immediately hit the studio, backed by his inestimable producer David Briggs, who had worked on his debut LP.

But where ‘Neil Young’ had been a labour to produce, the sessions that led to ‘Everybody Knows…’ were a breeze, with Young forming an almost telepathic kinship with the Horse, and Whitten in particular. Whitten was an ace guitarist, but also had a background in doo-wop, meaning he could also sing. The formerly microphone-shy Young – whose voice was considered “weird” by many – rose to the challenge.

Yet it’s Young’s music that was really transformed by Crazy Horse. The simple rhythmic framework offered by Molina and Talbot opened up acres of space for Young to cut loose and develop a ragged, open-ended form of garage rock that is as heady as it is basic. Some of his folk heritage remains, in the form of the gentle ballad ‘Round & Round’, and the country rock title track. But ‘Everybody Knows…’ is dominated by intense, to-the-point, emotionally direct rock, epitomised by the crisp, driving ‘Cinnamon Girl’ and two epic pieces, ‘Down By The River’ and ‘Cowgirl In The Sand’, on which minimal, repetitive rhythm patterns allow Young to plug his Les Paul straight into his heart and tear out some of the most beautiful solos in rock history.

‘Everybody Knows…’ is not fancy, overdubbed, or elaborate: it’s rock ‘n’ roll at its purest and most authentic.

Young would go on to a unique and wildly successful career, twisting between genres and following his own muse, but he took the blueprint he forged on ‘Everybody Knows…’ and kept it close to his heart, returning to the Horse sporadically over the years with stellar results – ‘Zuma’, ‘Rust Never Sleeps’, ‘Ragged Glory’ and 2012’s ‘Psychedelic Pill’ – but also applying the stripped-down ethic to seminal masterpieces such as ‘On The Beach’ and ‘Tonight’s The Night’, both of which also share the doom-laden vibe of ‘Down By The River’.

Forty-five years on, it still sounds as fresh and innovative as ever, and in its sly humour, ragged riffs and searing solos lie the seeds of countless bands, many of whom have tried to emulate Young, never to succeed.

A Quietus Review: Flying Fantasy by Alexander Turnquist (June 13th, 2014)

Perhaps the most strikingly beautiful thing about Flying Fantasy is that it’s born out of a period of awful pain for young composer/guitarist Alexander Turnquist. After a seized-up nerve in his hand required surgery and for him to re-learn how to play the guitar, work on the album was further thrown into disarray by a severe bout of meningitis that he is still overcoming. I think the word is “crikey”, and many would have thrown in the towel and given up on their art after so much duress. Instead, it appears to have galvanised Turnquist, resulting in an album that is traversed by pain but aims towards beauty as a form of balm.

Turnquist is a remarkable 12-string guitarist, and if it has been considerably diminished by illness, it doesn’t show on Flying Fantasy. Like nearly every fingerpicker that emerges from America, comparisons to John Fahey and James Blackshaw have been bandied around, but Turnquist sounds unlike either. His notes tumble out of his guitar in cascades, liquid myriads of melody that shimmer with emotion and feeling. On their own, they would lend a starkness to Flying Fantasythat would possibly not cover the breadth of Turnquist’s vision, but as he’s also a talented composer, he has succeeded in creating a sequence of lush, varied and ambitious tracks on which to flesh out the foundations set by his guitar.

On the album’s opener – and most effective track – ‘House Of Insomniacs’ (a reference to hospital, maybe?) is a demonstration of fluidity and control in equal measure. After a short overture of resonating plucked chords, the piece gathers momentum with a driving central guitar melody that Turnquist adds to and embellishes whilst also allowing lingering moments of contemplative silence. The introduction of lustrous strings, melancholic piano and dramatic horns, not to mention a ghostly wordless choir swells the track up to near-symphonic levels, the circular nature of Turnquist’s music never becoming redundant or repetitive, instead allowing the listener to hone in on details, or sit back and let the music fill the senses. Every track feels delicate, fragile even, as if instilled with the essence of the butterflies that adorn Flying Fantasy‘s cover.

More portentous than its predecessor, ‘Finding The Butterfly’ is dominated by mournful violins, an almost doomy organ and the restlessness of Turnquist’s guitar, which surges and recedes in a flurry of high-pitched arpeggios. The horn arrangements are most effective on ‘Red Carousel’, an homage to Ray Bradbury’s surreal horror novel Something Wicked This Way Comes, settling uneasily around the central guitar-and-voice duet like ominous clouds. The title track, meanwhile, is almost austere by comparison, with loamy electronics, drifting ambience, and the most minimal of twelve-string interjections. The imagery conjured up is one of vacant shorelines and parting clouds, a nicely understated expression of hope after hardship, and a strangely moving counterpart to the album’s busier moments. On Flying Fantasy, Turnquist neatly sidesteps the temptation to brood over his recent traumas, instead offering a more nuanced, gently unpredictable expression of pain and redemption, and the album, whilst tantalisingly brief, is all the better for it.

A Quietus Review: Psychedelic Judgeman Comes, He Has The Cherry Blossom On The Shoulder by Psyche Bugyo (May 23rd, 2014)

 

Even amid the myriad offshoots that frequently peel away from the supersized parallel universe inhabited by Acid Mothers Temple and The Melting Paraiso UFO, Psyche Bugyo deserves much note, primarily because it manages to out-weird its parent band. Ostensibly a concept album based on a loose narrative surrounding samurais and ninjas, Psychedelic Judgeman Comes, He Has The Cherry Blossom On The Shoulder is mostly an opportunity for AMT bassist and vocalist Tsuyama Atsushi to go wild in a majestic homage to classic British heavy rock, and he and his team blow the fucking doors off in the process.

In essence, the concept and storyline behind Psychedelic Judgeman are immaterial, and I doubt even Japanese speakers would be able to get much of it, given the sparseness of the way Tsuyama deploys his lyrics and how nonsensical the delivery is. His eructations sound more like mantras, peppered by scattered woops and hysterical laughter; they’re both silly and unsettling, even when he lapses into deranged English on ‘Psychedelic Judgeman’. What really marks Psychedelic Judgeman as a mini triumph of modern day psych is the way in which obvious influences (Cream, King Crimson, Free, Van der Graaf Generator) are fed into a magimix, reduced to a seamless paste and then spat back out as three tracks of burning, broiling hard-edged trippiness.

Take the wacky opener ‘Ore No Abarenboshogun’. Driven by circular organ riffs and open-ended twin guitar solos like the improvisational parts by In The Court Of The Crimson King-era KC, it builds into a typically AMT-esque wall of constant playing, a jam session elevated to rock & roll art. At intervals, when Tsuyama takes to the microphone, the band lurches into a soaring coda based on The Animals’ ‘House Of The Rising Sun’, which dissolves back into the main melody as Tsuyama’s vocals descend into ominous babbles and grunts. The drummer sounds like Michael Giles, the saxophonist more like Van der Graaf’s David Jackson, whilst there’s no end of references for the organ: take your pick from Wakeman, Emerson or Banton. At fifteen minutes in duration, ‘Ore No Abarenboshogun’ sounds like the middle section of ‘Twentieth Century Schizoid Man’ extended into an endless, freeform jam throughout which Psyche Bugyo are somehow able to keep things together, their interplay bordering on the telepathic. It’s probably the most ferociously gleeful and hard-hitting of the album’s three tracks; a teleport through time to the height of seventies’ prog-rock’s gestatory phase, when it viscerally promised so much more than its later decades would ultimately provide.

After such an unfettered opener, the 34-minute title track and centrepiece is more conceptual and varied, starting with a similar driving opening section as ‘Ore No Abarenboshogun’, although sounding here more like John Peel’s erstwhile protégés Tractor merged with Cream than King Crimson. Drums crash and thunder, organs are overloaded to the max and the guitars rip up an almighty tornado of ecstatic feedback and noise. Just over ten minutes in, the pace switches instantaneously to a slow-paced heavy ballad akin to Neil Young’s ‘Cortez The Killer’, or, perhaps more pertinently, ‘Kokoro’ by Japanese seventies explorers Far East Family Band. The solos here are exquisite, aching with bluesy emotion, the space opening up behind the guitarists to really pour out their notes. This section builds and builds, exploding with stadium-wide intensity, before disintegrating into a miasma of noise that betrays the band’s roots in Acid Mothers Temple. ‘Psychedelic Judgeman’ ends with a rapid-fire proto-metal dash to the finish line, mimicking ‘Siberian Khatru’, the finale from Yes’ seminal Close To The Edge.

After such a dramatic central track, closer ‘Son of Mr Livingfellow’ feels tacked on, its folky acoustic guitars, massed vocals and ever-changing tempos at odds with the burning intensity of ‘Psychedelic Judgeman’. Maybe that’s for the best, and a folk-rock closer that nods towards the weird end of British psych (The Incredible String Band or Jan Dukes de Grey, perhaps) is no hardship. It also feels a lot closer to a number of Japanese bands like the aforementioned Far East Family Band or J.A. Caesar, proving that Psyche Bugyo are much more than the sum of their influences. Psychedelic Judgeman Comes, He Has The Cherry Blossom On The Shoulder is an album that sits out of time, for it could have been made at any time since 1968. There’s no higher compliment one could pay to a band bearing their inspirations so brazenly on their sleeves.

A Quietus Review: Into the Failing Light by Lost Harbours (March 13th, 2014)

Aside from being perhaps the best album released in 2012, Southend duo Lost Harbours’ Hymns & Ghosts was also perfectly titled. Despite ostensibly being a folk album drawing from the rich British tradition of the late sixties and early seventies, the presence of droning violins and hushed, spectral vocals lent a deeply unsettling atmosphere to the album’s six tracks, one that felt both heretically devotional and eerily phantasmagorical. It was a stirring and confident “full” debut, at times echoing Comus and Natural Snow Buildings, but somehow existing in a world of its own primordial making.

Hymns & Ghosts should have been a tough act to follow, but the aptly-named (for folkies) Richard Thompson (vocals, guitar, noises) and his violin and reeds wielding cohort Emma Reed have surpassed themselves with Into The Failing Light. This album takes the foundations laid by its predecessor, then upends them before spiralling off into a new direction. Only a few signposts lead back to Hymns & Ghosts, a mostly folk-oriented affair bar the foaming, two-part title track, with its intoxicatingly rural nods to bands like Forest And Trees.

Into The Failing Light sees Lost Harbours dare to strike out into the wind-buffeted wilderness that lies at the core of Thompson and Reed’s music, one where even the delicately plucked acoustic guitars on ‘Whispers In The Night’ and ‘Evening Vessel – Into The Gloom’ feel austere and sepulchral, as if recorded in the depths of a millennia-old neolithic barrow. Thompson’s subdued fingerpicking evokes more recent purveyors of arcane folk such as Matt Baldwin and Richard Youngs, whilst a more fleshed-out palette that includes raging electric guitar on the twelve-minute ‘Portal’ as well as dashes of organ, samples, clarinet and flute on other tracks, somehow contributes to an atmosphere that is brooding, remote and melancholic all at once.

Both ‘Portal’ and the equally (but differently) portentous opener ‘Winter Shall Reign’ perhaps best represent the radical shift in Lost Harbours’ focus in the two years since Hymns & Ghosts. The latter sees Thompson’s morose vocals subsumed in layers of crepuscular violin drones, like a sea-shanty gone haywire. The former meanwhile, starts off with a languid folk melody before gradually metamorphosing into a seething miasma of electrified guitar and violin noise halfway through, bursting at the seams by the close in a wave of feedback and fuzz, as if West Country weirdo Urthona dropped in unannounced on the sessions.

In both cases, Lost Harbours feel like they’re channeling the spirit of doom into more acoustic-friendly territory, putting them on the same plane of metal-infused pagan folk as Ulver and Wolfmangler, except more firmly connected to the devotional heart of paganism. The tempos across Into The Failing Light are slovenly and thoughtful, some tracks more ritual than song.

As with much folk, this is music that is tied to locations, and with titles such as ‘Evening Vessel – Into the Gloom’ and ‘The Undulating Sea’, Britain’s maritime geography hoves acutely into view. We’re not really a nation of sandy beaches and blue seas, more of windswept cliff tops and broiling black waters, and Lost Harbours, perhaps due to their Essex coast origins, channel these vistas on Into The Failing Light, much as Sandy Denny did with different, but equally untethered, results on The North Star Grassman & The RavensInto The Failing Light feels anchored to this bizarre island of homogenous cities, wild moors and ragged coastlines, even as it drifts out of time altogether.

A Quietus Interview – Nature Eclipses Culture: An Interview With Richard Skelton (March 12th, 2014)

Richard Skelton distills music that reflects both landscapes and the human heart. For many years, he has been exploring the countrysides of Britain and Ireland, pausing when inspiration takes him to record aching, heart-rending string drones in a manner that is as intuitive as it is arresting. His Landings album, initially self-released but later delivered to the wider world via a 2009 reissue on Type, revealed an musician whose musical explorations of the wild landscapes of Britain’s north-west somehow resonated with deep-felt emotions inherent in every man or woman listening to them. With his wife Autumn Richardson, Skelton later formed *AR, enmeshing her beguiling, exquisite wordless vocals with melancholic guitar and string drones to elevate the aura of Landings to new heights – most recently on their latest *AR album, Succession. The Quietus caught up with Skelton via e-mail to discuss his unique relationship with landscapes, the emotional impact of his music and how *AR differs from his previous work.

You are perhaps best known as a musician, but are also a writer and – if this is the correct term – printer. How would you define yourself?

Richard Skelton: I make music, but don’t think of myself as a musician; I write, but don’t think of myself as a writer. This is possibly because I haven’t followed the conventional path of ‘formal study’ to either of those professions, and therefore don’t conform to the stereotype. I don’t consider this a deficiency, in fact, for myself, I would consider self-study the only path to personal discovery. Nevertheless, definitions are useful. On my last tax-return, I think I put ‘publisher’, as I run a small press with my wife. Most of our output is our own work; words, music, pictures, but in 2013 we began to publish the work of others for the first time. It feels good to champion the work of others…

How did you come to form *AR?

RS: I met Autumn in 2008. We discovered a shared love of poetry, music and landscape. Given these sympathies, it was perhaps inevitable that we would end up working together. We initially collaborated in 2009 on a collection of place-poetry entitled ‘Typography of the Shore’, and later she lent her voice to ‘The Clearing’ on my Black Swallow & Other Songs album. Autumn then asked me to add strings and piano to her album Stray Birds. During this time ideas for a larger collaborative work began to take shape. We wanted to create a multi- layered response to landscape; a distillation of ‘place’ through texts, music and artefacts. The resulting Wolf Notes comprised a sequence of place-poems and essays, an album of music and a series of found objects.

From this initial, not-for-sale, work we derived a small ‘folio edition’, which we sold through Corbel Stone Press. Each exemplar was named after a toponym in the landscape, and included the music, texts and a small glass phial of incense. On the subject of toponyms, the root ‘*ar’ is an ancient river-name element, thought to mean ‘starting up, springing up, setting in motion’ – we thought this was an appropriate pseudonym for our collaboration, especially as it also spelled out our initials.

Succession is the second album by *AR. Apart from the fact that Autumn is a stunning singer, what made you want to start using vocals in your music?

RS: I don’t consider *AR ‘my’ music, nor Autumn’s voice as simply an added element to an existing formula, although I can understand how it might be perceived as such. Wolf Notes began with her wordless vocal refrain, which itself was a form of call-and-response; hearing the contours of the landscape and transposing them into song. As such, she would never claim the melody as her own. The music then gradually accumulated around it – a long, slow process of deposition. The strings are therefore embellishments of an initial theme, and the work itself is a collaboration, between her and I, but also with the landscape. This may seem rather fanciful, as simply a metaphor, but we spent many months living in that landscape, experiencing it in all weathers, followed its tracks and frequently losing our way – so there cannot help but be something of it distilled in what we made.

 

Read the rest here.

Richard Skelton plays in collaboration with the Elysian Quartet at Aldeburgh Music’s Faster Than Sound on Friday March 21st (click here for info and tickets), and again at the North East’s AV Festival on 23rd March (information and tickets here).

Much of Richard Skelton and *AR’s back catalogue is available to listen and buy at the Aeolian Editions site, and to keep track of Skelton and Richardson’s activities, click here to visit the Corbel Stone Press site.